Any loss can cause lingering pain, but the loss of a best friend can be particularly difficult to bear.
They’ve existed in your life for so long, you can’t imagine any other reality. “Best friends forever,” you might have promised. A world without them might seem completely altered, even impossible to navigate alone.
Whether your friend died or the two of you no longer talk due to personal differences, you’ve experienced a major loss. It’s only normal to feel grief.
Your grief might be complicated by the fact that society doesn’t always acknowledge the significance of friendships in the way it does romantic relationships or familial bonds.
This may leave you feeling excluded from mourning rituals, or as if other people judge you for being so deeply affected.
The seven strategies below can help you navigate your loss, regardless of the circumstances.
If you’ve heard of the five stages of grief, you may know denial appears first on that list.
But experts now consider these stages an outdated model for looking at grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who developed them, never intended them to describe grief after a loss. She used them to describe the experiences of people confronting their own terminal illness.
While you might feel reassured to know others experience similar feelings, like anger, you might worry you’re doing something wrong when your grief follows its own path.
Denial, for example, can happen throughout the grieving process, not just at the beginning.
The important thing to remember is this: People react to loss in different ways. No predetermined process can outline what you’ll experience.
Loss stirs up complex emotions, including anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and regret.
It can also leave you with some unanswered questions, especially when the loss came about not from death, but from a choice your friend made that you couldn’t accept.
You might never find answers, but ignoring your emotions won’t help you process grief and move forward, either.
Exposing the fresh wound of your loss might feel painful and impossibly difficult. Unless you unpack and work through your feelings, that wound can’t begin to properly heal.
If you’re struggling to get in touch with your feelings, talking to a trusted loved one or therapist can have a lot of benefit.
Sometimes talking about your feelings is easier said than done. That’s where journaling can be a big help.
In a journal, you don’t have to hold back or censor yourself. You can freely express anything, from sadness to disappointment to rage. Emotions given shape through written words can seem more real — and easier to acknowledge and process.
Grief often provokes angry responses, especially when you feel unable to cry or openly discuss your pain. A journal offers a safe, healthy outlet for feelings that others often expect you to keep inside.
Journaling also offers the opportunity to recall happier memories. No matter what circumstances ended your friendship, treasuring the moments you shared can still have value.
Addressing a journal entry to your best friend can even give you the opportunity to “ask” unanswered questions and potentially gain some measure of closure.
If the written word isn’t your strong point, try an art journal for another way to express yourself.
There’s no easy way to say this, but true healing requires time. Often more than you’d imagine.
The fact is, non-kinship losses, like the loss of a best friend, often go largely unrecognized. People might understand your sadness, but society as a whole often fails to acknowledge the depth of this sorrow.
When you withdraw, feel exhausted or unwell, and can’t seem to stop grieving, you might be met with barely concealed exasperation or impatience instead of compassion and understanding.
Some people might tell you outright to “get over it already.”
The two of you may not have shared blood or romantic ties, but that doesn’t really matter. You befriended them and cultivated the relationship for years, maybe even the majority of your life.
The expectation that you’ll quickly recover from this huge loss disregards your very valid grief.
When you can’t fully express your feelings, it’s no surprise you might find it even more difficult to address your emotions and begin to heal.
Coping with loss in productive ways may not shorten your journey through grief, but it can transform it in other ways.
Turning to loved ones for support and practicing good self-care can help you carry grief more lightly until time blunts its sharpest edges.
Loss can stun you and completely derail your life.
In the immediate aftermath, you might forget about everyday activities like eating, sleeping, and showering. Time might begin to feel incomprehensible, as the days stretch on and your grief refuses to subside.
While you might not feel up to getting dressed or cooking, creating a sense of normalcy could help you regain some control over your grief.
What’s more, getting a good night’s sleep and eating a few balanced, nourishing meals can help improve your mood.
You might not feel any less devastated, but you will feel more equipped to ride with the waves of grief.
Consider these wellness tips as you grieve:
- Sleep. Aim to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. If sleep won’t come easily, try not to get frustrated. Go easy on yourself. Try to carve out pockets of time to rest during the day if you’ve had a sleepless night.
- Eat. It’s not unusual for your appetite to go out the window when you’re grieving, but make sure you’re still eating something throughout the day. Nutrient-rich foods might help you feel better, but again, it’s important to be gentle with yourself in this time. If the thought of cooking a healthy meal feels overwhelming, allow yourself to get takeout or have a feast of easy snacks.
- Get some air. Feelings starting to overwhelm you? Take them out for some air. A long walk can help you find some calm (and help you get some sleep).
- Unwind. Not used to naming or sitting with your feelings? Starting a meditation practice can help you begin exploring and accepting them.
If your friend died, you may find some comfort in doing something to reassure yourself that their memory will live on.
You can honor them in plenty of ways. Give the idea some careful thought to come up with something uniquely suited to them. These options can offer a place to start:
- Donate to their favorite charity.
- Volunteer for an organization or cause they supported.
- Host a memorial service for other friends and loved ones.
- Make a memory book or scrapbook.
Altruistic actions like volunteering can have added benefit. They provide the opportunity to honor your friend and convey gratitude for their presence in your life, and also allow you to give back to your community. This can help you feel more socially connected.
Things might look a little different if you lose your friend due to irreconcilable differences of opinion, but you can still hold a private memorial of sorts.
You might write them a letter that acknowledges both the years of experiences you shared and your grief at losing their friendship. If mementos, photos, and other reminders of your friend are too painful to see on a daily basis, set them aside in a box for safekeeping until you feel able to revisit those memories.
Your friend’s action doesn’t erase your past. It’s OK to miss them and cherish fond memories, even if they hurt you deeply.
Although there may be no one else in the world who can come close to replacing your best friend, other loved ones can offer emotional support after your loss.
Simply spending time in the company of people who understand can help you feel less alone in your distress. Let family and friends know when you don’t feel up to chatting and just need a comforting presence. It’s OK to need time to yourself, but complete isolation typically won’t help you feel any better.
Things might be a bit trickier when disagreements, not death, caused the separation.
Maybe you prefer to avoid sharing details or worry that people won’t understand the reasons why you ended the friendship.
Still, talking to someone you trust can often help you find relief and peace with your decision.
A grief support group can offer solace when your loved ones mean well but say all the wrong things. Others who have experienced similar losses know better than anyone else what to say and when to listen.
Grief does lift with time, but many people need a little extra support to reach that point.
It’s a good idea to talk to a therapist when you:
- struggle to manage your daily routine
- have trouble eating or sleeping normally
- constantly think about what happened
- go to great lengths to avoid reminders of your friend and their death
- notice mood changes that don’t improve
- experience relationship conflict
Therapy can also help you navigate grief and other turmoil after ending a long-standing friendship.
You might forgive these actions while still finding them impossible to accept without compromising your own values.
Acknowledging your friend wasn’t the person you imagined can cause distress that goes beyond mere grief. A therapist can help validate these feelings and offer compassionate guidance as you begin coping with your loss.
Painful as it is, grief is part of the natural processes of life. It even has value, since it marks your ability to love.
This might seem unlikely now, but time will help transform the sharp sting of loss into something more manageable.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.