The X Factor

X as in the Roman numeral 10.  As in the number of years that my dear friend Maggie has been gone.  As in that dark mark on the calendar on December 6 that will never go away.  

I was recently chatting with a friend who lost her cousin around this time of year last year.  We were saying that of course there is never an ideal time for someone to die unexpectedly (or even expectedly), but the holidays are a particularly brutal time for that to happen.  To have that  unbearably sad anniversary coincide with the joyful season of Advent and Christmas is just hard.  It is why I found myself back in 2007, just a week after Maggie's passing, standing in the paper plate aisle of my local grocery store sobbing uncontrollably upon hearing the song Ave Maria playing.  The world around me was celebrating and happy and joyous ... and I was in the throes of grief with no way out.  But I got it together, I composed myself, took a deep breath, and finished my grocery shopping.  Step by step, day by day, forward forward forward.  Time doesn't stop for those who are grieving.  And that is how we got to this point - 10 years from the date of her death.  It's both the blink of an eye and a lifetime ago all at once.  

Which is how I arrived at the title of this post.  When I was thinking about it being the 10 year anniversary of her death, the Latin major in me immediately thought about that letter X for the number 10 ... which prompted me to think of the phrase "the X Factor."  I looked it up and it seems so fitting:  

a factor with unknown or unforeseeable consequences

Her death was the X Factor in my life ... those unknown and unforeseeable consequences: a certain smell, a certain song, a food, a flashbulb memory.  Things that are clearly connected to Maggie and her life and her memory, and then things that are seemingly unrelated, but for whatever reason, bring her to the forefront of my mind.  Her X factor is a cycle of simultaneous comfort and sadness: comfort in that she is always there; sadness in that she is not really there.

I think about Maggie every single day.  There is always something to remind me of her.  And while her death is now something that I remember and think about, rather than palpably feel like I did in the beginning, every anniversary is still quite hard.  We have all moved forward; we will never move "on".  She would have wanted us to move forward and live and love our lives and laugh and seek joy and happiness.  And I think that all of us who were left behind have done that.  But there is a piece of me that is, and forever will be, stuck back in 2007, back in that Maryland hospital room where she breathed her last breath surrounded by her loved ones.  I think of that often ... not in a morbid way, but as a not so gentle reminder that tomorrow is never promised. That we all went to bed on November 30 and said our goodnights and naively assumed December 1 would be a regular day and then the world turned upside down and then time and life paused -- for just a moment -- 5 days later on December 6 when she died.   

This picture, from my friend Missy's wedding, is so very Maggie. She always managed to find her way behind a DJ booth and it was no surprise that she did so at weddings.  I love that about this photo and love that she's so beautiful and smiling ... that she was grabbing that microphone and probably a second away from laughing that laugh that I miss so much.  I wanted to leave you all, and myself, with this image of her.  It makes me smile and my heart hurt just a bit less today.  December 6 will always hurt.  I will always be sad.  I will always remember. 

Maggie will always be young and beautiful.  She will always be missed.  I take great comfort in this traditional Irish blessing when I think of Maggie:

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind ever be at your back
May the sun shine warm on your face
and the rains fall soft upon your field
And until we meet again
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. 

I was blessed to know Maggie and more blessed to have been her friend.  I miss her.  
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