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The Grieving Victim

I run the risk of dooming myself to the depths of Etiquette Hell with this story but I am honestly curious about how to gracefully handle grief and how to offer support to those going through it.

I had a friend, Christina, who sadly lost her father to cancer when she was 19. She was devastated. I and several mutual friends attended the wake to support Christina and help her mother. Christina was sad, a little angry, but mostly just grieving. Later that year, I started my freshman year of college, attending the same university as Christina who was now in her second year.

About two weeks after classes started Christina and I were sitting and chatting about our day. Christina was complaining about one of her professors and the heavy work load, typical college stuff. I replied in kind, saying that one of my professors was being unrealistic in the amount of reading he was assigning each night, complaining in a good-natured way that the life of the average college student was tough. Christina got a strange look on her face, almost like she was suddenly angry with me and said, “Your life isn’t that bad, your father is still around, isn’t he?”

I was completely thrown. I floundered a bit, agreed that I was lucky my father was still alive and tried to steer the conversation towards more light-hearted topics. I wrote the incident off and made a mental note not to complain like that again since I didn’t want to upset Christina or bring up her grief.

However, about a week later, Christina’s  roommate, Laura, also suffered a personal loss. Laura’s grandmother passed away suddenly, and I was present in their dorm while she was getting ready to leave and head home for the funeral. I offered my condolences to Laura (I did not know her at all, she wasn’t a friend or even really an acquaintance, but it was obvious she was very upset) who accepted them graciously. Laura went about her business packing while Christina and I occupied the couch and coffee table in the common area for homework.

After about twenty minutes or so, Laura answered a phone call from someone in her family and spent a little time talking about what sounded like arrangements for the reception after the grave side service. She got a little choked up while talking, but finished the conversation and ended her call. She went into the bathroom to collect her toiletries, but ended up closing the door so she could have a moment to collect herself in private. At this point I am feeling really uncomfortable, because Laura is clearly very upset but here Christina and I are studying and essentially ignoring her. I mention to Christina that maybe we should go study outside, or downstairs to the mess hall and give Laura some privacy. She replies with,  “I don’t even know why she’s so upset. It’s not like her dad died or anything.”

Again, I was completely thrown.

It gets worse though, Christina says something of that effect to Laura. Stating that she (Christina) knows “…way more about grief and loosing people” because she recently lost her father. Laura gets extremely upset with Christina, who in turn gets defensive and very emotional. Things devolved pretty quickly after that, ending in shouting and tears.

Incidents of a similar nature continued to occur. Christina would get angry with me and others if we complained a little too much or mentioned being sad or unhappy about things in our lives. It got to the point where it felt like she was comparing her misery to mine and constantly invalidating my unhappiness because it wasn’t as much as hers.

Eventually, everything came to a head a few weeks after Laura’s loss. I confided something in Christina, asking her not to share what I said with anyone. She broke her promise. When I found out and called her, highly upset that she had betrayed my trust like that, she again brought up the loss of her father, and declared that I didn’t know how good I had it. I was so angry with her that I shouted back, “What does your grief have to do with this? Nothing!”    I hung up on her, too angry to keep speaking.

Our friendship continued to deteriorate rapidly over the next couple of days through a series of phone calls. She would not apologize for breaking her promise, and I would not give in to what I felt were attempts to use her grief to guilt me into letting my anger go. In the end, I lost her entirely as a friend. We have not spoken in years.

Grief is such a difficult thing for me. I feel so awkward when trying to be supportive, or sometimes feel cliche when I’m trying to be sincere. Was I wrong in how I behaved towards Christina? Should I have been more patient, more understanding of what she was going through? Is there such a thing as being inappropriate with your grief? If there is, where do you draw the line? And if a friend or family member crosses that line, how do you respond without coming off as insensitive or unthinking?   0422-14

Having lost my father, father-in-love, and 2 dogs in a 2 year span, I can attest that grief is an unusual and difficult process to work through.   It affects a person in ways you hadn’t really thought were possible.   Your world shrinks, your thoughts are scrambled, and a mental weight hangs on you.

However, I am also old enough to know that there are people in this world who will exploit any hardship in order to assume the identity of a victim.   Being in mourning does not excuse people from saying purposely hurtful comments.   Christina has discovered that the death of her father makes a handy excuse to justify her bitter words and that it works because most people stumble in confusion when confronted with this kind of victimhood.  They internally ask themselves the same questions you have and freeze wondering how to tiptoe through this person’s grief.

Grief should make us doubly aware of the pain other’s are experiencing and to be able to reach out in shared compassion.   Christina’s dismissal of the intensity of Laura’s grief was unkind and cruel.

One of the steps through the grieving process is anger.    I don’t entirely agree that anger about the death of a loved one, or anger at the deceased for dying, is necessary to work through grief but many experts do. It may be that Christina was stuck in the anger step and was unable to move forward in which case she needed grief counseling to help her.  What you could have done with Christina was to tell her,  “It appears to me that you are struggling with the death of your father.  Have you considered seeking grief counseling? “

{ 86 comments }

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  • Rowan April 28, 2014, 3:21 am

    Christina seems to be under the impression that her loss is a “get out of jail free” card for acting like a complete cow. You could maybe forgive her words as thoughtless if afterwards she had moments of remorse, eg had said to Laura “I’m so sorry, I’m still wrapped up in my father’s death and I was being unfair”, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, she is using her grief as an excuse to switch off any empathy. Was she generally a sympathetic person before her dad died or was she always a bit self-centred?

    Just because things could be worse (having to deal with grief AND study stress) that doesn’t mean that they are 100% ok. That’s like saying to someone with a broken leg “well, you could’ve broken both legs and be in a wheelchair right now”. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t make their broken leg heal miraculously on the spot. Your study stress / relationship breakup / burglary / whatever might not be a bereavement but those are still unpleasant things to happen.

    OP – you’re worrying that you might be putting your foot in it with friends who are grieving but the truth is there is no “right thing” to say. Losing someone is terrible and no words can make it less terrible. Just let your friends know that you’re there for them. Offer to bring food or movies round, but don’t be hurt if they say no. When my brother died, my wonderful friends sent me messages saying basically “you don’t need to reply but just know I’m here whenever you want me”. It was a real comfort blanket. It helped me realise that there was still so much love in my world.

  • Marozia April 28, 2014, 5:12 am

    I completely agree with Admin. Christina needs a lot of professional help. Grieving is normal and each person grieves in their own way. But when it continues to this point i.e., Christina & OP’s argument, comparisons with Laura’s grandma’s and Christina’s dad’s passings, it is very serious.
    OP, suggest the counselling to Christina and maybe she can move forward with her life.

  • Cherry April 28, 2014, 6:23 am

    Ugh, I hate “Sadness Olympics” competitors – either they feel that no one’s sadness could ever match up with their own, or they try to dismiss other people’s sadness because “other people have it worse”.

    I’d like to optimistically think that once Christina had some time and space, she realised how unreasonable she’d been but was too embarrassed and ashamed to contact the OP, but did at least learn from the situation. Whether it is the case or not is a different matter.

    OP, even if you lost your temper, good on you for calling Christina out of her behaviour.

    • LizaJane April 28, 2014, 9:10 am

      Sadness Olympics…love it…can I use that?

      • Cherry April 28, 2014, 9:31 am

        By all means! 🙂

        • LizaJane April 28, 2014, 3:25 pm

          Thankyousoverymuch

    • Kathryn April 28, 2014, 11:51 pm

      One of my favorite phrases is “it’s not a competition”. Use judiciously when complaining or commiserating lest someone derails your woes at an inappropriate time.

      • EchoGirl April 30, 2014, 12:20 am

        This talk about a contest really reminds me of a great old MASH episode. When one character goes missing, the character who was closest to her tells the commanding officer that he’s worried. The CO replies that they are all worried. The character retorts “well, I’m more worried than anyone else!” And the CO just looks at him and says “it’s not a contest.”

