The Friendship Doctor

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Friendship and Loss: When the loved one who dies is a best friend

Recovering from the death or a loved one is never easy.

QUESTION

Dear Dr. Levine,

My dearest best friend of 35 years died in March. She had Alzheimer's disease, so it had been several years since I was able to have a conversation with her, but I could still visit and see her. Her death has devastated me.

Before she became ill, we spoke almost every day, and often met for a cup of coffee, lunch, shopping, visiting a museum, or seeing a show, etc. She wrote a book that is carried by many museums, and we used to get a kick out of seeing it in their bookshops. We lived only 15 minutes apart. Our husbands even liked each other.

We shared so many things: a love of art, literature, humor, clothes, gossip, and much more. In all those years, we never had a fight---maybe a slight disagreement, but never a fight. I now feel bereft and totally alone, even though I am happily married and have other friends. Of those I have, no one can come near to replacing her. My husband understands my loss, but can't fill that empty space.

I have kind of resigned myself to knowing that I will never have a friendship again with that kind of width and depth. It's not a matter of not having other friends. I just have little desire to be with them. When my best friend was alive, I didn't mind spending some time with other friends also, but now, I have little desire to. When I do, it feels like I'm just "making do", and I feel terrible for even thinking that. How does one readjust from this kind of loss? Or, maybe you just don't.

Sincerely,
Lindsay

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ANSWER

Dear Lindsay.

It sounds like you found and lost a kindred spirit in your friend. Given all the experiences and emotions you shared, there must be constant reminders of the friendship---tinged with even greater sadness because you watched your friend slowly deteriorate.

Perhaps, you need to allow yourself a fallow period before you can reach out to other friends. When you do feel like being with other women (which you will), resist the temptation to compare other friendships to this one.

Remember that each friendship is unique and this one-of-a-kind friendship has helped you become the person---and the friend---you are today. You are fortunate that you have savored what few others have in a lifetime. More pleasant memories will surface when the sadness recedes with time.

One other thought to consider: If your sadness isn't confined to your friendships and you've lost interest in things that were once pleasurable, you may be feeling depressed. Sometimes depression manifests itself as a sense of hopelessness; difficulties concentrating; or changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or energy levels. (Click here to see more about the signs and symptoms of depression). If this is the case, talking to a mental health professional might help you get over the hump.

Recovering from the death or a loved one is never easy. In this case, the difficulty may be compounded because few others can understand the closeness of your friendship and the pain of your loss.

My thoughts are with you.

Warmest regards,
Irene

 

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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