(Warning – this is a sad post.)
A couple weeks ago, my friend died. This is probably the hardest sentence I’ve written – at least in this space.
I am still processing it and it doesn’t feel real. He was in Thailand snorkeling and he drowned. It was a freak thing and I still can’t comprehend how it happened. He hated the ocean so I honestly don’t even know how it happened/why he was even snorkeling.
He was (it still feels weird saying WAS) one of the nicest friends I’ve ever had. The sort of person who always made you happy even just because you were thinking about them – if I looked at my phone and saw that I had a text from him I would immediately smile. Just seeing his name light up my phone made me light up inside. I picture his face in my head and smile just thinking of his smile.
Anytime I saw him I was just so happy. In this particular social circle I am more of the friend of the friend, the “new” one to the group. He always went out of my way to make me feel so welcome and included. He wasn’t a best friend or even one of my closest friends, but I loved him and I never got to tell him how much I loved him. How infectious his smile was; how he made me (but also anyone he talked to) feel like the most important person in the room; also, how happy I was anytime I got a text from him or he RSVP’d yes to a party I was throwing. He was snarky and witty and clever but also just so good at making anyone in his orbit feel great.
I processed it so strangely and it was such a horrible ride from high to low. The night before our friends had celebrated my best friend’s 40th birthday. My other best friend was visiting from Charleston. We had the greatest night and were all so happy.
It’s hard to share this here.
I know I’m going to get a lot of “sorry for your loss,” this and that, which honestly only makes it harder, probably because it makes it more real. I am finally at a point where I haven’t cried about it in a few days (scratch that, I cried again writing this!) and felt comfortable writing about it. And for me, writing is cathartic – always has been. Writing is how I process things, whether or not I actually share the writing.
When someone says “sorry for your loss,” I feel guilty for feeling so sad. Guilt over sadness is a new and weird one. But I do (strangely) feel so guilty about my sadness. It isn’t as if he was my best friend or my sibling. He was a good friend who I loved and someone I would have liked to be closer with. But I think about what his BEST friends are going through and then I just cry even harder. It’s hard to process and I tell myself I am being stupid for being so sad.
Still, I don’t remember the last time I felt so sad. I think the guilt is a trick my brain is playing. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism, telling me I shouldn’t be this sad, like it isn’t a big deal (when in fact it is a huge deal). Does that make sense? So I’ll start to cry and then the little voice in my head will tell me to stop, that I’m being dumb. Maybe that’s a part of the process – it’s all still very hard to even comprehend.
Someone told me that grief feels like a dump truck at first and then becomes more of a clutch. It mauls you at first and then you sort of carry it around.
I’m very lucky in that I’ve never lost someone I’m close to besides a grandparent. I didn’t cope very well with it at all. Grief is so sneaky; and this was pretty terrible especially as it was so sudden and unexpected.
With every blog post I try to think, what’s the lesson, what’s the takeaway?
There isn’t really one. How do you distill the death of such an incredible person into a simple soundbite? UGH. You can’t, and it would be disgusting to even try. All I can do is share my experience with grief and hope that maybe it helps someone going through something similar (because someone always is going through something similar). But I did have two realizations that I want to share.
– In my own life, I want to be more like Khiem. That was his name. Khiem. I am shy and like to stick to just the people I know but I would like to be the person who takes a genuine interest in everyone in the room, who makes every person at the party or dinner or whatever feel loved and important. I want to bring more light and happiness to wherever I am – even if I am feeling insecure or nervous, I want to bring out the best in people. That was what Khiem did… and that is how we will all be remembered in the end. People say this all the time but people aren’t going to remember how good you are at your job, how you stayed up late answering every email… they’ll remember how you made them feel. That’s the thing that really matters.
– The more obvious one and what I hope that you, the reader, takes away is this: Never worry about being too effusive. Always hug your friends and tell them how much you love them. Because you never know when they will be gone and you won’t have the chance. People asay this all the time too, and I’ve always tried to make the people I feel closest with feel loved and important. But you really just never know what will happen. So hug your people tight and do it frequently and don’t hold back.
Grace, I also lost a close friend about a month ago and the feeling was terrible. He had the most infectious personality and was loved by everyone. He died of suicide and his death definitely could have been avoided. No matter how we lose them, it’s never easy. Sending love <3
I am so sorry Samantha. That must be so incredibly hard to go through. Sending you love.
All my condolences, Grace. I’ve never lost someone close to me before and I wish I could tell you something reassuring and helpful. I know it’s never easy. Your friend will forever be in your heart.