  • Charliesmum April 28, 2014, 6:48 am

    I don’t think you did anything wrong. It’s understandable that she’s grieving, and hurt, and maybe this is the only way she knows how to deal with it, but there’s only so many eggshells a person can walk over before giving it up and go back to solid ground. You don’t have to say to her ‘get over it’ or even expect her to get over it, but neither do you need to give her a free pass for insensitive behavior because she’s sad.

  • Lo April 28, 2014, 7:38 am

    I’m on the side of giving Christina a little leeway in this because even though she’s acted atrociously, it seems to be a universal truth that sadness is selfish. Or maybe sadness *needs* selfish, it is inherent and necessary to some degree in order to heal. I’ve never known a grieving person to behave as badly as your friend has but I have seen how grieving people use anger as a shield and it can ruin friendships.

    People who suffer from intense hardship, long-term depression, severe loss, tend to be the most self-centered. They are using all their reserve to take care of themselves. Some people are wonderful about retaining empathy and being even more in tune to others who are experiencing loss. Some people cannot manage that their grief fills their own lives so completely.

    That doesn’t mean you have to accept mistreatment, of course. Nor that you shouldn’t call her on it. It just means tempering it with sympathy. She clearly needed counseling. There’s nothing you could have done to make sure she got it so at the time it was out of your hands. When I say give her leeway I mean, let the friendship go because it’s not benefiting either of you but let it go graciously. If someday down the road she comes back and says, “I behaved terribly, I’m so sorry,” offer her as much grace and forgiveness as you can manage because people can do life-altering and regrettable things when dealing with grief and stress. They must accept the consequences of what they’ve sown but I also believe they should be treated with a little more care when they come to their senses.

  • Wendy B. April 28, 2014, 7:38 am

    Grief also has a way of taking down masks and revealing who a person really is.

    I hope some day Christina realizes that loss is different for everyone…Laura’s pain was just as real as Christina’s. And while she now has a different perspective on life, that doesn’t negate anyone else’s feelings of what’s difficult or hard or depressing, etc. I hope someday she matures enough to understand these things.

    As it is, OP…I think distancing yourself from her is healthy for YOU. You can’t be responsible for her grieving or her healing.

  • The Elf April 28, 2014, 7:56 am

    I’m going to give Christina the benefit of the doubt and say her father’s loss has caused her so much pain that she has a hard time seeing the pain of others. That’s no excuse for behaving rudely – and it is rude to throw something like that back in someone’s face – but at 19 she may not have the tools to deal with her own grief. As a friend, you may want to suggest that she look into the counseling options available on campus. Many people, who are not 19, need grief counseling after suffering a big loss. It can be very helpful to have someone to talk to.

    Otherwise, your only choice is to either bean dip like a fiend or call her out on it and say “Hey, Christina, that’s not fair.” That last one might just set you up for a fight, so pick your time and place carefully if you decide to do that.

    These sorts of things are relative. Someone out there is always having a worse day than you, had a worse injury, is in a worse situation, suffered a bigger loss, is dying, doesn’t have enough food to eat, is homeless, lives in a war-torn nation, etc. While it’s good to remember that to put our own problems in perspective, it doesn’t make your own problems go away.

    I juggle numbers at work. One day, I was complaining to a friend about my hard day at work because these numbers just wouldn’t add up. I admit, I was complaining hard. This friend is a police officer. He looked me straight in the eye and said “I responded to a suicide today and I had to tell the boy’s mother.” Point taken. His day was way, way worse. My day at work will never be that bad! I bought him the next drink; he needed it! But that doesn’t make my numbers add up any easier or the work less frustrating. It just reminded me of perspective. Unless your dad is going to do your college assignments for you, having a living Dad doesn’t make that workload go away. It doesn’t make Laura’s grandmother come back to life. And you don’t need to have “it could be worse” pointed out to you blatantly!

    • RC April 28, 2014, 4:50 pm

      I like that ancedote, and the graceful way you handled it. Thank you for sharing.

  • Cecilia April 28, 2014, 8:03 am

    Christina was not being a very good friend, or person, if she continued to use her father’s passing as an excuse to be unkind and hurtful. Christina had no idea of Laura’s relationship with her grandmother. Maybe Laura was especially close to her grandmother and felt her loss as strongly as Christina felt the loss of her dad. I was extremely close to my grandmother and when she passed, I was prone to crying jags for weeks. Try explaining to your Chemistry teacher why you burst in tears in the middle of a lecture or why the nice, elderly lunch lady giving you a larger helping of chocolate pudding causes you to have a meltdown.

    However, I do agree that Christina was most likely stuck in the “anger” phase of her grief, but playing the victim card as an excuse for rotten behavior gets old, fast. I am truly sorry that she lost her father at a relatively young age, but it’s still not an excuse to act so ugly to others.

  • Huh April 28, 2014, 8:04 am

    “That’s like saying to someone with a broken leg “well, you could’ve broken both legs and be in a wheelchair right now”. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t make their broken leg heal miraculously on the spot. ”

    THIS exactly. I really dislike it when people diminish others pain or stress playing the “it could be worse” card, because IMHO it makes the person going through whatever feel like they are either stupid or selfish for daring to feel pain or stress about their circumstances. That they are living with every day.

    No, Laura’s father didn’t die, her grandmother did. She’s still experiencing a loss. No, OP’s father didn’t die, but she had just started her freshman year of college which is a big transition, therefore stressful. Yes, it could be worse for the both of them, but you could turn the same thing around on Christina!

    Not in this case, but I think sometimes people are trying in an odd way to help when they point out that things could be worse than your current situation. I went through a painful divorce and all sorts of fallout that comes from that, and I had several people tell me it could be worse, I or my kids could have a terrible disease, I could have lost my job, that kind of thing. I think they were trying to point out the things I had to be thankful for, and believe me, I was/am truly thankful for those things, but it didn’t make the pain and trauma of what I was going through any less at that moment!

    • Abby April 28, 2014, 11:35 am

      The “it could be worse card” is especially annoying when you consider, it could pretty much ALWAYS be worse. By that logic, no one should ever complain about anything.

      Now, granted, there is the good advice of keeping things in perspective. If you’re having drama with your mom, venting about it to your friend who just lost her mother is not a good idea. Likewise, if you are complaining about a relatively minor incident ruining your week, you may need a reminder of appreciating what you have. If the OP said she had the worst life ever because she had lots of homework, that may deserve the side eye from Christina. The OP mentioning in passing that she has a lot of homework and a strict teacher is not an invitation for a lecture on being grateful for everything else in her life.

      If Christina was a good friend prior to this, it’s possible that with time or therapy she will revert back to a version of her old self. If she was always dramatic or self centered, it may jusy be a matter of time before something else in her life happens that causes her to alienate everyone around her.

      • mark April 28, 2014, 3:44 pm

        So true, and just because you can point out how things could be worse doesn’t mean I’m not going through some pain right now. Of course IMO pity parties should be kept brief.

    • La April 28, 2014, 12:11 pm

      I’ve found that to be entirely counterproductive as a helping strategy. If someone genuinely comes to you for support, telling them that basically says “your problems aren’t worthy of help” which, when you’ve got a person with troubles, is the last thing they need to hear.

      (Doubly so if it’s issues with mental health, because in these scenarios your brain is telling you not to get help and self-destruct, and you do not need someone else feeding the jerkbrain.)

