It’s been a little over a year since a dear friend of mine passed away. While certain songs still bring him to my mind, like any song by Jurassic 5 or Biggie Smalls–some of his favorites, they make me smile more often than they make me cry. I’ve been thinking a lot about this difficult period in my life and what it means to me a year later. Studies show that how we cope with difficult events helps us make meaning and come out a little wiser on the other side. We need social support to make that happen.
I’m so grateful for the many shoulders I’ve had to cry on, the friends who have listened to my stories, and the loved ones who’ve checked in on me. I’ve also found amazing community through sharing my grief on social media; over 30% of young adults know someone who has died of an overdose. That is a large portion of the population, and sharing our stories is one way to cope with our losses.
I was lucky that his parents and the Nashville community spoke so openly about his death. My friend had suffered with different addictions for years. I remember a call from him a few years ago and hearing fear in his voice. He asked me to hold him accountable, and I did. He went to rehab a few months later, spent more time with his family, graduated from college and had a job that let him be outdoors. I remember meeting up with him and his dad about six months before his passing; I went to one of his father’s graduate school lectures with my friend for fun. We reminisced and he told me some of his stories that inevitably cracked me up. He had a wonderful sense of humor, kindness, and genuine friendliness about him from the first day we met that always struck me.
We texted in the few weeks before his death; he seemed to be doing well and I told him I wanted to visit him in Colorado and finally learn to ski. Skiing was one of his many beloved outdoor hobbies. There was no hint that he was not ok, no signs that I detected. That is one of the scariest parts of addiction–it is an ongoing battle. As friends and supporters, we can only do so much. Addiction is not a choice we can prevent, but rather a disease well beyond the control of friends and family.
His death has prompted me to look deeply at the way I live my life. He was always carefree, calm, and in awe of nature. I’ve taken some amazing trips, hiked new trails, and taken chances with new challenges. I’ve also started prioritizing my social ties–staying connected to those who matter most with phone calls, letters, and visits. Research shows that our social network actually heals after the loss of a friend. Friends are pulled closer together following a loss–helping to heal both the group and the individual.
While it will never be easy, I am starting to feel that it is getting easier.