Last Sunday, my freshman college hallmate died. And I rocked my baby to sleep that night and cried and thought about her. Thought about how it was her who introduced me to my husband, who arranged for outings with me and him so that I could spend time with him, who arranged for him to come over to our dorm when he wanted nothing to do with me, and invited me to hang out with them. She was absolutely delighted when we got together and she got me through some really difficult times. We drifted apart and hadn’t seen each other in a long time, but I thought about her sometimes and hoped she was happy.
There are a lot of things about losing somebody suddenly like this that are absolutely gutting. There is the sheer suddenness of it all. There is the feeling like perhaps you should have seen this person more. But the thing I was utterly unprepared for is how absolutely horrible it is, as a parent, to consider the possibility of losing a child. I can’t read things about toddlers who die anymore, it just wrecks me. But there are no words for the horror of thinking about a parent having to take their child off life support and letting them go. I’ve been rocking my daughter to sleep at night all week because right now I can’t even bear to have her cry.
In times of grief, I find myself rereading The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. It is a study in grief, written after she lost her husband and while her daughter was suffering from serious illness. And she phrases well what I have learned about grief.
“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
I have days, even now, where I feel the loss of my chosen godfather, a surrogate parent, a man who embodied everything I knew to be good, so fiercely, so harshly, that I simply need to take a minute. And he died five years ago. I have days where I still think to myself that we simply must have him and his wife over for dinner. And it stops me in my tracks.
Time helps, but I know that I will never fully heal. And that is okay, because I let the loss fuel me. It drives me to prioritize making time to see my friends, to say what I feel and to thank people for the things they do for me, to apologize when I’m wrong and to work to not take people for granted. I still do it a lot, but recognizing the importance of not letting things go unsaid, of, as Four says in Divergent, “let[ting] the guilt remind us to do better next time.”
The life that I have right now, with a kid who is really close to counting to ten and can speak in whole sentences and loves books and fishies and elevator buttons and revolving doors, and with a husband who is funny and charming and works hard and makes me want to be the partner he deserves, this whole life of mine is because of one person. And I hadn’t thought about it in those terms until now and I never fully thanked her for it.
So yes, as you start off this week, think about the people who have made your life possible, or worth living, or who brought you where you are, and thank them. Kind gestures, kind words, or an afternoon visit in which you make time for them; these will not be things you regret.