A few years ago I had a long term friendship come to an end. Four decades of love, laughter and jokes, gone. I felt as though someone had removed a part of my heart. However, that experience both taught me important life lessons as well as opened many new doors. Here’s what I learned:

A Right to Choose a Different Path

If you’ve had years of investment with a close friend, noticing that there are differences cropping up can be genuinely disturbing. At first we ignore it, because we want very much to preserve what we’ve had. If it persists, it might be time to ask:

Can we still relate? Are we still on the same wavelength? And, perhaps even more challenging, can I honor the changes in my friend and still be friends? Sometimes, yes, sometimes – no. That is uniquely up to us.

A Fork in the Road

Friends can disagree on many things and still bear great love for one another. I have a close friend whose family differs completely from mine; however, I learn from them, and from her, every time I visit.

This brings value and perspective into my life, and I can appreciate alternative viewpoints. What’s key is mutual respect. If you no longer feel as though your thoughts, views, ideas and opinions are honored, even though you may not agree, this can cause heartache and arguments.

We evolve. Sometimes there is a fork up ahead. You’re headed to the lake front. Your friend needs to climb the mountain. When a long-time friend needs to walk a different path, it can feel as powerful as losing a close family member. In fact, it is.

Ending Things in Person Is So Very Hard

Sometimes we see behaviors that telegraph an unspoken intention. For example, someone is perpetually unavailable. At first we think that they’re busy. Then it feels like rejection.

A conversation that ends a friendship is very hard, and many of us avoid that kind of confrontation. Lots of us express our intentions without actually knowing it, because we don’t wish to cause someone pain. If a longtime friend “doesn’t have time,” that may be their way of saying things have changed.

Long friendships involve years of investment. When we see that slipping away, it can be terrifying. We’re losing part of who we understand ourselves to be with that special someone close to us.

Of course, we want to hold on, and rejection feels like abandonment. It brings up strong emotions and people may simply not be up to that emotional discussion no matter how close you are, or were.

Just Walk Away, Lovingly

If and when a friendship reaches a breaking point for any reason, sometimes all you can do is walk away. As hard as this may sound, if the joy is gone, and aspects of your connection have become stressful or toxic, then the kindest thing you can both do is acknowledge that you need to move on.

We may never find out what happened. There may not be answers. Sometimes we don’t know why things changed. While that can be frustrating – “But what did I do wrong? – not everyone can give, or even has, an answer.

Lots of us don’t want to have to justify our actions or choices. Part of maturity includes not only allowing others to make their own choices, but also to be able to live in the question.

Create Room for New Acquaintances

While it’s important to mourn the loss of a beloved friend, it’s just as important to create room for new acquaintances. They may not share our history, but the pleasure of new ideas and lively discussions far outweighs feeling lonely.

Healing is ahead – for both of you – as long as you can honor what you had and wish your friend the best in all things.

Hold the History in Your Heart

We can’t all have a gracious discussion when a friendship ends. Sometimes it’s just not available. In the best of scenarios, you can talk it out, express your love, and say good bye without recriminations.

Or, have a loving conversation with this person with whom you have shared so much of you. Then visualize them with a halo of brilliant love around them. Above all, be grateful for what you had, for the memories and the gifts they brought into your life.

After our friendship ended, I would find small tokens from Ellen around my house. Rather than make me sad, today they remind me of the treasure that her friendship brought to my life. She graced my life for most of my adulthood. And that is gift enough.

Have you recently ended a lengthy friendship? Are you currently hurting because an old friend seems to be turning on you or changing? What do you do to work through your feelings? How do you open your heart to new friends as you age? Please share your insights and tips below.