Trust, Once Broken, is Not Easily Mended

When the kids were little, I tried to teach them the incredible value of trust. Miriam-Webster dictionary gives one definition of trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed (my emphasis on words in italics).” Trust is the basis of our close, meaningful friendships and relationships. Trust is the basis of a successful relationship between employer and employee.Trust is imperative in the relationship between spouses and between family members.

imagesAs a way of communicating this intangible concept to the kids, I used a couple of visual examples to show the consequences of breaking someone’s trust. We set up a pattern with dominos on the dining room table, the kind where you touch the first one to knock it over and that starts a chain reaction of the rest falling over. I wanted to show them that one action could affect many things. One action can lead to broken trust and can create an series of unintended consequences, much like the falling dominos.

481000578I also showed them one of my glass flower vases and asked them what they thought would happen if I smashed it on the ground. We talked about whether or not it could ever be put back together again. Even if we were able to find all the pieces and put them back together (which would be highly unlikely), it would never look or function the same. Once broken, not easily mended.

In my last post, I wrote about secondary losses. Following the death of a child, one of these secondary losses can be the loss of friendship, either immediately following the death of the child or as times goes by. The saying ” grief changes your address book” is true.  Initially, people may not know what to do or say, so they stay away. As time goes by, people may get tired of how long it takes to “get over” the death of a child and decide to move on. Either way, it’s fairly common to lose friends following the death of a child. (The online magazine, Still Standing, has an excellent article on this topic.)

I’ve also written about the loss of friendship after Jason died. Losing friends following the death of a child is hard. I recently read an article about the psychology behind people leaving alone people in crisis. The article quotes Barbara M. Sourkes, associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine: “When you’re confronted by someone else’s horror, there’s a sense that it’s close to home.” Too close to home, I would add. The article also lists reasons people may disappear – people don’t like to feel helpless, awkwardness around crises, feeling too much empathy in picturing that it could happen to them or their children, or creating distance so that it doesn’t seem real (out of sight/out of mind), feeling guilty that they’re so glad its not them, or feeling like if they stay away from the crisis that it won’t happen to them. Whatever the reason is or whenever the reason people disappear doesn’t make the loss any easier.

In some ways, I think people were waiting until we were “better,” waiting until enough time passed until…what??…until we weren’t so sad? I don’t know. There really is no such thing as “getting better.” One gal told me she wanted to make sure we had enough family time. Christmas 2002, nearly 10 months after Jason died, we had a few more people that usual call. At the time, I felt like people felt like it was safe to try to reconnect, but we weren’t the same people they used to know. Those relationships just weren’t the same.

When people walked away from us, I lost a lot of respect for them. It was hard feeling abandoned by those we expected to support us. Trust was broken. Our confidence in their ability to be true, kind, compassionate friends was broken. Those relationships were broken because of the broken trust. It was hard to feel like they really wanted to be in our lives, that they really wanted to be true friends again. If they really wanted to be our friends, why would they have abandoned us? As I said in my “toolbox” post, I am very guarded. I keep my shield close at hand, ready to put it up to protect my heart. That makes it really hard to let people in and trust that they really do care. It’s a hard thing to start trusting again.

I’ve really tried recently to be more open and trusting. I’ve tried to remove bricks from the walls I’ve put up around myself over the years – walls of protection and self-preservation. I’ve tried to allow people into my life. I’ve tried to be friendly and open to new friendships. It’s a really hard thing to do, this allowing people to be close to me. I’m really guarded. I don’t know if they can handle the brokenness in my life. I don’t know if they will think enough time has passed since Jason died that it shouldn’t bother me any more. I don’t want to be judged or to become a project to be “made better.” I don’t know if they will accept me for who I am. I don’t know if I can trust them to be there for me. It’s just so dang hard for me to do.

I recently confided something in a gal I thought to be a friend. She immediately passed it on to someone else, who came to talk to me about it. It was a trust-shattering moment. I continue to try to forgive that breach of trust, but I no longer look at that friendship the same. I no longer feel that relationship is worthy of my trust.

Trust is a huge issue for me. I want to be trustworthy – worthy of people entrusting things to me, knowing I will handle that trust with care. I want to have people around me that are trustworthy – worthy of entrusting them with my brokenness and fragile heart, knowing they will handle my trust with care.

Things are no longer simple following the death of a child. Navigating this life is more like canoeing down rapids than paddling on a calm lake. We have to be diligent and careful moving down this life-path. It’s like our radar always is on, scanning for things that might rock our boat. For example, Jason’s birthday is coming up, and I have learned that things that don’t normally bother me might make me sad. I have to be aware of that. I have to be aware of emotional triggers.

