Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

Avoid Friend Guilt

When someone dies, those left behind often feel some measure of guilt. Sometimes the guilt is directly related to the death: why didn’t I take the car keys away from him?

Sometimes the guilt is a little narcissistic, the assumption being that we had the power to keep that friend alive…if only we’d done X, Y or Z.

And sometimes the guilt is about something very personal, very small in the great scheme of things: sometimes we feel guilty for what we didn’t say.

I don’t believe I ever told any of my friends I loved them until after 9/11. The shock of that day – and later finding out that I knew someone who died in the towers – prompted me to admit what I’d felt for a long time.

When I told one friend, her reply was, “I know.” My explanation was along the line of “It doesn’t matter. I needed to say it.”

Denial, as they say, isn’t just a river in Egypt. In many cultures, death is an accepted part of life. But in the US we tend to ignore it as much as we can. Halloween might be our favorite holiday, but that’s not the same thing.

We put off making wills, come up with excuses for not attending funerals. We don’t even like visiting friends who are sick. We might think about calling, but you know how it is: we got busy.

One of the reasons I try to keep in touch with friends is that I get nervous when I don’t hear from them for a while. Okay, fine, I get paranoid. It’s rooted in the AIDS epidemic, when those with the virus would disappear from public view once their appearance began to drastically change. Too soon, you were reading their obituary.

Yeah, time gets away from us. The holidays are quickly approaching and that means we’ll have even less free time. You look at your Facebook friends, or contact list on your phone, or maybe you have a real, paper address book: so many names! I don’t have time to email/call/IM/tweet/text all of them.

You’re right. You probably don’t have time to reach out to all of them at once. And for the purpose of this post, one of those pithy friendship memes doesn’t cut it.

Pick one friend, any friend. You don’t have to write a letter, or go public on Facebook or Twitter. You don’t have to make a big production about it, though you still run the risk of embarrassing them (and maybe yourself, too).

Pick up the phone and call them. Catch up. And when it’s time to say goodbye, just add “love you”.

They may say, “Love you, too”. They may be too shocked to say anything. It doesn’t matter.

Because now you’ll never have to ask yourself, “did my friend know that I loved them?”