Tuesday, August 4, 2015

BFFs Die, Too: bridging a best friend's death

What is a best friend?

 I found Chelsea Fagan's exploration of the "best friend" title thoughtful:
"We often take for granted how precious a thing it is to be a best friend, how many people can’t freely use that term, how many have never experienced that very particular kind of love. When you think about it, to pronounce someone in your life as being more important than all of those other friends somehow, as being on a different plane of relationship that, despite not being romantic, is still profoundly important, is incredible."
Jean with Sally, BFF & fellow Riveter

Jean: 94 years of friendships

This is Jean's story of outliving friends and 99% of her extended family (not including her children, grand and great-grandkids.) She describes an enduring belief  in the benefit of such closeness, even though she has had numerous losses.

"My cousins and I were really close. We did so much together, which continued even after we were all married. Those cousins and my aunts are all gone." 

Born and raised into her adulthood in the thriving Polish community of Hamtramck, Michigan, Jean worked as a Rosie-the-Riveter, and made friends easily. These were the golden years for BFF fun: Belle Isle picnics, the Put-in-Bay amusement park on Lake Erie in Ohio, league bowling with co-workers, nightclub evenings of dancing with soldiers and drinking “Zombies.” As a married mother of four, Jean continued to enjoy friendships with cousins, and many women from her neighborhood, church, volunteering, and bowling leagues.

Jean scratches a visitor's back
Now at 94, Jean lives in an upbeat assisted living facility. The staff and other residents are her new friends and neighbors. Before deciding on a small studio apartment, Jean visited Evelyn's brightly lit studio (across the hall from the vacancy,) saw the clever arrangement of furniture, and admired the hospitality potential of a new sleeper sofa. Jean and Evelyn became best friends.

Friendships in older life are fragile

"I sit at a dining table and have friends; they die and a new person is assigned. Sometimes if they're sick, you feel bad, cause you enjoyed things together, like playing cards or bingo. And then when they die, and a new person moves in, I might hesitate to get close. Evelyn was my last good friend at the table. I often think about friendships; Evelyn's daughter, Denise, is my best friend, now."

Levels of loss

I asked Jean if losing an elderly friend is as hard as other losses (husband, cousin, grandchild)?
"When Evelyn died, I thought,'at least she's not suffering.' I'll think of our good times, and that way, they're never forgotten. I think the grief does depend on the closeness and at my age, I accept that I am going to lose people. I just wonder when it's going to be my turn." 

Darci: Wonderful memories

After courageously vigiling at her friend Patrice's deathbed, Darci found comfort in composition as well as acts of remembrance. An expressive writer, professionally and personally, Darci posted a tribute to Facebook on the eighth year of her friend's absence:

"Tonight my friend Beverly and I went out to celebrate the birthday of our friend Patrice, who passed away from complications due to glioblastoma in 2008. We shared lots of fun memories about her, and it was happy-sad, to say the least. So many wonderful memories came flooding back as we reminisced.
 I remember long talks about everything and nothing; listening to her play the piano, and being swept away by the musical beauty she created. Working in her garden, drinking coffee, playing poker, walking her dogs, and going to Vegas. Laughing together at nothing. Sharing silence. How I miss that friendship, how I've never had anything quite like it since, and how her not being here anymore still pricks something so deep within. How is it that I STILL see someone who looks like her and I freeze for a split second and honestly think she's still alive? At some level I wonder if our minds are simply incapable of truly comprehending death. The pain has lessened over the years, yes. Yet the fond memories are as vivid as ever. How lucky I am that Patrice was my friend."

I asked Darci if the length and depth of friendship have a bearing on the pain of its loss.
"Absolutely. The closer I am to someone impacts the depth of grief I feel. Comparison: When my grandfather died at the age of 99 (four days shy of 100,) of course I was very sad. But his death was the natural end to a long life. I loved him, but I wasn't as emotionally close to him as I was to my friend Patrice, whose untimely death shook me to the core."

The Condolence Coach approached the topic of best friends, with a concern that the grief would be minimized as "outside" the roster of core relatives. Darci's experience was a good one:
"I have received many nice words in response to my writings about Patrice--which, for me, has been a way to process my grief".

Just getting started

Blogger, Chelsea Fagan, explored the distinction of "best" in a friendship. It is a coveted title, and not used lightly. A BFF is the receptacle for--and companion to-- life's moments and emotions, from incidental to earth shattering. As a child, I would run down the block to my best friend's house. Today, the smart phone redefines immediacy. Truncating the lifeline between best friends is a terrible amputation. I asked Darci, as you have grieved, have you had regrets?
"I wish we had had more time together--I think we were friend for only 2-3 years, but it felt like we had been friends forever."

When your bestie had died, who is left to listen?

Author photo

Ellie Crystal, counsels taking as much time as you need to heal, but if unremitting depression occurs, consider finding professional support. The space where that special person resided in your heart and mind, is fragile. "Best friends return to us in many spiritual ways, dreams, paranormal manifestations and movements, other reminders that allow us to know that they are still with us. Yet it is not the same. You want your best friend back so you can talk to them and share." 

The Texas Women's University Counseling Center suggests:
"One of the best ways to help yourself is to talk about your loss with someone who is caring and concerned, someone who can understand your need to talk about it. Often just talking with a close friend can soften the feelings...counteract some of the feelings of loneliness a death evokes. Typically, we need to go over and over the feelings and the experiences before we can begin to accept what has happened. Sometimes as survivors we feel as though we may be burdening our family and friends with our need to talk. If this feeling occurs, seeking help from a counselor is probably a good idea."

Bridging a crevasse with condolence 

Author photo
The friend "left behind" may be doing her own journaling, and many thoughts will be passed around through social media. Darci shares her tributes on Facebook. But the Coach encourages you to write a condolence note somewhere in the midst of electronic compassion. Just as a good friendship is enduring, your note can be, too. A condolence gift of a journal would be a lovely aid for this. Consider writing your condolence in the form of a dedication, on the first page:

"You have had one of life's best treasures: a best friend. Though [use name] has died, he/she lives on in your heart and mind." 

You may add one or two other observations or appreciative thoughts to that dedication; some ideas are:
  • Express Appreciation for the deceased and/or for the survivor
  • Share Memories
  • Make Little Observations...
    • a special moment or helpful influence
    • what you respect or admire
    • valued qualities or talents shared
  • If you have at one time, lost a best friend, you can share a thought about how you moved through your grief.
Thank you for caring!

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