I have to read what’s the content of movies or TV shows. After Jason died, I couldn’t watch movies or TV shows that had car crashes in them. I couldn’t watch loud movies. I couldn’t watch movies about children dying (still can’t). I can’t watch high stress movies or TV shows. When scenes are particularly tense, I still have to close my eyes and breathe deeply until the scene is over.

I have to determine if I can trust someone. I have to judge conversations with people I have just met as to whether or not I should mention Jason. When someone asks me about how many children I have, can they handle the fact that I have a child who died? Is this a passing conversation with someone who moves on or is this someone who might stick around a while? If I do talk about Jason’s death, will they disappear like people did just after Jason died? Can I trust this person enough with my heart to believe that they won’t inflict further hurt? Will they not shatter my trust? Who can I trust?

People make mistakes. I understand that. We are all human and need to extend grace to each other. I’ve worked really hard on forgiving those that have hurt us. But, I also understand that trust once broken is not easily mended. It’s hard to let people that have broken our trust back into our hearts and into our lives.  It’s just never quite the same. Once that glass vase drops, it’s hard to put the pieces back together.


© 2016 Rebecca R. Carney


Photo credits:

Domino photo –

Shattered glass photo –

Articles quoted:

miriam webster trust


20 thoughts on “Trust, Once Broken, is Not Easily Mended

  1. I believe with grief there is such vulnerability. I’ve noticed that I am much more likely to distrust other people when I’ve been at low points in my life.
    One thing that has helped me is to take things less personal. Many times, another person’s statements reflect their own insecurities and thinking. i just allow for that instead of feeling devastated by their thoughtlessness.
    And then there are those true gifts – a friendship we can trust and count on. Thank God for those.
    I am sorry Becky for this horrible secondary loss you’ve experienced. It just compounds the grief.

    • Becky, you say people make mistakes , they are human and that you try to forgive them . Forgiveness of others’ response to your tragedy is hard.But I believe deep down part of you holds on to this painful piece of events because you may feel you’re betraying Jason by forgiving those who have trouble with your grief. And that is what it is ….your very personal grief ..For your sake, .forgive people for not knowing how to respond. Consider too that you can forgive and move on without these people in your very different life now. But True forgiveness will ease your grief – a grief that shouldn’t define you. My apologies if I’m too harsh here. But I too am on a 1st name with grief . God speed .

      • Hi, Gwen.

        First of all, I want you to know that my response is intended to be with great gentleness and no harshness. Yes, I think you are perhaps being a bit harsh with me. Although I have shared some of my personal life and my heart in these blogs and have tried to talk honestly about our experiences following Jason’s death, no one really sees into and knows my heart except me and God. To say that I am holding onto unforgiveness because I feel that I will be betraying Jason to let go of it is not correct. I want to speak about issues we dealt with following Jason’s death with honesty. In some ways, I think some bereaved parents feel like they have to hide what they deal with or feel like they have to deal with their deep grief and feelings privately so as not to make others uncomfortable. We have to figure out how to make our grief and the aftermath of loss palatable to others.

        I have worked hard on forgiveness over the years. If any tweak of hard feelings rise up again, as they do every once in a while, I try to deal with it as soon as I recognize it. I don’t want to hold unforgiveness in my heart, since it affects me more than anyone else. A lot of these people have no idea that they hurt us, so it does no good to hold onto it. Trusting once again is a bit more complicated for me, though.

        As I said to Judy, hopefully I have gained some perspective with time. I understood, with time, that the way people responded to us had more to do with their not knowing what to do than anything else. At the time, though, we felt what we felt – abandoned and alone. Writing about something that happened to us in the past in context with a topic doesn’t necessarily mean that I am stuck in that area. Do I have some scars and things I deal with that are left over from that time? Yes, I’m sure I do. I am a work in progress, though, as are we all.

        I do appreciate your comments. Thank you for taking the time to write.


      • Gwen, I didn’t think your words were harsh at all. You were very gentle and insightful. I’m sorry that you are so familiar with grief – that is unfortunate. It is not a place anyone would choose to be.

    • Hi, Judy.

      Thank you, once again, for your thoughtful and insightful comments. I think that with time comes perspective and I have learned over the years to not take things so personally. People who hurt us and whose actions I didn’t understand, with time, I was more able to put in context and to forgive. But, early on I did feel very vulnerable and it was difficult for me to absorb so many additional losses. My heart was raw with grief and I felt each secondary loss acutely. The secondary losses seemed so huge and overwhelming on top of Jason’s death. I agree that secondary losses compound grief. It affected me in the area of trust. I think each person handles grief and loss differently. I am an empathetic person who feels things deeply. It’s who I am and it affects how I grieve.

