(Amy and me, at another friend’s wedding, 7 days before she died.)
Tomorrow, it will be 17 years.
I got the phone call from someone who didn’t really know Amy, so when he was acting strange, and told me to sit, and told me “Amy died” (his voice breaking), I didn’t have a clue who he was talking about. I would never in a million years have associated him with her. I had no reason to be concerned, and I wasn’t.
He didn’t know her maiden name, or her brand-new married name, so when I said, casually, “really…..Amy who?” all he could manage to get out was “Your Amy”.
In all these years, and all this writing I do, I’ve never found the words to convey to you what she meant to me. She was my best friend, yes. She was like a sister, yes, especially because neither of us had a biological sister. She was my person-the one I went to when I was in need, the one I went to when something was, as she would say “awesome!”. She was, as Carrie described Samantha in Sex and the City, “my friend. My family…..my insides.”
Yeah, no…. still doesn’t do it. Anyway.
I miss her every day. It’s not the acute, suck-the-breath-out-of-your-lungs shock and awe show it was when she first died. But let me be clear: this kind of grief doesn’t go away. It may dull, chronic…it may not be the first thing on my mind when I wake up, it may only show up acutely on days like today, when I’m so aware of the date tomorrow. But it is there nonetheless. My loss of her is ever-present, it has been woven into fabric of who I am.
It changed me. In two very fundamental ways, ways that I’ve been reminded of since the election. Because I’ve had some similar feelings since the election, and as luck would have it, here we are just over a month later at her death anniversary.
Before I share these, let me be clear about something: I’m not grievous about the election because “my candidate” lost. I’m not grievous because I think things can’t change, or get better. I’m a social worker, which means “agent of social change”. Things are always changing.
I’m grievous because of how divisive our country and society has become. I’m grievous because when a huge portion of the country is devastated, and another huge portion is popping champagne, there is something gravely wrong. I’m grievous at how badly I see people treating each other, how much fear and hatred and distrust has been unleashed. That feels like a death to me. I believe people are basically good, and I’ve seen a LOT of not-good lately.
So here are the two fundamental ways that Amy’s death changed my life:
Firstly, when you experience someone who is young and vital and (we thought) healthy just literally drop dead, it can rattle you to the core. There one minute, gone the next. I have been feeling pretty rattled since the election, and the ensuing chaos. I have felt….disconnected. Listless. Like there is nothing to hold onto that feels familiar–and all of these things were things I felt when Amy died. And back then I learned–the hard way– to take nothing for granted. Not the presence in my life of the people I love, not the privilege and rights I’m so fortunate to have, not the way I see my own country and society, not the notion I have about people’s goodness. It can all change in an instant.
The second thing I learned, the yin to the yang of the first thing, is that every great loss opens the possibility for great blessings. That is not some Kumbaya bullshit, it’s not spiritual bypass. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything. But it’s true, at least for me. When your heart breaks, it breaks OPEN. And there are things on the other side of that that we cannot even fathom. When Amy died my world went dark for a long, long time. People tried to tell me all of the trite cliches: “she’s still with you,” “you will always have the love you shared,” “she’s a part of you,” “you’ll always have your memories.” And those were all true. I didn’t want to hear them, but they were all true.
And then some.
In the seventeen years since Amy died I have mined from that devastation so many gifts I can’t even name them. I’ve opened my heart more and more, connected to my work more. Loved more, and harder. Taken risks I would have never taken before. There is an indescribable quality to my life, a presence, a vitality, that was not there before my loss of her. Sure, some of these things might have happened if she hadn’t died. I’ll never know, of course. But I know this: when I feel myself disconnect from myself, all I have to do is picture her fairy-tale wedding, and then four weeks later the same people (plus a few hundred more) at her funeral. Standing room only. And I remember: It. Can. All. Change. In. An. Instant.
I’ve seen something else new happen since the election: I’ve seen people wake up. Open their hearts more. Start to question, want to work towards making things better. Want to work TOGETHER towards making things better. Anyone who has known me a long time knows that I pontificate about this all the time (have for eons)-everything matters. What we do–or don’t do–makes a difference. There are a few politicians, and then HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of us. There is a consciousness arising as a result of this election that might not have otherwise shown up. And it is shaping up to be pretty fucking gorgeous.
I call Amy’s dying ‘her last and greatest gift to me’. Would I rather have her here? DAMN SKIPPY I would. I would do anything to have her back here. But I can’t. What I can do is accept the gifts that keep showing up as a result of that loss.
Would I rather have a country that was not so rife with conflict and misery? Would I rather have had an election that we had NO concern a foreign country hacked? Would I, personally, rather have a more progressive President-elect? DAMN SKIPPY I would.
But what I can do, is accept these gifts that show up in the middle of the shitstorm. I hope you will, too.
I miss you, my dear friend. Forever and always.