I know who I’d talk to, if only I could
December 10, 2013 10:57 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with the death of a good friend?

Please – I have tried to read as many of the old threads on death and grief as I can find, and I’m not looking for stories about how people dealt with the death of their parent/sibling/child (even if like a best friend) or their partner/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend or their old childhood friend that they spoke to once a year.

I’m not trying to invalidate anyone’s grief or how they felt about their relationships; I just cannot relate to these stories right now.

He was my friend and I saw him and talked to him all the time and now he’s suddenly gone. At no point was there anything romantic between us. We’re in our 30s and I thought we would be pals for a long time. It was an accident, not a suicide or illness or anything like that.

I’m looking to hear from anyone who has gone through the same thing. What do I do with so much grief? How is this going to go? What do I do with all the things I want to tell him and the jokes only he would appreciate and the things the two of us did together? Was there any literature (fiction or non-fiction) or art (movies, TV, paintings, sculpture, etc.) that helped you? Again, looking for things from the perspective of friend loss, but as someone who lost a friend, if things about other kinds of grief helped you, please let me know. Thank you.
posted by unannihilated to Human Relations (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry for your loss. When it feels like the right time, you could make a grief scrapbook in tribute to your friendship. Write down the things you wanted to tell him and write down the jokes only the two of you would have appreciated and include photos and memories of the things you two did together so that ten or twenty years from now, you can look back on those memories and smile.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing that has helped me is surrounding myself with his other friends. One of his other close friends and I see each other at least weekly now. We're trying to figure out a way to hang out with his sister-in-law regularly, too, because the three of us formed a really close bond the night of his death and we know that the three of us appreciated him in exactly the same way. Very deep love, no romantic attachment, incredibly painful loss.

It's just really hard. There's no getting around it. I think about him all the time, and I talk to him (I yell at him sometimes, too). I see him everywhere and I HATE that I can't actually be with him again. When you were reading old threads, did you happen to see my eulogy for him? This is the part I want to direct you to:

I know there will be a day when the joy of having known him will be greater than the pain of not having him here. I know, great love means great grief. I know that the only way to avoid this pain is to avoid love and god forbid we should do that. And I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t hurt this much. But you know, for all the pain I feel now, I wouldn’t consider, even for an instant, trading it for a life in which this pain didn’t exist because I didn’t know and love Tim.
posted by janey47 at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Very sorry about your loss. Here, some drinking sessions with mutual friends who were as close to the deceased as I was were cathartic.

I am not terribly close to the mutual friends nowadays -- certainly there's no animosity or anything, just years and distance and sadness. It can really cast a pall over a lot of things. If you have friends in the same pain you are presently in, try to recognise their grief, too, and acknowledge that you are not the only one hurting. Reach out instead of turning within, so to speak.

After being angry about it for probably too long it eventually turned to background noise, and it is now more fond memories for the good times than pain over the loss.

This happened long before social media existed, and sometimes I wish he had a Facebook page where I could go and look at pictures and read messages from friends. If your friend has any sort of public internet space, consider trying to maintain and curate things there on his behalf.
posted by kmennie at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2013

I have lived through the deaths of several friends (I too am in my 30s). My friends group is fairly close knit, so we usually cope by a wake at a bar (or several over the course of weeks), reminiscing, and spending more time together. For the times when I am by myself, I will talk out loud to the person (who else is there to hear me?) or write letters to the person in a journal. I still write letters sometimes to someone who's been gone for ten years. Writing is how I tend to process things, so it helped a lot.

I'm so sorry for your loss.
posted by RogueTech at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2013

I'm so sorry.

What do I do with all the things I want to tell him and the jokes only he would appreciate and the things the two of us did together?

You remember them. You remember the jokes and the stories and the traditions. If you can, you tell them to others. If you can't*, you recognize that as the loss it is and – eventually, when grief gives you room to do it – you appreciate having shared your life with a person who created such a personal, irreplaceable space, and you revel in creating the same space in theirs.

And you grieve.

No one can tell you how that will go. It will be hard. But you will do it, because you loved your friend and grief is the flipside of love. Grief is the element that gives love and friendship and companionship its gravity.

*After my best friend's death, I was shocked to realize how many of "my" best jokes and stories were actually our best jokes and stories, told in tandem like a vaudeville team. Suddenly and for a surprisingly long time, I was bereft of stories. I would start to tell a familiar tale and suddenly stop, at a loss for words without him at my elbow to prompt me.

