Exactly one year ago, my best friend died.
That’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to be able to write aged twenty, is it? And yet, here I am, writing it, feeling grief’s vice-like grip tightening around my heart as I’m reminded of what it felt like to lose her the first time around, my hands trembling as I type this because three hundred and sixty-five days later, it still hurts just as much.
Exactly one year ago, I lost my best friend to a six-letter word.
In a cruel twist of fate, my best friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, aged nineteen. She died six weeks after being diagnosed. I never visited her in the hospital.
I can feel the bile rising in my throat. I think about how I didn’t hold her hand through six weeks of aggressive and infuriatingly futile chemotherapy. I think about how I didn’t tell her I loved her. Not while she was in the Intensive Care Unit. Not to her face.
I remember the shitstorm of indignation and bitterness and shame I felt when I heard the news. I remember the colourless haze of grief that followed.
Here’s an excerpt from my journal, dated 02.11.11:
I can’t wrap my head around the idea that I’ll never be able to have another conversation with her. I’ll never be able to hear her laugh again. And it scares me. I never expected to experience the pain in this detached way. It hurts, but it’s more of an overwhelming emptiness. I can’t stop thinking about her. And I can’t concentrate on anything.
Here’s another excerpt, dated 11.11.11 (after the funeral):
I’m finding it hard to put the pieces of my selfhood back together in the wake of Laura’s death. I know that after seeing my best friend die, after seeing a young person’s life dissipate and vanish in six short weeks, I should be trying to live, in every sense of the word. But I can’t. The pain and the numbness (I can never decide which is worse) come in unprecedented waves, washing over my entire being and stopping me from feeling the kind of unbridled joy that I used to feel. I feel like I’m just existing, like I’m just going through the motions, like I literally can’t face the real world. America, my friends, my life, none of it seems real or visceral anymore. It’s like I’m in a deep, deep daydream. It isn’t fair, and it isn’t justifiable and it just happened, and it could have been anyone. I know that I have to keep in mind that it wasn’t me, and now I have to carry on living. But I can’t just carry on. It’s not the same. I’m not the same. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same. At the moment, I just feel overwhelmed by the weight of my heart. The sadness of the entire situation is unbearably heavy. Will I ever be able to feel happy again? I don’t mean superficially happy, I mean the kind of happy that bursts through your veins, the kind that makes you feel as though you’re floating.
To anyone who has lost a loved one: I know how you feel.
And honestly, one year on, I’m not the same. Losing somebody you love changes you. It changes the way you see the world, and it changes the way you approach your life.
Laura’s life was cut short – she didn’t have the chance to live out her dreams. My life – rife with opportunity – wasn’t, and following her death, I was damned sure I was going to live those dreams for her. And in a funny kind of way, I have done. I spent five months in New York, her favourite city, having the kind of adventures that we’d fantasized about together. I took risks and said yes to everything and committed to the idea that I could achieve anything I wanted – something I know she battled with for as long as I can remember. I try my very best to remember Laura – the whole person, and not a kind of idealised version of her. I remember her sense of humour, her loyalty, her lipstick, her need to plan ahead. I remember sitting in many a dark cinema with her, the conversations we had on the phone, the sleepless nights spent talking candidly about our expectations for the future. I remember the fragility of her moods, her crushing self-doubt, the way she saw herself (which was a thousand miles away from how those who loved her saw her).
Journal excerpt dated 10.08.12:
I miss her, I miss her, I miss her. My soul aches for her laugh. There’s a gap in my life that can’t be filled by anyone or anything else. It’s like a part of me is missing.
The way you see yourself at your worst is not the way others see you. I wish I could have managed to drum that into Laura’s head. I wish I could have convinced her that she was more loved than she could ever know. The vocal influx of love and support I have received from my family and friends over the past twelve months is living proof that people care more than you give them credit for. If Laura’s death has taught me anything, it’s that life is too short to not do what you love and say what you mean.
But Laura’s death is less a teachable moment and more a sad fact of life. As the days pass, I begin to understand this more and more. Cheryl Strayd once wrote:
Acceptance is a small, quiet room.
It’s not easy, but I’m beginning to make peace with life’s transitory nature, to build my life again from the ground up, to learn how to operate without the person who kept me steady during my teenage years.
Laura, I miss you.