My friend died and I didn't get to say goodbye

There are very few things in life that are harder to face than the sudden death of someone you care about. Whether it's a friend, a sibling, or even someone you just sort of know, the loss of their life can make you feel like you have an enormous hole inside yourself.

It's especially difficult for young people to experience the tragic and unexpected loss of a friend, because it happens at a time when you are feeling like you're getting your life under control, and none of this "bad stuff" could happen to you. The shock of seeing that it actually can happen to someone close to you can make you feel pretty vulnerable yourself.

It also happens at a time in your life where you're usually putting some distance between yourself and your parents, who have been your main source of support. You may feel you need them more than ever, but your quest for independence also makes you not want to depend on them too much. This can result in great feelings of confusion.

So there's a lot that goes on in your mind, body, and heart when someone close to you dies.

Grief is a weird thing — it affects every person differently. Like adults, teenagers grieve in their own time and in their own way. It may not even seem real to you at first. You may just feel numb and not really be able to react at all. For most people, this numbness will eventually go away and your body will feel the pain.

You may feel like you're crying all the time, and at the same time, another friend may not cry at all. You might feel angry with them because it doesn't seem to you like they're grieving enough, or taking the death of your friend seriously enough.

Some people grieve by wanting to take care of everybody else and make everybody else feel better. Some people just act completely crazy. Some people get caught up in thinking, "Why didn't it happen to me?" Odd as it may seem, some people laugh a lot when they are grieving.

It's important for the surviving friends to be gentle to each other. Be accepting of each other, because everyone grieves differently.

There are all kinds of physical and emotional symptoms you may experience as a part of grieving. Almost all of them are normal, especially at first. Some of them are listed below, but there may be many, many others.

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You will never forget what happened. If you are afraid to heal because you think you might forget your friend, don't worry — you will never forget. You will always have their memory. You'll always be sorry that you were unable to share life with your friend for many more years. However, in time, you will remember the happy memories more often than the painful ones that fill your mind now.

Related resources

Helping Teenagers Cope with GriefAlan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. — If parents, teachers, and counselors are open, honest, and loving, the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.

How to Help a Grieving TeenThe Dougy Center — Teens respond better to adults who choose to be companions on the grief journey rather than direct it.

Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents, and LossKenneth J. Doka, Ph.D. — This book features articles by leading educators and clinicians in the field of grief and bereavement. The "Voices" sections are the writings of children and adolescents. Includes a comprehensive resource list of national organizations and a useful bibliography of age-appropriate literature for children and adolescents.

Madge Alberts, Program coordinator in children, youth and family consortium

Revised 2005 by author; reviewed 2015 by Judy Myers, Extension educator in children, youth and family consortium.

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