Hi, it’s Jenna. I’m glad to answer this hard and unfortunately very common question which is what happens to our friendships after we’ve gone through the loss of a loved one.
The reality is many people are not comfortable with the subject of death. They don’t know how to deal with their own anxiety about the topic of death and it can be very uncomfortable to know how to sit with us in our grief process. So, as a result even dear friends sometimes avoid us, not because they don’t love us, but because they don’t know how to be there for us. As a result, we suffer what I would call a secondary loss, which is not only the loss of our loved one, but also the loss of significant, meaningful relationships.
To step into this gap we can do two simple, but not easy, things. The first is say how we feel and the second is ask for what we need.
I have a format that you can follow to do just that.
Number one to say how we feel we can use the format of IFAB or “I feel about because” IFAB, for short. that format is “I feel” followed by feeling words “about” followed by a description, a factual description, non blaming of the circumstance, and then “because”, followed by a picture or a window of what’s happening in our heart. This is a really effective way to communicate our emotions without blaming.
How that might sound is “Susie, would it be okay if I shared with you how I was feeling? I want to let you know that I feel sad lonely and a little bit abandoned about the fact that we haven’t seen each other since my husband died because the story I’m telling myself about that is you no longer want to be my friend.” That is a simple IFAB statement. Notice how transparently and vulnerably that allows us to communicate.
We want to follow that feeling statement with our second statement, which is asking for what we need. And I also have a formula for that. We can simply say “would you be willing to” and then ask for the thing that we need. So I might say “Susie would you be willing to call once a week and get together for coffee with me? I could really use that time together and it would help me to just talk about anything.”
This is a beautiful and a powerful way that we can invite people to be present for us in the way that we need, even if they don’t know exactly how to do that on their own.
Thanks so much for submitting this question.