  • AMC April 28, 2014, 8:07 am

    I had something sort of similar happen to me recently. I’m one of the only ones in my group of friends who has a kid. My best friend “Elaine” and her husband “Steve” have been struggling to conceive for several years, and Elaine has had two miscarriage in the last year. I’ve been supportive and sensitive to their losses to the best of my knowledge and ability. I’ve never experienced this type of tragedy before, and it was hard to know the right things to do and say. But I think I’ve been a good friend to them both as they’ve grieved. A couple weeks ago, Steve and Elaine hosted a small get-together for our group of friends. The alcohol was flowing, which I’m sure was a huge factor in what happened next. I made an off-handed joke/complaint about the challenges of living with a demanding, tantrum-throwing toddler. Steve and Elaine were not in the room when I said this, but they were in ear-shot. Steve immediately spoke up and rebuked me for complaining about my daughter and how I should be grateful for her because he and Elaine would give anything to have a baby of their own. Elaine tried to shush him. I apologized and told him that my comment was not directed at them. I assured him that I do love and appreciate my daughter and am very sorry for their struggle. We’ve hung out a few times since then with no mention of this incident, so I think the outburst was mostly alcohol-fueled, but I’ve made a mental note not to complain about my kid around Steve again.

    • Rap April 28, 2014, 12:03 pm

      I’m gonna say Steve is more at fault than you are, AMC. I understand why he’s sensitive but people with children are going to complain about them occasionally without needing a lecture on how other people want children.

      • JO April 28, 2014, 4:20 pm

        I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of this – when dealing with that kind of loss, it can be hard to remember that ‘different’ problems are still problems, after all. Luckily a loved one gave me some great advice that helped me remember I wasn’t the only one with problems. (See my post below)

    • Basketcase April 28, 2014, 9:02 pm

      I have friends who have also struggled with having kids, and have openly said they “hate” hearing parents complain about pregnancy or their issues they are having with their child, because dont they know thats selfish when there are so many others who would die to have that opportunity?
      So I moved them to aquaintances on Facebook – so that if I said something in passing about a difficult day with pregnancy (and I found it darned hard), or how my child was screaming for the Nth hour that day (he had bad reflux), I didn’t offend them, or give them an opportunity to berate me for daring to complain.
      Two have since gone on to get pregnant themselves. And guess what? They are both having issues with pregnancy (feeling fat, tired, sick etc), and beating themselves into huge puddles of guilt because they were meant to love every minute of this journey that they have tried so hard to achieve.
      I dont begrudge them either part of it – I’ve seen how hard their journey was, and I know how hard pregnancy and parenting can be.

    • crebj April 28, 2014, 9:23 pm

      News flash for Steve: the world doesn’t revolve around your struggles. You handled it well, my dear.

    • Brit April 29, 2014, 8:53 am

      Yeah, well, that is an excruciatingly horrible thing to hear when you’ve lost babies and can’t have more kids. Absolutely *excruciating*. It kills you inside. If he’d been drinking, I don’t blame him for not handling that well. You know how they’ve struggled, so moaning about your kid in front of them (doesn’t matter if it wasn’t aimed at them) is pretty thoughtless. He probably felt really terrible afterwards but it just shows what he has to live with.

      It can be tough to act rationally or reasonably in that situation, so I’ll give him a pass, and you meant no harm. But definitely make a note. You really hurt him just saying that in front of him.

      • Brit April 29, 2014, 9:32 am

        Meant to say – because this happened in Steve’s own house.

        Sure, in the real world he’s gonna get hurt all the time but that’s life. He can’t control it, he’s got to get over it. Other people have kids, tough. Strangers say stupid things, that’s life. All that going on the internet or moaning at your friends who’ve been luckier – well, that’s selfish as.

        But in his own house, he probably assumed that his ‘sympathetic’ friends, enjoying his hospitality, would have enough thought for their host not to touch him on the one big, massively painful aspect of his life. And whether that’s fair or not, I think that’s understandable. And if he’d been drinking, this is probably what made him be that tactless, if not rude. He was your host and it’s one thing to remember. It’s not much to ask in exchange for a drink.

        Sorry but I have infertile friends who’ve had this done to them, and they don’t need it in their own house when the outside world can be hard enough. The world doesn’t revolve around them but a little thought goes a long way.

  • Lera99 April 28, 2014, 8:14 am

    It seems that Christina felt her dad’s death was her “Trump Card”.
    She could pull it out at any moment to win the “who has it harder” Olympics.
    She could whip it out anytime someone called her out on bad behavior.

    There is a point where as a friend, you can’t let that continue to slide.

    One of my friends lost her daughter to a drug overdose. She was devastated. About 3 years after her daughters death she said to me “I expect to wake up one day and be ok. Other people have lost children and they are eventually ok. But every morning I am still not ok. And I don’t know what to do with it. ”

    That is an appropriate expression of grief.

    On the other hand, my friend’s son (the brother of the young woman who overdosed) quit college, refuses to get a job, and basically spends all day in the back bedroom smoking pot and playing video games.

    When his mom has confronted him stating “You are 26. I can’t afford to continue supporting you. You HAVE to get a job or we are going to lose the house and we will both end up homeless.”

    He responds “Maybe you can forget about Tiffany and just move on. But I actually loved my sister. My entire world was shattered when she died. I’m too depressed to go to school or work. You were an awful parent. You were always too busy working. (She is a single mom and often had to work 2 jobs to keep them clothed and fed and keep a roof over their heads.) It’s your fault she turned to drugs in the first place. It’s your faults she’s dead! So just leave me alone!”

    That is NOT an ok expression of grief. He has used his sister’s death as an excuse to escape all adult responsibilities. And he has redirected all of his anger and grief at his mother.

    And because she does feel guilty, she can’t bring herself to give him 30 days to find a job or get out. The last time she tried to set a hard deadline he told her “Then you will find me dead on the floor on that final day and you will be responsible for both of your kids’ death.”

    • Lenore April 28, 2014, 2:28 pm

      Speaking as someone who watched her sister pass away when I was 20, your friend’s son needs professional help. I would never, EVER have dreamed of blaming my parents for daring to work so that I could have a roof over my head, go to school and be fed. I would never EVER have blamed them for the death of my eldest sister (TL:DR she had Rett Syndrome and passed away due to pneumonia). I would never have threatened suicide to get my own way. I’m not saying that I dealt with my sister’s death in the most stable way (alcohol and binge eating), but in my opinion, a parent losing a is far worse than a sibling losing a sibling. It’s not natural for a parent to bury a child, KWIM? Lera99, I hope your friend eventually realises that it may be beneficial for her son to go for counselling, maybe even family counselling, and please give her my condolences *HUGS*

      • remi April 28, 2014, 4:54 pm

        Your friend’s relationship with her son sounds like some kind of abusive relationship on his part. Advice I’ve heard for people in abusive relationships where their partner threatens suicide is to call 911 on them; either they are serious about it and need help, or more commonly they’re only saying it to bully you and calling an ambulance for them will show that you aren’t tolerating it and it’s not a method of manipulation they can get away with.

    • Auryn Grigori May 2, 2014, 2:52 am

      I am not sure what I would do in a case like your friends. Depending on the state, there are laws that allow for involuntary commitment (in Florida, it is known as the Baker Act) in the case of severe mental illness, which may be implied by the son’s threat that she will find him dead on the floor (sucidal). I don’t know if she lives in one of those states.

  • Anonymous April 28, 2014, 8:24 am

    I agree with Rowan. It’s possible to be there for someone who’s grieving, and let them know that you’re there for them, and at the same time, it’s possible to drift away from someone who’s being mean and rude, EVEN if that person is also grieving. I said “drift,” because this shouldn’t be a big “our friendship is over” announcement–instead, just spend more time with other people. College or university is the perfect place to do a fade-out like that, because there are a lot of people around, and a lot of things to do, and honestly, when I was in university, I found that I often didn’t even have enough time to spend with my friends who I WANTED to spend time with, because my time between classes and in the evenings and weekends kept getting filled up with rehearsals and meetings and whatnot. So, if Christina is being a pill, just spend less time with her, and if she asks about it, you’ve been busy. Maybe you’ve been busy with schoolwork and activities, maybe you’ve been busy hanging out with people who aren’t manipulative, I don’t know. But, if Christina is beyond the point of talking to, then “I’ve been busy” is a legitimate thing to say, because it won’t do any good to tell her that her behaviour has driven you away. I normally don’t advocate this practice, because “busy” has become a lazy thing to say to excuse flakiness, or to blow off someone who isn’t “cool” enough for you, but in this case, I think it’s a very useful phrase.

