I once found out (on Facebook of all places) that a dear friend had passed away suddenly. I was in shock. Had it been April Fool’s Day, I might have believed it was someone’s inappropriate joke. But it wasn’t.
I didn’t know what to say or what to feel. I was numb.
One of my first thoughts was that I am a terrible friend. How could I have missed so many opportunities to connect by phone or in person during one of my many work trips to her area?
This friend supported me through all my varied adventures the past 20 years. She advocated for projects, colluded, created and pushed me to be better than I thought I could be. Anne was probably the person who most encouraged me to write for newspapers and even my first books.
She was a wonderful storyteller and her life was cut short – a tragedy to her community and her family.
My shock and dismay got me pondering the value we place on friendships and the efforts we make to ensure these friends know how much they have added to our lives.
I felt so selfish, but I think this is a pretty common first response to the sudden death of a friend.
Humans are wired to be social. We want to be around other people. Sadly, we often get so caught up in the trials and tribulations of daily life that we forget how short life really is. We think there will always be plenty of time to connect and stay close. When this turns out to be untrue, we find ourselves in an inner conflict – the should have, could have stories all compete for attention.
When someone dies, a whole web of people who had different relationships with that person are affected. The news ripples through our ‘tribes’ and the loss is often more widespread than we recognize. Even people who didn’t have a direct relationship with the deceased are affected – either because they feel for (and with) the people who had a close relationship or because, at the end of the day, the tragedy and permanence of death shocks and likely scares us all.
When someone dies suddenly, there are a lot of emotions going on. The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult times in our lives.
So if you face something similar, here are a few tips for coping through the moment and reduce the inner conflicts:
- Pause and reflect on all those fabulous experiences together. Embracing those memories will help you move through the grief process.
- Write down a few special memories. You may even consider posting them to share with family members.
- Even if you don’t know what to say, rather than crossing the street or walking out of the room, make a point of saying something as simple as, “I’m sorry to hear what has happened.” Or text them or send a card. Nothing can make the situation better. It’s about helping the family recognize how many lives their loved one touched.
- Don’t be afraid to attend the memorial service. It will be good for you and the family no matter how long it has been since you saw them in person.
- Be proactive about reducing your stress. Take a walk. Eat nutritiously. Release your emotions – cry (at commercials, songs, movies) or watch comedy in an effort to refocus your internal energy.
It doesn’t matter how old our friends get, or how young they are when we lose them, the fact is that we miss them when they are gone.
Recalling the positive impact on our lives will help to keep the memories alive.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.