Coping with the Death of a Best Friend

Advice on learning to heal after the loss of a best friend

Last updated: 29 November 2016

A best friend can feel as close to you as your own family and grief may affect you just as strongly as if they were a sibling. Losing someone who means a lot to you will always have a huge impact on your life. Taking time to grieve and accept what has happened will help you moving towards healing.

The pain of losing a friend

Feelings of grief are unique to the person who has suffered a loss, but common emotions include sorrow, guilt, denial and anger. Losing a friend will affect you in many different ways and present unique challenges as you learn to cope with grief. This may include:

  • Feeling ignored by your friend’s family, or feeling as though your grief is less important than theirs.
  • Thinking more about death in general, particular if your friend was a similar age to you, or you had known them a long time.
  • Worrying about ‘replacing’ or ‘forgetting’ your best friend, which may make it hard to form new friendships or maintain old ones.
  • Feeling guilty for any arguments you may have had, or for any missed opportunities to be closer to them.
  • Being unsure of who to turn to when you need to talk. Your friend may have been the one you talked to when you needed comfort or advice.

Supporting your friend’s family and respecting their wishes

You may feel the need to be around others who are going through what you are, causing you to reach out to your friend’s family. Sometimes this can be helpful, especially if you know them well, as you can offer comfort and support to each other. Try to help them in practical ways and remember that they are grieving too.

However, there may be situations when your friend’s family are not comfortable sharing their grief with you. They might not want to talk about the loss, or your presence might remind them of all the things their loved one will now miss out on. Other family members may only want to be surrounded by close family during this time. Be aware that grief affects people very differently and it might not be best for them to spend a lot of time with you. Respect their way of grieving and give them space if they need it.

You may feel that your friend would have wanted you to say a few words at their funeral. You should ask their family’s permission by talking to them before the funeral and discussing what you would like to say. They may invite you to read a eulogy or involve you in some other way during the funeral service.

They may prefer to not include you in the funeral service directly. This may be because they already have several people who want to say a few words and there will not be enough time for all of them. Try not to take this personally. Remember, if you need to express your feelings about your best friend, you will usually be able to share thoughts and memories of them at the wake with other mourners.

In rare cases, your friend’s family might decide that they only want close family at the funeral. This can be painful to accept, but unfortunately it is their decision to make. Respect their wishes and find your own way of saying goodbye to your friend. Perhaps you could hold a memorial service or visit their final resting place after the funeral.

Supporting your other friends

It’s impossible to predict how bereavement will change your relationships with your friends until it happens. You and your best friend may have been part of a larger friendship group. The loss of your friend will undoubtedly affect the relationships within this group, but not always for the worse.

While you’re grieving, it is not uncommon to find that those around you act in different ways. Some friends might create distance from you, perhaps because they don’t know how to support you or because they’re grieving too and want to be alone.

Other friends may reveal their supportive side and be there for you throughout this difficult time. You may find ways to support each other, whether that’s talking about your grief, giving them a shoulder to cry on, or just spending time together doing something fun when you need a distraction.

Moving towards healing

The relationship you had with your best friend will continue to be special long after they passed away. Although you are sure to have other meaningful and wonderful friendships in future, this doesn’t mean that you are going to replace the relationship you had with them. Over time, you will even find that your love for them grows stronger and remains a part of you always.

While you start to heal and learn to live with bereavement, you can help yourself cope by doing the following:

  • Eat well and regularly. Grief often leads to a decreased appetite, but physical health is vital as you begin to heal after a loss.
  • Try to get enough sleep. Grief may disrupt your sleeping patterns, but try to get eight hours a night when you can. Talk to a doctor if you are consistently unable to sleep at night.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. They will only numb your pain temporarily. Afterwards you are likely to feel much worse.
  • Find a way to express what you are feeling, whether it is in a journal, talking to a friend or relative, or scheduling a counselling session.

For more proactive tips to help with the pain of bereavement, read our list of 10 practical ways to cope with grief.

As you begin this healing process and learn to cope with bereavement, you may want to seek support from one of the many bereavement support organisations operating across Australia. They will be able to give you advice, find local support group, or even help you get in contact with a professional counsellor.