How To Survive When Your Best Friend Dies

Three trail markers to help you find your way through grief.

Last updated on Nov 04, 2023

Fgrieving your best friend axelbueckert, DarrenMower, Jacob Lund | Canva

Grief hits at the oddest times.

Last week, I was looking in the mirror and noticed my eyelids had visibly drooped. My first thought was to call her to 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 now June. I still forget.

When I remember, I am once again overcome by grief. She was my best friend, and now she's gone. I feel adrift and I sob.


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Five ways to manage the unique pain of losing your best friend 

1. Acknowledge that moving from sobbing to guilt is normal 

Usually, 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 myself.

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 someone they love. I hear the betrayal, confusion, guilt, and anger they each experienced and shared with me. I remember the facts and the exercises I shared 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 person we love. The only way to accept the end is to go through the pain.

2. Make your way through common stages after loss 

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. The second is experiencing the pain of separation. The third is making your way as a new you.


I'm no different from anyone else. I was shocked when I learned she had died. 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 can count on us to just be there to help celebrate the joys and cry over the tragedies. But now, they're not. It can be confusing and painful.

You probably experienced this confusion, shock, and pain when you have lost someone you love. 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.

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3. Practice the goodbye/hello exercise:

1. Write a letter of goodbye to your dearly departed. Of course, this isn't a letter you'll send to them. It's a letter for you to acknowledge all that losing them means to you. Be as specific as possible when you write this. You'll probably cry a lot. I did.


2. 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 are wonderful even if your loved one isn't there to tell you anymore.

4. Acknowledge the simple pain of separation

This is the part of the journey that requires plenty of tissue.

Most of us have erroneously learned it's inappropriate to express our grief beyond the official end. The truth is, no one can tell you how long you'll need to experience the pain of the loss.

Granted, you need to be able to carry on with your life. If the grief is debilitating, you probably do need some help to work your way through it. However, it's OK to experience pain and to feel sad. You might also notice your pain and sadness pop up at odd times, just like it does for me.


RELATED: Dealing With Grief When You Don't Know How To

5. Know that your smile will return 

Slowly, you'll find you're starting to smile or laugh again. You'll feel up to going out and being social again. You'll fully realize that you're an amazing person. Part of the reason you're an amazing person is you had the 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 having a new best friend. No one will ever replace Gloria, but I still have plenty of love 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 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.

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Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce, and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo! & eHarmony, among others.