Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When Someone Else Dies

It all started this weekend when one of my best friend's grandmothers passed away. She wrote a status letting everyone know what happened and headed home to be with her family in San Diego. Since Blake passed away, I have made a point of immediately "liking" any status about mourning. I feel so much empathy for people who reach out in this way, so I figure that I can support them by at least acknowledging that I've seen what they wrote. However, when I saw my best friend's status, I didn't call or text. I didn't even "like" it.

I spent the rest of my weekend with the news of her grandmother in the back of my mind, but never made the step to actually reach out. I distracted myself with girl's night Friday and a date on Saturday, but it wasn't until Sunday night that I crafted a text. I rattled off the usual "I'm so sorry for your loss" and "I'm here to talk if you want," and even made an excuse for myself by acknowledging that I should've said something earlier, but I knew she was busy with family. I could feel her anger and disappointment through her response. Two days had already passed, she was only a few miles away, and that was the best I could do? I really had no excuse for myself, so I apologized again and left her alone.

It wasn't until last night, when talking to another friend who's grandfather is dying, that I realized what happened. As he was explaining how hard things have been, I immediately went to telling him what a blessing it is to be faced with someone's mortality, but still have time with him. He said he felt the opposite, as it is increasingly hard on everyone to have things be drawn out and difficult for so long. But then I pushed back and told him how lucky he was to be able to say goodbye, to say everything he wants to say before it's too late. I'd give anything to have had that gift.

He didn't want to be having this conversation and asked if we could stop talking about it. I was in tears texting him when it all clicked. Instead of being an impartial participant in the conversation like I should have been, I was projecting my feelings about Blake's death onto his situation with his grandpa. I'd taken something tragic going on with him and made it about me.

My mind raced back to the moment a few days ago when I saw my best friend's status. When I read it, I remember feeling that sharp pain in my heart that can only be understood by someone who's experienced a devastating loss. Without even realizing it, I shut my laptop and distracted myself because her pain started reminding me of my own.

As soon as I made the connection last night, I wrote out everything in an effort to explain my behavior to her. I was scared. Terrified. Since she is the first person close to me who's lost someone since Blake died, the idea of hearing her in mourning must have freaked me out. I guess I had been doing so well that I was afraid to be back in that place again: thinking about death and funerals and all of the pain that goes with just having lost someone you love. I finally realized after talking to my friend coping with his grandpa in the hospital that I wasn't ready to talk to her right when I heard her news. I had to mentally prepare myself because I was scared. I didn't know if I could be there for her without thinking only about Blake and my own pain.

I wish I could've been there for her like she wanted and expected me to, but I wasn't. There's no going back and fixing it now, so all I can do is understand the lesson I've learned in all of this. From this point forward, any other death I hear about, experience through a friend, or experience with my own loved ones will remind me of Blake. It's not because I'm selfish or self-centered, it's just natural. But knowing this means I need to understand that even though it's inevitable, it can be separated. Yes, I can think about him and my own pain and how it relates, but I have to remember that every death is unique for every person involved.

To be a friend you need to put aside your own suffering and focus on whatever the other person is feeling. Maybe I'm not strong enough yet or enough time hasn't passed, but this is obviously something I need to work on. Because after all, when someone else dies it's not about me or Blake, it's about them and their loved one.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Crutch

As a Christmas present, I bought all the women in Blake's family a custom made necklace. I designed it online to be perfect: gold angel wings, a tiny sapphire stone, and a little pendant embossed with the letter B. I hoped this necklace would be a way to carry a piece of Blake with them wherever they went.

Since the necklaces came in, I've worn mine every day. Anytime I was feeling upset or stressed or nervous about something, I would hold onto the wings and remind myself that Blake was there to guide me. I had other physical reminders: the blue heart ring that I never take off, his cologne that I wear for important events, his shirts I wear to bed, the freckle that's a permanent part of my skin... (etc.), but for some reason I felt like this necklace was a necessary addition to the numerous other things I surround myself with to feel Blake's presence.

This past weekend I went on a road trip up to LA, to San Jose to visit my old students at school, San Francisco to visit friends and old co-workers, and then back through LA again. It was the perfect way to finish off my Winter Break and slowly transition back into school mode. Although San Francisco was a little difficult and I couldn't bear to go back and visit my old house, I felt great about being there. I could truly feel the progress I've made since the last time I was there. I left the Bay Area a lost, broken girl, and have returned eight months later feeling like I've come out the other side a happier, more complete woman.

What I want to write about is something upsetting, but ultimately symbolic that happened this weekend. After my first night in San Jose on Thursday, I accidentally left my angel wing necklace at my friend's house. I called and checked to make sure she had it, and she did, so I decided I'd wait until the end of the weekend to pick it up on my way back home. I wished that the second I realized it was gone I could've gone to her house to get it, but it was impossible. I was going to have to face San Francisco on my own.

Sure, I still had my ring and my freckle to touch when I felt upset, but I had grown used to rubbing the little angel wings. It was frustrating to not have them as a crutch anymore, but I had to learn to look inside myself instead of to a tangible object. But when I came back through San Jose on Sunday night, I was relieved to finally have the necklace again.