  • LizaJane April 28, 2014, 8:28 am

    Ugghh. I’ve seen people do this and have always been able to leave it alone except once. My sister-in-law’s best friend was dying and she called me, very upset. I listenedand gave her what comfort I could. Then her conversation turned to the fact that her dad (my FIL) was also dying ( he “died” for 7 years.) I didn’t give the right amount of sympathy for that and she told me that I didn’t know what it was like. I told her she needed to remember who she was talking to and she backed off.
    You see, by this time, I had already lost my dad, 2 brothers, all of my grandparents, and my best friend. So yeah, I did know what it was like.

  • AS April 28, 2014, 8:40 am

    First of all, let me admit – I had lost all my grandparents before I was 15 years old. The love of grandparents was just a childhood memory for me, and I never understood for a very long time as to why people would mourn the loss of their grandparents. And then I lost my own mother, who I was very close to. It took me a long time to understand that people can get attached to their grandparents to miss them as much as they miss their own parents (getting to know my now-husband’s wonderful grandparents on both sides, who are just like my own grandparents, worked a lot too). But I’d never behave the way Christina behaved. I would never bring up the loss of my mother to justify my feelings or behavior. We never know what the other person is or has gone through. And I don’t want to loose the love of my friends around me.

    I can understand that Christina is very angry about loosing her father. But she has to consult a professional psychiatrist to sort through her feelings, so that she doesn’t end up becoming a toxic person and alienate all her friends.

    In this context, I should also mention a much older colleague of mine, let us call her “Edith”, who has been a true inspiration to a lot of us. She used to work in a different department, but would often come to our lab for some work. She was always cheerful, and we would chat about a lot of things. She was always willing to hear all the little things we had to complain about – frustration about our job, the broken coffee machine, bad weather, high electricity bill – and all the other trivial things about life. The fact was that Edith had cancer (lot of us didn’t know about it until she once came with all her hair gone from Chemo; with a henna design on her scalp! – This lady knew how to find humor!). She’ll be in and out of treatment, and come in to work as soon as she was healthy enough to stand up. When we think back, her troubles were way more than all the little things that can bother us in our lives. But she never complained about her condition. Neither did she trivialize our “concerns”. She died after a year or so. But the way she made lemonade with the lemons life threw at her is a legacy she left behind with everyone who knew her.

    • cashie April 28, 2014, 5:25 pm

      Out of all the letters and responses, I love this one the most. Thanks for sharing.

  • Miriam April 28, 2014, 8:44 am

    It’s easy to maintain a sunny disposition whilst life is going smoothly [although, for some reason, not everyone chooses to], but it’s during times of adversity that a person’s true nature shines through…

    With offering condolences/sympathy, as long as [general] you are sensitive and caring, that’s all you can do; you cannot force anyone to behave graciously .

    OP: you did nothing wrong, and as to where you draw your line – that is your choice, and how to enforce it – well, I tend to say I know a person is hurting, but that doesn’t give them a right to hurt me (or other people), and if they choose to continue behaving in a hurtful manner I would give them as much distance as *I* need to protect myself.

  • Wild Irish Rose April 28, 2014, 8:47 am

    The fact that Christina has dragged her grief out over a period of years makes me wonder if she and her father had had a falling out or something just prior to his death, and she’s feeling guilty about not being able to apologize to him or whatever. This is not to excuse her abhorrent behavior–only an attempt to explain it. If that is the case, then I understand why it’s hard for her to let it go.

    However, that does NOT excuse rudeness, selfishness, or insensitivity to someone else’s loss. Laura may not have lost her father, but that doesn’t mean her grief is any less intense than Christina’s. When my grandmother died, I was shattered because this woman had brought me up when my mother was incapabe of doing so. The company I worked for at the time refused to send me flowers because my g’ma wasn’t an “immediate” family member. They couldn’t have been more wrong but there it was. It was hard to let that go, but at some point you just have to. The world doesn’t revolve around any one individual.

    There are people who simply react badly when confronted with tragedy. You can’t take it personally, but you don’t have to let those people hammer you with it, either.

    • Kimstu April 28, 2014, 10:11 am

      Actually, we don’t know whether “Christina has dragged her grief out over a period of years”. All the incidents the OP told us about seem to have taken place within the first couple of months or so of the school year immediately following Christina’s father’s death.

      The OP says that their friendship “deteriorated rapidly” over a “couple of days” after a conflict that occurred “a few weeks after” Christina’s roommate’s bereavement, which in turn was “about a week later” than the first incident “a couple of weeks after classes started”, i.e., the first start of term after Christina’s own bereavement. The OP seems to have lost touch with Christina within a year after her father’s death, as far as I can make out.

      Nonetheless, I agree that Christina’s behavior was thoroughly rude and selfish and unsympathetic, and the recentness of her bereavement doesn’t excuse that. I don’t blame the OP for letting the friendship slide (although of course technically she shouldn’t have been rude to Christina on the phone in return—but what 18-year-old has never had a shouty rude telephone argument with someone they’re upset with?).

  • Library Diva April 28, 2014, 9:05 am

    Wow. I lost my mother in February, and I’ve heard words like Christina’s spoken inside my own head more times than I can count. Sometimes when someone’s complaining about something trivial, and especially when someone’s complaining about family drama. I need some new summer clothes, but after a trip to the mall this weekend on other business, I’ve decided to postpone it until after Mother’s Day. I’m sure that the signs posted outside each store said things like “Celebrate Mom,” but I looked at them and read “Your mom’s dead, she’s not coming back.” I was taking each one as an insult, even though I knew how irrational that was.

    The difference between Christina and I, though, is that I don’t actually go around saying these things to people. My mother was kind and thoughtful, and lashing out at everyone from my husband to a poor mall clerk who happened to be standing next to a Mother’s Day Sale sign is a poor way to honor her memory. Christina needed counseling. It seemed to me like she was pushing everyone away, possibly because the happiness that friendship brought her made her feel guilty. I hope she received some counseling, or has otherwise found a way to manage her grief and anger. If her father was any kind of a decent human being, he would not want her to throw away her life because he died.

    OP, I think you did fine with Christina, and with Laura too. Shared spaces in college are awkward. It seems like you always wind up in the middle of something like that when you’re just trying to go about your business. What I learned about talking to grieving people after my mom died is that the important thing is just to say something. Just express your condolences in some way, lay off the religion unless you’re certain that will help, and avoid saying anything about “God’s plan” or “things happen for a reason,” and you’re fine. I spent much of the day of my mother’s death checking my Facebook messages on my phone. They helped a lot.

  • inNM April 28, 2014, 9:16 am

    I lost my father almost 3 years ago and without realising it, chose to fly home on Father’s Day. So for 10 hours and 3 airports I had to deal with everyone joyfully wishing everyone else happy Father’s Day, and telling me to wish my dad happy Father’s Day when all I could think about was I was going home to bury my father. Yes, I was irrationally angry at the world.
    It took me 8 months to get to acceptance. In the meanwhile I had to juggle being a fresh graduate, with no job and bills to pay.
    I am not one to say how long it takes anyone to move through the grieving process. That being said, if your former friend’s response is always, “at least you still have your father.” Then she is either enjoying being the biggest victim OR needs to get counseling stat. Loss is a part of life, and how we deal with it shows a lot of our character. You may choose to play the good friend and offer to go to an initial grief counseling appointment with her, but she ultimately has to want it for herself. If she refuses to go with you or someone else in the audience, you know she is playing the victim and you should distance yourself.

