His father’s death was a loss, he says. Kevin’s was a tragedy.
After Kevin died, Schofield returned to what had comforted him with his father: listening to music. All kinds — classical, folk, rock and jazz. “Music has always triggered great emotions in me,” he says, “and I found that when I listened — by myself, during dedicated time — I could think more clearly about what this loss meant to me.”
(MORE: When We Mourn a Friend)
A Grief That Gets Short Shrift
Not everyone finds the best grieving tool so quickly, but experts agree that often the grief process gets short shrift when a friend, rather than family member, dies.
“People rally around family members who lose someone,” says Natasha Josefowitz, author of Living Without the One You Cannot Live Without. For the loss of a pal, not so much. “A friend is often seen as replaceable,” says Josefowitz. “After all, you’ve got others, right?”
It’s not surprising why you may have trouble getting support. A friend’s death, unlike a family member’s, taps into our deepest fears, especially after 55, when we are closer to the end (even if it’s 30 years away), than the beginning. After all, if our same-aged pal suddenly gets diagnosed with a terminal illness or has a heart attack and dies, how do we know it won’t happen to us? The vulnerability that comes with the loss of a beloved peer is gut-wrenchingly scary.
So what’s the best way to cope when a friend dies? The way you process the loss can spell the difference between healthy and unhealthy recovery. Keep in mind that no two people grieve alike, so there’s no one-size-fits-all. And there are many ways to work toward acceptance.
Here, eight pieces advice to help get you through:
1. Create a ritual around your friend. Put her picture in a special place and talk to her regularly. Or listen to a favorite song or recite a poem you both loved. Writing is especially therapeutic, so write daily or bi-weekly in a journal dedicated and addressed directly to your deceased pal.
2. Soothe yourself. In the immediate wake of a friend’s death, says Diane Snyder Cowan, director of the Elizabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center in Cleveland, Ohio, you may be overcome with fatigue and need sleep. Don’t fight it. Or you may find yourself wanting to repaint the whole house or dig up the garden. Whether you grieve intuitively (emotionally) or instrumentally (keeping busy), allow yourself to do what feels right for you at that point in the process.
3. Seek out others who knew and loved this person. Talking about a mutual friend to the friend’s family, co-workers or other buddies is a way to work through memories, anger, sadness or joy with someone who understands the magnitude of what has been lost. Bonus: It will help both of you with the grieving process.
4. Embrace gratitude. “The best way to move from ‘why’ to acceptance,” says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist in southern California, “is to focus on how grateful you are to have had this person in your life.” Focus on what you gained, not what you lost.
5. Continue your friend’s legacy. Maybe your pal organized and kept the book club running for years. Pick up his mantle. Perhaps your buddy read to the blind. Do the same — or make a yearly contribution to a favorite “sight” charity — in his name.
6. Accept the inevitability of “trigger” events. Diane Snyder Cowan says that people are often surprised to find themselves sobbing at unexpected times — even when they think they’ve totally managed their grief. “It may be a year after the death and you’ve reached some peace. Then you see a scrap of paper with your pal’s handwriting,” she says, “and suddenly you’re blubbering.” It’s normal. Blubber away.
7. Try not to react to uncomfortable words of comfort. In an attempt to reach out, people often say things like, “She’s in a better place,” or “I know exactly how you feel.” No, not true! Instead of lashing out, try to accept that these words come from a place of discomfort. (If, however, a friend or family member keeps repeating these, feel free to say, “Thank you, but that does not make me feel better.”)
8. If all else fails, seek help. It is neither healthy, productive, nor an honor to a deceased friend to stay in grief mode indefinitely. If you find you cannot get past anger and grief to a level of acceptance, you should get some outside help: perhaps a therapist , a support group or a religious leader.
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