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Caring About the Death of Someone You've Not Seen/Thought About for 20 Years
Old 11-15-2012, 01:32 PM   #1
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Caring About the Death of Someone You've Not Seen/Thought About for 20 Years

I have a friend who really lost it the other day when someone informed him that someone he was friends with 20 years ago (but has not seen since or even thought about) died. He became so despondent that he didn't want to talk on the phone to anyone or answer any e-mails. He called in sick to work the next day. Now he is thinking about going to New York to find out more about the friend's death (the message was kind of cryptic).

I try to be empathetic to people, but I really can't understand why this is so traumatic for him. If he hadn't been notified about this, in all likelihood he would have gone another 20 years without thinking about this friend or contacting him. (There didn't seem to be any reason why the friendship ended other than geographic reasons and "drifting apart.") I can see where he could be nostalgic about the good old days with his friend or sad to hear of his passing. But-----to the point of having a meltdown about it?

You see similar reactions when a celebrity dies that no one has thought about for years....

Can someone explain the psychology behind this?
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Old 11-15-2012, 01:58 PM   #2
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Can someone explain the psychology behind this?
It could be more to do with him than his friend. When someone our own age passes, it serves as a reminder of our own inevitable demise. We push that back in our day-to-day life, and this can bring it into sharp focus.

That can be hard on some people, and maybe something about your friend made this harder than average?

As a parallel, from what I've seen, people who were close to their parents seem to have an easier time of it when their parents pass than people who had problems and distance with their parents. I think those who were close realize it is just the circle of life, and they did what they could while they could. Those who had issues probably dwell on what could have been. Maybe your friend is going through something like that?

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Old 11-15-2012, 01:59 PM   #3
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Not sure either but I suppose it could be that the friend being near the same age, has caused him to consider his own mortality?
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Old 11-15-2012, 02:07 PM   #4
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I had a simliar situation a few months back when at first attempted to look up someone on Facebook but after several searches, ended up finding her obituary. That was a bit sureal as this was a classmate that I had sat next to in class in college and walked back from class to our dorms. It was a bit sad, knowing that she didn't live a fuller life. During time spent together, we'd often talk about the future. For example, what each was majoring in. How was Thanksgiving break. There seemed so much life and time ahead. Yet, I look back and cherrish the friendship that we had..even though we had lost touch many years ago.

In the friend of the OP, perhaps the friend had regrets of not spending time with the other person. Or perhaps at one time they were very close or hoped to be but life gets in the way. Or as others have said, perhaps it is the realization of one's own mortality.
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Old 11-15-2012, 02:12 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
It could be more to do with him than his friend. When someone our own age passes, it serves as a reminder of our own inevitable demise. We push that back in our day-to-day life, and this can bring it into sharp focus.

That can be hard on some people, and maybe something about your friend made this harder than average?

As a parallel, from what I've seen, people who were close to their parents seem to have an easier time of it when their parents pass than people who had problems and distance with their parents. I think those who were close realize it is just the circle of life, and they did what they could while they could. Those who had issues probably dwell on what could have been. Maybe your friend is going through something like that?

-ERD50
ITA with the first part.

And the second part made me really stop and think about it's truth. It's an astute observation. I'm of an age where parents of friends are passing more frequently... and the more troubled the relationship, the harder it is on the offspring. In my own personal history my dad and brother passed away within 3 months of each other. I was much more troubled by brothers death because we had so many unresolved issues. (Lots of anger between us.) Knowing it could never be healed is hard.
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Old 11-15-2012, 02:33 PM   #6
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Yup---y'all did suspect correctly. He lost his wife 18 months ago and he had a major heart attack at the time. So there is a mortality issue (although he himself is now doing fine at 62).

I guess I could be more empathetic if this would be a major eye-opener for him----such as seeing the impermanence of life and how people can leave our lives too soon/abruptly, he would change some of his ways (living life more fully instead of not being open to new experiences, etc. and appreciating the friends he does have right now a little more---like me!)----but that seems to happen more in the movies or in novels than in real life....
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Old 11-15-2012, 07:24 PM   #7
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If the poor guy lost his wife 18 months ago (assuming she passed away) and he had a major heart attack at the time - then this seems almost like a post traumatic stress disorder reaction. He has barely (if at all) gotten over these recent events, and this could have brought the emotions and fear back in full force.
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Old 11-15-2012, 08:44 PM   #8
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Another aspect is our memories are fixed. So when we hear of an old friend dying our last memory of that person might be 20 + years ago and we still think of that person being that age.
I had a childhood best friend. By the time we reached high school we remained friendly but were in different circles and didn't socialize. I learned, many years later, he had died. On hearing the news, I was hysterical crying. Emotions are not rational.
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Old 11-15-2012, 08:48 PM   #9
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If the poor guy lost his wife 18 months ago (assuming she passed away) and he had a major heart attack at the time - then this seems almost like a post traumatic stress disorder reaction. He has barely (if at all) gotten over these recent events, and this could have brought the emotions and fear back in full force.
I agree, I will bet this was a trigger for all of his pent up emotions.
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Old 11-16-2012, 01:40 PM   #10
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Yup...I think the guy had problems to begin with.
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Old 11-16-2012, 05:43 PM   #11
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Hmm... Not so sure. We should not rush to conclusions here.
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I agree, I will bet this was a trigger for all of his pent up emotions.
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Old 11-16-2012, 06:40 PM   #12
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It's sad to hear of the demise of a friend from long ago. Death is so final, in a sense; even though they may not have kept in touch, now there will never be that possibility.

I agree with those who said it reminds us on a gut level of our own mortality, and that can be hard to take. We grieve for the friend, but also for our own youth which is lost to us forever, and for the world which is a lesser place without the friend in it.

When this sort of thing happens I don't go on about it like your friend did. But you know, we each grieve in our own ways.
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