Ask Andrew W.K.: How to cope with a friend's death
Photo by Alex M. Smith
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday, Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
My best friend just died. He was killed in a car accident. I'm totally devastated; I can't eat or sleep or even breathe. He was like a brother to me. We had been friends since we were really young and we grew up together. I feel beyond sad, and also angry. I don't know what to do. Life feels like it has lost its meaning and I can't bring myself to do much of anything. I've never had someone this close to me die before. Now that he's gone, it's got me afraid of the other people I love dying, too. Why does life have to work this way? Why do people have to die? Please help me. Please.
Missing My Friend
Dear Missing My Friend,
I'm truly sorry your friend has died. My heart and thoughts go out to you and all of your friend's family and everyone else who was close to this young man. I'm assuming he was young because the particularly painful anguish you're describing is usually reserved for someone who leaves the earth way too soon. It's also sad when a very old person dies, but in a different way than when we lose someone who still had so much life left to live. Even though you and I aren't physically near each other, and even though I didn't know your friend, I feel for you.
I'm thinking of you, and you're reading this and thinking of me. There is a magic here, the magic of human love. It's a genuine feeling that I hope you can sense, wherever you are and whatever else you're feeling. I'm sending you all the thoughts and concentrated love I can muster. You never need to feel alone in your darkest moments of loss and sadness because even strangers can care about you. Even people you've never met, who are thousands of miles away, can really care about you -- that's the magic of humanity. And it's by using this magic that you can still be close with your friend who died.
When anyone we care about dies, it hurts. And it's meant to. But when a best friend dies, it hurts in a unique and mysterious way. The pain of losing your friend is severe and almost intolerable, but it should be felt for all it's worth. You must have the courage to honor your friend by feeling all of it. You can take some comfort in knowing it won't always hurt in the fresh, stinging way it does now, but it will linger and somewhat soften until it's primarily a memory of the pain you feel now. I can remember how it hurt when I broke my nose -- the immediate pain was unimaginably intense, and even though it's well healed now, the suffering is easily recalled and the blinding pain can almost be felt via memory. This is important.
You never fully "move on" from the death of someone truly close to you. You never "get over it" or forget about it. You wouldn't want to lose any part of your experience of that person, no matter how much it hurts to keep him with you. This doesn't mean you give up on life. But you don't have to feel like it's required for you to move past your friend and what he meant to you. This is how he will be with you forever.
Even though now it may seem like you want the pain of losing your friend to stop, hold on to it. Become familiar with it. Get to know all the flavors and colors and textures of this pain. Explore the sound and smell of it. This aching in the depths of your soul is a stunningly beautiful and natural explosion of the sacred proof that you loved your friend truly and and very, very deeply. Do not be afraid to feel it and even fall in love with this pain. Even though it hurts, you must cherish this feeling and do all you can to not give into the urge to cancel it out.
It's also OK to swallow all these feelings down deep inside. That's sometimes the best place for them to be, in order to keep them protected and alive. If you don't feel like talking about your feelings to other people, then you don't have to. Besides, silence is an extremely powerful way to accomplish anything in life, including healing and dealing with a loved one's death. Listen to what your instincts are telling you to do and trust your soul and the spirit of your friend -- they are there and will lead you and protect you.
Also remember that you are your friend. The thoughts and ideas you had and still have about him are your creations and concepts as much as they were his. You are made of each other. The times you spent together helped shape your days and make you the person you are right now. Your friend is bound up in all of you, as much a part of you as your blood and bones.
Lastly, remember that all of our experiences in the world ultimately occur in our mind and soul. When your friend was alive, you looked at him with your eyes and heard him with your ears, and those senses formed impressions and thoughts in your mind. Now that your friend is dead, you are still using your mind to think about him and perceive him, just as you did when he was standing right in front of you. He really is still here. He still is where he always was to you: inside your mind. This is what people mean when they say someone's spirit will always be with you. They really always are with you, it's just a different version of their presence than when they were alive -- but it's just as real and it counts just as much. Never doubt that or let anyone try to make you think otherwise.
Most of all, remember that your friend brought you joy and laughter, understanding and comfort, inspiration and companionship. Your friend still wants those things for you, and you can respect his life by doing your best to be joyful in the life you have left. Be brave for your friend. Laugh for your friend. Provide inspiration and comfort and friendship to the people around you right now, as your friend did for you. This is the best way to keep the spirit of your friend alive: Be fully alive yourself.
Don't be afraid. Your friend is OK. And wherever he may be, he is also still with you. Learn all you can from this experience. Be brave and keep an open heart, so that you can share these ideas and truths with others when they need it most. We will all lose people we love, and we can all help each other through it.
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