A Guide to Grieving

Raymond was 22 years old when we buried him. He is alive in our memories and always will be. We called him Salamander. He was a good kid, full of imaginations and always good for a laugh. Like most of us on the streets, he had his dreams, dreams that will now never be realized.  Sal was a good friend and would have been a good father had we not buried him six months before his daughter was born.

If only he had given life a chance. You see, Salamander committed suicide. He hung himself in my best friend’s backyard, where he was living at the time. I will always remember Sal, and all the rest of the friends I’ve lost along the way.

I was in the midst of my heroin addiction when Sal passed on, so I never really grieved his loss at thetime of his death. It wasn’t until two years later, when I had sobered up a little, that it hit me — Sal was gone and he wasn’t coming back.

You don’t have to lose someone to death to go through the whole grieving process. It can also happen when you lose touch or become estranged from a loved one or friend. Grief is just a process of dealing with the pain of an important loss. They call grief a process because it happens in phases. Don’t ask me what the phases are, but I can tell you my experience, and how I came to terms with losing a friend to suicide.

Don’t rely on drugs

When you lose a friend or loved one, it seems easier to deal if you are buried in a fix or high, or drunk out of your skull. As long as you remain intoxicated, your pain becomes distant and almost non-existent. The downside of this is that when you sober up (I mean really sober up, with clean time under your belt) all the pain and grief you have numbed out in the past come tumbling out. It may be too much to bear emotionally and depression will set in full force.  That’s what happened to me.

It’s good to cry

When the pain and sorrow of Sal’s absence hit me, a whole lot of tears came out. That helped. Bottling is up only makes it worse.

Turn to your friends

After depression over Sal’s death came anger. I was angry tha he had been so selfish (or had he? Who am I to say?) by taking the “chicken shit” way out and leaving a child behind. I even felt self-pity at one point, believing that it was pointless to get close to anyone because they just leave and die in the end. I started pushing away my closest friends. That’s not good because you really need friends around to help you cope with grief. Even if you are not a good conversationalist, it is important to talk to someone about your loss.

Accept what happened

After anger set in, denial crept up and kicked me in the ass. I just ignored Sal’s death completely. It had been two years since his death, so why bother grieving now? But the truth is I did care, and acknowledging that I cared helped me to come to terms with Sal’s death and finally accept that he was gone. I finally felt at peace with what had happened.

Learn from it

I had heard stories of suicide before from friends, TV, newspapers and magazines, but it had never hit so close to home before Sal. In fact, his funeral was my first. Before Sal died, I used to contemplate suicide myself, but that was just self-pity. Now, the thought never lasts more than a split second before I remember Sal’s death.

Honor their memory

Once you have come to terms with the loss of a loved one and accepted their death or absence, grief becomes so much easier to bear and you can honor their memory in your own way. Drink a 40-ounce or fifth of bourbon at their grave and pour a drink on the ground for them. Or throw a party in their name and memory.

Don’t let someone else’s death become your own

No one can tell you how to grieve; we all do it in our own way. But however you do it, allow yourself the chance to grieve, feel the pain and heal again. Go out and still do what you were doing before. Live with a new memory of a good friend lost — but live.

This was first printed in “The Freedom Manual,” which was published by Roaddawgz and the Pacific New Service. Roaddawgz was located in our office for several years, providing homeless youth with a creative, safe space where they could express themselves. While the organization no longer exists, these powerful youth narratives live on.