Coping With The Death Of A Best Friend
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. — Ana Nin
Meaningful and deep friendships are a wonderful part of a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes, when we are quite lucky, one of these dear friends grows into best friend. A rare title, a best friend is our alter-ego, born of shared history, shared values, and ten thousand laughs. Our best friend becomes part of our chosen family — the first person we call to share a joy, the one we call at 2:00 a.m. in times of emergency.
Last March my best friend, Dale, died of sudden heart attack. There was no indication of heart trouble; I was literally laughing with him one weekend and attending his funeral the next. The shock still reverberates today and I constantly stumble over the realization that he 's gone. As I try to process his death, I have two recurring thoughts. The first: We didn 't even have a chance talk about this — and we talked about everything.The second: I have such a long time to live without him around; how do I navigate the years ahead? Strange the things we ruminate on when grief-stricken.
Dale and I matured into our friendship — connecting first in college, moving to the big city after graduation, building our careers together, detailing romantic misadventures with each other, processing joys and heartaches over countless cups of coffee. Volumes of inside jokes conspired to form a language that was all our own. Without him, it seems I am losing this language entirely. Much of who I am and the way I view the world was developed with him as my sounding board. He was a bit of me; I was a bit of him. The investment we had in each other was broad, deep, and intensely personal.
So how do we survive the loss of part of ourselves? The death of a best friend is different than the death a parent or spouse; there are no sympathy cards that quite fit the bill. There's no term for this loss and folks expect an abbreviated mourning period and offer a different, lighter brand of sympathy. The last four months have given me a crash course in coping and, although I do each imperfectly, there are a few points I keep in mind as I work through the grief. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of a similar loss, I hope these strategies can help you chart your own course in a territory largely unmapped:
1. Take time to mourn
It may not be readily offered, so take the time to mourn and don't worry about some arbitrary timeline as you process the loss. As your life marches on, take an hour here or an afternoon there to remember your friend. As with all grief, the worst stings will subside with time and be replaced by a softer ache. Talk with friends and family, let yourself cry, take trips down memory lane and let this process move forward naturally.
2. Create a legacy
When you feel ready, honor your friend's life through volunteer work or charitable donations in keeping with his priorities and passions. Dale was an animal lover — his cats were like his children. Making a donation to the ASPCA in his memory brought me a bit of comfort and will be the way I acknowledge special dates of our friendship in the years to come.
3. Seek support.
Family and close friends can help you cope with the grief. Don't be afraid to let others know how deeply the loss has touched you. People can only rise to the occasion when they truly understand how much they 're needed. You 'll be surprised how the smallest acts of kindness and empathy can change your entire mood at the toughest moments.
4. Preserve your memories
It may sound cliché, but scrapbooking memories can help tremendously in processing feelings. There were so many things about my friendship with Dale that I didn't want to forget, that the fear of forgetting became a stressor in itself. Document the important moments — keep a journal of random memories or scrapbook photos and mementos. As the years give way to years, you 'll be glad you took the time to preserve these memories while still fresh in your mind.
5. Realize your friend will never be replaced
Friendship is renewable, but people are not. Realize that no person or new friendship will ever quite replace the one you've lost. To consciously seek out a replacement only marks the loss more and highlights the comparative shortcomings any candidate for the title of "new best friend" will surely have. Give yourself time to develop new relationships naturally and let them take their own unique paths.
6. Open yourself up to new and different friendships
Loss rightly shuts us down for a time, but don't let sadness become your new companion. Though no friendship will look or feel quite the same as the old, new friendships can, over time, become just as profound and rewarding. Own your capacity to be a best friend and enjoy the journey toward new connections.
Day by day, I adjust to life without my best friend. On particularly bad days, I take it moment by moment. No doubt, Dale and I had a lot left to learn from each other, but I'm glad we had those 18 years. He will always be partly responsible for the man I've become — the humor I find in life's little absurdities, my ear for good music, my ability to see the best in people. He would have wanted me to write this and would have wanted me to eventually move beyond the grief and embrace new friendships with as much devotion as I embraced ours.