When Dear Friends Die – Proven Ways to Cope

When Dear Friends Die – Proven Ways to Cope

When Dear Friends Die – Proven Ways to Cope
By Harriet Hodgson

My father-in-law made many close friends during his 98 1/2 years of life. So many friends died that family members thought of him as the “last man standing.” At first, Dad would get really upset when a close friend died. After losing dozens of friends his response changed. “He (or she) was a wonderful person,” he would say, and then he would change the subject.

Life taught Dad how to cope with death.

Karen Callinan writes about coping with a friend’s death in “Facing the Death of Friends,” published on the American Catholic Website. Coping with death is always hard and Callinan says “sharing the burden of sadness lightens the load.” You need to talk about your loss, she continues, but sometimes silence is better than words.

Death changes many things, according to Callinan, and “along the journey you cried, felt the depth of human warmth and emerged from darkness to behold once gain a world vibrant with life from God.”

In her book, “When a Bough Breaks,” Judith R. Bernstein, PhD, talks about the affects of age on coping skills. The bereavement experience strengthens mourners, Bernstein notes. “A number of parents who are older . . . aren’t sure whether to attribute their newfound strength and greater courage to the toughening power of surviving hell or the process of maturing over time.”

I think my father-in-law experienced both. He lived through hellish experiences, such as sudden death, and had the maturity to accept this blow and move forward with life. You could say Dad had “paid his dues.” As Bernstein explains, “They [mourners] see that the end product of their grief-work is that they become more definitive in what they value.”

At the end of his life all Dad talked about was family. Still, he continued to remember his friends by telling stories about them. Dad was a marvelous story-teller (you felt like you were there) and many of his stories were about fishing. At the end of a story Dad would sit quietly for a minute or two, and then his thoughts returned to the present.

He was able to do this despite his progressive dementia. I marvel at his ability, for there are times when I bring my thoughts back to the present by sheer force of will. This is understandable after losing four loved ones, including my elder daughter, within nine months. So I continue to work on “living the moment” and I think Dad did, too.

Maybe your dear friend just died. How can you cope? Talking about your friendship is one of the best ways. You may also explore your thoughts in a good-bye letter. Donating money to a national organization, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, is another way to cope. And you may volunteer for a sports team or youth group in memory of your friend.

The last coping tip I have for you is the hardest — forming new relationships. Bob Deits writes about this in his book, “Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss.” Though his suggestion pertains to recovering from the death of a child, spouse, or parent, it applies to friendship as well. Making new friends can be a way to honor the deceased. It shows “you are ready to release your attachment so you can move on,” Deits writes, “to open new doors to a life for yourself.”

The death of a dear friend is a shattering experience. Put yourself back together by making new friends, volunteering, donating money, writing a good-bye letter, and telling stories. You may also record your thoughts in a journal. Your dear friend is gone, yet he or she will always be part of your life.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson


Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska has published her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life.” The company has also published a companion resource, the “Writing to Recover Journal,” which contains 100 writing prompts. Please visit Harriet’s Website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.

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