Posted On 24 Sep 2011
At least if you live long enough, it’s impossible not to experience the death of a friend.
We don’t select our relatives, but we do select our friends. If we didn’t value someone, we’d have never worked to create the friendship. So the subject here is loss of something valuable.
The first time I experienced the death of a friend was when I was 15. Jim was a hockey teammate who was a year older than me. My mother was grateful when he turned 16 and received his driver’s license because that meant that she no longer had to drive me to hockey practices and games. Not long after his family moved south from Toledo to Columbus, Jim was skating, probably playing hockey, on some ice outdoors. It broke. He fell through and drowned.
The last time I experienced the death of a friend was last week. John was 84 and died of natural causes, probably congestive heart failure. We’d been friends for about 51 years.
Plenty of friendships ended in between.
For example, Humpty was my best friend in high school. He died some years ago. He was like the axle of a wheel and all the rest of our group were like its spokes.
Rolo was the nominal leader of that group, charting the direction we rolled whenever he was around. I learned yesterday that he is in an intensive care unit breathing with the help of a ventilator. Even if he does not have pneumonia and wakes up from his coma, he doesn’t have long to live.
Humpty and Rolo are not my only friends and classmates who have died.
Amy committed suicide almost fourteen years ago to the day. She was my best friend at that time. For me, that was a really hard death.
An even harder time for me was seventeen years ago when my wife Laura left after fourteen years. Since it involves rejection as well as loss, a divorce can be even more difficult than “just” loss of a friend. The death of a friendship can produce even more suffering than the death of a friend.
If you have not yet had similar experiences, just wait.
My father died at 84 and my mother at 89. They both complained in their later years about losing so many of their friends to death.
Does it seem morbid to write a post on the topic of the death of a friend?
If so, please ask yourself: what is the opposite of death?
Do you think that life is the opposite of death? Actually, birth is the opposite of death.
Life has no opposite. Life is not a concept, a genuine principle of classification [click here for more on the critical terminology].
Is it possible that a friend’s death can itself have value?
It can certainly hurt a lot. It can seem to hurt in every cell in the body! Although it comes in waves, the suffering can last for weeks, months, years, and even longer. (Perversely, we even manage to attach ourselves to suffering.)
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have learned to let it hurt. Instead of focusing on being busy and trying, unsuccessfully, to keep myself distracted, I’ve discovered that it’s best to sit quietly and open up to suffering completely.
Let it hurt. If it’s crying time, that’s alright. Sometimes, life hurts a lot. That’s just the way it is.
Unless we learn the lesson, life will keep giving us opportunities to learn the lesson. Andrew Matthews: “When we fail to learn a lesson, we get to take it again . . . and again!”
What’s the lesson?
Appreciate every form without attaching to any form.
Forms exist only in the domain of Becoming. All forms are impermanent. Nothing abides. Some, like a star, seem to last for quite a while; others, like a flash of lightning, are fleeting.
Your body, like mine, is a form, too.
The death of a friend is the end of a form. That’s all.
Attaching to forms isn’t just risky, it’s foolish. By itself, it cannot possibly yield lasting value.
Since the only permanence is found in Being, the only permanent value is Being.
That insight can provide the best perspective from which to handle the death of a friend. Why?
Since there is only Being and Becoming, there are only two perspectives possible on the death of a friend: it can be experienced from Becoming or from Being.
All genuine love is not self love but Self love.
Perhaps this explains Aristotle’s central claim about friendship, namely, that “a friend is another self.”
When the death of a friend is experienced from the perspective of Becoming, it is as if a piece of one’s self has been permanently lost. How could that not be emotionally traumatic?
What happens, though, when the death of a friend is experienced from the perspective of Being?
The only way to know is to be a sage, someone who experiences Becoming from the perspective of Being.
In theory, a fully enlightened sage would not experience any suffering. In practice, nobody — or almost nobody — is fully enlightened, which means that, even for a sage, there will be some emotional suffering. However, its depth and duration will be considerably less than for the rest of us. Why?
Sages are less exclusive and more inclusive in their identifications than the rest of us, which is why they are more loving and compassionate.
The less self focus, the more Self focus.
There is always a potential hidden gain in every loss. The death of a friend can have value if it is used as an opening to Being, as a stimulus to reduce suffering and increase compassion.
The weaker your connection to Being, the greater your suffering. The stronger your connection to Being, the less your suffering.
Note: It turned out that my friend Rolo died about an hour or so before I began writing this blog post. I dedicate it to his memory.