    • Library Diva April 28, 2014, 12:27 pm

      So sorry you went through that! Like I said, I feel the same way about all of the Mother’s Day stuff. The marketing emails I get bother me a lot because they feel personal (even though I know I’m probably one of millions on some of these lists). Just want to curse them out in a reply…but I don’t.

      I dealt with the airport thing on the way down to be with my mother after she had her stroke. I will never forget the kindness of the Lush employee in the Philadelphia airport where I had a long layover. I wandered in, and she was telling me about the sales and asked where I was flying. I knew what was coming when I told her I was going to Orlando. After she said “oh, how fun!” (as I knew she would), I told her why I was going. She told me that she was so sorry, and that I could spend as much time as I wanted in the store and she hoped that the smells of everything helped relax me a bit and made me feel better. And you know what, they did, a little bit.

      • Anonymous April 28, 2014, 3:31 pm

        @Library Diva–This won’t help the big picture, but you can unsubscribe from those marketing e-mails–most of them have an “Unsubscribe” link, in tiny print, at the bottom of the page. That way, you at least won’t have to deal with reminders of Mother’s Day on your own computer in your own home, or on your own smartphone or tablet. In any case, I’m really sorry for your loss. People think that a grieving person should be “over it” after a set amount of time, but they don’t realize that the first round of special occasions without the missing loved one are difficult, as are anniversaries (of the deceased person’s birthday, or the day they died, or of their favourite holiday or special event, et cetera). So, no rush, and also, congratulations for not losing it in the middle of the mall, and for being self-aware enough to come up with a solution, i.e., postponing summer shopping until after Mother’s Day.

      • inNM April 28, 2014, 4:12 pm

        Thank you for your kind words, and my condolences on your loss. The Lush employee certainly displayed her humanitarian side, and I’m glad that you met someone like that at your time of need.

      • Rowan April 29, 2014, 4:07 am

        My brother died a week before Mother’s Day. My poor mum felt like it was all being thrown in her face: “You won’t be getting a card from your son any more!” And then we had all of the “doing anything over the Easter holidays?” from shops assistants etc. It was so hard not to get snappy or sarcastic but, of course, it’s not the fault of some innocent store employee. When you’ve had a blow like that, it’s so hard to get your head round the fact that the rest of the world is going on, oblivious.

        • inNM April 29, 2014, 7:15 pm

          That’s true.

  • Michelle April 28, 2014, 9:42 am

    I don’t think you did anything wrong, OP. It sounds to me like, but the time you said that, she needed to hear it.

    That being said, grief is tricky, and any random thing – and I mean random! – can set off a reaction inside a person who’s experiencing it. I think as long as you don’t say anything thoughtless (and you don’t sound like a thoughtless person – you actually sound very sensitive to the feelings of others), don’t take it personally if you happen to say something that accidentally causes tears to fill up in a bereaved someone’s eyes. The odds of that happening are very very good.

  • LonelyHound April 28, 2014, 9:45 am

    While I agree that people grieve in different manners there is no reason to marginalize someone else’s pain/bad day/misfortune. The biggest reason is because usually when someone says they are having a bad day/in pain/misfortune they are comparing it to their own life and usually recent events. For that person, in that moment, they are feeling low/sad because the bad day/pain/misfortune is more than they have recently experienced. Sympathy and a shoulder to cry on should never go to the “winner”. You both can express a bad day and feel sympathy for each other without having it be a competition. Christina, apparently, is unaware that sympathy does not go to the “winner,” but is something freely given. As I see it, the more she tries to “win” at sympathy the less sympathy people actually have for her.

    I have to disagree with Lo. While some depressed people may be self center, some are not. As a person who had to deal with “losing” my birth family (they are still living) when I needed them the most, I know that some self-centeredness goes along with the inital grieving process; but it is when you get stuck that it truly becomes an “all about me” fest. Yes, my family is still alive, but they abadnoned me at a point when I needed them the most, at a point when you are supposed to call on family. Now, they ignore me or guilt me. No real happy talk here. Growing up we had been very tight knit so I had to get over the fact that I had most definitely lost that connection. My biggest phase is talking. So, far a while it was all about me, but I had great friends and a great hubby that listened, gave advice and gave me time. I have moved on.

    Like I said, it is when you get stuck that you become a selfish brat (speaking as one who, at one point, got stuck). Christina is stuck and to that end extremely selfish when it comes to grief and pain. No one’s pain is allowed to trump hers, not even for a minute. It is horrible that her dad passed away, but she needs to not let that interfere with being able to feel sympathy/empathy for others. Right now her grief is not constructive, there is no where to move forward, it is destructive. She needs to move to a constructive phase somehow. I am not sure how she would do that, but I feel a therapist might need to be involved.

  • WMK April 28, 2014, 9:48 am

    Ah, yes, OP, I had a friend just like Christina once.

    The signs were there that Anne was the type of person to play the Olympics when I initially met her, but I chose to overlook them because she was truly a great person and really fun to be around.

    About five years ago, Anne got pregnant very shortly after meeting her husband and quickly got married before she was due. Unfortunately, the baby, whom she named Maggie, was stillborn at 38 weeks of her pregnancy. As you can imagine, both she and her husband were absolutely devastated. All of our friends were very supportive of her and we all reached out to her so that she knew we there for her. A few of us had suffered miscarriages and, while not as serious as a stillbirth, knew that terrible feeling when you’re told that your baby is gone. I was one of those that had suffered a miscarriage and I would sympathize with her based upon my own pregnancy loss experience. But in Anne’s eyes, it wasn’t the same thing at all and she would be dismissive of my attempts at times to offer comfort.

    Anne quickly became obsessed with this loss (and trying to get pregnant again) and, like the OP’s experience, unless you had a stillbirth/fertility issues like Anne, she didn’t want to hear anything from you. Because Anne had a stillbirth. It was so bad that there were at least two of our friends that were also pregnant at this time and we were made to feel absolutely horrible and were, obviously, betraying Anne if we were excited about the upcoming births. Because Anne had a stillbirth.

    The straw that broke this camel’s back, was when I saw that Anne had complained, in a pregnancy loss discussion forum that we both belonged, that she had NO ONE locally to support her. This was BS because all of us had been TRYING to be supportive of her this whole time, only to be shut out by her because we had no idea what she was going through. Since the friendship was drifting, I just let it die a natural death, though I remain friends with her on a social media website. I did find out that she eventually became pregnant again and delivered a healthy baby boy. But she still seems to be obsessed about her first pregnancy and, in a way, I feel sorry for her son. I have a feeling that all his life experiences are going to be compared to what Maggie should have been able to do had she not been stillborn.

    The thing that hurt me the most, though, is that my father passed away in December 2011. The only person who did NOT reach out to me to offer their condolences was Anne.

    But, being the bigger person, I made sure to offer mine to her when I found out a few months ago that her mom had passed away.

    • dlws92 April 29, 2014, 6:52 pm

      I also suffered the loss of a baby late term (36 weeks)…and it is different than a miscarriage. However, a proper support group, in person or online, is going to try and avoid the “my pain is bigger/better/more important than yours” position. One participant kept saying that since she’d tried longer, her pain was so much more than that of a teenager who was struggling. That person was removed from the group.

      I left the group a bit after our son was born alive and healthy. Sometimes, the ego kibbles people get by sad and grieving keep them in that place. A big problem with infant loss is that no one wants to be the one who tells a person that maybe some therapy would help them move on.

  • DGS April 28, 2014, 9:55 am

    Ugh…that’s a tough one. On the one hand, grief is a selfish process – when in pain, one’s own pain looks amplified, and others’ pain looks diminished, and to some extent, that’s a normal process. And I’m sure in the beginning, it was even forgivable when Christina would lash out, and most friends would be patient and gentle with her. However, as PP’s have put it, the Grief and Sadness Olympics is a pathetic game to play, and Christina has latched on to her victim identity to the extent that she has become completely insensitive to other people’s losses and suffering. She does need counseling, as it appears that she has not coped well at all with the aftermath of her father’s passing, and if her father was a good person, it is a huge disservice to his memory to lash out at others that way.

