The fade of the casserole brigade

When someone we love dies we are thrown into a state of confusion, doubt and anxiety. We don’t know who we are or how to act—now that we are no longer a spouse, sibling, parent or someone’s kid. Often the only saving grace comes from knowing that we can count on close friends to come to the rescue—if we do take a real emotional header.

And then the calls, emails and invitations taper off.

One death, three losses

One day you wake up and realize you are facing three losses, not just one.

  1. The physical loss of your loved one.
  2. The loss of your personal identity
  3. The loss of friends who pull away.

What’s going on?

Having a close friend pull away is upsetting under normal circumstances, but after the death of a loved one, it can feel life-threatening. Why, you wonder, is this is happening to you?

  • Were they never really my friends?
  • Did they like my husband/wife more than me?
  • Were they friends only because our kids went to the same school?

Actually there may be some truth to one or more of the above, but most likely the reason goes deeper.

Deeper Truth: People don’t like to feel uncomfortable – for very long.

In times of high crisis it is amazing how heroic we can be. Yes, we are absolutely fabulous at coming together in a crisis – but long term we have to discipline ourselves to remain present for people whose lives have been shattered.

We are wired to survive so it is no surprise that

  • we are drawn to what makes us feel good and repelled by what makes us feel bad;
  • we have little experience with death and become socially anxious around grievers; and
  • we emotionally bolt when we project ourselves into your world…because being reminded that we could be you scares the hell out of us!

So bottom line, the friends who pull away aren’t rejecting you; they are rejecting how they feel when they are with you.

The good news

  • A few old friends will remain, often the ones who have survived their own personal struggle.  And you will be forever grateful for their loyalty.
  • Some of the people who abandon you will want a second chance. It will be up to you to forgive them.
  • Many people you never considered good friends will prove that they are.
  • There are a lot of wonderful people in the world you have yet to meet.

And through it all—remember:

  • You are not insignificant!
  • You never have been insignificant, and you never will be.
  • You are not only worthwhile; you are stronger than you think.
  • And you can survive whatever comes your way.

Two articles: I encourage you to read two NYT articles about the loss of friendship after the death of a loved one.

Charlotte Brozek sums up her life after her husband died: “no husband, no friends and no hair.”


David Brooks’ column “The Art of Presence” speaks to a mother’s experience of support after one daughter was killed and another injured: