When a Friend or Someone Special Dies
The “Extended Family” in today’s world is an important support system. Many people move around for job opportunities and special interests that can take them away from their biological family. Consequently, one’s closest friends, neighbors, companions and co-workers may fill roles and needs which were traditionally met by family members.
Many people call friends their chosen family. These are the people chosen to share life experiences, confidences, joys and sorrows with you. These are the people that will provide you with support and comfort when you have a need. They are the people with whom you have developed a close attachment and they have become a meaningful part of your life. You can also add to the mix of people that you call friends: neighbors, coworkers, business partners, church members, school mates, a fiancé, a companion, former spouse, step-children and all the people that come into your lives through blended families. In essence, friends are the people with whom you form unique bonds that will follow you throughout your life.
Unfortunately, when a death occurs, friends are left out. Friends are seen as the ones who are there to support the grieving family but they are grieving too. The fact is that they have as much right as any griever to mourn publicly to be supported socially as they travel their grief journey.
Friends are indeed the forgotten griever. The grief that follows the death of a friend can be especially difficult because it is not openly accepted by society or employers. The old cliché “blood is thicker than water”, sure takes precedence when it comes to corporate policies.
As a friend, you can even feel more isolated if the family does not support or acknowledge your friendship with the person who died. You can be left to experience your grief in silence and isolation. You may not have been given the opportunity to be included in any of the mourning rituals and you may find yourself doing your grieving alone. Others may not expect you to grieve and might express surprise or impatience with your expressions of grief. They may be hurrying you up to get back to normal.
Often, grief of a special relationship becomes buried within one’s self simply because there are few opportunities to openly express the pain and sorrow of losing a special someone. Additionally, you may feel the need personally to be a “friend” to the family and subconsciously diminish your own pain with regard to theirs. In your busyness to help them and be supportive, you may have pushed your own feelings aside and denied yourself the right to experience feelings or emotions of grief.
What’s happening to me?
Grief is a natural and normal reaction to loss. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response. It is a complex process that affects every aspect of your life. Love, anger, frustration, loneliness and guilt are all a part of grief.
You may experience changes in appetite, upset stomach, sleep disturbances, restlessness, “heart ache”, crying, irritability or sighing. Grief sometimes comes in “waves” and can be paralyzing. You may feel numb, “frozen inside” and exhausted. You may not be able to concentrate or remember things.
Depression or feelings of emptiness may temporarily overwhelm you. You may experience headaches, tightness in your throat or muscle aches. Grief hurts!
Anger and guilt are common emotions. You may feel angry with God, your friend, your own family, yourself or others. The “if only” and the “I should have” thoughts can cause pain and doubt. Guilt feelings often accompany or follow anger. You may find yourself wanting to withdraw and be left alone.
What Can I Do?
Become aware of your feelings and recognize them as grief. You have a right to grieve, regardless of your relationship and whether it is recognized by others. You know you loved your special someone and grief is the price we pay for love.
If possible, ask to be included in some of the funeral and memorial rituals. If that is not possible, create your own memorial service or ceremony. You might wish to make a memory album, light a candle, plant a tree, play special music or simply gather special friends around you for support. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and energy.
You might wish to establish a living memorial to honor your special friend by creating a scholarship fund, donating to a charity, library or other project. Finding ways to commemorate your loved can help you work through the pains of grief. Try to focus on the life and joy you shared rather than continuously dwell on the losses you have experienced. Your life becomes a living tribute to the love you shared.
Take your time and don’t rush into any major decisions, if possible. Grief steals away your energy and you may feel hollow and empty for a time. Use these quiet times to reflect and remember the gifts of friendship and love and allow your memories to support you in your grief.
Allow yourself to hurt and find creative ways to express the emotions of grief.
Reestablish your connections with your faith, your own family and friends. Find the support systems that work best for you and reconnect. Ask for help when you need it and allow others to support you. Do not allow others, however, to diminish your grief with a list of “ought’s” and “shoulds”. Learn to listen to yourself. You already have a great source of strength within you. Trust yourself and be guided by your needs.
Give yourself permission to hurt, even if the rest of the world does not recognize your relationship, your loss, or your grief. Create your own space for healing and allow yourself to experience your grief in your own way.
Understand you will not get over the death of your special friend but you can live through it. There will always be moments of pain and sorrow as you remember the birthday, the death anniversary and as you mark the passing of events you had planned to share with your friend. Be prepared for these moments of grief and do not be alarmed as they continue through your life. You do not stop loving someone because they died.
Because your grief may often be forced to be silent, be sure to find ways to express it “out loud”. You might wish to start a support group of other grievers who also may not feel acknowledged or accepted; knowing you are not alone in your grief is healing. Grief takes time and effort, just as your relationship did. Honor the specialness of your relationship and friendship by allowing yourself to mourn the death, but remember, always, the gifts of companionship, friendship and love that you shared. Even though death comes, love never goes away.