The Forgotten Friend

Friends are forgotten grievers. When a friend dies, as a friend, you rally around the family to see if you can help, all the time putting a hold on you own personal grief. Unfortunately, no one pays attention to your pain and your grief and you are left alone to sort things out. Sherry Williams White, writer, nurse and grief specialist, provides information to help you honor your feelings and your friend as she provides positive coping strategies for you, "The Forgotten Griever."

by Sherry Williams White

When death takes a friend, you may find yourself one of the forgotten grievers. Sadly, as a friend of a deceased you may be overlooked by grieving family members and even by yourself. For example, you may not have been given the opportunity to be included in any of the mourning rituals and you may find yourself doing your grieving at alone. Others may not expect you to grieve and might express surprise or impatience with your expression of grief.

Additionally, you may expect yourself to focus your attention on helping your friend’s family and, therefore, neglect your own pain. In your busyness to help them and be supportive, you may have pushed your own feelings aside and denied yourself the right to experience feelings or emotions of grief. You may feel more isolated if the family does not support or acknowledge your friendship with the person who died, leaving you to experience your grief in silence and isolation.

At work, you most assuredly will be expected to act as if nothing has happened. Rare is the employer who offers any kind of bereavement leave for friends, and typical are the co-workers who may be surprised at your level of grief and who may hurry you to “get back to normal.”

The fact is, you, as a friend, have as much need and as much right to grieve as anyone. You have as much reason to mourn publicly and be supported socially as anyone. And if you do not grieve and receive support in your grief, your grief journey can be unnecessarily difficult.

Extended family

In today’s world, where many people move for job opportunities and special interests, one’s closest friends, neighbors, companions and co-workers fill roles and needs traditionally met by family members. Some refer to these close friends as “chosen family,” the people you have chosen to share life with. These chosen families can include co-workers, business partners, church members, schoolmates, a fiancé, companion, former spouse, stepchildren, and all the people who come into your life through blended families.

Because these people have come to play such integral roles in today’s transient society, the death of one of these people leaves a larger more painful gap than it may have in our society 50 years ago.

Friendly fire

What can you do to help you grieve the death of your friend? First of all, understand what grief is and what is happening to you. Grief is painful, but its aim is to help you through this season.

Grief is a natural and normal reaction to a change you did not want. It is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response. It is also a process that will help you adjust to the change you did not want: the death of your friend. Grief often includes the passionate emotions of love, anger, frustration, loneliness and guilt.

When you are grieving, you may experience changes in appetite, upset stomach, sleep disturbances, restlessness, “heartache”, crying, irritability or sighing. Grief sometimes comes in “waves” and can be paralyzing. You may feel numb, “frozen inside” and exhausted. You may not be able to concentrate or remember things.

Depression or feelings of emptiness may temporarily overwhelm you. You may experience headaches, tightness in your throat or muscle aches. Grief hurts.

Anger and guilt are common emotions. You may feel angry with God, your friend, your own family, yourself or others. The “if only” and “I should have” thoughts can cause you pain and doubt. Guilt feelings often accompany or follow anger. You may find yourself wanting to withdraw and be left alone.

Grief-friendly ideas

Here are some ideas that can help you in your grief. Please don’t be overwhelmed by these, but feel free to use the ones that appeal to you.

First, become aware of your feelings and recognize them as grief. You have a right to grieve, regardless of your relationship with the deceased and whether or not it is recognized by others. You know you loved your special someone.

If possible, ask to be included in some of the funeral and memorial rituals. If that is not possible, create your own memorial service or ceremony.

You might wish to make a memory album, light a candle, plant a tree, play special music or simply gather special friends around you for support. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and energy. You might wish to establish a living memorial to honor your friend by creating a scholarship fund, or donating to a charity, library or other project. Finding ways to commemorate your loved one can help you work through the pain of grief. Try to focus on the joy you shared rather than continuously dwell on the losses you have experienced. Your life becomes a living tribute to the friendship you shared.

Take your time and don’t rush into any major decisions if possible. Grief steals away your energy and you may feel hollow and empty for a time. Use these quiet times to reflect and remember the gifts of friendship and love and allow your memories to support you in your grief. Allow yourself to hurt and find creative ways to express the emotions of grief.

Re-establish your connections with your faith, your own family, and friends. Find the support systems that work best for you and reconnect. Ask for help when you need it and allow others to support you. Do not allow others, however, to diminish your grief with a list of “oughts” and “shoulds.” Learn to listen to yourself. You already have a great source of strength within you. Trust yourself and be guided by your needs.

Give yourself permission to hurt, even if the rest of the world does not recognize your relationship, your loss, or your grief. Create your own space for healing and allow yourself to experience your grief in your own way.

Understand that you will not get over the death of your special friend, but you can live through it. There will always be moment of pain and sorrow as you remember the birthday, the death anniversary, and as you mark the passing of events you had planned to share with your friend. Be prepared for these moments of grief and do not be alarmed as they continue through your life.

Grief takes time and effort, just as any important friendship does. Honor your friendship by allowing yourself to mourn the death, but remember, always, the gifts of companionship, friendship and love that you shared. Even though death comes, love never goes away.

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