Grieving a Friend – Coming Closer While Letting Go

MarianneMirror title Grieving a Friend -- coming closer while letting goI experienced a number of losses the year Marianne died — three friends and a brother. I felt her death more keenly because she was among my closest friends and because I accompanied her through the final months of her dying. Our friendship became more intimate at the very time I had to letting go her.

This paradox of closeness and release continued throughout my grieving process.

Marianne’s loss was not as intense as some of my losses. I did not need to rebuild my life nor was I full of regret and remorse nor did it require years to recover. Nevertheless, it did share some commonalities.

My grief needed acknowledgement and expression. I achieved this by exploring and sharing the stories of her life and by a few of acts of boldness in her honor.

These strategies and others are described more fully in my complimentary grief guide: Essentials for Grieving Well. (Get it HERE.)

Exploring Her Story:

The story of someone’s life is not a fixed thing. It evolves and shifts over time through thought, discovery and listening to the stories of others. Eventually one hopes to arrive at a place where pain recedes and poignant recollections accompanied by gratitude are the norm.

Because Marianne was barely fifty-four when she died, my healing involved making sense of her short but passionate life. Understanding came through sorting and distributing her possessions.

Going through personal possessions of the deceased can be a vital part of grieving.

It provides tangible evidence of who a person was, what they valued and how they lived. The hardest part is the constant letting go. Each item, made precious by association, can feel like an additional loss as it is given away. Thus it is often avoided and delayed.

Marianne’s life accumulations fit into a single-room cottage and four storage lockers. After we dismantled her home, her brother and his wife were ready to put the rest in a dumpster. They were devastated, of course, and not much good for it anyway.

Hanging fabric title Grieving a Friend - Coming Closer While Letting GoI could not let Marianne’s things be thrown in the garbage. She was a shopper of exquisite taste and refinement and her lockers held the accumulations of a lifetime. I was grateful for the task. Like an archeologist at a dig, I gained a more vivid picture of who she was, what she cherished and what made up her world. Again it was that odd mixture of coming closer while letting go.

Perhaps most difficult for me was her collection of photographs, three cartons full. Marianne’s photos were more than the usual snap-shots. They revealed her artistry, her sensuality, her passion and her pain. I distilled them into one highly edited photo album that provided only glimpses of the complexity that was hers.

Sharing the Story:

Creating and completing the story of one who has died is best accomplished through a communal process. People come together to share their  stories and piece together a greater picture of the whole. In that paradoxical way, one discovers more of who the person was while saying goodbye

The first Saturday after Marianne died, my husband and I held a gathering for her brother, his wife and all the friends who helped in her passing. We laughed and cried, shared food, told stories and gave away bits and pieces of her life.

Although, Marianne had said she did not want a memorial, I believe she didn’t mind.

A gathering of this sort is really more for the survivors than the deceased.

A second party occurred about two months later to distribute Marianne’s clothes. As we tried on, negotiated and selected pieces of her wardrobe, it felt almost like a ritual, something sacred. By claiming her clothing, it seemed as though we were welcoming essential parts of her being into our lives.

Even now, I feel close to her whenever I put on one of her shirts. Having her things has changed the way I dress. I find I wear clothing that is just a little wilder, a little more sexy, a little more like her.

The last distribution took place at the spiritual retreat where I first met Marianne twenty-two years before. My husband and I drove from California to New Mexico with the last of her worldly things and a small bag of her ashes. As people came to my cabin to select some memento of her life — a piece of clothing, a bauble of jewelry — they told the story of her acquaintance, how they met and how she changed them. I became aware, in the process, of my possessiveness.

In grief, I had started to think of Marianne as mine. I was the keeper of her death!

But that was simply ego. I could see now that she belonged to all of us . . . and also to none.

Bold Action

Doing something special to honor the memory of the deceased is a powerful way of healing. It can pull a person out of painful preoccupations with what is lost and into action. The more the action pushes against the edges of comfort, the better.

In the face of death, one needs to do something bold — something that acknowledges the hugeness.

