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I am so angry with the way one friend treated another who has died

The dilemma I’ve spent the pandemic quarantining in my university house with my closest friends, one of whom passed away last year. He was in the middle of an “off” part of an on-again-off-again abusive relationship with someone who was my best friend at the time. Since then, me and his girlfriend have fallen out badly, and most of my friends and I feel very angry with her at the way she treated the friend who has passed away – and how much she’s hurt me. However, one of my other closest friends is still friends with her.

I can’t understand how he would be able to have a friendship with her despite the terrible things she has done, and it makes it hard for me to talk to him without thinking of her. He, however, will not talk about their friendship as he doesn’t want to be put in the middle, or convinced to dislike her in any way, so it is just left as this elephant in the room. How do I come to terms with sharing a friend with someone who has caused a lot of pain? Especially when most of that pain was aimed towards someone dear who we have lost?

Mariella replies I’m so sorry for your loss. Bereavement will make a grey world turn darker still, but it’s important to maintain a perspective on what you are currently living through. These are challenging times and being cooped up with others, no matter how good your relationship, can fast become an explosive scenario when heightened emotions come into play. There will have been fallouts up and down the land triggered by our increased anxiety levels combined with the reduction in opportunities to let off steam, and the challenge of gaining any form of perspective on our much-altered lives. You sound as though – thanks to a series of unique circumstances – you’ve been hit harder than some and you clearly harbour a lot of unresolved anger.

I’m saddened to hear you’ve lost a friend so young and I’m sure you’re not the only one feeling bereft. The loss will have had a profound effect on everyone – even, I suspect, the girlfriend you deem to have treated him so badly. I hope as a group you continue to share memories of him and explore the emotions provoked by his untimely passing, because it is incredibly important not to allow silence to descend or to create no-go areas of conversation. Keeping him “in the room”, as it were, is an imperative exercise in preserving his memory and coping with your bereavement. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that taking a critical or judgmental position on how others have coped, or are coping, isn’t likely to be the best way forward.

You seem very sure of your narrative in this scenario

You describe their relationship as an “on-again-off-again abusive” one. That’s a pretty serious judgment and one that I hope you are confident is justified. We live in censorious times and words matter a great deal, whether you and this girl remain friendly or not. How you choose to consign their relationship to history is something you should treat with great caution. Life is long and one of the benefits we get to set against ageing is an expansion of empathy towards our fellow humans – youth brings out the dictator in most of us. You seem very sure of your narrative in this scenario – your friend was a tragic victim, his girlfriend a monster and her punishment, at the very least, must be exile from your friendship group. Is it possible you are being dogmatic?

I can recall the intensity of my friendships at your age and I’m grateful that, despite the decades that have passed, a couple have survived intact. I attribute the longevity of my oldest friendships to a mysterious alchemy of chemistry, tolerance, mutual forgiveness and the ability to laugh at our own and each other’s foibles. I say this to remind you that friendship is not built on dictating the line to be toed. It’s more important to invest tolerance and understanding than declare edicts or to have over-elevated and subjective expectations.

Maybe it takes maturity to realise how little we can change others (or, indeed, ourselves) and how necessary it is, for a contented life, to temper our tendency for judgment. Your friend’s death has hit you hard and I have enormous sympathy for what you are enduring – but it’s also provoked in you a sense of outrage about his relationship with and the role of your then best friend. My advice is not to leap to conclusions – or demand anyone else does. The aftermath of such a tragedy is not the time to insist that others view events the way you do. I also think you might benefit from grief counselling. Try contacting Cruse Bereavement Care.

I don’t know if your relationship with your friend is repairable or even whether it should be. What is clear, though, is that demanding unerring loyalty to your worldview is not healthy. The way to resolve the turmoil of your feelings is not by enlisting acolytes to enforce your sentences or punish others for perceived crimes but to try to gain enlightenment as to why people behave in ways that are at times inexplicable. Once you do you’ll find forgiveness and equilibrium often come close behind.

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