How to cope with losing a close friend
Although it’s often overlooked, the loss of a friend is just as devastating as that of any other loved one. It comes with the same force and it quickly takes you through a whirlwind of emotions before it throws you at grief’s mercy. Expect to be shocked, angry, confused and deeply disturbed as you try to make sense of it and adapt to its demands.
This grief guide helps you to understand the effects of losing a close friend and it shows you how to cope with such loss.
Losing a close friend
We often trick ourselves into believing that the loss of a friend is an unfortunate experience and with it, we rule out its severity and impact on our life. That kind of attitude is particularly evident in the cases where our friend leaves a family and loved ones behind. Naturally, their bereaved spouse, children, parents, siblings and even grandparents are deeply affected but don’t let that take away the importance of your loss and put you at the bottom of the list.
Regardless of these arrangements, your grief is just as important and you need to give it the full attention it demands. Listen to it and be prepared to deal with the sudden burst of emotions, confusion and anger. You may feel guilty about past arguments or regret some of the things you remember saying and doing.
Grieving the loss of a friend is just as personal and unique as any other grief. It’s shaped by your relationship with them and it can be affected by age.
Losing a friend as a child
Children don’t have the necessary life experience to cope with the loss of anyone, let alone a best friend. It can be very difficult and traumatic for them to come to terms with such loss. The realisation is likely to raise questions about their own mortality and safety as well as that of their siblings, other friends, parents etc.
If your child is grieving the loss of a friend, it’s important to explain how that loss would affect them. Maybe they won’t be able to play together, have any more sleepovers, attend each other’s birthdays, see each other at school etc. Encourage them to ask questions about their friend or loss and be as honest as possible with your answers.
Look out for any behavioural changes such as bedwetting, refusing to go to school, not doing their homework, wanting to be with their lost friend etc.
Please read our guide on explaining death to children for more information.
Losing a friend in later life
Nobody can prepare you for such a loss, even if it is the result of a long illness. Losing a close friend as an adult is likely to trigger a series of emotions beginning with shock and disbelief. Confusion or inabilities to talk about your feelings are also quite likely reactions in the early days of your loss.
However you feel, remember that it takes time to process that loss and to come to terms with it. Don’t be impatient with yourself and don’t pretend that you are not affected by it. Open the floodgates to let all these feelings and emotions overwhelm you. Then start to work your way through them as you begin to move forward with your life. Expect to cycle through the same feelings or to feel stuck and unable to see a way out of it. That’s how grief works but it gets better with time.
Moving forward after losing a friend
Being in a friendship with someone is a complex process which is based on respect, trust and admiration. It involves a certain level of emotional and instrumental support too. The apparent lack of that support is likely to be one of the first challenges associated with the loss of a close friend.
It can influence your relationships with other people or raise questions about current friendships. Feel free to take some time out or to invest more of your time developing new friendships with people who can add value to your life.
Here are some suggestions for coping with the loss of a friend:
Be with people who understand your grief
Be prepared to ‘suffer in silence’ because not everyone will appreciate the scale of your loss. The lack of recognition is also likely to affect how you deal with grief. Make sure you surround yourself with people who understand and respect that loss. Talk to your mutual friends or find a local support group. Listening to the experience of others and sharing yours is a step forward in the direction of healing.
Treasure the memories
The loss of your friend is not a reason to forget them. Look back at the wonderful times and treasure your memories. That’s their way of being a part of your life now and you need to embrace it. Organise gatherings in their honour and invite your mutual friends to mark important anniversaries and milestones. If you are minded to, you can even do a charity challenge in their memory.
Create a scrapbook
If your child is grieving the loss of a friend, encourage them to create a scrapbook to remember their friend. Perhaps they went on a trip together or attended each other’s birthday parties? Use that or anything else to help your child create a lasting memory of their lost friend.
Allow yourself time to grieve
Life without your friend is not going to be the same. You are going to miss them no matter what you do. That’s normal and so are the other feelings and emotions you are likely to experience. Remember that grief is a process which is unique to you. Be kind to yourself and allow plenty of time to grieve that loss.
The emotional high that you get from the release of endorphins whilst laughing and having a good time with your friend is cut short and replaced with a mountain of sadness after their death. That’s the mountain you need to climb in order to move forward with your life after the loss of a close friend.
We offer grief help and support through the National Bereavement Service's (NBS) webchat. It is a free online service which connects you to a trained advisor.
NBS has a wide network of contacts within organisations providing support to bereaved people. They will explain your choices and help you decided what would be most helpful for you and how to make contact with them.
The service is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm and Saturday 10am to 2pm and you can reach NBS by clicking on the chat box at the bottom of this page.
Contributed by Mark Welkin
Mark Welkin is the author of three grief books and a journalist who has worked for various media outlets in Europe and Asia. He lost his long-term partner in 2014 and a few months later, Mark turned to a grief counsellor for help. The results inspired him to share his experience and help other bereaved people to resume life after the loss of their loved ones.