    I also hate when people attempt to one-up one another with sadness or problems, or when someone complains (even if it’s about something trivial, like a line at the grocery store), and someone else says “First World Problems”. People are entitled to vent, and even ones who have the best perspective, have their down moments. In a passive-aggressive competition, there are no winners.

  • Allie April 28, 2014, 10:31 am

    It sounds to me like you handle others’ grief just fine. Just because you feel awkward and insincere doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. There’s not much else you can say other than “I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. Is there anything I can do?” As for Christina, I suppose there are two possibilities to consider: either she is really struggling to work through her loss, and her conduct is involuntary, or she is exploiting her loss to attempt to control others, and her conduct is voluntary. I suppose it’s probably not as simple as that, and a mix of these is at play. Based on her behavior toward Laura, I suspect a part of her misses the attention she got shortly after her father passed, and some part of her was actually envious of Laura entrenching on her territory, with her own, more recent grief taking precedence. Hopefully, with time, Christina will work through all this and may even feel bad for the behavior which has cost her your (and probably other) friendships. If not, hopefully she will reach out and seek some help, professional or otherwise. If she does come to regret her conduct, I would consider giving her a second chance. Grief and loss do strange things to people.

  • DannysGirl April 28, 2014, 10:32 am

    I have found that it helps others if I say, “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now, but I do understand feeling anger and sadness at a death. If you need to talk, I’m here.” To me, this acknowledges that everyone grieves differently, yet tells them that I have been through loss too and I can emphathize and be supportive. I know this doesn’t help in your current situation, OP, but it may help you in the future.

  • Lisa April 28, 2014, 10:37 am

    Grief counseling sure helped me out. My Mom passed away from cancer, and my Dad in his grief took his own life; this all happened within a year and a half while I was in my mid 40’s. Christina is so much younger so she may have a harder time processing this. I would definitely try and steer her towards grief counseling; with the right person or group, it is so beneficial.

  • mark April 28, 2014, 10:44 am

    OP I’m not sure how you could of realistically handled it much better. Christina was using her grief as a get out of jail free card. It was a way for her to avoid taking responsibility. And I think this is fair to a point. If someone cancels on me because of the grief of someone passing away. Well that is a good use of the “grief card”. Likewise with some anger in the immediate aftermath of the death. I understand and I’ll give them some space. But IMO it is never excuse to do things that are overtly wrong. Breaking a confidence is one of those things.

    My brother died about 3 years ago, and I still grieve over it on occasion. But I don’t think it would serve my memory of my brother well to use that as an excuse to engage in anti-social behavior.

  • Ashley April 28, 2014, 10:53 am

    I hate when people trot out the “You could have it worse” thing. Yes, there is ALWAYS something that could be worse than whatever issues you could currently have going on. But that still doesn’t make what you currently have going on suck any less.

    Christina may take a long time to grieve and that’s just fine. What isn’t okay is that each time someone else complains she acts like her problems are SOOOO much worse. My biological mother died when I was two, of cancer, and I barely got to know her. I don’t trot it out whenever someone else looses someone, I don’t try and make my problems sound worse than theirs. That’s wrong. Who am I to tell someone that their grief isn’t as important or as bad as someone elses?

    I think the way you handled the Laura situation is just fine, given that she was just someone you knew because she happened to be someone else’s room mate.

    As for Christina, I have an odd feeling that if you had suggested grief counseling, she would have probably blown up about it and the friendship may have ended anyway. Something about the way she brought it up even when the conversation had NOTHING at all to do with death makes me think that grief counseling would have made her think that you thought she was crazy for acting the way she did. I could be wrong though.

    Either way, I don’t exactly blame you for snapping at her. You were right, her grief had NOTHING to do with the issue at hand and there’s only so long someone can walk on eggshells.

  • lolkay April 28, 2014, 11:27 am

    I have had friends who lost a parent.
    I have lost friends due to violence.

    Even during grieving I never heard anyone use death as a grief trump card. Other things, yes…but never a death

    Also @Leera99…that son is just an awful human being

  • JD April 28, 2014, 11:45 am

    OP did very well, in my opinion. OP< the best thing to say to a grieving person is the standard thing: "I am so sorry." And if you knew the deceased, "He/She was a wonderful person — I know he'll/she'll be missed." Standard phrases help avoid that foot-in-mouth thing we sometimes get.
    My husband, at that time a company vice president, was telling an employee one day that he needed to be more responsible about his work — he thought the young man had a great future if he would get serious about his work, and told him so. The employee ( in his early 30's) burst out angrily at my husband that he'd lost his father at 19 and life had been so hard since thing, you just don't understand how hard it's been, etc., etc. My husband let him run on until he ran out, then calmly asked the employee, "Do you know when MY father died? I was 19 years old, and had spent the year after graduating high school sitting by his hospital bed. I had to support myself and my mother after my dad died." As you can guess, my husband only takes grief as an excuse for so long. After losing both of my parents in a house fire, I also tend to have a low tolerance for using grief as a "pass," although I have a great deal of empathy for other's losses, and know they will have to take time to grieve. But no grief is an excuse for denigrating others' grief.

  • Jays April 28, 2014, 11:47 am

    I’ve wondered how to deal with this. My husband ISN’T a Christina to throw it in people’s faces as a sort of trump card, but he does compare what he lost to others’ losses and it’s hard to know how to react.

    A friend recently lost his father, who was 72. DH lost his dad (who was only in his 50s) more than 20 years ago. When I told him about our friend, he just looked at me and said, “I would have given anything to have my dad 20 more years.”

    True, yes. Appropriate, no. I know he thinks it’s OK to tell me this, because who else do you admit these feelings to if not your spouse? But I’m blessed to still have both my parents and all I can think of is “Is that what he’s going to be thinking when that day comes for my family?”

  • Taragail April 28, 2014, 12:05 pm

    Someday Christina will meet someone who really does have it worse than her. One wonders how she will react.

    • mechtilde April 30, 2014, 1:09 pm

      She probably won’t register that someone has had a worse experience. I’ve known a few people who have defined themselves by their victimhood, and no-one ever has it worse than them, at least as far as they are concerned.

  • Mechanistika April 28, 2014, 12:23 pm

    I learned something from a friend of mine (someone I’ve always considered a role model and a mother to me when I was away from my family) that basically went, “Telling someone their grief isn’t valid because someone has it worse is exactly the same as saying their happiness isn’t valid because someone has it better.”

    • JO April 28, 2014, 5:46 pm

      This!

  • Tracy April 28, 2014, 1:05 pm

    The Elf said: “I juggle numbers at work. One day, I was complaining to a friend about my hard day at work because these numbers just wouldn’t add up. I admit, I was complaining hard. This friend is a police officer. He looked me straight in the eye and said “I responded to a suicide today and I had to tell the boy’s mother.” Point taken. His day was way, way worse. My day at work will never be that bad! I bought him the next drink; he needed it! But that doesn’t make my numbers add up any easier or the work less frustrating. It just reminded me of perspective.”

    Yes, perspective is important. But it’s also important to realize that people are allowed to be unhappy about whatever is happening to them, even if someone else has it worse. Otherwise, only one person on Earth would be allowed to be unhappy, and the rest of us would have to simply be happy that we aren’t them. Just as important as perspective is a healthy dose of common sense and consideration. You are allowed to be very unhappy about losing $20 from your wallet. But do not run and complain to the person whose spouse left yesterday, after draining all of their bank accounts.

    However, I don’t think Christina is in the position of “person who shouldn’t be complained to because she truly does have it worse than you.” I think she’s using her “right to grieve” for her own benefit, and I’d be letting her friendship slip away.

