A very close friend of mine died after a short and shocking battle with cancer. I understood how grief might affect me and had an expectation of myself, that as a counsellor I should be able to process my grief easily, but I wasn’t prepared for the sense of loneliness and isolation I would experience at times in the first couple of months after her death. My anger had built up over a period of time, eventually exploding and in that moment, I connected with my pain, speaking words I hadn’t said out loud, crying for my friend and for myself. This was a reminder to me that I am human and that like everybody else, I will grieve because like everybody else I love and sometimes loving another being brings unbearable pain.
The grieving process is talked about a lot and is usually related to the death of a relative but what about when your best friend dies? I realised that this type of bereavement isn’t talked about very much, so I thought I would share a little of my experience and some of my thoughts.
You might think that as you are not related to the person, it won’t be as painful but that’s not necessarily true. Friends are the people we feel connected to, they come into our life and we spend time with them because we enjoy their company. They are our chosen family. Relationships with family members are not always easy or particularly close and are sometimes much more complicated than those with friends. Maybe you have different types of friends, the ones you party, exercise, study or work with. You might have lots of friends, just a few or even just one close friend, who you call your ‘bestie’, the person who knows pretty much everything about you and you about them, the person you turn to when life is challenging, or you want to share something with them that is funny. There is often history with this person, shared experiences and memories. You believe you will never have a friendship quite like that one ever again and there’s truth in that as each relationship and person is unique.
If your friend becomes ill or dies suddenly, circumstances or distance could mean you don’t have the chance to say goodbye. It may only be family members that are present. You might feel awkward or worry that you are imposing. If your friend did not have family, you may be the person who is with them at the end of their life. You might have avoided visiting, as you found it too painful to see them suffering.
Whatever the circumstances, grieving for a friend can feel unacknowledged in many ways. When there is a death in the family, people often send a card or make contact in some way to offer support or offer their condolences but maybe not for the death of a friend.
At this time it will be important to look after your physical and emotional wellbeing. Notice how your moods are. You might encounter any number of difficult feelings or thoughts. Acknowledge how you are without judgment. Be gentle with yourself, much like you would if you were showing compassion to your friend or a hurt child and try not to minimise your loss by comparing it to that of others. If you didn’t get to say goodbye or weren’t able to attend their funeral, consider creating your own ceremony by visiting somewhere you and your friend liked to go together or plant something in your garden as a memorial. You could create a memory book or box using photos, poems, drawings, write a letter to the person and include anything that has meaning to you. There are websites that provide suggestions on how to do this. Use your support network of understanding family or other friends, to help you feel less isolated. If there is no-one you can turn to and you feel overwhelmed by grief, then speak to your doctor or access the support of a bereavement counsellor.
10th May 2018