It hits me at the oddest times.
Last week I was looking in the mirror and noticed that my eyelids have visibly drooped. My first thought was I needed to call her so we could talk about getting older and the changes our bodies go through. Then it came crashing down on me. I couldn't call her. She's gone. She died in January. It's June.
I still forget. When I remember, I am once again overcome by the grief. She was my best friend and now she's gone. I feel adrift and I sob.
Normally, after I get my sobbing under control, I start to feel the guilt. I feed the guilt by thinking that I should have done more. I wonder if I had stepped in and been more vocal about her health care whether it would have prevented her from dying so unexpectedly. Then I realize, I'm just telling myself stories as a way of trying to make sense of her death. Stories that don't change anything, except how I feel about me.
In the midst of all this, I hear the voices of all the people I've ever spoken with who have lost their best friends or their spouses, through divorce. I hear the betrayal, confusion, guilt and anger that they each experienced and shared with me. I remember the facts and the exercises I shared with them to help them through their pain. Then, I pick an exercise, do it and move closer to the end of my grief.
We all grieve over the loss of a best friend, regardless of whether the loss comes through death, divorce or decision. The only way to accept the end of the relationship is to go through the pain.
The exact path through the pain is different for each of us, but there are three trail markers you can use on your way. The first is acknowledging and accepting the loss of the friendship. The second is experiencing the pain of separation. The third is making your way as a new you without the relationship.
I'm no different from anyone else. I was shocked when I learned she had died and my best friend relationship was over. We each experience this shock because a best friend is part of the foundation of our lives. They're someone we can count on and who counts on us to just be there to help us celebrate the joys and cry together over the tragedies. But now, they're not. It can be so confusing and painful.
You probably experienced this confusion, shock and pain when you lost your best friend. One of the exercises that has helped me move past the first trail marker of acknowledging and accepting the loss is goodbye/hello. You might find it helpful too.
- Write a letter of goodbye to your best friend. This isn't a letter that you'll send to them. It's a letter for you to acknowledge all that losing their friendship means to you. Be as specific as possible as you write this. You'll probably cry a lot. I did.
- Write a hello letter to you and what your life can still be without them in it. This letter is where you remind yourself that your life is still wonderful even if they aren't in it. You can also remind yourself that you're wonderful even if they aren't there to tell you that any more.
The second trail marker is experiencing the pain of the separation. This is the part of the journey that requires plenty of tissue. Most of us have erroneously learned that it's inappropriate to express our grief much beyond the official end of the relationship. The truth is, no one can tell you how long you'll need to experience the pain of the separation. Granted, you need to be able to carry on with your life. If the grief is debilitating, you probably do need some help in working your way through it. However, it's OK to experience pain and to feel sad. You might also notice your pain and sadness pops up at odd times, just like it does for me.
The third trail marker usually shows up gradually. Slowly, you'll find that you're starting to smile or laugh again. You'll start to feel up to going out and being social again. You'll start to fully realize that you're an amazing person. Part of the reason you're an amazing person is because you had an experience of having a best friend who taught you what loss is all about.
I'm catching glimpses of this third trail marker. I'm getting more OK with the idea of having a new best friend. No one will ever replace Gloria, but I still have plenty of love in my life that I know I'll want to share with a new BFF.
Losing your best friend hurts. But by going through the grief and guiding yourself with the three trail markers, you have the potential to become even more aware of the brilliance you bring to the world just by being you. By embracing your brilliance, you'll be able to find a new best friend who will help you cry over the tragedies and celebrate the joys of life.