  • kingsrings April 28, 2014, 1:44 pm

    People in grieving situations can understandably lash out in anger and negativity towards others. I think they deserve a free pass at first if it’s just occasionally because of the state they’re in, but they eventually need to take responsibility for their behavior no matter what. It isn’t okay to treat others like that, and Christina needed to seek some grief counseling from a therapist to learn to better handle her grief before her destructive behavior drove everyone in her life away.
    And I really, really hate the behavior of, “At least you don’t have such-and-such going on!”, or “At least your (family member) is still alive!”. First of all, despite the love one might have for their life situation or family member, it’s perfectly okay to complain about them or harbor bad feelings towards them about one thing or another. That’s life. It absolutely doesn’t mean they’re not thankful or loving towards their situation or family member. Not only that, but it’s very self-centered of the person saying that to turn the situation back towards them. It’s not about them. It’s the other person’s experience.

  • Anonymous April 28, 2014, 2:05 pm

    P.S., The “I’ve been busy” tactic is especially effective in this case if you mention spending time with more positive people, and doing positive things–for example, “The Saturday matinee was sold out, so Sally and I went tray-sledding* instead. We turned a negative into a positive.” This leaves the door open for Christina to eventually see that SHE has been way too negative, and rude, and manipulative, and then, in time, she might apologize. Don’t chase her for it, because it’ll never happen that way, and it wouldn’t be genuine if it did, but if she does apologize, sincerely and of her own volition, you could still forgive her, and possibly resume your regularly scheduled friendship.

    *For the uninitiated, tray-sledding was a “thing” when I was in university, because I’m Canadian, and most of the academic year happened while there was snow on the ground. People would slide down hills on cafeteria trays, and the cafeteria workers only objected mildly to this (if at all), because it was a tradition that was probably as old as the school itself.

  • NostalgicGal April 28, 2014, 2:43 pm

    I’m missing a dad, a year and a half. However after about a month I was moving on in my life. Mourning and grief is different for everyone but. After a few months the grief should be lessening, and if it isn’t then professional counseling NEEDS to happen.

    An acquaintance about my age, had two lovely children then lost a son, at about a year old. The universe revolved around her loss. Her older children, 2.5 and 4, didn’t exist. It just didn’t change no matter how anyone tried, including professionals. Then about a year and a half later, she got pregnant again. And produced another healthy son. We who knew her were surprised she didn’t name him Son II. And her blog that she’d started, ‘to the cult of Son’ if anything got bigger and more of her attention after this next baby. She fell out with most of us because we refused to keep validating and sympathizing when she had a lovely daughter, son, and now another son; that needed their mother. She was at day 1 with her grief and mourning and wanted to stay firmly there. Spouse finally took her to court after she told her yearling that she wanted SON not him and the older two kids were not getting anywhere in therapy and had her committed and divorced her.

    Some just do NOT WANT TO move on. Others use it as a card to deal that wears very thin with the passage of time. I don’t blame OP for cutting the friendship.

  • JO April 28, 2014, 4:12 pm

    Getting into a shouting match may not have been the best way to go about this, but it sounds as though you were both young and in stressful situations, and from an etiquette standpoint I don’t think you did anything wrong. There is only so much one can take of the *look-how-more-pain-I’m-in-than-you* attitude. Christina was either way too wrapped up in her grief to be healthy, or else she was just using her father’s death to excuse her holier-than-thou attitude.
    After my first pregnancy ended badly, I became quite depressed. I confided to a cousin that seeing the way people would complain on Facebook about their children was hard for me; it seemed to me they were all taking their children for granted. She let me vent, then said to me “a bit of advice. You know no burden but your own.” That helped me really put things in perspective! Try thinking of it that way. Christina was probably so wrapped up in her grief that the idea anyone else’s troubles were valid seemed impossible.

  • EllenS April 28, 2014, 5:29 pm

    Anger may or may not be “necessary” in processing grief, but it is very typical and normal. One of the things grief can do is to mess up your mouth filter, opening the door for you to say things you never would under normal circumstances. It does not make those things any less rude and hurtful, nor absolve you of responsibility for bad and selfish behavior. It only makes those things more understandable and a person who is healing from grief should be getting better over time and regain their self-awareness and self-control.

    However, there’s an old saying about suffering: “boiling water makes a carrot soft and an egg hard”. In other words, grief and pain can make a person more compassionate toward others, or bitter and selfish. It sounds like Christina is an egg, not a carrot.

    You are quite right, breaking a confidence and a promise has nothing to do with grief, it has to do with character. Behavior like that is a good reason to let a friendship go.

  • Raymee April 28, 2014, 5:41 pm

    I must confess, after my brother passed away I used the line, “Well at least you have all of your siblings!” on a friend. But to be fair it was after she told he I didn’t know what she was going though as she was just so angry at MY brother for committing suicide, and I had my boyfriend for support, whilst she was single.

    The friendship ran it’s course not long after that.

  • Dear! April 28, 2014, 6:32 pm

    Hi OP.

    I understand that you may feel bad about the loss of your relationship with Christina, but she doesn’t sound like a very nice person. I can’t decide how long she is allowed to grieve, but I agree with the ADMIN, that after a year, she may still be struggling, but it sounds like she uses her father’s untimely passing as a crutch to be mean and vicious.

    No two people are alike, and no two people grieve alike, but I believe that she was only saying/doing what was truly in her heart.

    My grand father passed away with I was 16. My anger manifested itself one day when we were headed to the grave sight. A cousin who had not even visited him when he was sick, or checked on him, came to the house and funeral causing a scene, and pushing herself into the family limo even before my grandmother. She continued to WAIL & act a fool the whole ride, while my poor grandmother sat in a state of shock and depression at the loss of her husband. She was clearly putting on a show, and when someone asked my grandmother something and she went to interrupt, I calmly turned to her and said “Shut the ******* up, sit down, and be quiet.” And kept giving her nasty looks until she shut up.

    It was very out of character for me, and very rude in hindsight, but it was what I felt and what I WANTED to say. The difference was, I usually would have thought it but kept it to myself……but I still would have thought it had it been a stranger to me and this woman was acting like such an over the top drama queen.

    Your friend wanted to be mean, she wanted to be untrustworthy, and she wanted to make you feel bad. Don’t feel bad that you lost a friend who wasn’t good to you.

    • Dear! April 28, 2014, 6:34 pm

      I also notice that you didn’t mention anything about Christina being an awesome friend/person before all of this, so maybe that is a bit telling……

  • Daphne April 28, 2014, 8:13 pm

    For some people, the death of a loved one is so traumatic that it fundamentally changes who they are. That’s just a sad part of life and there’s really nothing you can do about it. And sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to distance yourself from a friend who has become unhinged because of a trauma. Christina will either get help or she won’t, and maybe you could suggest grief counseling to her, but it may help you to realize that she needs the type of support that friendship cannot provide.
    Empathy and understanding can go a long way when someone is grieving, but it is no substitute for professional help when someone just can’t seem to cope anymore.

    My ex sister in law lost her father at 18, and at 35 was still going into rages over it. Whenever she was trying to make a point, or trying to control a situation she would yell: “WELL MAYBE IF YOUR DAD WAS DEAD…(fill in the blank)” She came across as completely unstable and it was painful to be around her.
    My point being that some people choose to never deal with the death of a loved one. Your friend Christina could be one of those people. So don’t feel guilty about distancing yourself from her.

  • Cat April 28, 2014, 8:36 pm

    Mother died when I was twenty-two and Dad when I was twenty-five. I grieved for both of them, but neither had ever been of any emotional support to me and I moved on with my life without any trauma.
    It did make me more sensitive to the grief of others. Support groups are composed of those who have suffered a similar loss. I don’t understand using loss as a trump card to win every discussion. If you love someone, the fact that they loved you too should provide some joy in their life. “Lovers may die, but love does not-and death has no dominion”.

