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The Importance of Friends in Grief

The most important thing for a friend to do is to be near.

In memory the links to the past are forged. Out of the sadness of death and the ache of love can come a new strength and capacity to go on.

The person we lose in death is not obliterated if we affirm life and deny despair. Memory is part of the healing process that brings together life and death as a mark of gratitude and an expression of love. Through the actions of the survivors the dead do live on.

Because we loved we feel the sorrow of death. And because love is not contained by the boundaries of our physical bodies it returns to us.

Until we are ready to embrace life again, as healing takes its erratic and eccentric course, all we can ask is for others to be near. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, "Be near me when my light is low/ when the blood creeps, and the nerves prick/ and tingle, and the heart is sick,/ and all the wheels of being slow."

So too Archibald MacLeish has written, "Then blow on the coal of the heart,/ It's all the light now."

What we ask of friends in bereavement is warmth. We need friends when we think that all we have is ash. Friends can help us to know that it is not ashes that remain but embers that can billow into flame once more.

Friends are essential in our grief for death makes us feel alone and exposed. "Feeling vulnerable without one's lifelong companion," writes the late Ies Spetter, family therapist and Ethical Culture Leader, "easily raises doubts as to whether one can ever again be intimate with another person."

In friendship we maintain a closeness to others that shows us, without words, that loneliness can be a temporary state. Embers can become flames once more.

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