So today’s an interesting day. Today, my best friend Rebecca would have been another year older. I remember thinking, back in our 20s, that I really had no idea what sort of people we’d be at this age. Right now, I’m pretty happy with how I’ve turned out so far, but I’m still so curious about who she’d be now.
She’d love Facebook, for instance. And iPhones. She’d probably be texting me eleventy thousand times a day. I’m just a touch thankful—no, a lot thankful—that smartphones and their accompanying cameras with easy internet-posting capacity didn’t exist when we were in our 20s, though. I’ll just leave it at that.
When people leave the world like she did, there’s usually a crippling frustration that sets in when you try to “find answers.” Or when you think you’re supposed to be “finding answers.” Or when other people ask you questions about it that have no easy answers. Or when you just think that people are mentally asking questions of you that have no easy answers, all while smiling at you & saying nothing. Some of that silenced me, writing-wise, for about a decade. Now, I’m fortunate to have finally come to a point where I’ve stopped trying to find answers; I’ve learned just to ask better questions, instead.
I’ve also learned that it’s ok to start writing about her, or at least to start working my way through the ways that knowing her, and knowing her death, changed me. Grief shouldn’t be proprietary, but it often is. Sometimes that sense comes off of other people; sometimes it’s a strange rule we set for ourselves—that it’s improper to take ownership of our own grief. That it somehow only belongs to the dead.
In the exam room at my doctor’s office (and I think probably in all exam rooms of all doctors’ offices, everywhere), there’s a chart on the wall that’s titled “Universal Pain Assessment Tool.” It helps doctors and patients communicate about how severe a pain symptom might be on a “grimace scale” from
NO PAIN to WORST PAIN POSSIBLE. I like that it fully confronts the notion that it isn’t about a level of pain—it’s about a level of perceived pain. How the patient is experiencing the situation. And it’s only as helpful as how real-keeping a patient is with herself.
There was a time when Rebecca’s death felt like the worst pain possible. Over the last 12 years, the horrible fact of her death didn’t change, but the way that I perceive it has.
Someone who’s pretty important to me told me recently that he tries to do three things in life: 1) be good to loved ones; 2) try to make the world better; and 3) try to make art. The last one isn’t for everyone, surely, but if you’re inclined that way, I’d recommend it as strongly as the first two. I also added “Be good to yourself” to the list. I recommend that one even more fiercely than the others.
Love you & miss you still, Goof.
PS: Check out this beautiful essay on grief & the after-effects of the tsunami in Japan by Richard Lloyd Parry in the London Review of Books. It’s a stunner.