  • AnnaMontana April 29, 2014, 2:05 am

    Sounds to me like Christina uses her father’s death as a ‘cover-all card’. Basically anything mean she does/says ‘my dad died’, she doesn’t pass an exam ‘well, because my dad died’ an so on.
    I lost my grandad during my second year at Uni. He actually died the same day we cremated my great-grandma (there’s only 13-soon to be 14 of us in my family so we’re very close). Her wake ended at 5pm, my grandad died at 5:01pm. This was the week before my 21st birthday. I had special permission from my lecturers to miss class the day of Nan’s funeral, but I was supposed to return to Uni the next day to attend lectures. I am the oldest of all the ‘children’ in my family (I was 21, my brother was 16, oldest cousin was 12 and youngest cousin was 7) plus I was the only one who didn’t cry and just held it together enough to give the nurses/doctors my grandad’s paperwork etc. I called my Uni, who told me I needed a death certificate to prove where I had been and that they weren’t going to extend my deadline for an assignment I needed to hand in, because ‘a grandparent’s death should not affect you personally.’ Direct quote. I ended up staying home for another week. My grandad’s funeral was on my 21st birthday.
    Grief is strange and now, 5 years later, we all laugh about how my grandad couldn’t let my Nan have her own day and ‘had to go one better.’ Not once have I ever tried to diminish someone’s suffering. Never could I ever do that, because I know how much it hurts.
    The first person I saw back at uni actually said to me, ‘well at least it was your Grandad and not your Dad or anything.’ I wanted to punch her, but instead said ‘I think I’ll go to my room now.’ I shut the door on her.
    To this day there are no ‘happy memories’ of my 21st. But there are lots of my grandad and THAT’s the legacy he left behind, not some funeral or death.
    Christina sounds toxic, OP you might be better off without her.

    • Rowan April 29, 2014, 4:18 am

      “a grandparent’s death should not affect you personally.” Urgh, for goodness sake!

      When my dad was dying, I took some time off work to sit with him in hospital. I made sure I picked up loads of paperwork to do while I was there, left cover work for my classes, and I got everything in on time. They threatened me with a written warning but I was prepared to take that for those few extra hours with Dad. Then, once he was gone, I was told my record wouldn’t be affected since they now realised “how serious the situation had been”. Thanks for that.

  • Alli April 29, 2014, 4:43 am

    I have a cousin who is the same age and who I was in school with for most of elementary school. My cousin’s mom died with he was about 6. Obviously, he was devastated. But then he figured out as a kid that if he told someone his mom died, people would give him a pass. For years, he would use it a trump card to get out of things. Schoolwork, activities, etc. Come fifth grade, my cousin was way behind the rest of the class.

    He finally landed in a class where a teacher started calling him on that. This teacher was frank with him and said “You have to stop using that as an excuse for everything. That’s not what your mom would have wanted.” He took no excuses from him and had high expectations. And, it worked. My cousin caught up with the rest of the class. Today, my cousin credits that teacher basically with saving his education.

  • Sarah April 29, 2014, 9:37 am

    I love this blog but rarely comment. Until this, and that is because professionally part of my role is grief and loss counselling, specifically perinatal and neonatal loss. Grief is painful and losing a loved one often feels ‘unfair’ and I think this is behind Christina’s acting out. She isn’t mature enough to cope without help, and she needs a good grief and loss counselling to get that help. If I was her friend I’d approach her by saying ‘I’m really worried about you, you’ve been through so much by yourself and I think talking to a professional would give you some support’
    Incidentally the behaviour of the women discussed in the comments who have lost pregnancies through still birth or had children pass away is what we’d term complicated grief and when it stops being a grieving process and starts becoming pathological then referral to a mental health professional is indicated. Sorry if this all sounds a bit clinical – it’s my bread and butter and I thought maybe a different perspective might be interesting

  • The TARDIS April 29, 2014, 1:18 pm

    The first time I witnessed a death in person, it was a patient of mine. She had liver issues and there was blood everywhere. Her vitals crashed and we couldn’t get her back. As bad as that was, I tell myself at least she wasn’t alone or that it didn’t happen in her bathroom with horrified family standing around, and at least I’m not the family who had to deal with the loss. When it was all over, I washed her off, changed her into a clean hospital gown and told her family she died in her sleep.

    I was angry for awhile. Angry that I had to witness something so awful. I’ll admit one old friend of mine kept talking about something stupid related to a pedicure minutes after the incident, and I yelled in her face, “Shut up about your pedicure! I don’t care about your d*&# toenails! I just watched someone die!” She stopped, hugged me and said she was sorry. I apologized as well. She let me talk and get it off my chest. For the rest of that day I bit my tongue against repeating that snappish comment. Death is a part of life in nursing.

    Having said that, I might have been upset if someone did say “At least you aren’t the family!” to me. I was well aware of that, yet the experience was traumatic to me and I wouldn’t have appreciated having my feelings about the experience invalidated like that.

    Using someone’s death is no excuse to treat others with disrespect. I think Christina needs counselling, or at least someone to talk to who can understand her feelings of anguish. Maybe there was a previously unknown, unresolved issue between her and her father that is holding her back from moving forward.

  • ketchup April 29, 2014, 1:27 pm

    Someone I know recently made the statement that because many African women suffer through FGM, western sexist discrimination is irrelevant. Different, but the same.

    Grief can make people do strange things, but idiocy can as well.

    • EchoGirl April 30, 2014, 1:19 am

      I have a job that drives me absolutely crazy, to the point where I’ve been genuinely concerned about my physical health as a result of the stress. (We’re talking part-time job to pay for rent in college here, not a career.) I was complaining once to my boyfriend about that, and his response was “at least you have a job.”
      Now, if he had just lost his job, I would have understood. But he was working at a job he loved, for a lot more than I was getting, and it upset me a lot that he would say that knowing how hard of a time he was having. To be fair, once I called him on it he never did it again, but I really don’t need to come home from a rough day and be told that it could be worse if I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a job for a year, and this job is so bad I’ve longed for those days before.

      • EchoGirl April 30, 2014, 1:20 am

        Sorry — it’s late and I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be. My point is, someone doesn’t have to be going through a hard time of their own to do the “it could be worse” routine. Like ketchup said.

  • wren April 29, 2014, 3:24 pm

    It’s time she stopped using her grief as a weapon she whips out to sting people with.

  • AIP April 29, 2014, 5:22 pm

    I think many of the others and Admin have the measure of the situation, if all the facts have been presented. Grief can fundamentally affect a person, especially at a vulnerable and formative age, and can lead them to act in unideal ways. Other people are selfish madams given legitimacy. If she was simply a college friend OP may not be aware if she was always like that.

    I was 19 when my grandmother passed. It was an unpleasant death and my mother was having a tough time of it – which meant she really wanted to take it out on me. I got out of the house for a few days for a friends birthday in the nearby city. I suppose I assumed I’d get some support from friends, especially one whose grandfather had passed a decade previous and still talked about it regularly. You know the type: “oh you have a migraine … Well, I’m going in for a scan because they think I have a brain tumour” “my infertility is more important than your infertility”…”women always hate me because (because I’m beautiful)”… [well it probably has more to do with the fact that you are a total wagon, but hey, whatever gets you through the day dearie].

    I really should’ve known better. I was a bit part in the drama of their lives – and the ugly one to make them look that much better- and it was completely verboten that I would forget that! I rarely interact with them anymore and I can’t say I’m sad about it.

    TLDR: you did the best you could. Other people’s grief is tough to deal with, but all you really need to know is to say: “that’s terrible news, I’m so sorry for your loss”. And, unless you know the person well and know how they react, never ever begin a sentence with “At least…”

  • Rosie B. April 29, 2014, 9:37 pm

    I’ve always said that saying, “You have no right to be sad because other people have it worse than you” is just like saying, “You have no right to be happy because other people have it better than you”!