Grieving the Loss of a Friend

Grieving the loss of a friend is painful. Our friends, in many cases, are as a close, or closer, to us than family.

For most of us, a long and close friendship is hard to come by, and even more difficult to replace. Close friendships are a real and tangible form of love, and when a close friend dies we lose an important source of understanding, trust, support, and unconditional acceptance. To make matters worse, family and other friends may not realize the depth of the loss, and the grieving friend is left to cope alone.

Death of a Close Friend: What it Means

Many studies and research projects have looked at the psychology of grief. As with the loss of a spouse or family member, research has found that grief has similar mental and emotional and physical effects on us when we experience the death of a close friend. We will go through the same stages when grieving the loss of a friend, but the differences are important to acknowledge and address in order to cope, and finally, to heal.

First, it’s important to understand that our expectation that others will acknowledge or appreciate the loss to the degree that we might expect, may not happen because the relationship we have with a close friend is so unique and important, that until they’ve experienced the loss of a friend themselves, others may not completely understand our experience.

What to do When You are Mourning a Friend

With this in mind, we can offer some practical ways to help you through the days, weeks, and months following the death of a close friend. According to studies reported by Psychology Today, we can learn to cope and care for ourselves by learning about the grieving process, and by following this advice.

  • We each deal with grief in our own way, so don’t judge your response, just let it happen.

  • When you are ready, talk about the loss you are feeling with family or friends.

  • Don’t hold your feelings inside, and let others help in whatever way they are comfortable, whether that is hugs, long walks, or casseroles. When mourning a friend, isolation may deepen the painful emotions you feel, so stay connected to people who love you and express your feelings.

  • Know that you’re probably going to feel “messed up” emotionally and may need to take time off or time away from daily obligations. Give yourself the time and permission to do so.

  • Try not to numb yourself with alcohol or other depressants. Doing so can make things worse, or temporarily mask the pain, which will be there, waiting for you to deal with, when haze of alcohol and drugs wears off.

Taking care of yourself

Grieving the loss of a friend will take time. Many experts recommend taking an entire year as a grieving period. The loss will always be a part of you, and the most important thing you can do is give yourself time to heal. Remember to take care of yourself, physically, spiritually, and emotionally by making a new effort to take the following steps:

  • Surround yourself with a circle of support. Let others – friends, family, teachers -- be there for you. Find a therapist if you find that you are feeling too depressed to cope or care for yourself.

  • Try to eat and sleep well. Physical and emotional health are so closely related that one depends on the other. Try mindfulness meditation to learn to slow down, breathe deeply, and take one day at a time.

  • Make plans to travel with friends or family to a place you love and enjoy.

Honoring the friendship

Here are two important ideas for honoring the friendship as part of the healing process:

  • Re-think how you spend your time and engage in work and/or hobbies that you love and perhaps enjoyed with your friend: sports, outdoor recreation, dancing, art, baking cookies, reading novels.

  • Cherish the memories of your friend. Make a donation or set up an event in memory of your friend. Share memories about your friend by setting up an online memorial website like Allow others to share their memories on a tribute page for your friend. Sharing stories is a great way to honor their memory and heal.

More resources

Finally, if you are looking for more ways to understand how to cope with the death of a close friend, the internet has many wonderful resources. Here is one example from the BBC video series on grief: “Why Grief is Not Something You Have to Get Over.”