Tuesday, October 04, 2016

What it's like to live without my best friend

No point in sugar-coating it: the title is about as clear as it gets.

It's been almost seven months since I lost my childhood best friend. She was a sister to me--and I don't say that lightly. It's not a sentiment I throw around. I have my actual blood sister, Kiki who I love to pieces. Then I met my Brigitte and she also became my sister in all meanings of the word except for the blood-relation part.

We met  when I was 11, in grade 7. We were both so young and shy. We sat beside each other and nervously made small talk until I accidentally flung my pen at her. From that moment, I would be deemed "pen-chucker" and we became instant friends.

She became the most healing, joy-filled, love-filled part of my childhood and life. I lost my father suddenly when I was little (7 years old), so my childhood and future was stained with trauma. I had my sis and some friends to fill life with some happy memories. Brig was my soul-twin and filled my life with meaning.

She had a physical disability, which meant that we knew that she wouldn't live a typical or necessarily long life, but there were no parameters or numbers available to us from her medical history. That dark notion was tucked somewhere in the back of my brain with my skeletons, gathering dust. Once you lose someone you love so suddenly and at such a young age, you learn a way of thinking in which nothing good will last. Anything meaningful and loving can and will likely be ripped away.

I didn't want to believe that with her. I couldn't: I loved her too damn much. And for years, I managed to not think about it often. She was my companion and soulmate. We knew each other better than anyone. We could just look at each other and know if something was good, bad, iffy, etc. We relied on each other. Yes, we had our problems or challenges. We'd get into "discussions" --never "fights"-- as uncomfortable as they were. The thought of hurting each other made us sick. But we'd talk anyway. It took time, but we always became stronger because of it.

She was there for me through a lot of shitty things and good things. And when something good happened, she made it seem like the greatest thing in life. Birthdays were epic celebrations and lasted for the entire month, Christmas was a time of extreme joy, even small successes like a good mark on a test would become a cause for celebration. That was her. Full of love, and completely selfless in her love.

I could go on for days about her--about her grace, her sense of humour, her incredible honesty, her genuineness, her endless capacity for love--everything. I love her so much.

But this is about what it's like to live without her.

I dealt (and still deal) with loss--with the disabling, mind-numbing, heartbreaking loss of my father. I dealt with the ramifications of growing up as a child with that loss: of learning dangerous ways of thinking and coping, then of deconstructing those to live a healthier, fuller life. All of that to be chainsawed down to how I "used to be" when I lost her.

It's been almost 7 months but it's paradoxically like it happened yesterday and years ago all at once. She was part of my every day: texting, calling, emailing, commenting on EVERYTHING on Facebook that I'd post, posting her own pictures or memories--we were embedded in each other's lives. My life included her and functioned only with her in it.

Yes, I have  my beautiful family and my incredible husband who is my soulmate in another sense. He embodies being my best friend, lover, companion, and my muse, all in one. That's different. She was my soul-twin and spiritual sister.

She went away every year with her amazing mom and mom's cousin. Long story short, during their regular trip to Florida, she fell ill with a stupid cold, which developed into double pneumonia and she died from complications. Her body couldn't take it. Her mom is one of the most reasonable, level-headed, loving people I know so when she called me to say that it was serious, I knew she wasn't exaggerating. She tells things like it is, just like her daughter used to. With support from Kiki, her boyfriend, my Momma, Step-dad, and with immense support from my husband, I flew to Florida for a few days. Longest few days of my life. I came home amidst the confusion of whether she'd make it or not. We all knew she wasn't going to deep down, but there were several instances of false hope: this procedure was sort of working, her temperature came down, etc. I left before it happened whereas her family members stayed. I was exhausted.

A couple of days later, the news came. My almost 29-year old best friend, my childhood, my soul's sister was gone. Poof. Pneumonia, of all things, too. Don't we have treatments for that?

I fell to the floor, couldn't walk properly, and I cried as if tears could exorcise my pain. There were so many loving hands to embrace me. I'll be forever grateful for that.

