As some of you know, I recently discovered my close friend in his apartment after he had passed away from natural causes. I don’t wish to write about our relationship, as he cannot consent, but a mentor of mine reminded me it often helps me to write about what I am feeling, so here I am.
The moment I found him, it was as though cold barbed wire wrapped itself around my insides, a tangled thicket coiled from my throat to the pit of my stomach, piercing my heart and my lungs and my very soul.
Every moment is pain. And the moments that are less painful, when the coils loosen briefly, when I can laugh and smile and enjoy a second, lead to a re-tightening, a constriction of guilt and remorse and grief. I feel guilty for living. I feel guilty for taking pleasure in my life. I feel guilty for being here when he isn’t.
As both an EMT and someone focused in the behavioral health aspects of public health, I am somewhat well versed in trauma, and what it does to someone. When I went to our Counseling and Psychological Services office, they gave me a handout on trauma, something that looked like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, with words that were so familiar it burned my eyes to read them. The handout reminded me to be prepared for flashbacks. For nightmares. For insomnia. I knew this, I knew what to expect, and I watch it happening. I am two people: the rational Lillie, watching my experience, knowing it is part of what I must do to deal; and the emotional Lillie, broken, scattered, tremulous and hopeless.
I know the stages of grief. I know the signs of trauma. I see them all in myself and yet I cannot stop them. I must experience them to heal but healing requires re-breaking. I have to re-set my core self before it can heal, and the re-setting is painful beyond belief.
I am lucky to have known him. I know it, and I feel it. But still I feel myself yearning for the impossible. The bargaining stage set in, and I found myself thinking, if only I could have taken his place.
I am not religious, so the part of me that seeks meaning in something so meaningless is confusing to the rest of me, but I find myself grasping for some purpose. Some reason. Some kind of place to channel this fury and horror, something other than the gaping holes being pierced into my heart with every breath I take, every extra breath I get that he didn’t.
It will take time. I know this, and accept it, just as I fail to accept my new reality. That, too, will take time.
Every flashback, I try to replace with a good memory. Every time I notice my shaking hands, I grasp something. Every time I feel inconsolably lonely, I try to reach out.
There is no sense in this. There is no fairness.
It seems difficult to be thankful in this time, but I have received such great support. Dear friends, rushing to my side as I dealt with the police, when my legs could no longer hold me. My family, piling into a car and driving the six hours through the darkest night. Those who stayed by my side, those who check in. I would not manage without them. I would be lost.
So I will try, tomorrow, to find the thankfulness in my heart. To be grateful for what I have, and to be grateful even for what I have lost—the moments I did have, the kindness I experienced.
My pain may recede, and become bearable, become part of who I am. One day. In the distant future. But my gratitude will remain.