Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When Friends Die

The death of a friend can hit as hard as any death.

But the grief we hear about most of the time involves a parent, spouse, or a child. We also read about the trauma when a beloved pet dies, and this is not to be taken lightly. Often overlooked is the grief that people feel when a friend dies.

Friends can be closer than family because we choose them for something vital they bring into our lives. They become our go-to people when life becomes unbearably hard or we need to celebrate something tonight. We expect them to be part of our lives for a long time.

If a friend is the first death of someone close, it’s probably a death that was unexpected, out-of-sequence, and we have no framework for understanding it. Normally our grandparents are the first to die. This usually happens when we are young, they are old, and we may not yet comprehend that death is forever. Although it’s a shock, we come to understand their deaths as part of the cycle of life. Our expectation is that our parents will grow older and die next.

But when friends die, especially when they are young, we struggle to understand how this could happen. It doesn’t seem right or fair. Car accidents, cancer, unknown health issues take away too many friends before we are ready to lose them, not that we are ever ready. Besides missing them terribly, they are stark reminders of our own mortality because they were our age.

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In her series of short books called Friend Grief, Victoria Noe addresses this area of loss.

In her sixth book she focuses on men and how they deal with the death of their friends. She explores the stories of several men who lost friends to chronic illnesses, skiing accidents, as well as the death of mentors.

Of particular interest to me was Noe’s discussion of men who have been in battles (military and the AIDS epidemic) when friends were dying around them, and in the chaos, as everyone was scrambling to stay alive and there wasn’t time to mourn their deaths, grieving was delayed. Now, after the wars are over, men are feeling isolated in their grief and being lost to suicide. Some feel guilty for surviving, and many have no one to talk to who understands this. Thankfully, Noe notes, groups are forming with others who have survived these wars, and men are sharing and finding support with each other.

Noe also speaks of the moral injuries that men suffer, of feeling that they should have noticed something, or done something, before their friends died that would have kept them alive. Whether or not this is true, the men carry this burden of guilt. I would add that many people who have lost someone to a sudden death, women and men, feel this way.

She notes that men are often confused about how to express their grief, feeling that crying undermines their masculinity, and they feel pressured to keep their emotions buttoned up. They end up doing something rather than dealing with their feelings, and grief resurfaces years later. On the flip side, women often feel that they have to cry when someone dies, and if they don’t, then they wonder what is wrong with them.


In our society we have lost the language for talking intelligently about grief. We have begun reclaiming some of this in the last decade, and Noe’s work is furthering the discussion. You can find more information about Victoria’s books at www.victorianoe.com.

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