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Make a friend, be a friend and — most importantly — teach your kids how to grieve
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

“How do people make it without friends?”

A recently widowed woman asked me that question the other day. It was both serious and rhetorical.

We are entering the time of year when people run head-on into a brick wall called loneliness. From 1999 to 2017, the national suicide rate has climbed 33 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

I don’t have an answer for the question of making it without friends. I’ve been blessed with a good crop of them for as long as I can remember.

At the same time, we have more and more people who live reclusive lives. They don’t attend religious services, civic clubs, fraternal organizations or any other group that might introduce them to a network of people who can be cultivated into friendship.

The two biggest events in many people’s lives are a wedding and a funeral. You might have a year to plan a wedding. You usually have about 2 or 3 days to plan the latter.

I was reading an obituary the other day. The person who died made it clear that they didn’t want a service of any kind. The trouble is that people who cared about that person may need an outlet to grieve. It may come by remembering the good things they accomplished in their lifetime.

I like a good funeral. I particularly like those where you come away with a greater appreciation for the departed. Sometimes people tell of a time when the person went to extraordinary lengths to help someone.

“How long do you grieve?” is a question someone asked me one day. The truth is you never stop. My dad has been dead for 35 years. My momma has been gone for 23 and my brother for nearly 12 years. There is hardly a day that I don’t think of one of them. Sometimes it makes me laugh; others are sad times that might bring a tear to my eye.

I remember in kindergarten, we had what was called the housekeeping center. We would play “house.” We have all kinds of models for families, but no one ever teaches us how to grieve.

When it comes to kids, we let some shrink tell us to avoid the whole topic of death. That is just plain crazy.

Some people tell their children that grandpa (or whoever has passed away) is gone to “a better place.”

Who doesn’t want to go to a better place? Do they have a better swing set or a really nice soccer field? (Dear Lord, I hope of all the things there might be in heaven, one of them is not a soccer field.)

We tell them that grandma “just went to sleep.” I’d be scared to go to sleep for a while if somebody told me that.

Let’s tell them the truth and then learn to help them grieve. I believe that trying to sugarcoat death is what has given us a generation of people who become emotional wrecks over something that is the final chapter of this life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

There are people out there who need your friendship, and you need theirs.

As to how people make it without friends, I hope I never find out.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on