On Death and Grieving

In early October, a very close friend reached out to me via text to tell me a friend of his had died that day. Just 39 years old, the man had succumbed to his substance misuse disorder after many years of complete sobriety. When my aforementioned friend lost someone very close to him in 2014, I sent an email out about what he (and others) might want to do in both the immediate and long-term aftermath. He asked me for that advice again. I sent him a longer version, which I’m posting here for the public (I’ve edited out the deceased name).

What you should do:

  • Write down everything you can about him/her. Things he said, things you did together, jokes played, things that pissed you off and little gestures. Your mind will be flooded with memories over the next two weeks, and then they will slowly fade. You will never remember him as well as you do right now. Write it down. Also…it will help you grieve. Do this every day, for 30 days, without fail.
  • Keep up your exercise routine. If you don’t exercise, you should start.
  • Consider seeing a therapist who specializes in grief and loss.

What you should avoid:

  • Avoid isolating after the first 24 hours. Humans (and animals) have a tendency to crawl into a hole when injured or sad and avoid contact. It is a terrible instinct for grieving. Having people around, even if you don’t discuss the death, is helpful. Maybe not 24/7, but certainly daily. I am incredibly grateful for my friends who realized that they should stop by for a meal or watch baseball or just hang around during my various periods of grieving.
  • Do not take in more caffeine or nicotine than usual.
  • Be aware of your eating. Some of you may have no appetite, while others will seek comfort in food. Both options have negative consequences. Try to keep up your regular diet.
  • If you are someone who uses eating, drinking, drugging, sex, gambling or shopping to feel good or self-treat, be very wary over the next three months. If you are in recovery from one or more of these issues, consider talking to friends who are also in recovery or upping your support group attendance.

What you should be aware of:

  • I was angry at Fraser for dying and then I would feel bad about being angry at my dead friend. It was confusing. It took me a while to reconcile all of those feelings.
  • You have the right to talk with who you want about this, and you can also tell people that you are sad and just need some space. I found that I talked about it a lot with a couple of close friends, shared about it at every meeting I went to and discussed it in therapy. But I didn’t have it in me to talk to everyone. Some people just pissed me off or didn’t “get it.”
  • Everyone grieves differently. Everyone. Don’t fight with those close to you because you don’t like the way they grieve.
  • Remember that his/her family’s pain is worse than yours. Writing a letter to them about how much he meant to you, as well as some funny/good stories will be valued more than you can possibly know.

I’ve written a lot about death and grieving over the last four+ years. I have provided some baseline advice in this article, but for more specific situations, you might want to check one or more of the pieces below.

In the spring of 2014, Rutgers published a story about my work and how I was inspired after the death of my childhood friend Fraser Curry. I wrote a follow-up piece about my reaction to his death and what people can do if they have a friend or family member with a drug problem: http://greenagel.com/what-to-do-when-your-friend-or-family-member-has-a-drug-problem/

When my friend Pat died, I wrote this in 2014: http://greenagel.com/our-friend-pat/

This is a (near) copy of a speech I gave at an Overdose Vigil to 350+ parents who lost a child to addiction: http://greenagel.com/to-the-parents-who-have-lost-a-child/

A long-time patient of mine died in December of 2016 and I wrote this for myself and other counseling professionals: http://greenagel.com/on-the-death-of-my-patient/

A cousin of mine lost a baby in 2017 and I wrote this: http://greenagel.com/to-the-parents-who-lost-a-young-child/

I lost one of my closest friends (and my closest co-worker) this past March. I followed almost all of the advice that I’ve laid out (I didn’t work out for three weeks and I over ate). My writing turned into a book and it was released on October 8th on Amazon. It is titled The Book of Eric and it provides an example of how to deal with loss and grief.