How To Cope When Your Friend Dies

Shutterstock / Sander van der Werf
Shutterstock / Sander van der Werf

It’s 3 AM at this donut shop and I’m sitting at a table giggling like an idiot as two of my friends give me a mock interview for a position as an underwater basket weaver. I know that in about 12 hours I’m going to have to give a presentation to a local theatre’s board of directors on how to improve sales. I do not know that I am going to remember this week for the rest of my life for all the wrong reasons. I do not know that a freak car accident, which happened 2 hours ago and 80 miles from this donut shop, will be the cause of this.

I got the call about her deathtwo minutes before I had to give the presentation. I didn’t know it was the call at first because it came from a friend who I didn’t know was a mutual friend of her’s. I asked to call her back before she could give me the news. As I sat in the meeting with one minute left, the phone call about her began to itch inside my head. I kept scratching, wondering what my friend might have called about. How did she know her and why was she so suddenly concerned with her? Then I thought (something you never should have to think) what if she is dead?

I checked Facebook on my phone because it was the only way to know for sure that I wasn’t being over-dramatic. I would see her wall with dozens upon dozens of, “I love yous” and “I miss yous”. Before I could even get there though, I saw a status on my newsfeed simply saying, “Love you.” Going into shock, I began to fight against the train of thought that was slamming into my head telling me I would never see her, or hear her cackle of a laugh, or get a drunk text from her ever again. And then I was called up to present.

It’s funny what things remain crystal clear to you about days like those. I remember calling three people to break the news to them. I remember driving a lot. I remember the sunset from a friend’s porch. I remember tacos and seeing how another friend turned to alcohol to cope. I remember being so thankful that the couple from the night before decided to sleep over, because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the night by myself.

The next few months were a blur. I was extremely unaware of what day it was during this time. Weeks would either feel like a few hours or a few years. This wasn’t helped at all by the fact that I had turned to Netflix to cope, and I consumed shows like they were air. I was apathetic on a good day.

On the bad days, I spent my time hating myself thoroughly by looking through friends Facebook pages and Instagram accounts. I was seeing mutual friends of ours get on with their lives. I was watching people travel to places like New Zealand, seeing friends get jobs, and watching new couples declare their love online. I was watching what felt like everyone who was involved in this tragedy move on without me. And I felt so guilty about it all.

I had known her for barely a year, but our friendship was up and coming. Still filled with things like discovering a mutual passion for LOTR and a mutual confusion as to why suburban moms felt the need to put antlers and red noses on their cars during Christmas time. She had kept pestering me about when I was coming back from vacation so we could go eat together. Slowly spilling intimate details about ourselves that only brought us closer together. But I felt so guilty about missing her so much.

I hadn’t even known her that long, so why was I still feeling so depressed? I didn’t have the right. I wasn’t her boyfriend, her best friend, or even a long-time friend. I was new and insignificant compared to her other friends. And everyone else seemed to be getting on well enough. Yet here I was: sitting on my ass barely able to make it out of bed most days. This wasn’t my first time dealing with death. I had known my grandma, track coach, former teammate, and one of my best friend’s dad to die. So I kept asking myself why I didn’t feel so strongly about them.

I started to take anti-depressants in mid-August. They were not the solution to everything, and while they are not always the right choice for some, they were for me. Pills did not fix her absence in my life. They cannot fix that it has been about 5 months now, and I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that she is dead. They did, however, help me gain some perspective.

When I moved back home right after I heard about the accident, I had moved away from my support system. I left most (if not all) of my close friends behind and I was stuck in a place where no one knew her. I had isolated myself, and I was ripped out from my normal routine. In a place of constant lull. I also realized (through the help of a therapist) that I had lost hope in becoming better friends. The hope of making more memories together, getting to build trust and support with each other, and being able to look back at our lives 30 years from now. How did I ever expect myself to just “get over it” after all of this?

The truth of it all was that I had to stop being sorry for myself. I had to stop sitting in my own sadness and treating every memory of her as something tragic. This did not mean that I was going to stop missing her, or that I am now magically better because of this realization. I mean I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that we can’t anymore. But that’s not the point. I am never going to forget my friend. But I have to move on with my own life. I had to accept the fact that I was never going to get the answers to any of the questions I had surrounding her death. The pain of it all wasn’t going to go away with time. I was just going to learn how to better handle it. What was even more important was that I had to let go of my guilt. I felt the way I felt about her and her death, and I had to work with that. I couldn’t hold it against myself any longer if I wanted to move on.

I want to be able to pass on her memory to others in the way she took on the world. It’s really the only thing to make sense out of this. She will live on in all of us, and all of those we meet. She is going to keep pushing me to be better, and she is going to still be the force of nature that she was. Just in a different form now. I wonder if I will still think of her as often years from now, but I know that even if it’s once a month or once a week, she will be embedded into who I am. I cannot thank her enough for that.

When I was driving back home the day after I found out about the accident, I had to drive the same route and pass by the place where the car crashed. I kept looking for evidence of where the car landed. A dented fence, skid marks, something to prove to the world that she once existed. And while I found no evidence of it, I could have sworn to you that I felt her there. A sudden smash of energy that told me she loved me and that she was sorry. I don’t know what I believe in religiously anymore. And I don’t know if I believe in ghosts or spirits or what. But I do know, that wherever she is, she is just around the corner waiting for us. I can only hope she doesn’t get too bored. TC mark

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