The 17th of each month marks another month that my best friend is no longer here. But I don’t normally look at the 17th as any different as the 16th, or the 18th, or the 2nd or the 28th. They are all days without him. I have learned over the nearly two and half years since he passed away that there are days with no particular meaning that can pack a punch just as hard as the ones slotted by anniversaries.
It has been 822 days since my world was turned upside down. It has been 822 days since a text awoke me in the middle of the night, and then a phone call, and the start of the process of unimaginable grief. It’s been 822 days, so by societal standards, I should have moved on by now. I should be over it. I should have long since pieced my life back together to normalcy.
In many ways, I have. I have found a way to sleep again. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night, my mind almost begging me to wake up from the reality it thinks has been a nightmare. I have become more social. Although I have grown intolerant of people who need constant attention, find the world to revolve around them and have a general sense of neediness. Most importantly to me, I laugh. That is one thing I literally thought would never happen again. How could I laugh again and how could I be happy? How could there be joy to experience with this much pain?
So yes, in many ways life has improved, and grief has tamed itself. But on Day 822 I learned a lesson about grief that has me even more aware of her presence and power. After reading a book, where *spoiler alert* a friend is unexpectedly dies, those feelings of utter sorrow creeped in, like a small wave gently extended itself onto land, until suddenly the beach has been consumed by high tide.
I lay the book down, only halfway through the chapter I had committed to finishing before bed. The feelings of the main character – ones of utter despair, the loss of breath, the heart sinking, the wonder of how this could happen, and even yet, how life will go on – all invited themselves into my heart once again.
Before I knew it, I was envisioning Matt, my best friend, one whose presence has never been replicated in my life (and I know never will be). I envisioned his smile – his perfect white teeth that seemed to illuminate a room. I could hear his laugh, echoing in my ears. I remembered the last time we ever saw one another and the hug that we shared that I could still feel. That was when it hit me that all of these things were gone. My life has been empty of them for 822 days, and that number will only continue to grow. That is when I broke down. The grief was back. Suddenly the 822 days since Matt passed away, boiled down to seconds and I was back to the night where I found out Matt died.
I scanned photos of Matt, hoping that seeing his face, his smile, would bring one of my own. But suddenly my mind wondered to the main character of the novel I was reading – there were now decades of years of potential, of love, of laughter, of happiness, of success that were not to be lived. They hope and excitement for the future was gone.
How was he not here? How could this world exist without him? How was I living and going on with my life without him here? He is my partner in crime, the package deal that became how we were identified by friends and suddenly I was on my own. I am in the throws of the chaos of grief as if my phone was suddenly going off to notify me that Matt was gone. The 822 days – the time that is supposed to heal these wounds – were gone. The hurt was as fresh as it was the night he died.
That was when I remembered that the simple moments of reading a sentence in a book, smelling the ingredients of a cooked meal, hearing a certain song on the radio – no matter how long since you lost someone you love – can bring you back to that precise moment when your life was changed forever. Grief may become gentler with time, but it doesn’t lose is sharpness. It can find you and poke you at any moment, leaving you bleeding out the pain you thought has subsided. You put pressure on this wound but the grief is gushing until you realize you cannot stop it and you allow the bleeding to run its course.
There is no timeline for grief. Yes, 822 days have passed but there will be 20 more sets of 822 days still to endure. Day 1,045 may be one where I feel the happiest I have ever, while Day 1,783 will be the worst of them all. We are not suddenly cured of our grief, our lives do not suddenly erase the life of the one we love. We have a hole in our hearts that can not be filled, but only learned to live with. Even as time passes, the loss never truly leaves us, we only learn to bear it. We only learn how to make it less burdensome and painful. But that doesn’t mean grief won’t occasionally get the upper hand. If our loss is definite, shouldn’t our grief in a sense be definite, too? I don’t write that to sound pessimistic. Our grief is a sign that we have loved deeply. Our grief is something that lives with us for as long as our loss does. It may fade into the background, or it may be summoned by a subtle reminder. But just as our grief lives with us, so does our joy.
As I write this blog, a photo is shared with me, from a summer night going into my junior year of college. That is when I remember that just as the time from when you lose someone can collapse and seem just like yesterday, so too can the time of complete joy. I remember the fun night hanging out at Erin’s new apartment before catching the last subway train to Chippewa. I remember our antics and the amazingly hysterical night that ensued. I remember the laughter, the happiness and the love and it was all captured in this photo.
Last night, I cried as much as I did the night I learned Matt passed away. I felt the numbness, the guilt, the sorrow, the wonderment of how life could be happy – all these feelings taking turn dancing with my heart and my mind. Today, I was reminded that the joy that was present in our friendship some never experience. The friendship I have with Matt I had for less than decade on this earth, but was significant to fill my entire lifetime. I can be transported to the hysterical nights of high school and college and after when Matt would pull up to my house and ask me where we were headed and the simple yet unforgettable adventures that would begin. They were simple moments that to the normal person would seem ordinary, but to us, is what defined our friendship. I remember singing along to songs in his car, I remember the parties we threw at our apartment. I remember shopping for hairspray after his mom passed away and wondering how I’d help him through it. I remember him shaving off my flow. I remember the road trips on random nights. I remember the joy.
I have to remember the joy, because the grief will not go away. When the grief rings my doorbell I will greet it with fond memories – of love and happiness, and of the best friendship I could ask for. So yes, 822 days have passed since I lost my best friend. But the countless days of friendship I had with him on this earth – while one day will be outnumbered by the days without him – will never be darkened. They will only continue to lighten my days and remind me of a friendship that has made me a better person and friend, that has allowed me to know the fruits of laughter and love that have made my days the happiest.