Losing anybody you love is one of the most harrowing experiences somebody can go through. Anybody who has ever had to go through the grieving process, denial - anger - bargaining - depression - acceptance, knows that is an unrelenting and grueling process on your heart, mind and body. One of the most difficult losses to process is that of a friend, partly because it usually means they passed away far too soon and partly because it's a difficult grief to categorize. People understand when you lose a family member, they can relate to the type of grief because they lost a family member too or they can "imagine" how it would feel to lose a family member. Losing a friend is different. Sometimes even the people closest to you may not have known how close you and a friend were and thus they may not comprehend why are you so sad or so struck by somebody's passing. They'll tell you it's not as if one of your family members died. They'll tell you "If you think you feel depressed imagine how their family feels." They'll act surprised when you don't move on after a week or two because they didn't know you two were "that close."
In the end, it doesn't matter. Your grief matters even though you may not have been related to them by blood or because your friends didn't know how much you truly cared for them. That's what can make honoring a friend who has passed away tricky and even awkward at times because the amount of grief you are permitted by those around you may not align with how you feel inside. I salute Vin Diesel for taking one of the things he cherishes most in the this world and tying it to a person that he cared deeply about. At the end of the day, you most want to honor a friend by giving them something that will remind you of them every day in a positive way. Here are some ways to achieve that in your every day life:
1. Plant a tree in one of their favorite spots
There are few things that are "forever" in this world, and as long as we don't royally mess up the environment, trees and their longevity make that list. One of the hardest things about losing someone is knowing that they are gone, their lack of permanence in your life feels nothing short of hollow. It is helpful to know that there is something physically in this world in their stead, something you can visit and something that will be on this earth long after you are gone as well. Grave sites are grim, often too hard to visit with any frequency and difficult to associate with the positive aspects of a friend's life. Not only is a tree at one of your friend's favorite spots a permanent way to honor your friend, it serves as a beacon and place of solace for anybody who knew that person and what that spot meant to them.
2. Write them letters
The first thing my therapist asked me when I went to grief counseling was what was upsetting me most about losing my friend? After thinking about it, I realized that it was that I would never have the opportunity to speak to them again. That is when my therapist recommended that I start writing them letters telling them about things that were happening in my life and how I felt about them, what I missed about our times together and things I learned from them while they were still here. Not only is it an extremely cathartic exercise in helping process what has happened, it is a great way to commemorate your friend's legacy. I realized after months of writing letters that not only was it helping me remember all the reasons why I loved my friend, I was changing over time as well. I was living more in the moment, I was more grateful for friends that I had in my life and more vigilant about nurturing friendships that were a positive influence. Without those letters, I would never have been able to have the self awareness to not only know I was changing and want to continue to do it, but that my friend's influence was the catalyst that got me there. Whenever I feel myself getting sad about my friend, or losing the positive outlook those letters helped me achieve, I go back and read them to remind myself of how amazing my friend was and my duty to carry on their legacy.
3. Join a cause that could prevent future deaths of a similar nature
As I mentioned earlier, one of the toughest things about losing a friend is that it is something that happens far before the natural time of their passing. The frustration, anger and confusion that can happen after losing somebody that early in life sometimes can't be assuaged with just coping. Sometimes it requires action. Violence, suicide and illness are some of the largest contributors to early deaths, the most maddening commonality of which is all feel preventable even if they fundamentally are not. This guilt and resentment on top of grief can feel like an impossible burden, and sometimes you need to proactively abate those feelings. Founding a charity, volunteering for an organization that combats these causes or simply raising awareness about what took a friend prematurely will undoubtedly make you feel more connected to the friend you lost. You will also feel better knowing that you are helping to prevent such a loss from happening to someone else.
4. Reach out to their family
A loss is often most difficult on the family, but the truth is you knew your friend in a way that their family never did. Even if you weren't close with their family, they will be so grateful to have somebody they can talk to that deeply cared about them like you did. Whether it's making an effort to talk on the phone or see them regularly, there is no doubt that it will keep your friend's memory alive to share stories and build new relationships with the people that loved them most. Giving their family that level of support and even the littlest bit of comfort in such a difficult situation will be one of the greatest gifts you can give to your friend's legacy.
5. Get a tattoo
I once knew somebody that lost a dear friend to suicide, she talked to her friend the day that it happened and always felt as though she had not done enough, that she had let something fall through the cracks. She got a tattoo of her friend's favorite past time in a place only she could see, she said that it helped remind her every day not only to think of her friend, but remember that you never know what somebody else is going through. She said that she wanted it to be on her forever, unavoidable when she changed every morning, so that she remembered no matter how bad a day she was having or how much she didn't want to want to think of anybody but herself, she remembered her friend's legacy and the necessary reminder to be grateful of the people you have in your life. A tattoo gives you great flexibility for how you want to remember your friend. It can be something you put on display or something hidden you keep to yourself and those that know you intimately.
6. Go to therapy
The brutal truth is there is no easy way to get through the grieving process, to be honest I am not sure there is ever an official end to it. However, that doesn't mean there aren't ways to help the process go as smoothly as possible. It sounds cliche to say, but when people tell you it's okay to strive to move on after a friend passes because "that's what they would have wanted," it is fundamentally true. No friend would want you to prolong the pain of their absence when it comes to trying to to move on, and it's almost impossible to do on your own. So honor your friend's legacy and yourself by getting yourself to a therapist. Even after you have taken time to get through the initial grieving process, going through something as life altering as losing a friend means that you can also leverage your time with a therapist into reevaluating how you can improve as a person. A loss like this often reminds you that life is so short and so unpredictable, so what do you want to change? How do you want to be better? Using a dark event like this as a springboard to make positive changes in your life is one of the greatest ways to honor a friend's memory, because even though they are not there physically, they are still making you better.
Do you have a good way to honor a friend's memory? Tweet at us: @wewomenUSA
This article was written by Dagney Pruner. Follow her on Twitter @dagneyp