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Thank you so much Charmaine.
Oh Grace, I am so sorry to hear this. This was a sweet tribute to your friend, I almost felt as if I knew him by reading this. Wishing you (and the rest of his friends) peace and comfort during this time.
Thank you so much. Really appreciate it!
So much love. I lost a friend of mine two years ago. Sometimes I’ll think of him and my brain will take a moment to remember that he’s gone, and it’s like catching your breath after a shock.
Your grief is valid. If you’re interested, Refuge in Grief is a website run by a professional psychotherapist who specializes in, and personally experienced, sudden loss. Megan writes about grief and loss in a really unique way. In writing about the “hierarchy of grief,” she says “I think it’s okay to say that my grief is real and valid and gets to exist without being questioned, at the same time I know that my loss is not the same as my friend’s husband’s, nor their child’s. That some are more affected than others doesn’t need to disqualify grief for those on the periphery.”
That blog post is here: https://www.refugeingrief.com/2017/08/14/hierarchy/
Be kind to yourself. Grief is the flip side of love. We only mourn those we love, in whatever way we knew how.
Thank you so much for the advice and the suggestion, Catherine – much appreciated!
Grief if a funny thing. In a 2 year time span, I lost my grandmother, my godmother and my mom. It has been some time now and most days, I am ok and then some days, I am not. Sometimes it is a song I hear, or someone is wearing my mom’s perfume and I smell it etc. Go with it… when you need to cry, cry.. when you remember him and want to smile, smile. There is no ‘right’ way of doing grief and no finite time frame. There is also no relationship determinant that says, you are allowed to grieve because you were this close to him and the rest of you are not allowed. At my mom’s funeral, one lady came up to me and she was in tears and struggling. I had never met her before. She told me that my mom had secured winter clothes for her and her entire family when they first immigrated to Canada from Africa and that this fairly small act had changed this woman’s life. She was grieving the loss of a great person, albeit one that she maybe did not know as well as I did. I was not upset or think that she did not have a right to grieve….on the contrary, it made me happy to know that others saw my mom the same way that I did.
Oh my gosh Sharon, I’m so sorry. That’s awful. Thank you for sharing this story though. Your mother sounds like an amazing woman!!!!
Grace, I really am so sorry to hear about this, and so sad for you! I lost three friends who were my age between 2014 and 2015, including my very best friend of seventeen years. What surprises me sometimes still is that I find myself mourning the ones I knew for less time just as much as I do my best friend. Just yesterday I started crying in my kitchen, realizing that my friend Nikki has been gone longer than she and I knew each other, and I was kind of shocked at how much I still miss her.
You can’t predict which friends will touch your heart, any more than you can predict which ones will make it with you to old age and who might not. Please know there are so many of us who have been through this and come out the other side, and that there’s no right or wrong way to feel when a friend dies or to process grief. It’s fucking awful no matter what.
Oh my gosh Liza, I am so sorry for your losses, that’s terrible. But I really relate to this. The ones you know for less time affect you just as much. Thanks for commenting, sending you a hug. xo
Grace, as a therapist, I can tell you that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. And it doesn’t matter how close you were to the person; your feelings are completely valid because they are yours. Sometimes people we don’t know as well leave an extreme impact on our hearts. Also, his death was unexpected, so of course you are going to experience a lot of pain. The only way to get through grief is to allow yourself to feel it and take each day as it comes. Sending love your way.
Thank you so much Sara. Really appreciate it.
It can be so hard to share grief like this, but I thank you for doing so Grace. Whether you were super close to him or not, you honor his memory when you share how much he affected your life. Grief doesn’t benefit from the comparison game, and those closest to him likely draw some comfort from knowing how much he touched people even outside his closest circle of friends and family. I think sharing his light helps to keep it shining, and holding him up as an example for yourself does the same. It keeps him in your heart, and even if you aren’t ever completely like that (and you don’t need to be because you also have your own unique light that touches so many of us, probably far beyond anything you realize), keeping him in your heart and using his light as a guidepost for yourself keeps his memory alive for you and others who loved him. I went through something similar recently – a former colleague passed away, someone I only worked with tangentially, but who I got to be friends with and who was someone who always made me happy whenever I got to be around him. He was such a unique light in this world, and I’m sorry that I have to grieve his loss, but also grateful that that means I got to experience all the wonder and joy he brought to my life. Losing people is one of the hardest parts of life, and yet it also shows us how much people can change our lives even through the smallest actions, and to experience that love is one of our greatest gifts. I am so sorry you lost your friend, and I’m also so glad that you had Khiem as your friend for the time that you did. Now you and others who loved him can carry his spirit.
