Grief, That Constant Companion

On death, imaginary conversations, and depression

Photo by miro polca on Unsplash

Would bed linen instead of ropes work, I wonder.

I’m contemplating hanging myself from the garage door. Absent pharmaceuticals and alcohol — which I went to great lengths to remove from my house back when depression struck — that’s all I’ve got.

That and the page, which where I process life, rebuilding mine one word at a time because I somehow convinced myself I could. Or because you pushed me, I can’t remember. Kinship blurs boundaries and it’s never quite clear where one person ends and the other begins. We aren’t bound by blood but we are family.

You, too, believed I could write my way out of anything; you even gave me the means to get started and made me promise I’d give it my all. You had seen me bounce back so many times you trusted I still could despite the years I lost to depression. $50 means the world to someone who has nothing and lost years imprisoned within the invisible force field of mental illness.

You trusted me to prevail even when I could find no valid human reason to keep going (but the cats kept me alive); I trusted you to understand my death. Even though it would have broken your heart, you’re the only one who knew all of me, what I am made of, and how I lived because our friendship had spanned my entire adult life.

Like Dad with his beloved wife now I refused to entertain the thought cancer had been killing you slowly and wouldn’t let up. Fear isn’t supposed to come true, it’s False Evidence Appearing Real, remember?

You taught me that so I would no longer default to catastrophic thinking in the face of adversity but approach life as a moment and inhabit the present. So I would fill it with as much love as possible because it is the only self-renewing form of energy; the more you give, the more it grows.

I know this to be true; your life was love made manifest in your every interaction with others, from family, to friends, to random creatures human or not.

And then you died.

From one day to the next, you were gone, wrenched away from that cocoon of love that couldn’t protect you no matter how solid it was. Your death felt like an invitation to let go of my precarious grip on life and follow you.

So I, too, could finally rest.

No wonder then that my thoughts turned to bed linen when I realized there was no rope in the garage; I was exhausted by years of fighting the invisible. Even though we had parted continents some 5 years prior and you were in England, you could see depression clearly. It wasn’t an abstract to you; it was part of your inner circle as you always had a knack for befriending things and people everyone rejected.

You used to say that love was the antidote to fear and there’s nothing an open mind and an open heart can’t solve; those self-evident truths were your parting gift. With the tacit proviso that all those whom you bestowed it upon would also share it with others, pass it on, pay it forward.

The evidence of a life well-lived isn’t a career, money, assets, or fame but how many hearts we make ourselves at home in by loving unconditionally.

How can I grieve for you when I carry you with me?

How can I grieve for you when you’re always by my side and we keep having these rambling yet silent conversations about what it means to be a human in the world?

Why should I conjugate love in the past tense when the acute pain of your absence indicates you are in fact still very much around? Not that I’m complaining. Now that you’re dead I can’t imagine anything worse than waking up one morning realizing I can’t quite remember you, your eyes, your voice, your hugs.

Because, alas, I’ve upgraded my fears.

My mind still plays host to assorted daring dreams and dastardly demons as the possibility of death looks on, impassible.

Once you contemplate it, you can never uncontemplate it for the simple reason that most humans like to have a choice. And even though I worship life so much I never pass up an opportunity to honor all the goodness in it, death is one such choice.

Even Google knows as it has been prefacing all my searches since I arrived in the Netherlands with 113 zelfmoordpreventie and a link in English. So now I know how to say suicide in Dutch. At first it felt as if big tech were snooping on me and I found it offensive but then it did reveal what I woudn’t acknowledge, namely that it has been a difficult year.

And that I am very, very, very tired.

But now I feel seen whenever the algorithm sends me a gentle reminder that life is safe as long as I remember to embrace all that it contains. So that I would know light I first had to tame darkness; so that I would know love I first had to know fear; life only pulled back the veil afterward.

It took a very long time, it is taking a very long time.

New lives are puzzles that involve sorting through many pieces until the outline is complete. Only then can you begin to fill in the middle, hoping you haven’t lost too many pieces along the way as you try to assemble them with great compassion and care.

This new life of mine is woven together with words, one strand, one story at a time, words that are mine but not only mine. Those words exist to secure love so it may never again consider hanging limply from the garage door.

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.

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