Losing a friend is never easy. No matter what other roles that person played in life, he or she was still your friend. Perhaps it was the only person you could really open up to, maybe he or she was your tennis partner, someone you had lunch with once a month, or a classmate.
While losing a friend is never compared to, for example, the loss of a child, the death of a friend can be just as devastating to the person doing the grieving. Sometimes a friend is all we have in life.
The Normal Grieving Process
Oftentimes you will hear about the “normal” grieving process and the Stages of Grief when dealing with an overwhelming loss of any kind. Whether a friend dies suddenly or has been sick for a long time, a survivor is faced with dealing with this loss. From then on, the survivor is tasked with accepting that loss, and moving through the natural grieving process.
According to Harold Ivan Smith, in his books “Grieving the Death of a Friend” and “When Your Friend Dies,” it is important for people to move “with” the normal grieving process; to embrace the remembrance of a friend and not be afraid to form new friendships going forward.
As adults, most people have a certain resiliency and cognitive ability to process death, accept it as real, face their emotions of sadness, anger, disappointment, and work toward accepting and living without that person in their lives. Accepting the loss, recognizing that grief will ensue and be difficult, but knowing it will get better, is the best way to handle this process.
Grieving is the time to start forgiving yourself for whatever you think you should have said or done; it is time to appreciate what you had; and it is time to recognize that you are not the only one hurting. If an estranged friend passes away, it is time to forgive him or her as well.
You will often hear the term “forgotten” or “shunted” griever when referring to the loss of a sibling or a best friend. This means that during the mourning process, you are shoved to the back, perhaps not expected to feel as much, to hurt as much, as someone else closer to the deceased, such as a mother or a spouse.
It is normal to feel isolated after losing a friend, so don’t expect others to necessarily understand your pain. If people can’t understand what you are feeling, take some time apart. Don’t isolate yourself too much, but give yourself space and breathing room to grieve.
Being a comfort to your friend’s family is a powerful and positive way to grieve. Understanding what that person meant to his or her family, and what you mean to that family, is important in the days following the death. Being a support to a friend’s mother or partner will bring healing to you. It is a part of the process of honoring that person who passed away while helping you manage the healing process in a healthy way.
Memorializing a lost friend is also part of the grieving process. Writing poetry or creating a scrapbook are good tools for healing. Following are some other healing tools for someone who has just experienced the loss of a friend:
- Speak or read at the funeral. This helps bring closure, and families greatly appreciate hearing their loved one’s friends express how much that person meant to them. Share a funny story, and help the family remember that person as a friend to others.
- Do something special in a friend’s honor. Planting a tree, participating in a charity race, and starting a scholarship fund are all positive ways to celebrate a person’s life.
- Do things that remind you of your friend. Spend time at places you used to go together, think about good times spent together, and take time to reflect about what your friend meant to you.
Sometimes people die doing what they love, or at the end of a long and fruitful life. Whether they are taken too soon or lived to old age and died of natural causes, those left behind have a sense of obligation to remember, respect, and honor the life of that lost friend. Walking into a building or a park named after a friend fills people with hope and joy and remembrance of a great person who contributed to their lives. Respecting life in this way is a beautiful, and powerful, experience.
What happens when your best friend is also your mother, your husband, or your brother? This is a huge hurdle for people surviving such a loss. It is a double loss, so to speak, and while grieving that person and the consequences the death has on you as a family member, as well as on your parents and siblings, you are also grieving the loss of your closest friend. When the best friend is a spouse, the situation becomes even more devastating. Studies have found that men more commonly cite their wife as their best friend. Recognizing a complicated grieving situation in yourself and others is important.
Supporters need to be aware of such situations. Friends of the survivor should step up and offer distractions such as activities and time away from the home.
And as with all grieving situations, it is of utmost importance that mourners take care of themselves physically. Grief takes an exhausting toll on the mind and the body. Getting plenty of sleep, sunlight, healthy food, and water will promote the healing process. Don’t fall into a pattern of not sleeping or eating. Being hydrated and well rested will allow the mind to do what it has to do to heal.
A career in counseling allows you to help people in dealing with the loss of those closest to them. Mental health counselors enjoy working with people and are passionate about helping them create positive change in their lives. Careers in grief counseling, mental health counseling, and psychology open doors to working anywhere in the country.
Almost all states require a master’s degree to practice as a mental health counselor, as well as experience working in a clinical setting. Additional requirements vary by specialty and work setting. Some organizations require certification, which differs from state licensing requirements. Once licensed and certified, many states require that mental health counselors take continuing education classes to stay current with licensing requirements.
If you are interested in becoming a grief and bereavement counselor, request information from schools offering degree programs in mental health counseling or related counseling degree programs.
Adolescent Loss of a Friend
Teenagers are less equipped emotionally to deal with the loss of a friend. The often-tragic nature of teen death adds to the complication. According to ChildStat.gov, more than half of all teen deaths involve a violent act. Additionally, approximately 40% of teenagers report being affected by the death of a peer, supporting research that adolescents encounter death much more frequently than previously thought.
In another study in the Journal of Death and Dying, 87% of teenagers had experience with the death of a peer. An adolescent dying from a disease is a tragedy in itself – but a car accident, shooting, or suicide causes extreme trauma in young adults.
In an article entitled “Adolescents’ reactions to the death of a peer” in the journal Adolescence, researchers found that, even after several years, teens struggled with the grief resulting from the death of a friend. And psychologists have found that girls are more susceptible to negative emotional, physical, and social outcomes than boys.
Researchers across the board agree that more work is needed in this area. Peer support groups and support from parents seem to be the most effective means of dealing with grief in teens. Social networking is also a new front in adolescent grieving.
Published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, a study found that social networking provided a unique way for teens to express their grief. The article “Adolescents' Online Social Networking Following the Death of a Peer” stated that social networking allowed adolescents to grieve “in a way that grants unlimited freedom and opportunity to reflect back over their relationship with the deceased.”