What is a real friend?

February 17, 2016

Yellow roses represent friendship.

Look around.  Are you surrounded by people who are real friends?

“Of course,” some might respond.

But others might use the question as an exercise to evaluate the people they believe are friends. Or those they have questions about.

We each have our own criteria for friendship, don’t we?

But sometimes our hearts are so accepting that we allow ourselves to be treated poorly by a “friend.”

Until one day, the blinders come off and then we see the person as they are. At least as they are in reference to us.

Almost 30 years ago at the height of the AIDS epidemic I trained to be an emotional support volunteer to people with HIV. Emotional support volunteers were expected to be emotionally stable themselves,. They had to be able to not only handle the grief that accompanies the many HIV-related deaths but strong enough to support our assigned person and/or their families.

One of the most eye-opening exercises we did in that two-weekend training was a guided visualization through our own death and funeral.  It was powerful.

Near the end of the exercise, we looked in on our own funerals–and the facilitator asked us two impactful questions.

Who is at your funeral?

And who is NOT?

The “attend your own funeral” exercise alone can be helpful, even without going through an extensive visualization of our own death.  Just asking ourselves if each of our friends would be at our funeral might elicit a different view of the relationship. Identifying those who would NOT be at our funeral is even more interesting.

When I did this back in 1989, I was surprised to discover that someone I loved  would not attend my funeral. I knew they wouldn’t. As I visualized that person not going, I even knew their rationale for not attending.

Now, I’m not saying I’d end a friendship if I thought someone wouldn’t go to my funeral.  I’m saying that the exercise can provide a new perspective on a friendship. Fresh insight, you  might say. That’s what it did for  me.

It also might be the catalyst for thoughts about what you consider the mark of real friends.

I hope you’ll try it. And if you do, I’d love to know what you discovered.

Let me know what you think in the Comments below. Thank you!


22 comments on “What is a real friend?
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    I’ve done this exercise, and more recently, shared with some of my closest friends in an email that my daughter contracted a lifelong diseases–MS. Devastating to Lizzie , of course, but also to me and MZ. Some rushed to the phone, others, promised they would, and never did. Same when Dad died, some wrote, even surprised me by attending his service, some never, ( two of my oldest oldest!)so much as dropped me or my mother a note. Phone calls came too late… So my question is, what do you do with the info? Let the relationship go out with the tide?One woman is my Goddaughter’s mother–I send my Goddaughter checks and she responds nicely, but I never see her, though I have made efforts.Do I simply put the ball in their courts now?Move on? I feel the need for closure. Or Do I just feel the need to say” you behavior is really selfish?” Which, I do know would het me nowhere. What do you think, Carol?

    • We had something similar happen in our life a few years back and we just simply stopped sending checks. Nothing changed–no more or less contact. In fact, none at all, which was what it had been. Of course, I really wanted to say, “are you kidding me? you can’t even send a damn thank you email for X?” But once we decided not to engage further, my urge went away, no harm no foul, just done.
      It’s so interesting to me to see how many people bail when their friends are sick. For me, it’s just the opposite–I try to draw closer. But you underscore what my late friend told me about some of her “friends” who disappeared at her diagnosis.
      I am a big believer that all answers lie within us. We always know what’s right, even if we don’t want to do it.
      Blessings, my friend, to you and your girl.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I’ve looked at my funeral base in what people were remembering me for but not this. Fascinating idea Carol! I’m pretty sure I’ve dumped all the “friends” who wouldn’t be there but I’ll try this excercise to see. Loved this!!

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Interesting to contemplate. I never thought of doing this exercise and I’m sure it’s illuminating. I am sure I can come up with a few candidates.

  4. Roz Warren says:

    Wow. Didn’t think I’d be in waters this deep so early in the day. But thanks for giving me something fascinating to think about. When my dad died, I was impressed by how many people came to his memorial service, and how many people got up to say that he’d helped them totally change their lives for the better. (He was a psychoanalyst.) It was memorable and very moving. Your post makes me wonder if he had any idea that so many people would be there. I hope he did.