      Grief is a continual work in progress that really doesn’t end. I feel like my grief education has been hard-earned, as I’m sure many parents do. I am a work in progress in many ways, as are we all.

      There are certainly many things for which I am thankful, and the gift of true friendship is one of them in my friend Mary. Wish we lived closer together (we live on separate coasts now). Her friendship was truly God-sent.

      Thanks again for your heartfelt comments.


      • Grief work is hard earned – I consider it one of my greatest achievements in life. Nothing was harder. I was very much the same way, Becky. In fact, I completely isolated myself from anyone one who didn’t understand my grief for many years. I’m glad you had Mary and sorry she isn’t closer.

  2. Thank you for your insightful article Becky. It reinforces all the feelings and situations I have experienced. I appreciate your honesty and I always look forward to your blog. When I meet new people I always say I had three daughters. It just depends on the situation whether I expand on that I lost my youngest daughter. My close friendships are with other parents who have lost children. Former close friends who couldn’t handle my grief are in the distant past. I am not so forgiving when they wanted to come back. I don’t need anyone who just wants to be here for the “good times”. The only way “to ease your grief” is to have your child back I really feel and that’s not possible. Much love, Janice x

  3. I lost all my faith in churches and religion. At the time of our greatest need friends and the church, that I was a very active member of, deserted my child and us as a family! I will never forget the lovelessness that we were treated with. Now I don’t belong to a church anymore but I have a relationship with God. I don’t need “good time” friends. I have found support and love in cyberspace. Much love my friend.

  4. Becky, again, I so apologize for what seems harsh in my replies. I do feel a connection with you here – ever since your response to my blog on the suicide of a friend’s son, a teammate of my son. I’ve watched, within a decade – up close and personal – 9 beloved members of my immediate family die, I’ve had a miscarriage ending in infertility brought on by malpractice of ‘big business’ . You’re right, grief never, ever goes away and I’ve hated those who’ve expected it to. But I had to sit back and let my mind and my heart ‘fight’ it out (grief work) for dominance over who I was going to become. Most days now I live in the state of shared heart/brain governance. And when I am quiet, I know I want a life that lets me laugh again. A life in which grief, guilt & remorse are helpless in their attempts to rule. A life that allows me to look at the happiness of others with the best of hopes rather than the pain of envy. I am not always successful – a work in progress as you say – but the end-result of grief work (for me) has to be happiness. A willingness to put grief (since it will never go away) in its place. All the best to you. Sincerely, Gwen

  5. Grief is a road that we shall travel until our time is done here on earth. It is not a path that ends, it is not one that diminishes. Each of the events in our life change our path and losing a child alters our course to that of a parent to a grieving parent. That will never change. In 20 years we will still be a grieving parent, Our child will still be gone……
    This post truly spoke of our daily lives and the reality of what we face as a grieving parent. The trips to the grocery store where someone you have known your whole life runs from you. The person that says the ill fated “Why are you sad today” the Monday following Father’s Day as you had to once again relive the fact that your son passed away before your husband could have his first father’s day wit him. The time your Grandmother told you to “Get over it, other parent’s move on.” Not only do our relationships with friends change but so too does it with family. We as grieving parents do not wish to change your life as you know it. However all we wish is that you respect the fact that we are grieving and will be doing so for the rest of our lives.

  6. Grief is personal. Our reactions to others when we need them the most to be kind and compassionate are quite personal too. My husband’s sister and her family decided to remain on vacation rather than attend my daughter’s funeral. They had four days to do so. They were a 6 hour flight away from home. Forgive? I am a mother first and foremost and they disrespected my daughter’s life. I do not dwell on this every day. God can forgive them. Its just not in my mother’s heart to do so. I still take a lot of actions personally. Becky, thank you for always sharing your honest heart. I agree many grieving parents feel pressured to say what others want to hear rather than speak so honestly.

      • I felt so bad for my husband as he kept thinking they would show up … My family all came. Despite the way I feel about his sister and her family, I orchestrated a reconnection with my husband and his sister as she is his only living relative. She does nothing to keep the connection going … Whatever.

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  8. Becky, I’ve been reading your blog this week. Thank you for being transparent about your loneliness and anger. My son was killed in a car accident 15 months ago. My experience has been similar to yours in many ways and I’m so hurt by it. Our church has been gracious–we have not been judged, and there have been beautiful moments of kindness–but apart from those moments, we are left alone. So alone. I feel betrayed, untouchable. I’m trying to release others from my expectations, but I’m failing miserably. Even this morning, sitting in church, I look around and am so angry at everyone and don’t know how to trust them again. I don’t want to be angry and bitter, but I’m not strong enough to do anything different. So thank you for sharing all of your story, even the hardest parts. I am grateful.

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