But stories accumulate naturally like silent snowfall, and eventually I had some more stories to tell, and a new shape to give to the old stories we'd once told together, the ones about my friend, who lived and died and whom I loved so much. I miss him often, but I live on and tell those stories. And in them, he still lives – for me and for the people who love me.

posted by Elsa at 11:19 AM on December 10, 2013 [15 favorites]

Do something or create something to honor his memory.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:27 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My former partner took his own life in May, and my closest grief-partner was and is his best friend of 10 years, who was also our housemate until our breakup.

I'll ask her for specific ideas and recommendations, but I think she and I had/have a similar experience of grief over his death. Having someone else who really gets it when you see something that he just would have loved (or hated, or thought was hilarious, or been really interested in), someone who you can just say "omigod THIS THING" to who gets it immediately, has been a huge help. She and I both carry around notebooks as well, to write down the stuff that we would otherwise have shared with him.

She and I have also done things (classes, movies, activities) together that we would otherwise have done or shared with him, which has been painful and part of the grieving process. We've also done stuff like that on our own, which is painful and part of the process in a different way than sharing that stuff with someone else.

Reach out to your friends and your other mutual friends as much as you can. Everyone's personal experience of grief is different, just like each friendship and relationship is different, but our friends have been comforted by being able to share our feelings and recognizing that while each of us is grieving a unique loss, it is still shared grief. We all miss him differently, but no one's grief is more real that anyone else's.

It is just really hard, and there's no way around it, and I'm sorry about that. Having someone else who understands that it's a loss you feel multiple times every day is helpful, but it doesn't make it hurt less. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by Kpele at 11:28 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are different ways of coping, you might want to see if any of these five ways to grieve resonate with you as part of your journey.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by saucysault at 11:40 AM on December 10, 2013

I am sorry for your loss. I know it will feel very weird to not have them around. Normally we don't notice things that aren't there... until one of us dies, and then all we notice is the absence.

I found it helpful to have places to go that reminded me of the person. And when I was there, I would talk to them (to myself), as though they could hear me from the beyond. I would share it with them, it would be our little thing. And I'd cry. And say dammit why didn't you take better care of yourself!

I found it helpful to be in public, and watch the very elderly and the very young, and appreciate the circle of life. I found it helpful to do things in their name - for me public things like "walk for a cause" were too public, but little gestures like listen to that stupid song he liked from start to finish even though I haaaaated it, in honor of him. That kind of thing.

As for movies, any film about moving on, saying good bye, the person from beyond the grave wishing the survivor well could be helpful. Not quite like your relationship, but PS I Love You, We Bought a Zoo, Big Fish, Million Dollar Baby, The Lovely Bones, and Ghost could all be contenders. If you need something deeper, Blue with Juliette Binoche is about a tragic accident and a woman distancing herself from her feelings (but it is kind of heavy, so watch it with a cry partner).

Grief takes time, and just remember that the love you have for the person, and the love they had for you, is still alive and well in your heart. Again I'm super sorry for your loss.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

My friend died really young (under 25) from colon cancer two years ago. I've found having a friends die is a weird experience. There isn't as much support. It will be 2 years in February and I still think of her every day. I still cry over her death. Only time has allowed me to start processing. I tried to talk about it, but it was too painful for the group of us who grew up together and others didn't get it.

I still remember that call to tell me she died. I can never be the same again. It has helped me to ad knowledge I am different. I lost a lot of innocence I understood how painful death can be for those of us left living.

My grief is different now, but it is still painful. You need to feel your loss. Accept that right now you are suffering. It won't always be so crushing, but it will always be a part of you. I still have trouble saying she was my friend - it is hard that she is gone but her influence lives on through me. That is how I honor her. I am not at the point where I can think of her happily without sadness and some hard days, tears. I try to live because she died before she got a chance at so many things.
posted by Aranquis at 12:13 PM on December 10, 2013

I am very sorry for your loss.

In August I lost a very good friend under similar circumstances. He was hit by a car while riding his bike, something he did every single day. It was sudden, and totally unexpected. I'd had dinner with him two nights before.

Honestly, it still hurts, a lot. This particular person — I know I'll never meet anyone who even comes close to filling the hole he left in my life. It is very hard to do the things we used to do together: certain music, going to restaurants we used to frequent together, even driving past the place he was killed, which is in a park where I run a few times a week. It just fucking sucks. I don't know what else to tell you. It will suck for a long time. Maybe forever.

This may not be your style, but when I think of something he'd like or remember a good story about him I usually journal about it. He had a large group of friends, many of them my friends as well, and what's especially interesting about my friend is that he was a very private, compartmentalized person — each of his friends knew a different version of him, and a lot of that came out after his death. I love learning things about him that I never knew from other people who never knew the version of him I got. Sharing those stories (and he had a wicked sense of humor, so there are a lot of stories) has helped.

