One year, today, since the most terrible thing.
A year ago, a year seemed like a long time – long enough for things to look different, long enough to “get used to” the fact of her absence. And, on the one hand, it is a long time: I don’t cry every single day any more, and very rarely at school. The fact of her death no longer feels quite so much like a pistol-whip every time it crosses my brain.
In the last 2 weeks, as we have approached this terrible anniversary, I have felt myself regressing, and only in doing so did I realise how physical my intense grief was. Yesterday afternoon, as I felt the minutes tick by, bringing me closer to December 1st, I swear I could feel my eyes drawing back into my head, feel my smile unhook at the edges, my skin start to hurt where my clothes touched.
By feeling it all come back, I realise how bad it was. And yet…
Over and over again, I have learned the power of powerlessness. Over and over again, I have had to admit to frailty, to fear, to loneliness. I have had to say “I can’t. “I won’t.” “I need help.” “I’m scared.” And over and over again, I have found the most strength in the moments I have admitted weakness, the most relief in the moments I have admitted pain.
I am less scared now, than I was a year, even six months, ago. I walk my dog in my neighbourhood after dark. I sleep with the window open again.
I have social anxiety that I did not have, before. I still struggle with small-talk, afraid that I will somehow stumble into the conversational landmine that is Lauren’s death.
I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that surrounds me, from the people who love me best and also from total strangers. I still, once in a while, have a flash of someone who called, sent a note, a card, a text, a prayer in those dark days of last December and January, when I was so deep in the hole of grief that I could not respond to everyone. My gratitude defies words.
A year ago, I was terrified that this would break us, that we would discover that Lauren was the glue that held us all together, and that without her, we would melt apart. I am proud that we are still holding on to one another, that we have burrowed into one another instead of spiralling away. At each milestone, we have reached out to one another, holding hands and hearts across miles and months.
More than all of this, though, I have come to categorically reject the rhetoric of glass-half-full-look-on-the-bright-side-there-is-a-reason-for-everything optimistic fatalism. Sometimes, there simply is no bright side. Sometimes, there simply is no reason. For me, the strangest hopefulness has come from embracing that. Because, if a good thing does not outweigh and erase the terrible thing, then the reverse is also true – no terrible thing can outweigh or erase a good thing. Hot chocolate, with whipped cream and sprinkles, delivered to my office by a kind colleague, does not erase an unexpected dark, teary, lonely moment in the middle of a school day. But the dark moment also does not erase the hot chocolate, or the kindness. Appreciating, treasuring my friendship with Lauren does not erase the violent tragedy of her death, but nor does her death erase the magic of our friendship.
We cannot measure good and evil against one another and see which one wins. This is not a zero-sum game. Both simply are. Good and evil. Light and dark. Sun and shadow. Friendship and loss.
And so, what I choose to cling to most is the reality, the evidence, of Lauren being my friend. At her memorial service, Becky and I held hands and eulogized our friend, remembering the magic, the belly-aching laughter, the miracle of the friendship-turned-family we had all built. I return often to the words I wrote and read on that day, reciting some of them like prayers when I miss her the most. While you can read the whole text here, the parts I return to most are this:
When you consider all of this, it is nothing short of a miracle that not only did we tolerate one another, but that we continued, day after day, and year after year, to LIKE one another, to enjoy one another’s company, to laugh together until our bellies ached and tears dripped from our faces, and also to turn to one another in our darkest and saddest moments.
and then, the very end:
And so, our dear friend Lauren, our missing piece: Our story is still going. This is not a chapter we ever expected or wanted, but all of our shared stories will go on: our friendship with one another; our love for your daughter, our stewardship of Coppercreek. We will miss you with every beat of our broken hearts. We know that you will let us be sad for now, and we promise not to be sad forever. We will learn the things we need to learn, and we will take care of each other along the way. Someday soon, we will laugh until the tears drip from our faces, and when we do, we will raise a glass to you.
My heart is still broken, but my glass is raised. My story is still going.
Earlier today, I wrote a post for the camp blog, about how we can live Lauren’s legacy of light and love. You can read it, here.