All of us understand that the death of a close relative — spouse, parent or child — requires a prolonged period of grieving for the survivor’s healing and adjustment. But what about the passing of a close friend? Generally we take the loss of a non-relative less seriously and assume grieving should take less time.
But one recent study conducted in Australia examined the impact on an individual’s overall well-being after experiencing the death of a close friend. The researchers found that such people suffered a significant decline in physical health, mental health, emotional stability and social life. And further, they discovered this type of deep grief lasted longer– up to four years — than previously thought.
Mourning the loss of a friend has some special characteristics:
- A friend’s death brings up complicated, even conflicting emotions.
- You may feel isolated in your grief, because the deceased friend’s relatives, your employer and your support community likely will not recognize the depth of your grief.
- Because you and your friend shared memories and experiences, you may feel disconnected from your past and uncertain about the future.
- The death of a friend brings up feelings about your own mortality.
- Your friend was a special source of support and you may doubt you’ll have such a close relationship again.
- Your relationship to other friends may change. You may not want to risk having another close relationship and thereby isolate yourself from others.
Grieving takes time and understanding. Here are some ideas for helping you through the process:
- Despite what others may believe, recognize that you’re entitled to grieve in the way and time that you need.
- Maintain self-care during your bereavement. Engage in a healthy lifestyle and find positive ways to cope with the stress of loss.
- Recognize that mourning the loss of a close friend happens in stages. It is a healing journey.
- Don’t detach from your feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, sadness, etc. Allow yourself these emotions as they arise.
- Maintain ties with the deceased by writing letters to them, imagine conversations, etc. Such “continuing bonds” can be helpful.
- Don’t give up on friendship. Realize that, although your friend can never be replaced, new relationships are possible.
- Join an online or local grief group. Being with people who’ve suffered a similar loss can provide essential support.