I don't love Facebook but shortly after his death, when we were all still in shock, someone started a private Facebook page in his memory, and even still people post there with one-off memories or when they're having a particularly hard day. Some of the people in our shared community have moved to other cities, so Facebook is helpful when we can't all get together to share a pint and reminisce. The holidays will be especially hard. His birthday was right around Christmas.

I am also trying to come up with ways to honor his memory and to make his death seem less pointless. One of those was buying Road IDs (which is how he was identified after the accident) for myself and my husband. I have stepped up my game for bicycle advocacy in our town. And I plan to ride the Ride of Silence next year in his memory.
posted by Brittanie at 12:16 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

This October, I lost a really really close childhood friend. I knew him since I was a baby, and and we used to hang out almost every single weekend for the past 10 years. He wasn't my best friend-- he was my brother's-- but the three of us used to kick it all the time. He was like a brother to me. He was a gigantic part of my life.

We did almost everything together. Movies, dinner, board games at our house. We got season tickets to Basketball a few years. It got to the point where it felt weird to not hang out with him. His friendship marked some of the best years of my life.

And then like that, he was gone.

There was nothing romantic at all between us either-- it was totally platonic. I also thought we'd be pals for a really long time, though. The thought of forever without him makes forever seem ... slightly grey. And especially for my brother, who was even closer to him.

He was always there, you know? Until he wasn't.

I wish I had something to tell you that would make that easier to come to terms with, but... there isn't. My brother is struggling, still. I'm struggling. It's tough.

All I can tell you is that it will lessen somewhat, in time.

What do you do with the grief?

I cried. I wailed. I went through like a zombie in my own grief.

And I still cry sometimes. I cry because we were going to go out to dinner but we postponed it because our fave place was being renovated and now I'll never get to go with him again. I cry because we were discussing his new work prospects and he seemed excited about this business endeavor he was starting, that he never got to see finished.

I cry because he was a closed kinda person and I wonder if he knew how much he meant to me. How much I valued his friendship. I never told him.

I cry for all the weird in-jokes that we shared, that only he thought was funny. Set phrases, quotes, and things you establish only after you've known someone for years and years. Who am I going to nerd-rant to about GoT and TOS and stuff? No matter what, it will never be the same.

I think one of the things that hurt the most is that he was one of the only people who saw certain goofy funny sides of me. That he really got my sense of humor; that with him gone, the part of me that only he saw, only he 'got' ... is kinda dead, too.

But that's true for every one you interact with, really. Everyone gets a different side of you.

I'm so sorry this has happened to you. I can't know exactly how it feels because the circumstances of my friend's death, while sudden and abrupt, were different-- but I do empathize.

Now, a few months later, we're all doing a bit better. It's tough, but, we're getting there.

What helped me? Being close to family. Family helped a lot. Talking to my mother and other brother. Talking about it in general-- like to my other close friends who didn't know him. Talking for hours and hours about him. About it. About how we couldn't believe it. Talking about it so much was like emotionally dumping, and it was cathartic.

Also, looking at photos, videos. And at the wake, talking to his brother and stuff about him... reminiscing. Talking to his mutual friends. He was a funny dude. And everyone loved him. And talking and reminiscing so much made me feel that--- although I am sad that I'll never get to do things with him in future, I am glad we had so many fantastic memories already.

What else helped me? Well, I got a pet since then. It's actually his cat. I didn't want a cat after the death of my other cat... but his cat became orphaned when he died. And I couldn't bear the thought his cat going to a kill shelter-- so I took him in. At first I was reluctant... I thought it'd make me more sad to have him, that it would be a constant reminder he was gone. And at first it was. But, it's made me happy more than sad. He's really affectionate and sweet, and, having someone there to love and cry on has helped. Having something to give love to, and receive love from has helped a lot. Being responsible for him, and taking care of him is a welcome distraction, and has helped me feel less alone, too.

The other thing his death did, for me-- was that it reminded me that life is short, that certain things are meaningless to get upset over. It put a lot of things in perspective for me, and made me want to live better. Be kinder. Be more patient. Take others for granted less. It's a harsh lesson, but, a somber reminder. You never know what tomorrow holds.

Last weekend we went to the movies, and I won't lie, it was tough. I hadn't been to the movies without him in over 10 years, I think. But he loved me, he was my friend. And he wouldn't want me to be all sad over him forever, and he wouldn't want me to get all upset or depressed over his loss. He'd want me to be happy. He'd want me to continue to do fun things. So I do them, even if they're painful right now and I miss him. I'll always miss him. But that's okay.