But after...the days, weeks, months after...I'm still raw. I'm exhausted. I'm changed. I've had to relearn life and all of its facets. Each celebration seems darkened. Every social event seems terrifying and dangerous to me. She's not there and neither am I--not fully. I hate that part of myself: the fractured parts. I luckily was already seeing a counsellor for a while so she was there for me, but everything seems tainted.

I withdrew over the summer and I'm not the same person I was before it happened. A few life changes (one of which was good) threw me for a loop before it happened, so I was reeling from that but healing. Then bam. This shit happened.

Muscle memory had me going to text her goodnight every night as per usual. What was the point, though? Facebook still suggested posts or pictures from her or featuring her which felt like salt in my wounds. Still happens, too. Making friends doesn't feel the same: I'm self-conscious, sad, and I feel as though there's no point. I don't want to lose anyone else.

I'm scared. Almost all the time, but it's getting slowly better. When people ask how I'm doing, I answer "tired," sometimes with a chuckle, sometimes not. I deal with things through humour sometimes, to disguise the terror, anger, and helplessness hiding inside. Others do that, too, I know. It's a good defence. I am tired. I'm exhausted. Normal things take so much energy for me. Hell, getting out of bed felt like an endless struggle for a while there.

School is a beacon, in a way: a positive focus for helping me grow and to help others. It's also that much more exhausting, though. I manage my feelings as best I can, I try to be mindful of triggers, and I try not to freak people out by crying randomly. That's the crux of this, though: the triggers are many and random as hell. She was part of everything: I would tell her about everything in my life. The inside jokes were endless. Now they're ghost-like in my brain. They haunt me instead of making me smile.

That'll change, I think. I know that painful memories and triggers shift into bittersweet ones eventually. Not sure when "eventually" is, really, but it'll come someday.

Until then, I'm the surly-looking 28 (almost 29-year-old) woman who feels older than I am. I feel exhausted and unhealthy but I hope that will change and be remedied with time. I'm passed the vortex of wanting to join her. I've never wanted to not live so badly in my life. As selfish as that is: with my incredible blessings and living angels like my sister, Mom, husband, step-dad. The darkness and emptiness caused by her loss and re-experiencing my dad's loss because of it marred life itself for me.

My birthday's coming up. It'll be fun, I'm sure. I have my amazing family and friends to thank for that. And it'll come and go as always--this time with more assignments and deadlines than I've ever experienced. That should be interesting :). But she won't be there. And for some reason, I'm allowed to make it to 29 years of age. She wasn't.

There's my stomach again. IBS is a bitch. I wish she'd shut up. She tends to act up a lot these days from stress and grief. It sounds so effing cliche to me but it's true. Grief and loss and trauma can cause IBS and other fun things. Woot.

I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm not looking to make you sad. If you've experienced ANY of the feelings I've described from this past year, I hope you find some peace in knowing how normal it is to feel these things after something terrible.

am looking for understanding--grasping for it, really. I used to be outgoing, a partier, able to stay up late and get up the next day with no problems except for a plea for coffee, I used to make friends easily, and not freak out if one thing doesn't get done during my day because I'm too damn tired. I know some of this is due to getting older, but a lot of it... It's because a shotgun blast when through me.

So, if I seem distant, or altogether missing, know that I'm still here. I'll come back to being Ashley in some way or another, even if it means I'll be someone else different, yet again.

Thank you for your love. Thank you for your support and your grace. Thank you for listening. In the stillness of life after loss, comes the discomfort of not knowing what to do with all this pain. So, thank you for listening to my ramblings. I'll get back to learning to how to live now and make some dinner. I found a cool looking recipe on Pinterest.

Thank you.


Heather said...

Sending you love and hugs.

Lyrinda said...

Ashley this is powerfully written. This is truth as those of us who have suffered ( and still suffer from) great loss know it. Thank you for putting it into words.Brigitte was so special- an angel of light here on Earth. Sending you a big hug.Send me a message on Facebook if you would like to go out together for a tea/coffee. We could both use it.