My friends haven’t been there for me since my dad’s death | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

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My dad died unexpectedly a few months ago and I can’t shift the resentment I feel towards some of my oldest friends, who have barely been in touch since it happened.

I understand that death is a scary subject and that people might worry about saying the wrong thing. Yet I still feel a bit wounded by the lack of contact after my dad’s funeral.

Three months on, I’ve finally heard from a couple of them via text about unrelated matters. In response, I’ve been the version of me that they know – the one where I’m fine and not up to my neck in grief. I suppose I don’t want to lower the tone with my tales of woe, and they didn’t ask.

I haven’t even begun to unpick the fact that I am now an adult orphan (my mum died unexpectedly 20 years ago; I’m in my 40s). It feels too big a thing to take on.

I don’t want to confront them because I don’t want to make them feel guilty. Normally they are excellent friends who I love dearly.

I have other friends, and a lovely husband and children, so I can deal with this without their support. I just want to let go of the disappointment so I can get through this all-consuming grief, and feel a tiny bit lighter.

I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s death.

I went to UKCP registered psychotherapist Mandy Gosling, who is also a bereavement specialist. She wondered if “your father’s death has activated some unresolved grief from an earlier experience [perhaps your mother’s death?]”.

Gosling also thought that the resentment and disappointment you feel “is interesting: it would usually indicate someone who is overgiving. Perhaps you are a very giving person and you can feel resentment that you don’t get that same level back.”

This may come from an inability to ask for the help you need, as demonstrated by you feeling you have to be a certain “version” of yourself. You also seem worried about overburdening people.

What I have found with grief is that the people around you need to know what you need because, as you say, they are terrified of saying the wrong thing and of intruding. Also, people often want to “fix” things, and you can’t fix death, so they feel impotent.

In these scenarios someone has to be brave, and it’s often the bereaved person who has to break the ice.

Does this feel fair? Of course not. But what helps me is if I try to understand people’s motivation, because it’s rare that friends – especially formerly supportive, loving friends – don’t care. It’s usually that their own fear of the subject is too big to overcome to say something simple like “I’m sorry – how are you doing?”, which is really all it takes to initiate a conversation.

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Becoming an adult orphan can trigger an existential crisis. When we feel the people who always looked out for us are gone, we really need to know that those left behind can be there for us. When it seems they can’t, the world can feel scary and cold.

Gosling suggested if you really can’t ask your “silent” friends for help, maybe you could rely more on those other friends, and your husband.

You might find some therapeutic support useful. Talking to someone who understands bereavement can help you carry the burden of grief. I think you deserve that.

Information, support and a bereavement helpline can be found at

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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