I didn't really find solace in films or books or music because I find they hit too close to home, and I have an emotional memory and they make me feel worse.

However, Bridge to Terabithia deals with similar themes (albeit with children) and if stories may help you I recommend it.

Lastly, as others have mentioned, having hope for the future helps. Playing with my bundle-of-energy nephews who love me and remind me that life goes on, helps put things in perspective.

"Just try and get through today." Is what I kept saying at first. Now, over a month later, I find myself not saying it some days. Eventually I'll stop saying it completely. It will never truly go away, I'll miss him forever. But I promise that it gets easier in time.

Sorry for length. I hope it was some small comfort to you at least. I'm so sorry you're going through this. Feel free to memail me if you feel the need to talk at all. Hang in there.
posted by Dimes at 1:09 PM on December 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Unannihilated, this is such a hard thing to experience, and I am so sorry for your loss. I wish there was something I could do or say to make this less painful.

My best friend from college died of a sudden illness while traveling with the Peace Corps (obit here). We did everything together in school--shared a major, took classes, lived together during our last semester, spent hours and hours at the radio station. We both moved east after graduation, more accurately I moved because she had already landed an internship, and if she could do it, I could too. As we transitioned into our adult lives, we saw each other less frequently, but traded phone calls and wrote emails and letters. I still remember our last phone conversation before her trip.

Those first days after getting the news from her mom, I was in a daze. I went to work, but didn't go to the funeral. Sadly I have fallen out of touch with her parents and sister, but our mutual school friends and I do our part to keep her memory alive (and Christ, I see her birthday was last week). Occasionally somebody will post an old picture that includes her, and someone will say, "Oh there's Janet," and we'll reflect. About 9 years ago, a few of us met up in a park along the Columbia while I was out in Oregon, and she came up in many stories. It was great, and I wish I could do that more. So yeah, talk about everything you did with him in the coming days. Write it down. Share. It will help.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:20 PM on December 10, 2013

tl:dr but my loss happened at about age 38 and my great friend was a year younger. No surprise, he had AIDS and wasted away. But it was very difficult for me, my first real Death. Note that I am not religious.

Nevertheless, I would talk to him, in the car, while I was driving, alone. And he would answer (still does, occasionally -- or he just laughs.) Of course I don't think my car was haunted by his ghost, I just knew him so well that my mind could re-create what he'd say, given any situation.

Later, I'd tell people about how the hole in my heart had finally healed over. Yours will, too.
posted by Rash at 1:24 PM on December 10, 2013

As far as something to watch, I found Joan of Arcadia to be the best and most cathartic television show ever. It's only two seasons long, and it's good besides.

Although my friend really liked Seventh Heaven, so maybe that's only useful in context.

At the time that he died, I found relief from going to places we'd gone together and talking to people who'd seen us together. It was hard work, breaking the news to, I guess, our mutual fringe. But it was kind of amazing how good that was for me in retrospect, to get to know him through another lens. Even though I kept having to break bad news to basically strangers. It got slightly less soul-tearing every week, though.

But I did save one place we'd go to every week for later, once I was ready to be a person by myself again. Lucky for me, we'd been missed, and my solo reintroduction to that place was paved by our regular waitress. And while I had previously had no relationship at all with any other regulars, many of them came up to me to say hello.

So, it's okay to go to the places you used to go, and it's also okay to not go there at all, or go there once you're ready.

If I had something I needed to confide, I'd talk to my friend while I was driving. Not like he'd ever refused to listen before, so no sense in thinking he'd start now.
posted by mgar at 2:03 PM on December 10, 2013

One thing that has helped me is surrounding myself with his other friends.

When one of my closest friends passed away I did this. I made an effort to hang out with people I met through her or our mutual friends because we were all grieving and understood. In time it really helped keep her memory alive, remind us it's ok to grieve and feel a loss, but also that we're still here. Some of it was doing things with her partner that I knew she wanted us to do/continue - like watch sports together, play music.

It was way harder than I expected and it took years feel like I'm over her death, only not really. I've accepted it, still miss her, but also make a point of remembering her in moments and not being slavishly tied to honoring her. She's still a part of my life. (Actually... sometimes I swear she gives me signs.)

I did sometimes confide in friends who didn't know her, and it helped, but really I found just living and remembering her seemed like a good balance for me.
posted by kendrak at 2:32 PM on December 10, 2013

I am so sorry for your loss.

Your friend's energy is still there: whether as the part of them that lives on in you, or having rejoined the general energy of the universe, or in heaven.

So go ahead and tell your friend what you need to. Leave time to pause and listen for an answer. You may be surprised by what you hear. Sit with the pain, the grief, the joy and laughter from good times. It's all ok.

