Grief can be for a lost friend, who may still be around

  • An argument can lead to a falling out among friends. This can result in a type of "invisible grief."

    An argument can lead to a falling out among friends. This can result in a type of "invisible grief." Stock Photo

Posted2/20/2021 6:00 AM

We all know the death of a close friend may cause grief very similar to losing a dear family member. And in my experience, this can also result in intense and even long-term grief. I have a friend who sometimes still bursts into tears when she mentions the name of a dear friend who died.

But there is another way to lose a friend, resulting in intense grief. A while ago, a woman who is in a group I regularly attended (before COVID-19) asked me about something:


"I have grief over a friend I lost, not to death but because of a misunderstanding, and I miss her so much," she said. "I am grieving the loss of my friend. I don't know what to do."

She was not sure what happened and why they couldn't patch it up. Apparently she inadvertently offended her longtime friend, who then just cut off contact with her, notwithstanding an apology -- nothing. It had already been a couple years. It felt like death of a friend.

I don't know how frequently something like this happens, people just cutting each other off. But maybe it's more common than we think. And if that's the case, it's not only sad but preventable. Of course, the key is communication, but some folks just can't do it, or can't figure out how to do it -- how to "patch it up."

It's not always a misunderstanding. For instance, this also happens in divorce. Unfortunately, friends often "take sides" in divorce and sympathize with only one half of the couple. A divorced person may lose longtime friends simply because they sided with the former spouse or partner. Some people really only have a relationship with one or the other of the divorced pair. But even in the case of mutual friends, somehow many people just cannot figure out how to maintain relationships with both "sides." So divorce is another source of lost friends.

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The loss of a friend, whether the result of death, divorce or a misunderstanding, is so very difficult.

As I've written in the past, there are many types of what I call "invisible grief." This business of losing a friend over a quarrel or any problem is another type of invisible grief. It can occur over the death of a mentor, a teacher, a still birth or miscarriage, a dear neighbor, a personal hero.

These sources of grief are often thought minor enough to pass over time, or not be recognized at all. You may consider them not as important as the death of a spouse, parent or close relative. Many types of invisible grief are out there, and many people are coping with this on their own.

It can even be very hard when a close friend, who is a big part of your life, moves far away and you can no longer get together. Luckily, with modern communication today, we can stay in touch, talk, even see each other over online video chats.

But the point is: The unnecessary "loss" of a friend or other dear one, even if not a relative, is so very hard. Sadly, not all "falling outs" can be patched up. My beloved husband, Baheej, was very good at mediating such situations, but not all can be solved. And Baheej is no longer here to help. He gave people great advice, and had such a good understanding of human nature.

Anyway, as we see, it's possible to lose a friend who is still actually alive, and some experience intense sadness and even grief over that loss. Life throws us many challenges, as we all know. It's good to be aware and help when we can by extending ourselves to others.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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