Shortly after Marianne died, I sang  Al Fatihah — a Sufi chant for opening, the first chant in the Arabic prayer. I felt self-conscious doing this because we were in a residential hospice and her conservative brother and sister-in-law were looking on. I was uncertain what they thought of Marianne’s Sufi practice or me. But when I remembered what Marianne had gone through — her pain, her vulnerability and her death, it was easy to find the courage.

sunflowers titleMy second bold move was to invite a group of friends to join me in spreading her ashes at the Sufi retreat. I am not sure our spiritual teacher approved. He certainly did not attend. Possibly he thought this sentimental display was a distraction from our spiritual work, a yielding to emotionality and ego. Although, I care what he thinks and value his approval, my commitment to Marianne was greater.

The Sufis were a significant part of her life. We were her other family and I needed to honor that.

In a field of sunflowers, as the sky turned red and the sun dipped toward the western mountains, we gathered to say our good byes, spread her ashes, and release her spirit to the wind.

Marianne is with me now. She is part of my life story. She lives on in the lines of this blog and the workshops I lead on grief. She is still impacting people. Although my grieving is over, Marianne continues.


WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at



  1. Dear Michelle,
    Thanks for an insightful and vulnerable essay. I was quite struck by the thought of those left behind focusing their grief on the items of the departed. I am in the midst of this process in a different way. In preparation for moving to Ecuador, I have been liquidating all my possessions, feeling intensely the story and memories attached to each object. Friends and family who I normally see rarely are eager to see me now that I won’t be readily available. Friends and family I’m closest too vacillate between supporting me and grieving me.

    As I progress through this process I grieve the life I’m leaving behind: the beauty and joys of it and the disappointments and dead dreams. While I know that I can and will create a home and life as beautiful as the one I’m leaving, I still hear those nagging whispers of doubt and fear that sometimes make me feel like a child. And, the lighter I feel, the freer and more youthful in anticipation and curiosity I feel.

    I’ve noticed this week the internal decision that, “OK, enough already. I’m not dying and will keep in touch by Magic Jack, email, and Facebook.” I’ve told everybody how much I love them a zillion times, appreciated them for who they are and what they mean to me, and shared my intention to stay connected and to visit often. They all have something solid and tangible of mine to connect us energetically. I’m moving into action (do something BOLD, you said), allowing myself to feel undefined and curious as to what I’m going to do next, but doing, not waiting. I’m not deciding in my head how things will unfold. I’m following the energy, letting IT pull ME to the next phase. It’s working well. When I step back to look, I’ve accomplished a lot in a short time by staying in the flow…and by letting go, letting go, letting go.


    Thanks for your work, Michelle.

  2. Michelle Peticolas says:


    Thank you for your touching and vulnerable comment.

    Your experience is a perfect example of how grief is not reserved for death alone. You have insightfully made the connection between your earthly move and the bigger move of death. Of course you friends and family are grieving. And you are going through a process of release very similar to preparing for dying because your old life is dying. That part of you, that chapter is closing.

    I salute you for taking this courageous step into the unknown, for following your heart. You are an inspiration to others. And also a threat to those who hold back from their own passion, because you show them it is possible and that is scary for those who would rather stay the same.

    Of course there will be doubts. No need to squash them. Just write them down on paper so that the frightened person inside feels heard. If you do not listen, she will only get louder. You do not even need to answer her, although you can. Reassure her that you will take care of her and that it is really ok whatever happens. Life is an adventure. What may seem in one moment. like a big mistake can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened.

    Take time to sit with your scared self, do nurturing things like going for a walk or taking a bath. Understand that change is not only scary to the mind, it is scary to the body. The primate brainstem, our lizard brain counts on sameness for safety. Newness increases error and for the lizard error invites death, Do things that calm and soothe your body and make it feel save. It will help.

    Best wishes for an awesome journey and transformation.

  3. Reading through the thread of you sharing about grieving Marianne brought up tears, connecting to the depth and truth of the eternal wisdom available to us at the time of passing of a loved one, like a crack in the veil of illusion…

    It brought up my own grieving process with my mother, who transitioned 5 years ago this month, reflecting on something I still have not done: share her poetry and her spirit on a posthumous blog.

    What I am realizing writing this is that I had to first become the person I am today before I could do such a thing, hence completing the transformation our relationship had for ever triggered.

    Thank you for the opportunity to see this!

    • Michelle Peticolas says:

      Thanks, Aline, for your comment and the story of you mom. It was the death of my parents that started me on this path of helping people open to the gifts of death.

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