Looking at the garage door, I wonder how to hang myself from it.
This nonsensical thought is a result of grief hijacking my brain in the 24 hours that follow the death of my best friend, the man I used to refer to as my North Star.
Anthony and I had known and loved each other for well over two decades and the best way to explain our relationship is this: He was my one witness in this life.
As someone with major depressive disorder, I’m no stranger to suicidal ideation but I also know I will never follow through. I remember that wanting to check out permanently is something that only ever happens to me in times of extreme distress.
That day in September, overwhelming grief leads me to contemplate hanging myself. Shocking though this sounds, it is a normal reaction, albeit one whose gruesome nature turns my stomach.
I’m so shaken I burst into tears. To deal with death with more death goes against everything Anthony stood for as his 52 years on earth were nothing but a celebration of life.
Like me, Anthony had experienced depression but he was able to immediately detach from it. He observed his experience with curiosity and soon learned to deflect depressive propaganda and weed out undermining thoughts.
It took me almost five years to achieve this but the sudden wave of grief keeps threatening to pull me under. For several days, my brain operates as if swaddled in a thick fog blanket, unable to process the end of an era.
How do you approach or relate to a world without your favorite person in it?
All I know is that I’ll have to learn to live with loss, somehow.
I can still feel Anthony’s loving presence radiating in my heart, in my mind, in my life.
When my husband and I have a disagreement, my initial reaction is to text my friend. I want to moan about how it took less than a month since his death for my husband to snap back into his default grumpy, frustrated mood. And because Anthony and I have no filter and are each other’s confidants, the words appear fully formed in my head in sweary Brit speak.
Had no filter, were each other’s confidants. Past tense.
But of course I can’t send text him, can I?
“You’re still dead, aren’t you?” I routinely exclaim out loud to no one in particular.
Because I have to keep reminding myself that Anthony isn’t around anymore.
Although his death meant the training wheels came off my mental bicycle and I can’t say I trust myself to remain upright, I must. And so I learn to accommodate and contain the sinkhole left behind by his departure, making a little more progress each day.
The permanent absence of a loved one is like a phantom limb, the constant presence of an illusion.
It itches, and hurts, and burns: My world still doesn’t make complete sense without Anthony in it, and this is why I looked at the garage door wistfully.
But the moment passed.
At the time of writing, it’s been 6 months since my best friend died.
Much as I’d like to tell you that grief abates, I won’t lie to make you feel better.
Because grief isn’t a finite quantity and its impact on your life is paramount to how much the deceased meant to you.
What is grief but an expression of enduring love?
The kind of love that gets frozen in time by death.
Grief is unpredictable and wont to pop up at random. It catches you unawares, rattles you, and occasionally knocks the wind out of you again for a while.
For example, whenever I’m on the ferry to or from the city, I go out on deck to take a couple of pictures. Ever since moving out of Seattle, I’ve been sending at least one picture from every ferry crossing to Anthony. The idea was to give him an incentive to come and visit when he was more stable. I’d send him skies, seals on a lifebuoy, mountains, sunrises and sunsets…
I’m forced to remember I can’t do this anymore, and my heart breaks anew every time. Out of habit, I still take the pictures then try and figure out whose day they might brighten.
Sometimes I miss Anthony so much I question my ability to navigate life without his love, his friendship, his wisdom, and his playfulness.
Keeping grief at arm’s length becomes a coping strategy.
I had to acquire it in order to keep going.
While I acknowledge my grief, I can’t afford to surrender to it or let it take over. On the one hand, my parents need support as they deal with my stepmom’s Stage IV cancer. On the other, I’m a depressive therefore never not at risk of total collapse, which would render my current situation unmanageable.
Somehow, I find strength I didn’t even know I had. Weird though it may sound, I look at it as Anthony’s parting gift to me. His death put all those of us who loved him in a situation when we’ve had no choice but to sink or swim.
But he trusted us to swim, based on everything he knew about us.
Once again, it feels like Anthony keeps saving my life from the great beyond.
A loved one dies but life goes on regardless, with grief as part of it.
To acknowledge the past as part of the present is necessary so we can seek solace from memories.
Because people only ever truly die when we stop remembering them.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.