A friend found out recently that an old friend of hers died…a year ago. They’d lost touch, as friends often do. But when she saw a post noting the first anniversary of this man’s passing, she was not prepared.
Sometimes people cannot grieve a friend’s death immediately. Soldiers in combat can’t take the time to grieve in the midst of battle. They have to push their grief aside. Anytime grief is delayed, there’s a chance that it will pop up when least expected.
One of the men I interviewed for Friend Grief and Men: Defying Stereotypes was frustrated when the widow of his best friend did not hold a memorial service for almost nine months. He felt adrift, unable to process his grief without a public ceremony.
Like them, the friend who saw this news on Facebook has nowhere to go with her grief. The funeral was long ago, so that opportunity is gone. Should she contact the family? Would it cause them unnecessary pain?
It’s easy to lose touch with friends. And while high school reunions can be fun, they also include news of friends who died. My class meets every five years, and more often than not there have been names to add to the list of those we remember during mass.
Through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, it was not uncommon to learn of a friend’s death weeks or months later. I found out one college classmate was dead when I saw his panel on the cover of a book about the AIDS quilt. I hadn’t seen him for over a decade, and he’d been dead for several years, but it was still a shock.
Whenever I found out this kind of news, the shock was always followed by confusion: what do I do now?
I’ve struggled with that sometimes, and I’m sure my Facebook friend is struggling, too. So this is what I would say to her:
Do whatever you want. Take the time to grieve. Talk about your friend, ideally with someone who also knew him.
What I hope she doesn’t do – and what I hope you don’t do if you find yourself in a similar situation – is to brush it aside. Grief is grief, whether you watch someone die or learn the news years later. It’s not less important because your friend has been dead for months.
Facebook has been a blessing in many ways. I’ve re-connected with long-lost friends; I’ve kept up with their news. I’ve learned of their illnesses and recoveries, their accomplishments and challenges. Sometimes the news isn’t good: two of my Facebook – and real life – friends do not expect to live to see 2018.
Even though the news is sometimes shocking, sometimes unexpected and unwanted, I’m grateful to have a lot of ways – phone, mail, texting, tweets, posts – to keep in contact with my friends. I’m going to seek out a few more I’ve lost contact with. Because life is much too short.