It’s been one year, six months, and five days since I said goodbye to my longest-known and dearest friend, Brian. There are moments in your life when they occur you’re convinced even if you succumb to Alzheimer’s you’d still remember. Everything from that night, sadly, falls into that category.
Brian was diagnosed with myxoid liposarcoma back in early 2014. Him calling to tell me also falls into the remember-always category. Unfortunately, when something painful happens to the ones I love, I get quiet and go into over productive mode. I work my ass off at anything and everything. You need a 20 page research paper on your new disease. Done. You need me to work extra hours at the office. Done. You want me to grocery shop, do your laundry, and scrub your kitchen. Done, done, and done.
In the midst of all the work and self-made chaos, however, lingers an emotional upheaval that will inevitably follow when there’s no more work to be done. There’s nothing to distract me, and I’m forced to sit in the darkness and acknowledge my new reality.
My over productive mode gives the appearance I care and am ever present, I can muscle through, and also be your rock. Have no fear because Karly The Incredible is here! In reality, I’m scared shitless and wish it would all disappear.
One day during the time when Brian was getting set up for hospice, the household was struggling and emotions ran high. At one point, I was standing next to him in his chair and he was crying. He mustered up enough voice to say, “It’s just been a hard day.” I kissed his head, told him I loved him, and went in the kitchen to do dishes and clean the fridge. Note, this is NOT how you properly hold emotional space for someone, especially someone you care for deeply. To this day, walking away from him in that moment is my only regret in life.
I’m not sure if it was my inexperience with deeper and more painful emotions, watching someone you love lose their battle, or my own insecurities and extreme vulnerability, but I continued to shove it down and got more shit done. To further illustrate this, I did a number of preemptive counseling sessions after Brian went into hospice. You know, to ward off any extreme feelings of grief, because obviously that’s a thing. But when I walked out of his house one year, six months, and six days ago, my heart didn’t care how much time I attempted to “prepare” for this moment. I was a fucking mess.
I used to think of stages of grief as textbook guidelines for coping. Once you moved through them all, you were done. Sure, you’d cry. Sure, you’d probably bite some poor lady’s head off in the grocery store when she asks you to move because you’re standing too long in front of the Little Debbie Snacks reminiscing about your childhood with said deceased best friend. Sure, you’d probably buy all of your (and said deceased best friend) childhood goodies and eat them, despite the fact you’re gluten and corn intolerant. But once you hit that final stage you’d feel better and move on. And just like that, no more sad days. Right?
I believe, until you’ve suffered a loss that rocks your very core, this way of thinking seems somewhat reasonable. Now, standing on the other side, I can safely say that while the stages are legit, the order is not. And eventually, the extreme ups and downs will begin to plateau, but you’re never really done or over it. For me, this was hardest part. My patience is short for concepts such as this, so I wanted nothing more than to do my time in the stages and be done — find my happiness again and put the rest behind me. What I didn’t realize then, was in order to do that, I’d have to forget all about Brian — forget all about our childhood adventures, college shenanigans, and adult milestones. No way was I willing to do that, even if it were possible. It was only then I respectfully accepted the bag of hurts I’d carry with me for the rest of my life; it means I had the honor and privilege to love someone so deeply.
I’m not sure what the next year, six months, and five days will have in store for me. What I do know, is each day I will give thanks for another day, be grateful the ones I love had another day too, and honor the deep scar Brian left on my heart by living as full of a life as possible and including him, in spirit, on the rest of my Earthly journey.
If you’d like to read about Brian’s brave battle with cancer, please check out his CaringBridge site, written by his equally brave, witty, and incredible wife, Maureen.
I also invite you to check out Brian’s non-traditional and absolutely amazing obituary, written by his best friend, Marshall. Seriously, check it out…it even received some news coverage!