To answer the research question two main themes were identified from the analyses of the interviews: Friendship and Grief. To deepen our understanding of the friendship and attachment, three subordinate themes will be described: the importance of the friendship, longing and remembrance and how the loss has affected other relationships. Regarding the main theme of grief, these three subordinate themes will be described: how the loss has affected the friend’s daily lives, processing of the grief and not being family.
The importance of the relationship
The friendship with the deceased and its importance impacted everything the participants of the study talked about. This relationship was and is still important to the young adults, and the loss of the friend has had a profound impact on them. The value of this friendship was expressed through the way the bereaved friends talked about the deceased’s character, and the way they described their friends with admiration and affection. They talk about their friend as someone “unique”, “positive” and “warm”, as for this young woman: “There's not a lot of people like her, so thoroughly good. And I feel like I try to be like her or… that it makes me a better person to have that with me.” They also talk about characteristics that are hard to find in other people or other relationships, like their kindness and good values. This is a person it is sad to not have in their lives anymore.
Many of the bereaved friends also expressed the value of the friendship through describing what they used to do together. Some talked about always spending time together, while others described constantly texting or how it was always very special every time they met even though they did not live in the same city or spent time apart. Many of the friends also talked about having a similar sense of humour, laughing together, and having a good time, and the small things that make a friendship—common hobbies, cooking together, the communication. A big part of this was the importance of having someone to “talk to about anything”.
The significance of the friendship becomes clear in the way they describe what was so special about this friend, and this particular friendship. The bereaved friends often describe the deceased as their “oldest friend” or “the closest friend”, and a person that was important in their lives: “I thought of him as my closest friend (…), it was him I shared everything with”, like this young woman said. This was the type of relationship “you cannot explain with words”, and a person to be “fully comfortable around”—someone who is always there for you. Frequently used descriptions were “closeness”, “feeling of understanding” in the friendship, someone to “turn to” in difficult times. The friendship is also compared with the other friendships they have (both good and bad), like this young woman: “I have many friends, but nothing will be the same as that friendship”. They express gratitude for having had this type of close friendship, like another young woman said: “I am very, very thankful for the time I got to know her, but at the same time it is horrible that I did not get to know her for a longer time.”
Many struggled with knowing that in the future, their friend would not be there, and that no one would take the friend's place in their life. This important role in their lives will never be filled again, because no one could ever replace their friend—something several of the friends thought about: “He is not replaced, and he never will be”, said one young man. Some of the friends also expressed sadness because people they meet in the future will not get to know the deceased friend, that people will not know how good this person was and their importance, like one young woman says: “It is sad to think about the people I will meet in the future who will not know who she was”.
The bereaved friends describe longing and remembrance of their friends, something they experienced partly through feelings of loneliness and emptiness. After the passing of their friend many of the young adults described situations and occasions where it became especially apparent that their friend was gone, e.g., not being able to call or text if they had something important to say. Like this young woman says: “Who am I going to talk to? Who is going to send me a happy message saying that they are in love? I feel like so much is missing, without being able to explain it.” Some described situations where they found themselves trying to call or dial their number, only to remember that they cannot do that anymore, as this young man described: “I know that no one would answer, and she always used to answer (…) I miss it all the time, meeting her when I came home, because I remember how nice it used to be.” When they could not spend time with or talk to the person they preferred doing so with, many said they perceived life as as “empty” and “meaningless”.
The loss also became evident in the things that reminded them of their friend and that they were gone. Several experienced at times forgetting that their friend was gone, because they were so used to having that person in their lives. However, many things did make them remember the loss, as described by this young woman: “I am reminded of it when her brother comes by. And I am reminded of it when, I mean, there is always an empty seat when we all get together, there is always one piece of cake left”. Many of the bereaved friends have had experiences where they saw someone and thought it was their friend—something that also made them aware of the reality and the loss.
