It has been 5 years since I found my best friend and roommate dead in our apartment. It is strange typing this sentence out, but maybe not for the reasons that would seem readily apparent to an outsider. Obviously no one wants to find a loved one dead in the home they share, but on this day it is not the craziest part of the story. I have come to the kind of peace with this loss that allows me to live my day-to-day life, there will always be a part of me back in that apartment on a snowy January day discovering a fork in the road of my life, but the reason I find it so odd now has more to do with time than anything else. How can it be five whole years? I ask this in almost the same vein as I used to think “How can she really be gone?”
If on the day my roommate passed away you asked me “How will you feel about this in five years?” I wouldn’t have had an answer. In the reality that shock, trauma, and grief had thrust me into there was no “Five years from now,” there was only a minute-to-minute existence. There was how do I get from the bed to the bathroom and once I figure that out we can go from there, but let’s not overwhelm ourselves just yet. Five years? I wasn’t even sure there would be a tomorrow. How could I think of a half-decade without my friend who was here just yesterday? How does that make sense? No one answers the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” with “Ok, so my best friend is dead for starters.” If anything I was furious that the world had not stopped on dime and waited for me to be ready to rejoin the pace.
It seemed cruel that everything kept going and I was stuck in a spot where I just wanted everyone to hold on for one damn second. I tried to jump back into a routine, but it felt like a YouTube video of someone trying to hop onto a fast-moving treadmill, a lot of pain and crying on the floor. Eventually I figured out how to slow the machine down to a light trot, hop on, and start walking again. I started marking the time just a bit, it’s been a week (HOW HAS IT BEEN A WEEK)! Alright now it’s one month (Dear lord the world is unforgiving and cruel)! I have had 3 cheeseburgers since my friend died (There will be many more, this is how I cope)! At the year mark I thought that maybe I’d felt all the feelings I was going to feel over missing my friend, it was like a ride and I had completed one loop and now I would not, could not, be surprised by any twists and turns, but that was wrong.
Every year that goes by it’s like you enter the starting gate for a new ride. And as the years piled up I realized I would never truly get over missing my friend and that is ok! Knowing that grief doesn’t just disappear is the first step towards managing it. It doesn’t debilitate me, but gives me peace knowing that sometimes she can come whizzing back into my life and yes I will cry and yes I will feel empty, but I will have her with me somewhere in my heart or head and that is a comfort. We keep them with us and that can bring joy and pain, but for me that is better than feeling nothing. When she died I wanted to stop feeling, I really thought it would be better and I hoped the process of grieving was a road to the end of feeling so sad. After 5 years I can say the road is a loop and it leads from me to my friend and over again as long as I have a working brain. The course becomes easier to get through as you start to attain the tools to navigate it, but it will never be a perfect lap. It’s not like I actively want to feel bad or cry or break down watching a movie that features suicide or chest compressions, but when that inevitably happens I know the flip side of the coin is that my friend is there with me in that moment.
So five years has gone and more will keep stacking up. I’ll mark the anniversaries and swap stories about my friend and keep working my way around the loop. There will be the occasional pit stops to visit with my dear departed friend, a new song or movie or night sky that calls her to mind and I’ll manage it without even having to hop off the treadmill. In some ways I find it sad that I don’t emote as deeply as I did in the immediate aftermath, but in reality I do still have that feeling it’s just become part of who I am and what I carry around with me as a person. That is the legacy of those who leave us, we take them into us and make them flower in ways we never could have imagined. They change our being and the way we interact with the world, we become different, but the same. Every year that passes it becomes even more deeply seeded and that is how I keep my friend alive through the years that simply won’t stop passing.