My friend Maggie was, herself, a contradiction - a tiny person with a huge personality; a beautiful woman who was most comfortable in fuzzy novelty socks from Target and jeans; a thoughtful, quiet presence with an enormous and unforgettable laugh. So in a way, her death on December 6, 2007, seemed to fit that mold. That profound sadness and grief at a time when the rest of the world was celebrating and filled with hope.
It's been 8 years. Eight years since I got the phone call and lived the following 5 days that would change me forever. Eight years since one of my very best friends quietly, beautifully, and with incredible strength, left this world. Eight years since I saw her face.
Her death was unexpected. She wasn't sick. It wasn't a disease or an affliction. It was just "one of those things," which is what people say when they don't know what else to say. She was there and then she was not. She hung on for days, and I truly believe that was so that we could all come see her and say our goodbyes. Even though we weren't really prepared for the fact that we were saying goodbye.
I vividly remember looking out of the window at the hospital on the morning of her death before she died, knowing what was about to happen in a very short time, and watching the cars on the Beltway below race to wherever they were going. I remember wanting to scream at their drivers "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IS HAPPENING IN HERE?" because, to me, it was unfathomable and unfair that the entire world was not grieving and feeling those same feelings as we were. That this beautiful life was about to be gone forever and there they were, going about their daily routine, unfazed by the sadness and grief and horror that was happening so painfully and acutely right then and there to me. But I didn't scream. I sat at the window, held my very pregnant belly in silence and cried. And to this day, when I drive on the Beltway and see that hospital, my heart aches and my eyes well with tears.
Even though it has been eight years, I am still unprepared for the way I feel in early December. I always know, in my head, that the anniversary is coming, but I am never prepared. I know it's coming. In the back of my mind, I think "OK December 6 is coming ... it will be sad." If only grief were logical. If only grief understood that time is supposed to make things easier to bear. I've stopped trying to figure out why I feel the way that I do. I just accept it and deal. After all, life goes on, which is a painful truth of grief. There is work to be done, children to be mothered, errands to be run, bills to be paid, life to be lived in all of its grand and mundane details. Grief is always there.
As I write this post, I have a candle flickering nearby. It's the holidays, and I love to have holiday candles in my house. I've had to take a few moments from writing this to wipe away my tears and I find myself looking at my candle and the flame, and it occurs to me that grief is so much like a flickering flame. It's always there burning ... when it starts the flame is the largest and the most intense, and then the fire settles a bit but it keeps burning and it stays burning, sometimes low and quiet, and sometimes, without warning or reason, bursting with an unexpected bolt of fire. There's no real rhyme or reason, and there's no real antidote to it. It's just there. And in a way, it's comforting. I hate to think of a time in my life when I am not grieving the loss of my very dear friend. My 8 years of grief have been just like that: a long slow burn with occasional and unpredictable bursts of profound sadness. Such is life. And such is death.