How do I deal with a friend’s death?

My dear friend, Lynn, died on Sunday at the age of 47.

For the second time in a few short years I have lost a friend in their mid-forties to cancer. For the second time in a few short years my children face the double whammy of mourning the loss of someone who was like an aunt or uncle to them plus watching their close friends—teenagers or younger—deal with the loss of a parent.

My ancient reptilian brain responds first.

I rage against the injustice. “It’s not fair!” my lizard brain cries. Irrationally I tell myself that Billy Joel was right: only the good die young while the bastards live on and on and on . . .. Grief accompanies me through the day and shows itself in waves of teary eyes.

I allow myself the anger and the grief. I even enjoy them a little. Then I choose to do better.

I have other resources available. My frontal lobe allows me to choose to cherish the gifts that Lynn’s cancer journey brought to us. A life lived with a terminal diagnosis is life lived. Savoured. A terminal diagnosis cuts through bullshit: no pretenses or platitudes allowed. When the prospect of death is close and real instead of distant and nebulous, life’s priorities rearrange themselves.  It means choosing to spend time with the people who love and respect you, and choosing not to spend time with those who don’t.  It means telling people you love them unashamedly and often. It means deep, warm hugs.

“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.” —Roger Miller

Lynn balanced her awareness of her diagnosis with unrelenting hope for a miracle. She felt the anger and frustration from her lizard brain, but she mindfully sought the positive in every challenge. With determination and grace she seized her days.

I will keep Lynn close to me.

Like my friend Barry with his light, she will make her presence known to me somehow in a way that is unique to her. I will wait to see what form that takes. In the meantime, I will deal with her death the way that she lived: with grace. It is impossible to say it any better than Maya Angelou does:

Did I learn to be kinder,
to be more patient,
and more generous,
more loving,
more ready to laugh,
and more easy to accept honest tears?

If I accept those legacies of my departed beloveds, I am able to
say Thank You to them for their love and Thank You to
God for their lives

—Maya Angelou from Letter to My Daughter

13 thoughts on “How do I deal with a friend’s death?

  1. Marybeth

    Lynn was a true friend and a wonderful mother, daughter and wife. The word “grace” is an insightful description of Lynn — she lived life to the fullest and kept a positive outlook that amazed many of us. She is dearly missed and will always be in our hearts.

  2. Joanne

    Arlene, I only met Lynn couple of times, but remember her genuine smile and how welcoming she was. I am very sorry to hear of her passing. I know she will be remembered by all whose lives she touched, no matter how briefly. My deepest condolences to you and to her family.

  3. Karen

    Dear Arlene,
    Lynn was a genuine person who could make things sunny on a rainy day. She blessed those who knew her with her ability to be in the moment. Grace is a wonderful way to describe her. So sorry for her leaving so soon. Will keep her , her family, and dear friends in my prayers. Take care.

  4. Hemi-Sync Peter

    Hello Scienceandstory,
    Losing a close friend to death can certainly be a very emotional time. Often a friend can be even closer than some family members of the deceased. When you lose a friend to death, you will most certainly go through a mourning or grieving process. The degree will depend on how close your friendship was and of course, the closer your friendship, the longer the grieving period.


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