If you're more of a writing type of person, write your friend a letter. Switch to your non-dominate hand and write their reply. Again, you might be surprised.
posted by susiswimmer at 3:50 PM on December 10, 2013

All you have to do right now is just endure how much it sucks, and eventually, whether you believe it or not or even if the idea of ever feeling better depresses the hell out of you right now, it won't suck so much. There's no practical answer. You just have to keep going.

Grief is hard, physical work. Being miserable is exhausting. Honor that. Eat and sleep as well as you can. You're probably not hungry, but throw some soup down you anyway and your body will be grateful, even if it doesn't tell you immediately. Exercise if you can bear to. I found avoiding alcohol was a good strategy for a few months: not because I drank too much, but because it gets you thinking about things, and then there you are, not particularly capable of dealing well with the things you're thinking about. Just be kind to yourself and do what you can.

I think there are different ways of getting through that work better for different people. Me, I'm a wallower. After she died, I found the saddest songs I knew and I put them on a playlist and every morning I'd put on my sunglasses and do the half-hour walk to work and listen to it and cry all the way there, and do the same thing on the way home at night. I did that for like two months. At some point I found that I didn't want to do it anymore, but you gotta be patient with yourself.

Over the long term, I have found that one of the gifts she has left me, and in this I am truly unsurprised, because she was a kind and gentle and generous soul, is that I have come to appreciate that this thing you are going through? It's the worst thing ever. Ever ever ever. And it happens to absolutely everybody. That jackass who honked at you in traffic? Your passive-aggressive boss? Rush Limbaugh? It has happened to them too, or it will. And we need each other's empathy and support, and should offer it.

And I also recommend Kieslowski's Three Colors Blue. But then again, I'm a wallower.
posted by catesbie at 4:10 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is one of the worst things in the world. Sorry, unannihilated. It's so isolating.

I would second what some other people said about Facebook (and sharing in general). I'm not a big Facebook user at all, but for the (seemingly statistically anomalous amount) of people I've known who have passed, it's been comforting to have a place to share memories and pictures, and to read what others have to say. It's also nice to have that to go back to and to add to it when something strikes you. But maybe you could also maintain a private spot like a blog, where you post the things you want to share with him.

Back in the pre-Facebook days, I had to deal with a death that was particularly devastating for me. I had lost touch with other people in that circle, except for my brother. Having him around and to be going through the same thing was absolutely one of the most helpful things. We could share everything that we were feeling without any kind of judgement or worry that we were imposing on the other person. I don't know if you have mutual friends, but connecting with them and sometimes just being with them, even if you aren't discussing your friend and the death could help.

Like everyone else, I wish there was a better answer. It's mostly about doing whatever you can to stay sane until enough time passes and you can be calm about it. For me, that was being with people, staying physically active (especially when feeling angry), sleep, distractions in general, and some wallowing (particularly listening to music that reminded me of him).

I thought about it almost non-stop for a very, very long time. There are still topics of conversation, related to his death, that I find hard to handle. When they come up, I usually just retreat and have something of a memorial in my brain until the conversation changes. But it is so much more manageable now and it never felt like I would get there. Take care.
posted by wintrymix at 4:41 PM on December 10, 2013

The only thing I ever found that helped at all was simply the passage of time. And discussing my friend with mutual friends was a comfort.

A decade later, I am at peace, but even now some memories make me tear up.

I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:35 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I lost my best friend in the world suddenly ten years ago next month. The one thing we shared the mostest was that we both talk - and talk and talk and talk - we'd talk at the same time and still manage to get what the other one was saying. We walked alike, talked alike, thought alike and I never dreamed we'd be separated so unexpectedly.

The only thing that worked for me, and still does, is to talk to her. When it first happened, I talked to her all day every day, and sometimes slowed down to listen for a response from her. Ten years later now, I talk to her when something pops up that makes me think of her - and that still happens a lot. So we just go ahead and talk.

When we lived in different states, we couldn't see each other but we still talked on the phone. I can't see her now, but I can still talk to her.

I'm so, so sorry for the hurt you're feeling now. No one can make it better - only time can take the burning pain out of it all - but you can still talk to him. It will make things feel a little more normal, too.
posted by aryma at 8:02 PM on December 10, 2013

I wrote her a letter about once a week for the first few weeks after her death. Sounds like it shouldn't help but it did.
posted by salvia at 10:30 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. Knowing this is part of the universal human experience helps me feel not so alone, though it did confirm what I already knew and feared - that I'll always miss him like crazy.
posted by unannihilated at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2013

« Older Videos won't stream in Firefox   |   How can I match my girlfriend in X-rated talk? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.