The death of any loved one is hard; the death of a friend, especially a close friend, can be particularly hard, no matter how old you are. And, it turns out, we don’t give as much social support when someone is grieving a friend, compared to how we support those who are grieving family members. Some of you may have experienced this directly—it’s a real thing. Non-kinship grief, as it’s referred to, receives less social support than grieving a family member—because friendship relationships are considered lower status than kinship.
The 14-year study of Australians showed that those who experienced the loss of a good friend had a significant drop in vitality. The study also indicated that women experienced a sharper drop in vitality than men did, and experienced greater deterioration in mental health, and impaired emotional and social functioning up to four years after the death.
No matter how old you are, the death of a friend hurts. Whether she was your everyday buddy, best friend who lived on the other side of the globe, bi-monthly dinner date, or the person you got into as much trouble as possible with, you will grieve her loss. The loss of her future and what she could have done or become, and the loss of your future together.
You will be sad about the hole her loss leaves in your life—you can’t call her with good news, text her a picture of the ridiculously expensive, but gorgeous, dress you’re considering buying, or be gifted one of the delicious pound cakes she bakes on cold winter days. And you will shed tears over the memories you shared and the special place they now hold in your heart, and even the fact that she isn’t there to grieve with you and offer support.
When a friend dies, your role may be very different than if a family member dies, including that you may not have any role at all. If you didn’t know her family well, for whatever reason (as many of us live far from our families, the reasons for this aren’t all terrible or hurtful), you may not be invited to memorial events. You can of course reach out to her family to offer your condolences and ask to be included—it might be as simple as them not knowing how close you are, not knowing how to get in touch with you, or feeling awkward about reaching out to you.
These things can be true even if you know her family, they may embrace you and your memories of her. Or there may be dynamics in the family you don’t understand that mean they don’t want you around. If her family pushes you away, unless you have specific reasons to fight it (like she had disowned her family and wouldn’t want them involved in any way), in most cases you will have to respect their wishes. And then work to find other ways to honor her memory with others in your joint friendship circle.
Your other friendships
Like all deaths close to us, death of a friendship can change your relationships with others. If you and your friend shared a circle of friends, remember that everyone is dealing with her death differently. All your other friends are grieving in their own ways, too.
You each may be able to offer exactly the support needed, but know that it might go the other way. Some may feel they were closer friends with her than you were, or feel that you don’t have a right to grieve. Some may step back and not want to be involved in any memorial activities or shared friendship activities. Some may be looking to you for support or you may be looking to these very same friends for support, at a time when none of you has much to give. All of these are natural reactions and will require treating one another with compassion and looking for support from other people if necessary.
All of the “standard” ways of coping with a loss play a role here, too. Just know that there’s a possibility you may not get as much support as you want or need after the death of a friend.
Also know that you can ask for help and, if you don’t find it in one place, keep asking until you find the people who will help. Getting support is critical to moving forward after loss. And no matter what, know this: You aren’t alone.