My post about feeling angry when a friend dies resonated with a lot of people.
I had conversations with family, friends, and online “friends” all week. My posts dredged up feelings for many that had been long repressed. Some people took the opportunity to fondly remember a friend. Others reacted as if a scab had been scratched, and indeed it had. Those were the people who had been denied the chance to feel that anger when their friend died, and now, years later, it bubbled up again.
You can only hold your breath so long, and eventually you have to breathe again. So it is with repressing emotions. Eventually they decide they’ve been constrained long enough.
Those who are overwhelmed by the sudden, intense feelings of anger share another feeling: powerlessness. They are unable to reconcile what happened to their friend, to what they believe is the natural order of the universe. I know that sounds a little goofy, but how else to explain comments such as:
“They shouldn’t have died.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“They weren’t even supposed to be there.”
They want to believe things are supposed to happen a certain way; in fact, they’re desperate to believe it. If there is an order to the universe, then their friend shouldn’t have died. They can only accept that their friend died if there’s a reasonable, logical explanation. If they had to die, there has to be a reason. And it has to be an extraordinarily good reason.
But as we all know, often there is no explanation, reasonable or otherwise. That’s where anger pops up.
I don’t know if God is flippant enough to insist, “Because I said so,” when asked why someone had to die. And I don’t know if there’s a more irritating phrase than “it was just their time.”
In my lifetime I’ve had friends who died from enemy gunfire and cancer, car accidents and suicide, AIDS and terrorist attacks. Not one of those deaths made sense to me. Not one of them deserved to suffer – sometimes for years, sometimes for seconds. Not one of those deaths could be justified in my mind as being necessary. But all forced me to admit that I could not change what had happened, and for a control freak, that’s a tough lesson.
We’re all control freaks when it comes to death. There are two things, ultimately, that we have no control over: the circumstances of our birth and the circumstances of our death. And since we tend to be adults when the second one happens, we believe we should have a say: not only on our own deaths, but those of the people we love.
If possible, all of us would do whatever was in our power to spare our friend’s suffering and death. Love does that: it makes you want to protect the ones you love. But instead of throwing a much-deserved tantrum because we have no power, we have to sit back and say, “I hate that this happened to my friend. I hate it with every breath I take. But I can’t change it, and that kills me, a little, too.”
That’s when we have to decide how we want to remember that friend: by how they died, or how they lived? What part of them will we hold in our hearts for the rest of our lives? What part of them will inspire us and motivate us?
Have your rant. Scream, yell, cry; let it out in a way that won’t hurt you or anyone nearby. Have it out, once and for all. Then decide how your friend’s memory will guide you. That’s something you do have power over.
Guest author Victoria Noe created FriendGrief to discuss the idea that there are profound differences in grieving the death of a friend, as opposed to a family member. While she writes on the loss of friends, her ideas can often apply to any individual who has suffered any type of loss.