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.

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