I realize this is an incredibly heavy topic to broach but I am a man of few regrets and even fewer apologies.
On December 11th, 2008 I lost my best friend (a brother to me) to cancer. The details of his constant battling, its remission and resurgence time and time again, is not the subject here. The type of cancer, the life he lived, or who he was is not it either. It’s not about the life I live, or how I was affected, or why you should support funds that go to cancer cure projects/organizations. I feel it is one of those things you just do regardless of my stance or experience.
Instead, it’s about why the pain of loss is okay.
I would invite you to read the above sentence one more time. For some people in this world, this is a statement they agree with. If you are not one of those people, then I entreat your patience. I don’t expect to change your mind, but maybe my explanation will render a better understanding of what I mean. It’s okay if you still disagree, I simply hope you will come to see why I’m okay with pain of loss. All formalities aside, I shall begin.
I remember it was a Thursday in December, and I had just finished taking my exam for psychology. It was a typical winter day down in Mobile, Alabama (partly cloudy; somewhat cold) when my brother called me to tell me the news. I can begin to express to you the nothingness I felt. It was not a feeling of complete and utter disparity or sadness or woe. It was just nothing. My mind raced, not with thoughts of despondency or depression, but ridiculous statements such as “if only I had finished this exam faster” or “had I opted to take this exam earlier I could have been home by now”. The latter thought was impossible because it conflicted with another exam schedule, but that did not seem to stop the thought from being humored. I was only able to temper my further ridiculousness with that day’s spontaneous mantra: just get home, bud.
I pulled into my drive way late that evening. The drive was that same tolerable 5.5 hour drive I always use to make, with a good friend I shared the trips with. I didn’t mention to her then that my friend passed away. Like I said it was December, and talk of Christmas, gifts, and travel not only occupied the majority of that car ride, but every moment from me walking out that classroom to me getting into that car. I hadn’t shed a single tear from the moment I got the phone call to the day of the funeral and for many months after. I maybe got teary eyed when I saw some old pictures of him and us, but nothing anyone would consider expressive of someone who just lost an irreplaceable and priceless facet of their existence.
I’m not a heartless individual. I do not revel in death. The thoughts of death and crying, for me at the time, were that one was inevitable the other was unnecessary. To put it another way, have you ever been told not to cry over spilled milk? Same thing.
I lost a friend, and though death is inevitable tears would not bring him back. I figured it would take some time, but I would heal without tears; without crying. “I don’t need to be sad,” I thought, “just remember the good times. Isn’t that what they tell people? All I have to do is just that, and look I don’t even have to wait to be told.” What a good little idealistic boy I was.
For the greater part of almost a whole year I didn’t cry. I felt proud of myself. I hadn’t cried, I wasn’t weak, I tackled death like the great stoics of Grecian fame, and I was just barely 19. I seemed to have conquered one of the most powerful forces imaginable, and I was hardly a quarter of my potential. Then, it happened.
I don’t recall the exact day, but it was in the month of September between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning. Nearly a year had passed and I was fooling around on my computer, checking facebook, watching videos, jumping around on forums, and then it hit me. For some inexplicable reason I had a body near exploding with sorrow, and I wept in the dim lighting of the study.
The sentiment was so powerful, even recalling the evening (not even the feelings) brings a deep sense of sadness to my soul, and that was over 10 years ago. I can not further express to you how miserably sorrowful I felt, and I knew my cause: the memory of my friend.
It wasn’t that I had bottled up these emotions.
I wasn’t stressed out, nor sad that day.
I’m not suffering from depression, or any derivative.
Some great, metaphysical entity I like to call my identity had something it wanted to say, and I (with nothing more important to do) was expected to listen. And I did. Very. Very. Closely.
All I could hear during the next 30 or some odd minutes was the gentle beating of tears against any surfaces they touched. I am glad that my entire family was fast asleep, for I would never have been able to think of a clever enough excuse without seeming less of a man for weeping alone in the silence of the early morning. The house was eerily still, but the quiet was a gentle token of consolation I was granted to have.
In the solitude I was able to cry without judgment. In the silence I could hear myself cry without shame. In the dimly lit room I could see myself huddled as I embraced the tortuous moment. Because I felt like the world of being a bad person was pressing down on me, and not having cried at the funeral was the worst thing I could have done for my friend. So many thoughts, regrets, shortcomings, bad memories—so much misery!—I could hardly handle it all. So I did the only thing I knew to do in that moment: write.
Below is a poem entitled, “At Your Departure My Arrival”. I wrote it that morning. I am not going to claim it is the best poem I ever wrote, or one of my favorites. What I will say is that poem is a constant reminder of a situation handled well. I was dead inside. My resurrection was that poem. The power that revived me was that pain of loss.
Let me say that again: the pain of loss brought life back into me.
That doesn’t mean I reveled in my friend’s death, nor do I celebrate his funeral anniversary or anything remotely similar. However I went nearly a year believing myself to be something I was not. Nearly a year believing that I did not need to express myself, to cry and feel this pain. Ten months believing that I was better than all the rest and that death just didn’t affect me.
Nearly a whole year.
That pain of loss was brought about by an empathy I never knew I had. Some little voice inside my head whispered, “How long are you going to do this?” I knew the answer right away.
The reason I write all of this is to tell you, the pain of loss is okay. Just like the feeling of shame denotes the virtuous person, so too does a pain of loss bespeak of a great relationship. The more powerful the pain of loss, the more powerful the relationship was.
It took me a while after that to realize I wasn’t competing with anyone. I did not need to show off that I was not weak, that I could handle death better, or that I didn’t need to cry. The feelings I feel towards the people I love are feelings for me. They are reminders of the relationships I have formed and the ones I continue to maintain. They are hopes and symbols of a life well lived. When I mourn that relationship does not go away, it does not cease to be maintained, and my hope is still assured.
So when you, beloved reader, experience the tremendous pain that comes at the passing of a loved one, I entreat you to remember my mantra: pain of loss is okay. It reminds us of what remains and that can motivate us to do great things. Of beauty’s manifold forms this directly contributes to your flourishing: pain of loss is but another form of love.
Because death is but a moment, but love is forever.
I am at a loss of words; hard of speech.
The silence of some mourning cry withheld,
Has found at last its fury, it now unfolds.
And in its wrath I submit myself in silence.
The world of which I knew, I now know not.
The colors blur by some wet blotch.
And then, some pause, I realize.
The blotch is mine; a tear has broken free.
Its trickle with some laden guilt that has been
Fostered within the confines of my mind.
And now that I can have no more of it,
It finds a way and makes some journey to the ground.
This, my tear, is but a sign for all to see.
A path that which it made back into me.
Through these panes which serve to gaze into my soul,
You will know the trouble I have endured.
Restraining fickle emotions has no end.
Fatigued and burned out that I am
I breath a last and yet again.
For now I know.
These arms that fell once,
Below the weight of carrying such a loss,
Will never again bury such a sorrow.
I will bend below the burden of a straw.
My mind older and lumbered down,
Looks up from time to time to gaze
In some hopeless, desperate search for
Some ancient memory that it hides.
For a sky that is always blue.
For a grass that is always green.
For a sun that is always shining.
Yet all is but the under-shadow of the night.
This heart ticks quietly with all others,
A sound denoting a time twisted and capricious.
And shorter yet the hour of one’s end.
These days of mine I realize are shortcoming.
It profits not a man to realize, so soon in life,
We are a world where the young die before the old
And to neither be wrought with anguish
Then the thrill of joy in living.
If I live to see some older years,
And deep within the winter I still grow,
I will not know the difference in the time,
Nor how long you awaited my arrival.