By Ken Doka
When I picked up my 4-year old grandson at preschool, Kenny was proud to introduce me to his new friend. Even at a young age, we begin the life-long process of making friends. If Kenny’s lucky, he may even keep some of the friends he makes in these early years. I still have a friend that goes way back to third grade.
Friends are an important part of our life. We share so much – laughter and serious conversations, people and places, active and quiet moments. Friends keep us grounded and shape our identities. Friends may help us find jobs, homes, or even spouses. We trust them with our secrets. Moreover, our friends are not thrust upon us – we choose them. Some our favorite films, from Thelma and Louise to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or television shows such as Friends or Will and Grace, celebrate the gift of friendship.
Despite the important roles that friends play in our lives, they are oft neglected in times of death. Rarely are friends mentioned in the eulogy or obituary. Little support is extended to them. Sympathy cards are rarely sent to friends. At best they are expected to stifle their own grief and as a final act of sacrifice attend to the family of the deceased.
The loss of a friend, then, is another example of disenfranchised grief – the grief that results when others do not recognize a loss. In effect, when we lose a friend, we have no socially acknowledged “right to grieve.” No matter how close the friendship, few places of business extend time off to mourn a friend.
Yet, as friends, we too grieve. Grief follows attachment. When we love someone – as parent, as child, as spouse, or as friend – and that person dies, we grieve.
When we lose a friend, it is important, much as we strive to support family members, that we acknowledge and recognize our own loss, our own grief. We need to understand as well that each loss is different. We have unique connections and distinct meanings attached to every friendship in our lives. We interact with our friends differently. Some friends are part of our weekly or daily routine. We regularly speak and spend time together. The death of these friends leaves a great and obvious void.
We may have other friendships too that are less intense but no less vital. While we may see them rarely, they remain important in our lives. Lynn is one such friend. We talk only a few times a year, but she remains as a critical connection in my life. She befriended me in high school, transforming my experience in what had then been a large unfriendly place.
Understanding the unique quality of each of our friendships helps us to appreciate the inimitable sense of loss. We can then recognize the singular nature of our grief.
We may find it essential to attend funerals and memorial services. The very best of these may be inclusive – clearly bringing friends to the center of the circle of mourning. When a dear colleague, Catherine Sanders died, I appreciated that the family chose three people to eulogize her – a daughter, a professional colleague, and a personal friend. I felt very included to hear a colleague speak of the Catherine that I knew even as I was delighted that other eulogies touched on different aspects of Catherine. I felt very included in that ceremony.
Because all rituals are not that inclusive, we may need to find our own special places and ways to mourn a friend. Tom did that when his friend, Mark died. He decided to go back to the ball field in the old neighborhood – a place where he and Mark shared so many good moments. There he offered a silent prayer for friend – and quietly grieved over the loss of his long-time buddy.
Published by Hospice Foundation of America’s Journey’s newsletter, copyright 2008 (or appropriate year). Reprinted with permission. To susbcribe to Journeys, visit www.hospicefoundation.org or call 1-800-854-3402.Tags: grief, hope