It’s been over a year and two months since the day GR died. I think I’ve said it before, but I feel like I’ve lived about 10 lives since then. Often—and on the same day—I feel both 140 and four years old. Old as hell and like I’ve just been reborn.
I know people…friends…in the throes of deep, new, fresh, raw grief right now. I know where they are because I have been there. I have seen similar things.
When I talk with them and hear from them so many thoughts pass through my mind. There is so much I want to say, to comfort them, but the only thing I ever really say lately is “Feel all the feels right now. There is joy and light on the other side. Hang in there.”
Because it’s true.
I never in a million years thought I would be okay, even well and peaceful and happy again. I never thought that I’d walk outside and marvel at the sheer and overwhelming beauty of the blue sky and the white, puffy clouds and the massive, sturdy oak trees and the vibrant colors of the new spring blossoms like I do. I am in awe of the world around me on the regular now. I joke with my friends that I feel as if I’m living in my own little snowglobe. The beauty of the landscapes around me touches me on a level it never has before. Maybe it’s gratitude. Maybe it’s a true appreciation for the present moment that I could only arrive at by my own life experiences.
I wish GR didn’t have to die. I wish he didn’t have to suffer like he did. It was nearly unbearable to witness and, from what I could see, it was nearly unbearable for him to experience. It twisted up my insides in a way they never have been twisted up before. I felt physically ill myself. There was a lump in my throat that never went away the entire time he was sick. I felt as if my own insides had been carved out of my body. And exactly what he felt is something I will never truly know. I can’t ask him, although I wish that I could. I wish I could have one last conversation with him so I could ask him, “What the fuck was all that?! Can you believe that fucking happened? Holy shit, man.” I feel like I have an idea of what he would say, but then he often surprised me with his insight and perspective so I can’t really pretend to know. It’s, as he would say sometimes, neither here nor there. It happened and I can’t reflect with him about it. I can only reflect on my own.
When someone close to you dies you become a member of a club you didn’t want a membership to. But the things you learn about yourself, others, the world, humanity, love, pain, life—I could go on and on—are of such great value. I read a quote the other day by James Baldwin that made me pause and reflect. It said,“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It…taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people.”
Reading his words made me think about two things: 1) Our pain has much to teach us about ourselves and others. It is indeed what connects us. And 2) Going through raw grief is kind of like facing an open wound. That is a perfect description. It is exactly like that.
In the early stages of grief I often felt like my insides were on my outside. Like I was a live wire that needed to be clipped and twisted neatly back into shape.
I think I’ve said it before but I am even slightly surprised at my own resilience. Because I know I am not special. I am as human and as flawed as anyone else. I have just been given an opportunity to see how resilient the human spirit can be. We are a tough lot. You can be completely flattened by life but you can breathe new life into yourself. You have that choice.
For me, the new life came from traveling and immersing myself in the wonders of nature and art. From being afraid to travel the world alone at such a vulnerable time in my life…but to do it anyway. Because what’s the worst that could happen? It came from spending quality time with my precious nieces and nephews. Seeing the world through a child’s eyes. They seem to operate primarily in the present. It came from letting the pain and the trauma of the past wash completely over me and through me. Facing it head on and learning to express it rather than be afraid of it. To believe the healers and therapists wiser than I am that this pain and suffering was as much a part of my experience as any joy or happiness had been. As James Baldwin wrote, these things that torment us are the things that connect us. It came from watching someone I love die in the prime of his life and truly understanding that my own life is a gift that I will not take for granted. It came from choosing to pick myself up off the floor every single day, over and over. From choosing to believe in my own strength. It came from listening to my mom tell me “The sun will come out tomorrow” and believing her. Because she was someone who knew this from her own life experiences.
Well, Mom, the sun has come out. You were—as you often are—correct.
I am not afraid of death anymore. I mean, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any fear about the way that I am going to die. I hope I don’t suffer tremendously. I hope I go to sleep peacefully one night and just don’t wake up the next morning. Isn’t that what we all want? But I am being completely honest when I say that I’m not afraid of death itself. Because, for me, death has been one of the greatest teachers in my life.