Sometime in the hours between Sunday night and Monday morning, my angel wing necklace got incomprehensibly tangled in my purse. I had never seen a collection of knots so big caused by nothing more than sitting in a pocket. Determined to wear the necklace again, I kept it in my hand the whole drive to LA, trying to unknot it any chance I got. But there was no use. I was clearly going to have to take it to a professional.

When I drove up to my friend's house that night, I must have let the necklace fall from my lap when I got out of the car to greet him. I've looked every place that the necklace might be, but it seems to have just completely disappeared. It was left behind, then unwearable, and then lost. I can either blame myself for this, or try to believe that it happened for a reason.

What is this reason? Maybe Blake was telling me I need to stop using him as a crutch. If I surround myself so completely with him and believe so deeply that it's him helping me through things, I'll have no room for confidence in myself. I can't even begin to let anyone else in if I treat him as my own personal guide through life. Ultimately I know he's there, but he doesn't have to be responsible for every decision I make and lifting me up anytime I feel lost. I can, and should, do that for myself now.

So necklace or no necklace, I know I can handle anything.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

San Francisco

I didn't anticipate it being this hard. The Bay Area was our playground, our home. Walking around and seeing the places where we used to go makes me miss him. Makes me miss us.

I haven't had this achy feeling in my heart in a while. It's the kind of weight that follows you where ever you go. All day. I may not consciously be thinking about  him, but there's a sadness I can't shake.  I thought I was better, but this feels like square one.

I realized a couple weeks ago that I was finally at a point where the idea of a guy hitting on me didn't make me want to throw up. In fact, I was open to it. Although this gave me mixed feelings, I was proud of myself. It didn't feel natural to feel this way after eight months of being afraid of any male interaction, but I figured this was a good step.

But now, this weekend, I've been missing Blake more than ever. Is this a regression? Can I be open to meeting new guys at the same time that I wish Blake was still here? I know it won't make sense to anyone else, but I think I can. I'm trying my best to navigate my relationships with new guys, but I understand more and more every day that I will never know the "right" thing to do. All I can do is trust my gut and only do what I feel comfortable with.

Instead of beating myself up for missing Blake so much this weekend, I'm going to use it as an opportunity to reminisce and feel good. We had so many amazing memories in San Francisco. This was a city of fun, exploration, and relaxation for us. Anytime we were here, we were having the time of our life. So while I'm here, I'm going to honor that.

The best gift I could give to Blake is enjoying this city as much as he would want to.  As for meeting other guys, that's a different story. I will continue to stumble through that aspect of this process for a while.  However, I'm starting to understand that just because I miss Blake doesn't mean I've regressed. I will miss him the rest of my life, but that doesn't mean I don't have the capacity to love someone else with all of my heart. All I can hope is that if I meet someone I am interested in, he will understand and respect that.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Jack Rabbit

My family and I were taking a long trip by RV. As we were packing up to leave, I found a baby Jack rabbit outside and begged my parents to let me keep him. We bought a cage and let him come along with us. I was so excited.

After driving for several hours, I started feeling bad for the rabbit and asked my dad to pull over. Off the side of the road was a huge field that I knew he would love to run around in for a while. But when I let him free, my dad said that maybe it would be a good idea to leave him there. Rabbits like that needed to be in the wild. But I was convinced that the rabbit needed us. Even though he ran really far away,  I knew he'd always come back.

This went on for a while. The rabbit would run out of eyesight and then come bounding back just when we were about to give up hope. My father finally said that if the rabbit stays away, we'd have to just let him be. So we agreed. If the rabbit didn't come back, I had to accept that he had found his real home.

Finally my dad said that it was time to go. It was late, pitch dark, and we needed to make it to our hotel before midnight. He said the rabbit had been gone for a while; he made his choice. I hung my head and slowly walked back to the RV. I wanted the rabbit with us, but clearly the rabbit found his real home. But just as we were all piled in, the rabbit came bolting through the door and back into the RV. He made a lap around the interior, and then raced back out again.

It was so fast and confusing. But to me, this meant that there was still hope. My dad had to put his foot down; we had to leave. Now. I reluctantly closed the door and my dad started driving. I stared out the window, knowing that at any minute I would see our rabbit again. I focused so hard that when I did see the rabbit, I wasn't sure if I just imagined him. I wanted him to appear so badly that I thought maybe I had made him materialize in my own subconscious. But I didn't. It was really him. He sprinted faster than I'd ever seen towards us and leaped up to hop into my lap. There was glass separating us. He fell back to the ground.

I begged my father to stop, but there was no way he could with all of the other cars in his way. The rabbit was gone now. Even if he wasn't ready, he was going to have to learn to live in the wild now. Without us. We started reassuring ourselves that this was for the best. Jack rabbits need to jump, which is impossible in a cage. Now he was without a cage and with endless space to explore.

