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Friends Who Vanish During Our Grief

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It's hard to predict who can and can't handle the hard times.

What’s the test of a friendship? Sadly, it’s when tough times come calling. Some friends stand by your side; others fade by the wayside.

How do you respond when a friend or family member gets sick, has an accident, requires treatment or rehabilitation, or experiences the death of a loved one?

Do you show up for them?

Many of us want to be there, would like to do all the right, supportive things — but something prevents us. Sure, we can send a card or note, show up for a funeral service, even make a donation. But when the chips are down and we need to stand by a friend and be present, are we?

I’ve been on both sides of the equation. Loss, whether in the form of a death, illness, or disability, is a deeply personal thing, and many relationships simply lack the intimacy to endure it together.

I remember when my husband had surgery for a malignant tumor. I wanted someone to be with me at the hospital, but I was so befuddled I didn’t know who to ask. None of the people I thought of as my closest confidantes offered. Finally, a friend and her husband volunteered. While my husband was being prepped for surgery, the nurse came out and asked me to come back — and included my friends. It was awkward at first, as these friends had not been intimates; but after they'd stood by my side all day long, we became so.

Why is it that some people can rise to the occasion and others cannot?

I’ve learned that there's no rhyme or reason to it. On the one hand, just because someone has gone through a difficult experience themselves doesn’t mean they can help you or anyone else. And then you'll have someone who has never experienced a loss like yours who's nonetheless prepared to step up admirably.

The limits of any relationship is tested with the arrival of tough times. Taking care of someone who's ill or bereaved is difficult, and helping with all the chores that are part of living can be overwhelming. The one thing I have learned is that there are always friends to help — just not necessarily the ones you thought would be there.

So remember this for your own part: The next time you hear bad news, take a step forward. Ask what needs to be done. Then do it.

That’s how you stand by your friends.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written "How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say," a series of guides to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available as e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.