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Thelma Duffey Ph.D.
Thelma Duffey Ph.D.

When You Lose a Friend

Managing the life-changing event of losing a friend.

Friends. They’re the people who can make the good times better and the hard times easier to live with. Friends aren’t just icing on the cake of life — they’re the cake. They make life more fun, more fulfilling, and, well, just better all around. Friends can be people we meet at school, at work, or as we are out and about living life. Friends can be family members, too. If we look at our lives as personal stories, our friends are the people who share in our stories. They’re the ones we see as we look back on our scrapbook of life. And when they’re really good friends, they’re the people we trust most.

Sunset Windmills/Viktor Hanáček/Picjumbo
Source: Sunset Windmills/Viktor Hanáček/Picjumbo

Good friendships take a certain degree of investment. Good friends consider each other when making decisions that impact each other, and there is give and take among friends.

The good news is that friends don’t have to be — nor will they ever be — perfect. That’s life, and there’s good news here. This means we don’t have to be perfect either. Isn’t that a relief?! Sometimes we are at our best, and other times we're at our worst. In a good friendship where there is mutuality, however, we know these things. We can be really good to each other when the chips are down, laugh together more often than not, and be honest with each other when we need perspective. Friends can be great supports and reality testers that way.

The bottom line is that our friends are the people we let in. They’re the people who can get under our skin, for better or for worse, and they’re the ones in whom we choose to invest. Because of that, they bring a certain stability and normality to our lives.

What happens when we lose a good friend? When a friend moves away, or when a friend dies? These losses happen every day. And when they do, it can feel — and it generally is — life-changing. Unfortunately, this form of loss is not always acknowledged or understood. It is often viewed as an ambiguous loss. If you find yourself in a situation where you are losing a good friend, consider this:

  • Be good to yourself. Recognize that you are taking a hit. The more we invest in people, the greater the grief when we lose them from life as we know it. Consider the circumstances, and let yourself grieve accordingly.
  • Recognize your own needs when the loss results from a friend’s death. If you lose a friend to death, recognize that you are grieving the loss of a person near and dear to you, and give yourself the space and time to do so. Connect with others who share your loss, if this helps you, and take time for yourself to do those things that bring you comfort. Give yourself time, and realize that by honoring your loss, you honor your friend, too.
  • Consider your needs when the loss results from a friend’s move or other circumstance. If you lose a friend in your day-to-day world because of a geographical move or other circumstances beyond your control, recognize that this is a loss, too. If your life is very busy, and you are losing an important support in your life, or a person who shares day-to-day life with you, the loss is not only meaningful — it is powerful in a practical sense. This form of loss requires adjustment and takes time.

In these cases, you may want to expand your world and take part in activities that bring new people and new energy into your space. Recognize the feelings you carry about the loss, even if they are uncomfortable or do not seem appropriate. For example, if you are caught by surprise, you may have many mixed feelings. At the same time that you feel sad, you may also feel angry. Or perhaps you feel happy for your friend, but you feel badly for yourself. These are all normal reactions. Giving yourself time to adjust, while trying to keep a clear and balanced perspective on the circumstances, your friend, and your own potential, will help you ultimately make the transitions that these losses bring.

Friends not only bring spice to life, they are the “we” that makes good things happen. Therefore, losing a friend can hurt. It is important to know that we all grieve differently. Our histories, personalities, and the degree of investment in the friendship, along with the current stressors and resources in our lives, influence our response to loss.

So if you have lost a friend and feel the loss, practice self-compassion. Cultivate patience. Honor the role of friendship in your life. And know that at the end of the day, your life is richer — your history is richer — because of your friendships, and because you have it in you to be a friend.

About the Author
Thelma Duffey Ph.D.

Thelma Duffey, Ph.D., is a professor and chair in the Department of Counseling at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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