I'm not exactly sure how to interpret this one. My first instinct was that maybe the Jack rabbit was supposed to symbolize Blake. It makes sense, since he was going in and out of truly being mine. He wanted to be present in this life and in our relationship, but there was a force pulling him away. The strong pull of addiction didn't let him truly stay here in this world. At the end, he may have wanted to stay, but he couldn't. And now he's in heaven where he's free.

Or am I the Jack rabbit? Blake used to call me bunny, so that is an interesting coincidence. Maybe with this interpretation of me as the rabbit, my dream is telling me to let go, even if I don't feel like I'm ready. The rabbit coming in and out could symbolize my attachment to Blake and my feelings of still being in a relationship with him. Maybe I need to put my foot down, like my father did in the dream, and accept that he is really gone.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Setting My Heart Free

I've avoided writing this entry because it hurts. After almost a week of resisting, I'm finally ready.

After I came home from my trip, I went over to Blake's parents house on Monday night to catch up. While we were talking, his mom gave me some upsetting news. She told me that when she stopped by the cemetery the other day, she noticed that the heart I glued onto his headstone was no longer there. She looked all around trying to find it, but it was gone.

My first instinct was to blame someone. Maybe that person got sick of seeing my heart there, so she finally took it off herself. It was affixed with super-glue, how else could it have come off? I figured that the wind and rain couldn't have removed it without the help of a vindictive hand.

But Blake's mom insisted that it was probably the weather, or maybe the grounds keeper. The heart that was originally so vibrantly blue had been fading and fading for months. When I saw it two weeks ago, it had been reduced to a shabby clear scrap. Maybe the grounds keeper thought it was an insignificant piece of glass and got rid of it. Maybe the glue had worn off and finally let go.

Two days later I got up the courage to go see it. I had collected a bunch of shells at a beach in Uruguay and I wanted to put them there before going back to San Diego. I walked slowly up to his plot, holding my breath harder with each step. Don't cry. Don't get angry. Don't be afraid.

It was gone.

I cried. I got angry. I was afraid.

What did this mean? Was it really the weather? The grounds keeper? Her? After a few minutes of being sad/mad/scared, I realized that what specifically happened to the heart doesn't matter. What matters is that it wasn't there anymore. What matters is making sense of that fact and moving forward.

In a way, although this was hard to admit to myself, it felt like my heart no longer being there symbolized it being set free. But being "set free" didn't mean not loving Blake, or forgetting him, it just meant giving myself permission to have my heart back. To nurture it on my own, or maybe to give it to someone else.

I love Blake, and always will, but I finally feel like I'm prepared to be a whole person again. I believe that the heart no longer being there reflects that. I am a little bit sad, angry, and scared, but I'm ready.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Baggage to Claim

11:30 AM at the Phoenix Airport. Baggage claim.

I am crumpled on the floor from the weight of a long day of travel. Using my purse as a makeshift pillow, I close my eyes for a minute to dream of my bed. I'd do anything to be back at my parent's house right now, anything to escape this building filled with ghosts of moments passed.

I stare at the carousel, willing it to produce our bags so we can go home. The board says our luggage is arriving, but it lies. And I lie on the floor, wishing I could leave already.

There are a few bags left over from the flight before ours. They loop around in endless circles, waiting to be claimed. But aside from my family and a couple other passengers, there is no one here. So these bags keep passing. Around and around, around and around.

The buzzer sounds, indicating new baggage is coming out. My family's suitcases slide down, one, two, three, four. The other passengers collect their bags as well and the conveyor belt stops. But as the sparse crowd dissipates, it's clear that there is no one left to claim the original few bags that were passing. Around and around, around and around.

As I leave the baggage claim area I can't stop thinking about those leftover bags. They belonged to someone at one point, didn't they? And now, now what?

Trying not to be dramatic, I attempt to stop the connections I'm drawing in my head between the leftover luggage and me. But I am dramatic, so I can't stop myself.

I am that baggage left ownerless on the carousel. Around and around, around and around. Baggage left unclaimed, luggage lost. But I belonged to someone at one point, didn't I?

And now, now what?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Here and Now

I believe I get messages from the universe when I need them the most. Yesterday, as I was walking around Buenos Aires with my family, I saw this message written loud and clear.

It says, in English:
"Here and now, the only thing real"

I was immediately drawn to it and knew I needed a photo to remember it by. I looked up at the graffitied quote as my mom snapped this shot.

I usually ask whoever is taking the photo to take a few so I can choose. I'm pretty critical of myself and generally hate most of the pictures that I take. But my mom only took this one and knew I'd like it. Although I was skeptical when she first handed me back my phone, I looked and smiled. I was beautiful.

My profile picture has been a picture of Blake and me since before he passed away. Up until today, I didn't have the heart to change it. But without hesitation, today I changed it to this photo. I guess I felt ok doing so because this message is so much a part of Blake that it's undeniable to me that he actually is in the photo. These words were everything he was trying to teach me. This message was him.

Here and now, the only thing real.

This is going to be my mantra in 2014. Being fully present in the present, because it's all I have.