Grieving the Loss of a Good Friend

By Carol Luebering

Kay gave me words for what my heart already knew; she gave direction to my life. She was my spiritual mother; I looked to her for guidance. She was my comrade and sister. She was my friend. And her death tore a great, gaping hole in my world.

If you’ve recently lost a close friend, such a hole lies in the center of your world. The death of a close friend leaves an aching emptiness that will not go away; it cannot be avoided or ignored.

How are you going to get on with your life without the company of that loving companion?

Working Your Way Through.
Whether a friendship develops slowly over many years or begins with a thrill of recognition—love at first sight—it plays a role no other relationship can fulfill. For one thing, unlike relatives, friends are chosen.
As with anything consciously chosen and cultivated, the loss of a friendship cuts very deep.

Name your loss.
To lose a close friend is to lose someone who not only plays a special role, but also fills a need at a particular time in your life. My daughter, still in her 30s, gained a keen sense of her own mortality from the death of a young woman, one of the circle with whom she and her husband fully discovered their adult selves. My 90-year-old mother grieves the death of a new friend, a neighbor in the retirement home to which she moved just a year ago. “At my age you have more friends in heaven than on earth,” she tells me. The accidental death of a newlywed—a neighbor’s daughter, our one-time babysitter
who had turned to me for advice during her college years—left me weeping with her parents over the promise left unfulfilled.

When you lose a friend, you grieve not only the passing of a marvelous person, but also the passing of a unique and precious relationship. You lose the ability to call at any time and know that you can talk to someone who understands. You lose someone who lets you be yourself—silly or serious—without judgment or condemnation.

Claim your right to grieve.
When your friend died, it was the friend’s family who received the cards, the casseroles, the condolence notes. The family occupied the front rows at the funeral, leaving the rest of the church to everyone else. Your employer would have given you time off to bury a family member, but you probably went to your friend’s funeral on your own time.

You will, nevertheless, experience the same storm of emotions that sweep over family members: disbelief, anger, sorrow, guilt, depression, loneliness. There are, however, no ready-made support systems for grieving friends. You’ll have to create your own.

Begin at the library. Search the shelves for books and articles on grief, for it wears much the same face in any loss.

Search for people who have been there. Share memories, laughter, and tears with other friends who were close to the one who has died. Spend some time with members of your friend’s family. Whether or not you were ever close to them, they share your need for people who will help them sort out their memories and allow tears to flow when they will.

Be your own best friend. Allow yourself to cry, to rage, to remember—all the freedoms your friend allowed you. Be especially gentle with yourself when the calendar reminds you of the loss of your friend’s birthday, the monthly or annual recurrence of the death date.

Find ways to memorialize your friend.
Keep reminders of your friendship where you will see them often. Yes, they will provoke tears now and then, but they will also serve as a kind of shrine where you can seek your friend’s company. I keep my friend Kay’s photo in my dictionary, that indispensable writer’s tool I consult frequently.

Keep a journal of your feelings and your memories. There you can write the things no one wants to listen to. And there you can hold the good times and rediscover the importance of the friendship.

You can also strive to be a living memorial to your friend. Make a conscious effort to keep him or her alive in what you do and who you are. Maintain the interests you shared, even when doing so brings pangs of loneliness.

Make the goodness you loved in your friend your own. Cultivate his patience, her passion for justice. Lend the same understanding ear you relied on. For you yourself are the most lasting memorial to your friend.

Nurture other friendships.
Not long before Kay’s death, we spent an afternoon poring over memories of time spent with mutual friends. “You know,” she said, “I’m not afraid of dying. It’s just that you know what you have here, and it’s hard to leave.”

Know what you have here. The hole your friend’s death left in your world will remain empty. No one else can fill it, for every friendship is a unique gift; each friend plays a special role. The void will, in time, cease to throb as you claim the heritage of your friendship. Meanwhile, nurture your other friendships—all of them, whether close or casual. You never know when a longtime acquaintance will develop into something deeper, or when you will find yourself again falling into friendship with a stranger.

And continue to nurture the friendship that death has shattered not only in the ways suggested above, but also in your prayers. For the friendship you relied on is part of God’s plan for your life; it is securely tucked away in the divine heart.

Take heart.
The death of your friend is a painful loss, and the pain you feel today will linger for a surprisingly long time. Nevertheless, death has no power to end a friendship. It can only interrupt it, for love is a force more powerful than death.

Excerpt taken from Grieving the Loss of a Good Friend CareNote.

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