Monday, January 11, 2010

Friends in Life, Friends in Death

This last weekend was a tough one. I attended the funerals of two dear friends.
Norma was in her 70s, had stage four cancer, and knew her days were limited. She lived a full life, but that didn’t stop her from wanting to live longer. When they held her memorial service, some 20 people lined up to tell the congregation what a funny, loving and altruistic person she was.
By the time the service was through, Norma’s adult children seemed transformed by what they heard. Everyone will miss Norma, but it was encouraging to hear what a positive impact she had made on so many people during her life.
The other funeral was for my friend, Michael. He was only 59 years old and had a sudden, and deadly, heart attack. His widow, Marsha, has been a friend of mine since childhood. As a writer, I always hope there will be some magic words I can say that will help. But the fact of the matter is, there are no such words. All I can offer is my friendship and try to be there to help see her through this devastating time in her life.
In the first chapter of our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I retell the story of Julie, a woman who lost her only son. This is what she said:
“I was angry and said hurtful things to people who cared about me,” said Julie. “In a perfect world my friends would’ve understood and not taken it personally, but that was not the case. And perhaps that was too much to ask. The result was people left my life because they didn’t understand what I was going through, and they didn’t know what to do. I was so consumed in grief that I couldn’t tell them that I needed them more than ever.”
Just as the situations, memorials, life experiences and ages of my two friends differ, they do share one thing in common, they had many friends who will honor their memory, as well as help the surviving family deal with the loss.
After interviewing Julie I realized that not all mourners are appreciative, kind, and thoughtful to those who are trying to help. They are hurting and suffer from an unimaginable sense of loss.
However, by offering friendship, no matter what, you can help make their process easier. A few things I learned through Julie is:
• Do not offer platitudes such as “He/She is in a better place.” This may or may not be true, but often this type of comment disregards the hurt the mourner is feeling.
• Even though the mourner may try to push you away, continue to offer friendship.
• Be patient. Everyone heals at a different rate.

I am not a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. These observations are those that I learned from someone who shared her story with me. If you know someone who has suffered a huge loss, I would recommend grief counseling. However, whether they take that advice or not, the one thing that you can offer is a nonjudgmental friendship.
In conclusion, I would like to use an unattributed quote I found on the internet.
Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.

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