If I could speak to myself one year ago today, I’d have a lot to say. That version of me would not know the loss I was about to experience. And never could I predict the journey I would begin the day my best friend died. The thing about life is that all of us are going to experience great loss, if we have not already. Nothing anyone could have said could have prepared me for this, but I believe I have learned these lessons to help others; whether it be to cope with grief, or live more fully.
1. People say, “Tomorrow is not guaranteed” for a reason.
2. People will tell you to “be strong.” Being strong doesn’t mean keeping a stiff upper lip. Being strong means finding a reason to keep going. Find your reasons.
3. You have to find the humor in it yourself, nobody can do that for you. But it is necessary.
4. It is pertinent that you cry. At some point. Just let it happen. Don’t choke it down.
5. Sometimes the bravest thing we can do as humans is to be completely alone with our thoughts.
6. Nobody is going to save you. Be your own hero. Talk yourself down from that ledge. Hold yourself on those long, lonely nights.
7. But also, know that you are loved. So much more than you know. Even when you don’t feel the least bit lovable.
8. People’s hearts are measured and weighed during autopsy. You will be outraged that the coroner did not express how big and beautiful your loved one’s heart was. Let your eyes slide across the page of the medical records. She was so much more than that.
9. Some songs will be ruined and that’s okay. Some day you will be in a car and Come on Eileen will play on the radio and you’ll start singing the first verse smiling. You’ll pause for a second, then you will choose to keep singing with a smile. Because it’s okay to do that.
10. Deal with pain however you need to, but just know that this suffocating suffering will pass and you will be left with the pieces of yourself you destroyed in order to feel something or to feel nothing.
11. “Undetermined” is the most haunting word I know.
12. You cannot cover the memories of a loved one in gold and jewels. The greatest service you can do for them, and yourself, is being honest about them. Strengths and weaknesses. Warts and all.
13. When you start laughing again, you’ll be slightly alarmed at how sharp and harsh it sounds now. It’s okay; you’ll be the only one who notices.
14. Sit with nature more. In whatever way makes you feel more connected, more at peace.
15. Let people raise you up in love. You are not a burden.
16. … and do not let people pull you down. Do not let anyone take advantage of your vulnerable state.
17. It’s okay to distance yourself from needy people. You are not a bad person for saying no. You don’t even have to come up with excuses.
18. Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve and recover. (myself included) Find what works for you. Cope how you need to cope.
19. Letting go, in any capacity, is going to feel like the ultimate betrayal. Live your life as a celebration of their life, not as a slave to their memory.
20. No one is impervious to death. The busy, the important, and the loved all die.
21. The above fact is only as terrifying as you let it be.
22. When introducing yourself to new people, you do not have to say your name and hers in the same breath. Your name still has meaning, just on its own.
23. You’re going to meet someone who excites you so much that on the way home from the date you will think about rushing to her house to tell her about him. Instead, you will take down her picture off the highest shelf you keep it on and finally talk to her about everything. Sometimes it is in moments of pure joy that we most greatly feel the loss.
24. That boy may not care as much as you care, but he will spark something in you. Fan the flames. Because it’s not really about what others give you. Letting someone into your heart is a sign of strength. Loving someone is an act of power.
25. Eventually her name will stop feeling like a knife.
26. Whatever you are looking for isn’t at the bottom of that bottle. Trust me, I checked a lot of bottles.
27. Some of the most painful moments will come when everyone around you is happy. Your breath may catch in your throat and your body will betray you with tears. It’s okay to wait it out in the bathroom for a while. Or maybe a nice closet.
28. They will paint over your red lipstick graffiti with black paint. And you will still just barely be able to make out your grief-stricken ramblings. You should not waste perfectly good lipstick on graffiti.
29. Your heart may be on your sleeve but we are all so concerned with our own sleeves that we aren’t looking at anyone else’s. Sometimes it is just much more practical to shout our feelings at people.
30. It’s okay to be angry. Anger is an essential stage, an important emotion. You will be angry that she is not here to experience the amazing things happening in the world. And you can be mad at the world. You can be angry at the people you love the most because they don’t know what it’s like to lose their best friend. But do not be filled with resentment and bitterness. Anger is clear and bright and necessary. Resentfulness will eat you alive. Be angry. Let it burn. Then let it go because there is no one and nothing to be angry at anymore. You have to feel it all in order to move on.
31. Standing on stage talking to a room full of people can be an extremely lonely experience. But it can also be an antidote to isolation.
32. You will hold new life in your hands. You will see a newborn and marvel at the beauty of it. There is no bitterness when you see her for the first time. Just pure joy that life continues. No lies, just love.
33. Most people don’t notice or care if you cry in public. You’d be surprised how many people are focused on holding in their own tears.
34. After a breakup, you walk around and everything around you reminds you of that person. Death does almost exactly the same thing. The finality of it is more jarring than anything I have ever experienced.
35. For a while you may not quite remember just how her laugh sounded. It will come back to you. Until then, just remember how the sound of it made you feel.
36. Find the one you lost in the life that continues. In the joyful squeals of a child, in the mischievous chatter of squirrels, in the smell of a campfire.
37. Take a moment to listen to the laughter of someone you love. Observe the way their nose crinkles, or how their teeth stick out. Just cherish the pure joy of a moment.
38. Sometimes we have to go through life without the goodbyes that we wanted or deserved.
39. Talking about a painful thing does not equate to dealing with it and healing from it.
40. Grief comes in waves. You may finally stagger to your feet just in time to be knocked down again. Probably a lot of times. But you will always get back up again.
41. Give your instincts a bit more credit, they know what’s up.
42. Even at the worst, weakest moments of our lives, we still hold the power to hurt others. Don’t forget that. Apologize sincerely when you do forget it.
43. It happens many times in our lives; we are the proverbial baby bird who must leave the nest. After tragedy, we are surrounded by love and support, and then suddenly, quite suddenly, we are flung from comfort. We really must see the value in flapping our wings, even if we do not go anywhere for a while. Even if the attempt is laughable. You must try to fly on your own. You will soar eventually, little bird.
44. Look up. There are eyes that your eyes should meet with. There are long dead stars that still shine for us. Find the light.
45. Don’t wait for birthdays and funerals to celebrate life.
46. It hurts because it mattered. Our hearts break because they are full of love. Sometimes pain is so great that we wish we never loved at all. Think of their face, their laughter echoing. Think of how much they gave you in life. Death cannot defeat love.
47. You really are not alone. Someone, somewhere, knows exactly what you are feeling and experiencing. They made it through it. There is hope.
48. When everything is destroyed, when life collapses in on itself, recognize that the only thing you can really do is rebuild. This is your chance to appreciate the beauty in destruction. The necessity of rebirth.
49. Wonder and Wander. Find the wildness in your heart while in the bleak wilderness of your life.
50. Despite the destruction of your sense of safety, the loss of a life, the devastation upon your life, find love. Find love for what you do, the people in your life, and what you see in the mirror. Find love despite the pain and bitterness of this world. Find love and passion and chase it until it’s your time to depart.