  5. Carla says:

    This is so intriguing to me because I learned a similar exercise but with the backdrop of career counseling. I need a slice of solitude and to do this one for myself and focus on friendship.

  6. I think we find out who our true friends are when and if we are faced with a calamitous experience. Whether that is the death of a parent, a divorce, a severe illness, etc.
    And, visualizing only expresses our own bias of the situation- not what the other truly considers…

  7. I’ve never even thought to consider that question. I’ve spent some time thinking about the legacy I’m leaving, in other words, what would people say at my funeral if they were sincere, just like Jennifer. These days, I’m looking at which people bring me joy and help me grow into a better person. I hope to return that same commitment to them.

  8. Kimberly says:

    I’ve never considered this concept, what an interesting exercise. I’ve recently done a lot of ‘friend purging’, so the crowd will be significantly lighter! Ha! I do know that at least one of my daughter’s will be there, so I won’t be alone . . .

  9. bodynsoil says:

    Great post and reminder to evaluate your friendships. I didn’t have to imagine who would be at my funeral when it related to a “best” friend which I had physically, emotionally, and financially helped whenever I was needed. When the first time I was having an emotionally hard time and called to talk myself through it; they responded that it wasn’t a good time as they were in the middle of watching a movie on TV. Soon after I ended the friendship and didn’t feel guilty. The clues were there as I’d drive three hours to visit them; they wouldn’t visit me when they came to town. Honestly, the person actually said they didn’t want to end the friendship as they’d miss all the invitations to free social events and parties.

  10. A funeral list! Whoah, what a thought to consider. I never would’ve, I don’t think, until reading this. I didn’t take the time to do so since I just read this, but I was surprised to see a friend of mine in particular pop into my mind immediately afterwards. I would think she would attend, but for some reason, the thought of her is now lingering. I guess because our friendship feels a little false to me at times. Anyway, yikes, I’m not sure I want to think about this, but an interesting post, that’s for sure.

  11. It’s an interesting idea. One I have actually done. After my partner passed a few years ago and so few of her friends showed for her funeral I started wondering the same thing.

  12. This is interesting because, honestly, I don’t care who comes to my funeral. Friendship, to me, is more defined by who’s actually there for me in my life. That’s way more meaningful to me than who shows up to “honor” me when I’m dead.

  13. Mimi says:

    I too, like others who have commented above had never thought of this exercise. I certainly changes your paradigm! At my Father’s funeral, each of the many attendees took the time to eulogize or share their fondest memories of him and how much a marvellous person he was.

  14. Todd says:

    This is a great post! The two-weekend training at looking at your own funeral is really eye opening. Thanks for sharing, gives me a lot to think about!

  15. Lizzi says:

    This is a fascinating thought! I’m gonna take some time to mull it over. I wonder…I’m already beginning to assess friendships by the way people treat me, rather than the way they say they view me, but this seems to take it all a step further.

  16. Carolann says:

    I’ve often thought about this but never really went any further than thinking it part ways though. It got too depressing so I always ended the fantasy. I guess I’ll have to hope that the folks I imagined would show up would.

  17. Donna says:

    My children have spoken about my funeral and they have all decided it will be the most fun funeral there ever was. For that reason I think most everyone will be there. I actually had a funeral for myself when I turned 50, it was a classic idea that I encourage everyone to do. I invited at least 40 friends and asked them to bring their best “Donna” Story. It went from getting lost at an amusement part when I was 8 by an older friend to being called out by a woman in a class when I told said her answer was stupid. Her answer was stupid by the way, to being thrown out of a volleyball game to almost killing a friend on a hike in the mountains when I accidentally tripped her. Everyone had a story, and everyone laughed forever.

  18. Rosemond says:

    Wow, what a powerful exercise. And how strong you must be to have counseled the dying and their families.

  19. Liv says:

    I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately. This post has given me something to think about.

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