How the loss has affected other relationships
Several of the bereaved spoke about struggling with social relationships after the loss and not enjoying social situations like they used to. This caused some of the bereaved friends to withdraw from social life. As for this young woman: “When I am hanging out with friends, and it is the middle of summer and everyone is happy, and I just sit there and feel like I am not able to participate in the discussion or talk, because I do not want to, I am struggling because I miss them and only want to be with them.”
A few of the bereaved friends expressed not wanting to share their grief with the people around them, and in effect keeping it to themselves. This could be due to feelings of “bothering others” with their emotions or feeling like they should be able to “handle it themselves”. One young woman said this: “I feel like there is no space for it, no space in the friend group, at work, almost no space in the family (…) You have to take that space and say that you need to cry because you are sad. But you do not take that space, because you fear the reactions.” Others more actively or passively sought out or found comfort in other people and seeing that friends cared and became closer “felt good”. One man talked about realising that having other good friends helped and could fill some of the emptiness after the loss.
How the loss has affected the daily lives
Many of the bereaved friends talked about how the loss and subsequent grief impacted their daily functioning—it affected them in their work, schoolwork, and overall lives. They explained that suddenly going back to reality was difficult; Some isolated themselves or struggled with not being able to do anything. Others went back to school or work but were not able to perform the way they wanted or expected to. Functioning became difficult due to reminders or constant rumination, “noise that never stopped”, and grieving the loss also made it hard to be present in a class or work setting, due to feelings of sadness. Problems with sleep also made it hard to concentrate at school or work, like this young woman said: “I struggled with sleeping and woke up several times a night and could not wake up once I did fall asleep. It was tiring when I had to go to school and knew I had to get up a few hours later, so I could not sleep at all.” Some described more serious issues, like dropping out of school. For some these impairments of functioning led to anger, like this young woman says: “Things got so hard I could not finish school. This is something I have been very angry about, because it was my last year, I was angry that I could not make it work, and that they could not help me better.”
Related to the impairments of daily functioning and the mental exhaustion, some of the bereaved friends also experienced physiological or physical reactions after the loss, such as panic reactions, hyperventilating and feeling like they couldn’t breathe, as well as constant stress. One young woman struggled with self-harm and issues surrounding food after the loss. Some describe sleepless nights thinking of or dreaming about their deceased friend, others experienced nightmares, while some could sleep normally. One young man remembers struggling with dreams after the loss often involving weapons, and one young woman said she wished that she had also died that day. Others described a constant fear of death, for themselves or the people they love.
Processing of the grief
The bereaved friends have had to learn to live with the grief. For some it was hard processing the loss because of the event surrounding the death itself; in a way this grief “belonged to the country”, like one young woman says: “I think it would be easier to accept if it was another setting.” Several of the friends expressed concern with not being able to move on and being stuck in the grief process, like this girl: “I can’t fully accept that I am so far behind where I thought I would be. I don’t know if I misunderstood, but I thought I would have moved on more, I thought it would be easier, and I get frustrated when it’s not.” She further talked about how it is going to take a “long time before it gets easier.”
For many the loss has gotten better with time, and the young adults describe simultaneously being happy and unhappy, learning to live with the grief, and knowing that it will always be there, like a young woman says: “I have made a rule for myself, to not only associate July 22nd with grief, but love and laughter, because we shared so many nice moments”. They still remember the good times with their friend and express gratitude for having known this person, and even though they still miss them, the grief does not feel as heavy anymore. One young man says: “The grief is not as present anymore, but it is gradually being replaced, sometimes there are good feelings, I think it is gradually turning into memories.” Many of the friends talked about their attempts to try to move on with their lives, as one young woman says: “I can cry a little, and then I have to swallow it and continue with the day”; Another one describes it like this: “You remember how hard things were, and you have seen it in the people around you how hard it was, but you have to function, you have to wake up, you have to breathe, if not, you would die”.