Thank you so much Marcia. I can’t even tell you how comforting you words are. I am sorry you went through the same thing; it’s so hard! Sending you a hug from New York.
I’m so sorry. I work in higher education and I’ve had a few students die unexpectedly and it’s always a struggle to comprehend and process. As you said, it does make you take stock and be grateful for loved ones.
Oh gosh how awful. I can’t imagine going through that. Hugs to you!
Really well-said, Grace. Grief is weird, scary, and ever-changing. When my friend passed away, it was sort of the same situation. He was my boyfriend’s best friend. I’d only been dating Matt for 2 years at that point, and I felt angry for not getting to know Mike even better than I already did. I think seeing my boyfriend so numb to it was the worst part, and it was tough to be strong for him as well allow myself some time to grieve. Ugh, crying again over this now. I appreciate you sharing this post, I’m sending you so many positive vibes and strength.
Oh gosh Dana that is so sad. I’m so sad for you and Matt. So hard.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I know it must have been hard to write, but it will be meaningful for so many people to read. I can TOTALLY relate to the feeling like you shouldn’t be sad because you weren’t that close with the person. The president of the school where I work died tragically in a plane crash last spring. I hadn’t worked here as long as most people and I didn’t know him as well, so I kept telling myself that I couldn’t possibly be that sad. But, I was, and eventually I realized that I was “allowed” to be as sad as I felt. There are no rules about grief, or at least there shouldn’t be. And, you’re right that we all deal with it in our own ways. I hope writing this post helped you and that you’ll continue to do what feels right to honor his memory. Hugs.
Thank you so much Sam (and thanks for sharing that!) xx
Sending you and your circle of friends so much love. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a friend so suddenly.
Thank you so much.
Grace, thank you for writing and sharing. Unfortunately, as you know, I have dealt with a fair amount of loss in my life. And, like you, I was somewhat surprised or shocked to experience significant grief over people I wasn’t exactly besties with but whom I did care for a lot. It has taken me many years to accept that grief cannot be planned, it cannot be processed in a straight line or by following a few steps, and that no two people experience grief the same way. There will be days when you don’t even think about the person and then BAM! – out of nowhere you are a puddle of tears. And other times when you will merely smile at the thought of the person. It’s hard. It’s messy. And all of it is valid. Do not compare your grief level to that of someone “closer” to Khiem. You both loved him. You both lost him. I am sending you lots of love. Wish I could give you a big hug right now. Be kind to yourself.
Thanks so much Bobbi. Hugs. x
This made me think of the song “old friends” by the band Pinegrove.
I’m so sorry this happened to you, thinking of you and everyone else in their life right now.
thank you kelsey! xx
i always say, this is the club you never want to gain membership to. i lost one of my best friends from college 8 years ago (just this past saturday!) to suicide. i think of grief like literal waves – sometimes they crash into you repeatedly and other times they’re just soft little laps. sometimes you can see them coming (anniversaries/birthdays) and other times they are sneaker waves that catch you off guard. when he died, i remember being furious at the people who didn’t know him very well or hadn’t known him for a long time but were making these elaborate, sad posts. i initially felt like they were doing it for attention. but then i realized that he had somehow touched each of these individuals lives and wasn’t that the most beautiful legacy he could have left? i think your grief is so so valid. and i also think that it is comforting to those closest to him – and those in who feel the way you do – to realize what an influence – great or small – he had on so many people. it gets easier over time, but it’s never easy. take care of yourself, allow yourself those sad days, allow yourself to relish the wonderful memories, and carry him with you.
i should also say that i thought your post was beautiful!
thank you so much joanna! hugs!
Oh Grace, I can say having lost so many dear people ( Mom, friends, dear uncle and my precious sister)I do know how you feel. I always tell everyone in my life, I love them when I see them. You never know if it may be your last time together. I think losing someone suddenly is so difficult. Please cry whenever you need too. It feels awkward but is so cleansing. I always find grief to be an up and down wave, it can hit you unexpectedly. There is no rhyme or reason. I wish people would know that instead of saying ” Let me know if you need anything” that when you are grieving, you need reaching out to. I remember being so numb, I was unable to do anything, but sit and cry. It’s easy to isolate yourself. At my” Paletine” dinner we drank a toast to our dear friend Merijane as she was always present and it was her favorite evening of the year. As time goes on It’s easier to enjoy the happy memories of our lost loved ones. Big hugs!
thank you so much Cy. big hugs back! xx
I’m sorry for the loss. My bestie, mentor, 1st boy I loved and will always love, the man I measure everyone up to died recently. He was a amazing force of nature, brilliant,smart, a personality that could light up a room. God, he was the boy king of us. It broke me and all of us. They say it gets better over time. I think it rubbish. You work through it at your own pace.
