Here’s what I’m learning about grief: there is no “right” way to do it. I said goodbye to a dear friend last week. Not the kind of goodbye I’m used to but the permanent kind. She slipped away while sleeping. She was 29.
Death is always hard – but when it comes to someone who was young and bold, everything is layered with additional pain. Last year, a student of mine was killed by a car. I had been teaching him about conjunctions a week before and then, just like that, I was hugging his family and trying to say something, anything of comfort to them. When I got the news about my friend Meredith, I was taken right back to that place.
You know when you take a bite off of a cheap fork or get a tiny piece of tinfoil in your mouth and it makes you shiver? News like this gives me that metallic-y taste in my heart. This can’t be right. First graders and 29 year-olds aren’t supposed to die. There must have been some cosmic mix-up.
Meredith was a magnet. Her joy could be felt a hundred miles away. I know there’s a tendency to make people out to be larger than life once they’re gone – but Meredith really was glorious, no hyperbole necessary. My sister had met her ONE time several years ago. That’s it. And the second I said Meredith’s name to Leah this weekend, she immediately knew who I was talking about – and I could tell that Leah felt this affection towards her that had lasted for years after their encounter. It’s hard to make an impression on someone you meet once for only about an hour. But Meredith did that handily, all the time. She took so much delight in other people. She gave the fiercest hugs and had the best laugh. It was rare to see a photograph of her where she wasn’t being theatrical, entertaining every bystander with her antics.
She was playful and hilarious and loved God more than anything.
Grief makes you second guess everything. What am I supposed to do in response to such heartbreaking news? What should my texts to mutual friends look like? Do I table plans for the day and cry? Am I crying enough? Do Bobby and I still carry on with the budgeting conversation we were planning to have? Do I sit down and write about this? Do I post it online? Is that too heavy? Too sensational? Too 21st century?
“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
-Morrie, Tuesdays With Morrie
I’m unskilled in this thing called grief but here’s what I’m coming to realize: you do what you can with what you have. Saying goodbye – or dealing with any deep emotion, even if it’s joyful – gets so much harder when we’re trying to package it just right for other people.
So here’s what you do: you cry when the tears come. You jump in the pool and watch Netflix when you need to distract yourself. You read Anne Lamott and hash things out with God. You remember how precious and wild this life really is and call your people and let them know they matter. You pay tribute in whatever way you can muster, imperfect as that may be.
You let the goodbye wash over you again and again in its many different forms.
“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
Goodbye for now, Meredith, cherished friend. I will forever be your biggest fan.