On Grief

In my backyard, there’s a patch of dirt that absolutely refuses to grow grass. I say “patch,” but truthfully, it’s probably sixty percent of the total backyard area. When it rains, the dirt patch becomes a mud patch. It’s treacherously slick when wet and takes days to dry out. I never paid it much attention until it became The dirt patch. I didn’t appreciate the grass that grew in spite of the Texas heat. It was only a fact; quite literally, just a part of the scenery.

Years ago, we had our siding replaced. During the replacement process, the contractors left debris on the grass. Trash not taken care of immediately has a way of multiplying and traveling. To this very day, I can go into the dirt patch and find leftover old siding pieces that the dirt patch has claimed for its own. That grass underwent trauma for weeks during the construction until, finally, it ceased to exist.

Two years ago, my best friend died. Her death was expected, but sudden. The trauma rolled over me in waves until, like the grass, I ceased to exist. Some might call it dissociation. Others might say it was a depressive episode. I was a specter in my own life, fighting against the void that constantly threatened to drown me.

Months flipped by like too-slow frames in an old movie, and I hardly noticed their passing. Holidays came and went in a flurry of uncomfortable stares and “how are you doing?”s. I found out quickly that many people who asked, though well-meaning, didn’t want a truthful answer. I fell back on “I’m fine”s and plastered-on smiles followed by escapes to the bathroom.

I would stare at my reflection without recognizing the face looking back. She was a stranger. Someone I’d seen a few times, maybe in passing at the grocery store or at a yoga class. Had her eyes always been that color? Had she always been so pale? When was the last time she’d slept though the night? My cheekbones strained at my thinning skin and I wondered if I’d eaten.

Time is a heartless teacher, and she drove ever forward. She hardened me, closed me off. In some ways, I felt betrayed by such a sudden death, as though it was a personal offense. In truth, I wasn’t owed anything by a woman on her deathbed. I’m still not owed anything. But in the stillness of night while the world around me sleeps, I still feel the ghost of that old hurt settle into the bed beside me.

I found days difficult to navigate; it was as if the earth had shifted on its axis but no one told me. My own self-imposed writing deadlines, dutifully met in the past, came and went with nothing to show for them. Projects fell to the wayside. My husband stood sentry, concerned for me but letting me have space, making sure I was cared for while I weathered the storm raging inside me.

Looking back, there are at least six months in my memory that are unaccounted for. Blank. If I see pictures from that time, the memory is hazy, as though someone else is describing the scene to me.

Before I’d gotten confirmation of her passing, I felt it like a physical thing. I felt her absence from the earth in my bones. When she died, I felt a part of me – a vital, blood-of-my-blood part of me – die, too.

After her death, I shared this on social media:

Today, the world stopped making sense to me. Today, I found out my best friend passed on Friday evening. I’m angry, I’m soul-crushingly sad, and even a little scared for the future ahead without her. If you met Madi, you had no option but to love her. She was kind, strong, smart, and she had a way of making you feel like you were all of those things too. I’ll miss her teasing me about the fact that I can’t work foreign toilets. I’ll miss trading recipes and having whole conversations in Harry Potter quotes. I’ll miss staying up way too late on the weeks I’d come visit because we didn’t want to waste a single moment. But I am so grateful for the memories I do have and can cherish in her absence. Madi, you were my family. I love you so much babes.

In the years since, I’ve been largely silent in my grief. It was – and remains to be – a private thing for me. I’ve never found it easy to share my feelings, and doing so after her passing felt more performative than truthful. Besides, the only person I really wanted to talk to about it was her.

The thing about grief that no one tells you is that it’s never truly gone. The sorrow is waiting for you in the darkness of insomniac nights, or in the brightness of a memory very nearly forgotten. Some people say that grief is love with nowhere to go. I think grief is the price we pay for love. It is the gold coins on our loved one’s eyes as they pass over the River Styx. To love someone is a privilege, and there is no privilege in this world that is free.