Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My remaining parent started having health problems nearly a year ago – my friends are aware of this – and now has only months left. They are not aware of this. I’m divorced, no kids, and juggling work and caretaking, going out of town every weekend.
Recently, my sibling took over caretaking and gave me a rare weekend at home to get a few things done. It was silent and empty and a good preview of what lies ahead when my parent dies.
Except for one, it seems all my friends have dropped away. I’ve been too busy to call them and they haven’t reached out to me in, literally, months. I was suddenly aware that soon I’ll basically be starting from scratch. Any advice for the aftermath?
Never miss a local story.
First, don’t worry about it now, unless you have energy to put in a call here and there to one of these dropped-away friends. Not necessarily to make plans, but instead to check in because you feel their absence.
Second, don’t see an unexpected, unfilled weekend as an accurate preview of what’s to come. Few people, when presented with an unexpected and unplanned-for break in a busy sequence, manage to pull together a coherent social use of that time – unless they’re tight enough with the next-door neighbors to pop in for coffee. Generally that time gets burned on the couch by people thinking, cheez, I finally have a break and this is all I’m doing with it?
That’s because being highly invested and preoccupied by an emotionally consuming mission tends to steal resources from the rest of your social life – especially if your connections weren’t that strong to begin with, but even in some cases when they were.
Plus, filled and fulfilling social schedules tend to be the product of continuity and steady maintenance. Resuming that maintenance might be all you need to start feeling connected again, even if your roster of friends changes slightly.
Third, when you do find yourself in the “after” phase, you can survey the landscape then. You don’t know yet how you will feel, and how you feel will drive everything.
You can regroup on your own as you need to, start calling old friends as you want to, weigh their (non-)responses as they come in, and see what kind of effort you want to make from there, on whom. Besides the occasional call I suggested at the outset, there isn’t much you can do under present circumstances that will change the outcome drastically later. Focus on your parent now, and focus on later later.
Re: Friendship Lite: When I know a friend is going through a difficult, consuming time, I back way off, because that’s what I would want my friends to do for me. I don’t want check-ins all the time when I have something going on. I mostly just want to be left alone, and when I’m ready to reconnect, I’ll put the word out. Your friends may be waiting for the green light to start interacting again.
True, thank you. However, many also appreciate occasional “Hey, miss you, hope you’re OK, no need to respond, yell if I can help” contact. When in doubt, it’s better to ask than assume what friends need.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.