The Poignant Losses of Close, Old Friends
The recent death of one of my oldest and closest friends hit me hard. But even before mourning his loss, I’d been ruminating about many other friends who had passed away, as well as my own mortality. Within this last decade, I’ve had the painful experiences of losing eleven wonderful friends from my life, all men around my age.
A while back, I wrote a column entitled “The Importance of Friendship” which struck a chord with many readers. They resonated to its message that good friendships not only bring us pleasure, but they are also vitally important: They enhance our physical and mental health, improve the quality and meaningfulness of our lives, and increase our lifespan.
Other factors are also significant (genes, health, marital status, social status and income), but close friendships seem to particularly enrich our lives. Conversely, people without friends tend to have more challenging lives, with bouts of loneliness, sadness and physical illness.
Some of you correctly reminded me that I hadn’t mentioned the effects on us when we lose these closest friendships. I was planning to address this in the future, but being personally confronted by this subject spurred me to write this now.
I was close with each of those eleven friends over years ranging from three to seven decades. They differed from each other markedly in backgrounds, personalities and professions, but they were all important to me, all estimable individuals in whom I confided, trusted and depended upon, as they did in me.
We provided each other with camaraderie, mutual interest and support, and we enjoyed discussions, meals and activities together. As Life’s serendipities occurred, we celebrated or commiserated, as situations necessitated. Over the years we spent time conversing, laughing, shedding tears, or communing in silence.
I loved each of those guys. Not that it makes a difference to you, but I hereby honor each by sharing their names: Chris G. John D. David I. Haim G. Leon K. Berl S. David S. Raziel G. Lew J. Mike B. Leon W.
All of them died too young, and each left behind loving families and friends, and considerable contributions and achievements. They were kind and decent while they were here, and after they were gone, each left a “positive emotional footprint.”
None of them was “perfect,” all had faults and frailties: They were neither saints nor sinners. They were veritable “mentsch’n,” the Yiddish word for individuals who embody warmth, wisdom, respect and generosity.
I mourned and miss them all, but the most recent death proved particularly difficult. We were from similar Jewish immigrant families and we’d known each other since we were in elementary school (some seventy years ago!) Throughout our lives, even when thousands of miles apart, we kept in close contact, and were inextricable parts of each other’s lives and families.
While each personal loss was uniquely painful, they cumulatively took a toll on my psyche and soma. I was sadder and given to existential pondering. My energy and enthusiasm were sapped, my “mojo” was depleted. I was having provocative dreams on themes of fantasied experiences with these friends from my past, leaving unresolved conundrums.
Repetitive thoughts pervaded my mind about my own morbidity, my past (Could I, should I, have done it better?) and future mortality (How much longer have I got? How can I make it better for others and myself?) Not to mention the proverbial ‘Meaning of Life.’
I’m certainly not alone in these feelings. I’m actually struck by the remarkable number of people who have had similar experiences. I made it a point to discuss this with many people, and particularly those over 65. They were all eager to share their stories about how their own losses of friends affected them.
Still, they mourn. Although they felt bereft at the sudden voids in their lives, their departed companions still inhabited their thoughts and memories. Particularly poignant and noteworthy is that these kinds of losses occur at the same time of their lives when they are acutely aware of their own aging process, and the gradual but inevitable diminishment of their own somas and psyches, bodies and minds.
Still, we mourn. Clearly, it’s not just the disappearance of corporeal friends which saddens us as much as the loss of the shared and exchanged feelings, and the energies generated being together. They provided our lives with vital ballast and meaning, the familiarity of rituals and color, and the exquisite nuances of the ‘tastes and music’ which give our lives deeper meaning.
At the risk of offering facile solutions, I do have a few suggestions which have been working for me as well as others in this situation:
Think of, appreciate and be consciously grateful for the joys and pleasures your friends brought to your life.
Keep in touch with the spouses or children of the departed friends.
Savor and indulge those friendships which are still in existence.
Cherish and enhance relationships with your own family, children, grandchildren, siblings and their families.
Cultivate new relationships: Every city has a wide variety of clubs, activities, lectures, which offer opportunities to become engaged with acquaintances and even make new genuine friends.
Look after your own health in terms of diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, recreation and relaxation.
Do not avoid physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, trainers, and other professionals who can contribute to your well-being.
Pursue interests which pique your new and old interests, give you genuine pleasure, enhance your life and even ennoble you. (The list is endless: music, art, plays, books, politics, travel, religion, writing, hikes, walks, swimming, cooking, dancing, singing, sports, exercise…)
Use your time-honed skills, experiences and wisdom to mentor and teach others, or to contribute to needful volunteer organizations and projects which could benefit and appreciate your expertise, passion and persona.
Allow yourself the time to cherish the pleasurable memories of your dearly departed friends, and to ‘bathe’ in the emotional nourishment they brought to the fulsomeness of your life.
Above all, remember how you enriched the lives of your departed friends, and that they were your soulmates because they loved you.