In processing the grief, some of the young adults talked about the loss making everything seem meaningless, while others gained insight about themselves and their life. One young man says: “You want a loss to mean something (…), it has to mean something, if not it is meaningless, I mean, I think it is meaningless, I do.” Several of the bereaved friends felt that there was little joy left in the world without their friend, and that it would make no difference if they also died. Some of the friends experienced feelings of anger, not being able to reason or understand, like this young woman describes: “How are we going to love lots of people for them to just die, it's grotesque”. This can also be related to the nature of the death, like one young woman says: “She was so young, and had so much, if she had died in a traffic accident, I think that would be easier to understand, rather than that a person shot her in the head.” The bereaved friends struggled with understanding not only that they had lost their closest friend, but also that they had been killed. This led to despair and hurt. Several of the bereaved friends described feeling worthless when the world eventually moved on.
For others the loss and grief made them realise what was important to them and described the grief turning into healthy longing to help them be conscious and grow as a person, such as appreciating the smaller things in life. As one young woman says: “I have never been religious or anything, but I tried to find my own belief, find out what happens when you are gone, and tried to find solace in everything. I tried to look at the bigger picture, we are so small on this planet, and when we are gone, it is like it was before birth, or we just disappear, out into eternity. Maybe it is absurd, but I found comfort in that.” This perspective led some to realise that life is short, that they must live the best life they can, share the good and the bad times with other people, and take care of the people they love. They describe having realisations of never knowing if you get another day, of being made aware of their own mortality in a new way. But this awareness of mortality did not seem to scare them, and the insight was associated with something positive, something to make them appreciate life in a new way. One young woman says this made her think about choices in a new way, of not being afraid of consequences: “When I have had to make decisions the last few years, I have thought more about not focusing on the long-term. because I do not know how long I will live. I think about how suddenly it happened for those who were at Utøya, and that it could happen to me too, it is something I feel all the time, I do not know how long I will live.”
Many of the bereaved friends describe grieving as something unpleasant, like this young woman: “It is not something you want to feel (…) it is like jumping into a pool, you just, you don’t get yourself to do it, you know it's uncomfortable.” However, they could not avoid grieving, as described by this young woman: “It was very hard, but at the same time I was focused on having to get through it, it was not something I could swallow and bring up again a year later.” Many of the friends talked about actively focusing on getting through the grief by seeking comfort alone, in family, with friends or priests, or by talking about the loss, reading about the events, or going to the cemetery. For some, actively taking the time or place to grieve made it easier to go back to reality again without always getting distracted. Some of the bereaved friends explained that there was a comfort in taking the time to grieve and remember their friend, in knowing that they will not forget them, but “keeping them alive in their mind”.
Not being family
Even though the participants of this study were very close to the deceased, lack of recognition of friends as bereaved had implications for how they were met by professional helpers and other people, as well as how they saw themselves in relation to the loss. In some ways the friends felt forgotten, and not entitled to grieve in the same way as family or an “inner circle” of those affected. They especially experienced this in public condolences or during the funeral, where the focus was mostly on the family. One young woman expressed doubts concerning the closeness of the friendship, like she was not allowed to grieve: “You felt like, maybe you were overreacting, because everybody, no one thought you had suffered a loss, so why did you? Was it really that bad?”.
They felt that other people did not see them as part of the affected”, including getting help from professionals, compared to what the family was offered. After the killings the families were offered a lot of help and assistance, but the friends experienced not being offered anything, as this young woman says: “I feel like the closest family has gotten a lot, a lot of help, they still get help, all the help they want. But everyone else, there are so many who are suffering, who has not gotten any help at all.” Many of those who lost a friend experienced being put aside, not getting the help they could have needed—and even though they rationalise it and express understanding for regarding resources to the families, some of the bereaved friends in the study thought it “could have helped to be recognised as suffering from the beginning.”, as described by a young woman. Another young woman says: “I have understood that I am affected, but I am not bereaved.”
In addition to being forgotten or not receiving help, it seems like some of the friends don’t recognise themselves as being bereaved, even though they clearly are suffering and grieving the loss of their friend. They talk about how they “by definition” do not consider themselves as being bereaved, and that word being exclusive to the family, like this young man: “You can love them like family, but it is something different, filling the void after a friend is easier than filling the void after a lost brother. It will never be the same, there is a difference.”