I’m so sorry for YOUR loss. hugs from New York.
This f***ing sucks.
it does. thanks mallory! xx
Thank you for sharing in the hopes that it will help us (it does). You strike me as a very sensitive, empathic person who is probably feeling your own grief and everyone else’s! Sending love.
really glad it resonated! xx
Thank you for sharing such a tender, honest post about your friend. A close friend of mine from college took his own life 10 years ago, and it still hits me hard at odd times in my life (like today, for instance). You don’t need to feel guilty about feeling grief – he was your friend, you loved him, and his loss is significant and justifiably painful. It took me a long time to learn that, but I felt a lot better once I did. Take care of your friends, be gentle with yourself, and try to remember all the wonderful ways he impacted your life in the short time you got to spend with him. It sounds like he was a great person who left a lot of you much better off than when he found you. 🙂
I’m so sorry for your loss, and thank you so much for the kind words + advice. Hugs. xx
Thank you for sharing this with us. I am sure it couldn’t have been easy
it wasn’t.. thanks Anne! xx
Thank you for sharing this. I lost a close friend to a freak accident four years ago & it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. Even this many years later, I miss her compassion & infectious energy. There are still times when my group of friends is together & it hits us that she is missing. I know that nothing anyone says will make this time easier, but know that, over time, it does get easier to remember the good times without so much raw grief. You are in my thoughts.
thank you so much, Amy!!
It isn’t easy and I am lucky to say I have only lost grandparents as far as people close to me. Each time I read a story like this, it reminds again and again why it is so important to tell people how you feel. I get self conscious of this, as I already have people who think I am too “emotional” or “feely” but your ending is correct…..who cares. Tell them anyways!
Thank you for sharing, opening up on a more personal and close item, and always being inspiring, even in tough times like this.
Sending all the love and light your way and to all those Kheim touched.
agreed. Please know. I’m basically like a stereotypical boy in my emotions. I don’t show them, I easily compartmentalize, and I am never overly effusive. But I’ve come to realize I’d rather be too emotional than never tell someone something important. Thanks for the comment and kind words.
Grief is a journey. One we don’t want to be on, but sometimes we end up on as passengers.
Instead of saying I’m sorry for your loss, I try to tell people that I hope they find peace in the love of forever. Acceptance is so super difficult. May the love of your friend and the memories you shared bring you moments of peace on this grief journey. <3
that’s such a beautiful sentiment. thank you for sharing it aimee. hugs to you and your family. xx
beautiful. eloquent. tender. I love you. Xox
thank you so much. love you too. xoxox
Hi Grace. I think your description of death as a truck and then a clutch is spot on. I lost my best friend from college in a freak accident ten years ago. I no longer think about her and cry everyday but I do think of her and cry often. I try to live in a way that honors her memory. It’s hard and it never leaves you.
Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Hugs from Brooklyn.
Grace, I’m sorry to hear about your friend. You wrote a beautiful tribute to him.
Thank you so much Jeanette.
Unfortunately, the pain from this never goes away. It starts as the gnawing, gut-wrenching agony that only time can file down to a dull empty spot that never feels quite comfortable. There are also no words to make it feel better, even though so many mean so well. It may not help much while it’s so fresh, but the grief of life makes the happy moments so much sweeter. And while it never goes away, it does get easier to live with, eventually. Allow the feelings to remain as long as they need, and slowly they relinquish their clench to a gentle press to remind you sporadically.
Thank you for sharing. xx
Well done for writing about your sadness and grief Grace, you will feel blindsided for a long while to come and angry too about how this could have happened and so much more. Be kind to yourself, life is fragile and enjoy the small things around you and you will see your friend reflected in all the beautiful things around you
Thanks Terry. xx
Hi Grace, thanks for sharing this post. I had a friend like Khiem, except he was sick since birth and he knew that he was going to die, he just didn’t know when. Michael was his name, and he was much older than me. I knew him from church, he was well known on the island where i’m from because he was born prematurely with a hole in his heart and he wasn’t expected to live past the NICU – but he did (for 26 years). It was oddly easy to know that he was going to die, but when he did, I took it so hard. Michael knew how to make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside. At his funeral, I cried so hard, but I didn’t know why because I wasn’t his best friend and I remember feeling guilty for feeling sad because there so many other people that knew him better than I did and I didn’t feel worthy of being that sad for him. It sounds so weird writing that out after all these years. Anyway, your friend Khiem reminded me of my friend Michael. I just want you to know that it is natural to feel what you are feeling and i’m happy that you are acknowledging those feelings. It’s also natural to feel guilty or like your mind is playing tricks on you. I feel the same way too and my therapist tells me that it’s okay to feel that way and to just ride it out (then we work on coping skills). I’m not sure where I was going with this comment but I just wanted to reach out to tell you that you’re not alone in the way that you feel. Thinking of you! – Jessika
Thank you so much for sharing this, Jessika. I really apprecaite it.
