Chapter 3: How others respond to your friend’s death

Your friend’s family

I wanted to tell them how sorry I was and be there with them – we had hung out at his parent’s house so much when we were kids it had been a second home to me. But now as an adult, I didn’t feel I could intrude.

I send his parents a big bouquet of flowers every year on the anniversaries of his birthday and of the accident, which are only 10 days apart. They love that because they know I loved their son. They know what I have been through, and they understand that it does not go away.

They asked me if I wanted to pick something out to remember her by, and this meant so much to me. I picked a set of mugs because of all the teas and coffees we had shared with our many chats.

Every family is different. Whether or not you already have a relationship with your friend’s family, they may be open and welcoming, and they may want to hear your stories and memories; or they may be more reserved and private by nature. If the family understands the importance of your friendship with the person who died, you may find mutual solace and support with the family; or they may be consumed by their own grief and unable to make room for you and your grief.

If you’ve been asked to help sort through your friend’s belongings, keep in mind that this task can bring up powerful memories and emotions. You might find it helpful because it gives you something to focus on, or you might feel emotionally overwhelmed even at the thought of doing it.

As time goes by, you may want to stay connected with your friend’s family but worry that your presence might be upsetting as they see you continue to live and reach various life milestones. Seeing you is bound to bring bittersweet feelings, such as being comforted that you are still connected to them while sad that the person who died is unable to have experiences as you do.

What may help

If you aren’t sure about how your friend’s family may respond, try to find a way to open up a conversation about their wishes and your own. If the family isn’t open to contact with you now, let them know if you are okay with it in the future.

When it comes to your friend’s belongings, it’s important to not judge or make assumptions about other people or yourself. Some people find it helpful to “get on with it” while others need to wait, perhaps leaving the person’s belongings completely untouched for a period of time.