Monday, July 11, 2016

In Grief: Mourning The Loss of A Friend

[Reviewed and updated April 19, 2022]

The bond between friends cannot be broken by chance; no interval of time or space can destroy it. Not even death itself can part true friends.  ~ St. John Cassian

A reader writes: A while ago I lost my good friend in a tragic car accident. We had just talked the day before. I had called him to warn him about the storm warnings we had in our area and he told me he would call me back that evening but I didn’t hear from him. I tried calling him all the next day and into the evening but still did not get him. I thought something was off, but I never dreamed I would be getting the news I would be hearing the following day.

I kept on trying to call his house and I finally got an answer—one I'll never forget. His aunt picked up the phone and when I asked to talk to my friend, she said “I'm sorry but James died yesterday and his mom is in the hospital.”

I was so shocked! My friend James and I did everything together. I’ve known him for over ten years . I got him into pro wrestling and into gaming and it’s just not the same. My biggest regret is that, as friends do from time to time, we’d disagree on things sometimes and fight over silly stuff, like what video game system was better. I feel so bad now because looking back, it was just stupid and our differences never meant anything.

I miss my friend so much. It’s been hard with him not calling anymore and not talking about wrestling and gaming. It’s been almost a year now that he has been gone. I wish I could have told him how much of a friend he was to me and how even though we did not agree all the time I still thought he was the best. We used to follow the Game Developers Conference every year and keep track of all the new gaming news. It was our favorite time of the year, along with Christmas. Things will never be the same. I've had a lot of hard months since this happened.

People are telling me it’s been long enough and that you don't have to forget him but you need to move on, your friend wouldn't want you to stay down all the time—but I can't help it. I mean he was like my brother. We did everything together and I'm starting again to miss a lot of the fun we had and I just can't get past it. I miss talking to him on the phone and playing video games with him and wondering what he would be talking about now on all the latest events.

My friend’s mom is now living by herself. James was her only child, and I was one of his best friends. It’s hard for me to call his mom because I don’t know what to say. I worry about making her sad sometimes, but I do wonder how she is doing.

My response:
The deep love you have for your friend is evident in your words, and I’m so very sorry for your loss. You say that “things will never be the same,” and how right you are about that. This loss has forever changed the way you will look at the world and your place in it. You also say how bad you feel about those times you disagreed with your friend and how silly those “arguments” seem now—and yet, as you say, it’s only normal that good friends don’t always agree on everything.

Whenever we lose a loved one, it is only human to look back and think of all the things we should have or could have done differently. But we cannot go back and change the past, nobody is perfect, no one can predict the future, and none of us can know for certain when our loved ones will be taken from us. If September 11, 2001 or the recent massacre in Orlando teach us anything, surely it is this. What's important is that we learn from such an experience—learn to treasure every moment, to say whatever we have to say to our loved ones while they are still here, while we still have an opportunity to do so—and to let them know how much we love them, not only by our words but also by our behavior.

Your message also gives me the opportunity to acknowledge “friendgrief,” which is Harold Ivan Smith’s word for what he describes as “a significantly disenfranchised grief.” In his wonderful little book, When Your Friend Dies, this noted expert on grief observes that the death of a friend is often considered to be a less significant experience than that of a family member. As a result, friends often feel pushed aside and left alone in their grief, as if they don’t have a legitimate right to mourn.

Unlike the relationships we have with family members, friendships are voluntary. We don’t get to choose our relatives, but we can decide who we want as friends. As you say, this person you’ve lost was like your brother; you did everything together; you shared a common interest and had great fun playing video games together. You sought each other’s company, spent as much time together as you could, were loyal to each other, and trusted each other completely with your innermost thoughts and feelings. It’s no wonder that you miss him so much ~ and for sure you don’t ever want to forget your friend.

I wonder if you can think of some way you could memorialize your friend. Take a look at some of the examples listed in Grief Rituals Can Help on Special Days, or think of some other ways you could remember him in a special way. How do you think he would want to be remembered?

I hope you know that it is never too late to say whatever it is you need to say to your loved one who has died. You can still find a way to speak to your friend’s spirit, whether that is through writing a letter, meditating, journaling, praying or any number of other methods. For example, you can find a place and time of quiet and solitude, and place your friend James in a chair across from you, and then say whatever it is you need to say. The point of such an exercise is not so much that your friend hears your words, but rather that you find a way to acknowledge, express and thus release whatever message you feel a need to send. It can be a very effective way for you to get past this feeling of regret.

I also want to encourage you to pick up the phone and call your friend’s mom. Sharing memories of James is a precious gift you can give to his mother, especially now, when all these months have gone by. Many people believe that bringing up anything that reminds the bereaved of their loss will produce pain and grief where none existed before, but usually this is not the case. It’s probably safer to assume that not a day (or an hour or a minute) goes by that your friend’s mother doesn’t think about her son who has died, and she may be longing to hear his name and to have the opportunity to talk with someone about her shared memories of him. For example, I think she would be just as touched as I was by what you’ve said in your message to me about how close the two of you were and the interests that you shared, because it is so obvious how very much you loved James, too. Think of how pleased she would be to know that she is not the only one who remembers and misses her precious son.

Afterword ~ Two weeks later, this reader writes: I would like to thank you for listening to my story, Marty. You are so kind to take the time to answer my message and you had so much good advice for me. I went and talked to my friend James's mom today and I am so glad I did.

This was my first time back to my friend’s house since he was killed, and it was very hard when I got to the door and saw his mom and did not see my friend standing there as I always used to. It was a very strange feeling. I almost thought I was going to have to go back to the car. It was very hard. I guess the first step is always the hardest to make.

The thing that bothered me the most is that when my friend’s funeral notice and his bio appeared in the newspaper, it said that James had two special friends and their names were included. My name was not mentioned, and for a very long time that really bothered me. You see, I knew James for over ten years and I was more at my friend’s house than they had ever been. We did more together then they ever did. Don't get me wrong. I was not jealous or anything. It just bothered me not even to be mentioned, because in my mind it left me wondering: Did I do anything wrong?

So I went to my friend’s house today and we talked and I asked her that question that had been on my mind ever since my friend’s bio was in the funeral notices. She told me she had nothing to do with the writing, that she had asked someone else to write that, but for me to never feel as if I wasn't James's best friend or that he was mad at me. She told me I was his very best friend and she said I was a better friend than those other guys, who would always try to get James into trouble. James never did get into trouble because his mom would never allow it, and she told me she liked him hanging with me because all James and I liked doing was playing games and talking on the phone. She also told me that the very day James got killed he had told her that he wondered what I was doing and had said “ I'm going to call him tonight when I get home.”

Of course the call never happened, but I was so glad to find out about the things that had bothered me: Was he mad at me and why wasn't I mentioned in the funeral things? His mother told me that I could call her anytime and I was always welcome to come by. She said that I was James’s true, number-one, best friend that he had.

She kept my friend’s favorite dog. He loved his dog and she kept it and even had an image of his favorite dog put on his tombstone and it’s really nice.

So Marty I wanted to thank you for giving me encouragement to go see her and talk about things in the open. Sorry if I am bothering you any but I thought you should know about what I did today and you should know what has bothered me for so long. I feel a lot better now, it’s like a load that has been lifted.

My response: I know that it took a great deal of courage for you to talk with James's mom, because you weren't sure how she would react. But you took a risk and you did it anyway, despite your fears. That was a very brave thing to do. Hooray for you! I have a feeling that, wherever he may be, your friend James is smiling down upon you right now and feeling very, very proud of you. That makes two of us. ♥

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