Grace thank you for writing this, I recently lost someone who I was once close with, a guy I was friends with as a teenager and who I went on a few awkward 16 year old dates with who was the son of one of my dads close friends. I found out that he had died in an accident the day after I bought my first home and was sooo excited and happy about owning a home and then this news, my dad had waited until after the purchase went through to tell me and I didn’t know what to feel. I was so sad because I remembered the kid that he had been and even though I hadn’t seen him for 10 years the loss of a cheeky, bubbly life really made me sad. I also felt a little guilty?!? About feeling sad but also being happy at my own life same time, a confusing and conflicted time. I think you are right with grief, it’s not something that is easy to understand and can be a difficult emotion to feel but if you feel it I think it’s a nice legacy to the person you have lost – they were special enough to make you feel their loss even if you hadn’t known them well or seen them in a long time.
Gosh that is so sad; I am so sorry!!!
A good friend of mine once told me that it’s important to find what she called ‘healthy ways to grieve’ because the older we get, the older other people in our lives get — and the aging process (unfortunately)means higher likelihood of illness and death. It’s sounds like your friend was taken way too soon, but I wanted to share this advice I got about grief years ago. And yes, grief is sneaky…it’s like the tide…it rolls out and all of a sudden you are enveloped in it again and find yourself overwhelmed and helpless.
Thank you for the advice!
Just want to say that anything you’re feeling is valid. You have no reason to feel guilty for your sadness – it’s real.
I don’t know if you’ve read it, but I’m currently reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg, which discusses loss, grief and resilience. I’ve learned so much from it already, and it might help.
Thank you so much, Stacy. xx
Proud of you for writing this. Thank you for the always needed reminder to celebrate and be grateful for my own life, and the courage to show how messy grief is. Much love my dear. xx
Thank you so much Clara. xx
Grace, the two realizations towards the end of this post are so beautiful. I am sure it was hard to share, but thank you for doing it!
Thank you so much Alyssa.
What a beautiful tribute to your friend, Grace! Khiem has left a legacy of love and inspiration for his family and friends as well as your readers through the way he lived his life.
Thank you for being vulnerable and honest in sharing your grief with us.
Thank you so much Julie.
I lost a dear friend 5 years ago, she was 25 and died in a car accident on her way to work. I sank into a depression for about 2 months. I cried every single day for probably 3 weeks. I wasn’t just crying, I was sobbing. It was hard to breath and I could not help the noises that came from deep within me. I was so angry. I was angry with myself because our friendship had recently shifted and it was my fault. I was angry because we hadn’t hung out as often as we had before. I was angry that this world could take someone so young, so energetic, so full of life so soon and for no reason at all. Sarah was driving to work on a cold and rainy December morning. There was ice of the road, her car slid, and she hit a school bus. Thankfully, the school bus was empty. It was about 7:30am and I had just spoken to her 12 hours earlier about her wedding dress fitting that she had gone to the day before. That was the hardest week of my life thus far. I was hurt, sad, depressed, angry, and in denial. Now, 5+ years later, I am forever grateful for the 5 years I knew Sarah. Her passing inspired me to make major changes in my life. She was always following her passions, and I was just going through the motions of life. I left my dead-end job a few years after she passed and now I am a high school English teacher and I’ve never been happier. I think there is something that can be taken away from tragedy. As cliche as it sounds, living our life to the fullest each and every day is how we can honor those that we have lost. By chasing our dreams we can honor their spirits every day. I am truly sorry for your loss. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed for feeling the way you do. Losing someone you care for is never easy. Give yourself the time to heal and allow yourself to feel what you feel. It’s ok.
I am so sorry that happened to you. Thank you so much for sharing this story – it’s really inspirational. Sending a big hug from Brooklyn.
Thanks so much for sharing, Grace. I’ve been through a very similar experience and you articulated the guilty feeling in a way I was never able to. Sending you love & light xxxx
thanks leela. xx