I was talking to a young person recently who had experienced the death of his mother. He mentioned that he thought some friends were just around because they felt sorry for him, and that it felt weird. When I asked what he meant, he said they hadn't really been friends before his mom died, maybe just a grunt in the hallway now and then, but now these teens reached out to him, commented on his social media, and wanted to get together.
His feelings make sense to me.
Teens crave authenticity, and if anything has a whiff of disingenuousness, they will sniff it right out. No one wants a pity friend, because it feels out of balance. We want to be liked for who we are, not for what we've been through.
But here's what I said to this teen, since I'm a bit farther down the road, grief-wise, than he is, and I've got 30 years on him of seeing the complexity of life.
I told him I, too, had people reach out to me after Jack died, and my friends list is vastly different now than it was before Sept 8, 2011. Many people came into my life, and yes, it was a direct result of what happened to our family. However, those friendships are not based on pity now. A one-sided relationship is not sustainable in the long-run, but a friendship with someone who has already PROVEN a willingness to reach out despite awkwardness, is a treasure. Empathy and generosity are amazing qualities in a friend. How great is it to know up front that a person has those?
I also told him many people exited my life, never in an overt or hostile way, but because things became so complicated after Jack died. How impossible would it have been for us to hang out with baseball parents immediately after the accident? What about families from youth group, when we no longer had a middle schooler? Friendships shifted. We changed churches, jobs, schools, and neighborhoods. We had no energy, and some relationships faded away.
I believe many friendships are for a particular season in life, whether it's due to having babies close in age, working on a project together, being in the same school, or even in the aftermath of a tragedy.
I told the young man that if his loss led to his being placed on people's hearts, and they reached out of their comfort zones to express sympathy or be a friend, that's never a bad thing. There is a level of intimacy that comes from experiencing hardship together, while it could take years to get there with friends who don't know what you've been through. Some of the new friendships will stick and grow, while he will remember others just as a warm light in this dark season of grief.
Both are okay.
I've learned so much from the people who rushed toward me, rather than away from me in 2011, and I'm still learning today.