“You haven’t heard anything about her right?”
“Have you heard anything from her?”
“Did you see his post?”
On June 24th, 2016, these are the texts and messages I woke to – sent to me in response to a Facebook post indicating her passing. Hours of calling her house, her cell. Hours of messaging friends and old acquaintances. One phone call to clear it all up in five words.
On my best friend’s birthday, I learned she had past away about five days prior. Four days later, I was at her wake. The day after, her funeral.
There I was on her birthday, the person everyone went to first because I was her best friend. Because I was supposed to have all the answers. What kind of best friend was I if I didn’t even know that she had passed away? My last message from her was on May 28th, when she told me that she was being readmitted for treatment, that the cancer had spread, that she no longer had the strength to chat anymore, so I shouldn’t bother for the next week or so.
A week was gone, I messaged. No answer.
Days passed. I messaged. No answer.
My birthday went by. No message.
People start texting me, asking me if I’ve heard from her. I respond that I’ve gotten nothing for weeks.
I call the hospital. She’s in transfer. I call again. She’s no longer listed.
Life is so short, so fleeting, that it could be gone in the blink of an eye.
“3 words in that text.
Did you hear. Did you hear. Did you hear.
Cause I don’t understand
Read it again
Can’t catch my breath
Turn off the news it must be wrong
This can’t be true
Can’t believe that you’re gone
How can they say, you’re where you belong
You should be here, and I shouldn’t be singing this song”
In the days following I couldn’t help but feel as if I let her down. I wasn’t there the month before she passed, with the last time I saw her being May 21st for GOT7’s concert. Throughout the next few months, regret weighed me down.
I should have gone on that New York trip with her. I should have spent more time with her when she was feeling down. I should have replied to her texts faster. I should have tried harder. I should’ve spent more time with her. I should’ve been with her in the hospital. I should have tried harder to reach her, to find her in those weeks of silence. I should have, I should have, I should have…
My heart was heavy, my mind was weighed down, and I kept falling back into that downward spiral.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
This was my mantra through the months. I even got a garbage poster that had this on it simply because it helped. I couldn’t change what I did and didn’t do. I couldn’t go back and take away the cancer that stole her life. I couldn’t change the fact that I never brought her to church, despite her interest in attending. I couldn’t change the lack of the communication, the transfers, the way we found out.
But I should’ve had the courage to go see her parents. I should’ve had the courage to rampage through every hospital in the downtown core in order to find her. I should’ve had the courage to call earlier.
I would’ve hung out with her more if I didn’t spend so much time with my boyfriend. I would’ve gone to New York if I didn’t let my parents stop me. I would’ve invited her to my house if I had had the courage to ask. I would’ve told her more about me, about my life, about the secrets I kept, if I’d had the courage to share.
I guess wisdom is more simply knowing that the could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve’s are all stones that weigh you down until you start drowning in your own self-hatred and regret.
“Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief” -Proverbs 14:13
Who am I to be happy? Who am I to deserve life? Who am I to have a future?
I’ll tell you now – my counsellor had no clue. First off, she felt wrong – she obviously didn’t care how my best friend’s name was pronounced, nor did she really do anything except say, “Okay, mhmm, and you knew her for how long again?” I just wasn’t feeling the love or care I expected to. So I left.
I ended up at this program called MATES that matches you with people who’ve had similar experiences and can give you advice with how to cope. It helped a little, and gave me a chance to just pour my heart out to someone who understood the need to just be raw and honest and sad.
I later went to CCF and poured my guts out to my brothers and sisters in Christ and one piece of comfort and wisdom stuck out to me:
“In breaking you down, God will build you back up. He gives strength to the weak. He will never allow you to face something that you cannot handle.”
What could I face, then? I was able to face the loss of my grandfather, who passed away only one month before my best friend. I was able to survive her death. I was able to attend her wake, her burial, and still survive the months after. So what was killing me from within?
I didn’t really need to ask myself because I already knew: regret.
Sure, I accepted that I couldn’t change anything, but what can I do now with the cards I’d been dealt.
One thing I started doing was sharing more. When people asked how I was doing, I’d tell them straight up that I was feeling terrible. That life was sucking. That my heart was hurting. I shared my sins, I shared my regrets, I shared my grief. As time went on, the burden on my heart was becoming lighter.
In my weakness, I also helped to lift the burden that others felt. Somehow, my openness made other people more open. I learned so much about people during those months – it surprised me, but also broke my heart. Those who seemed to not have a care in the world were suffering from depression. Those who seemed faithful were losing heart in the church. Those who seemed strong were just as weak as I was.
There was not point in my facade. Sure, it made people more comfortable, and it made conversations a lot less awkward, but in knowing someone fully, in sharing their burdens, there was something in that that helped release me from my own.
“We’re so sorry for you loss.” -Everyone ever
My friend and I spoke to our school about getting our friend a posthumous degree. Yeah, it wouldn’t do much for her now, but of all the things that were on her bucket list, finishing university had been on top. Passing away a year and eight credits shy of her graduation date, we wondered if it’d be possible.
After a lot of emails back and forth, some in person talks with the associate deans, a couple calls, and awkward introductions, we got it set up.
Which is why, a week ago, I walked across the stage once to accept my own degree, and then again to accept hers.
To be quite honest with you. It sucked. It sucked so much.
As I walked across that stage, it was like my heart and my world was crashing down around me all over again.
She was supposed to be there. She was supposed to be walking across that stage, getting her green hood, wearing a gown she’d complain cost way too much.
She was supposed to live.
Now here’s the part that kicks me in the gut every single time I think about it.
After her death, we’ve seen her parents three or four times. I know they’re lonely, and I know they’re still hurting, so we try our best to keep them updated on our lives and to get them out of the house whenever we’re in town.
During one of the meetings, her father told us about what she was like during the weeks before her passing. He said she wasn’t really in pain, because of the morphine, so she slept a lot. She also spoke a lot. Not to her parents, but to her friends. Unintelligible, broken conversations with people who weren’t there, who couldn’t be there. She mentioned names, and events, both past and in the future – things we could look back on fondly, things that we’ll all wish she were there for.
It simultaneously broke my heart and gave me some peace. Even though none of us knew, even though we couldn’t be there with her, we were still there to her. We were good enough friends to her in life that she kept us with her, that she remembered us, that she needed us there with her in those final moments.
Even if I were there in her final moments, what could I have done. Would she have even known I was there? Her father’s admission gave me peace in knowing that she knew she was loved, that I had been a good friend to her, that she didn’t die alone.
As her birthday looms and her death date passes, I can’t help but feel helpless again. I don’t know what I can do for her anymore. That’s not to say I won’t still miss her (cause Lord knows she still crosses my mind daily), but I don’t know what else I can do except live and be grateful to have been a part of her life.
Is this moving forward? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know where to go from here, but I’m taking every memory I have of her and cherishing them. I’ll speak of her lots and remember her fondly, because she was a big part of my life and I miss her so so SO much each and every day…