I saw her instagram post and I knew. It wasn’t their last picture together or a throwback of when she was young and healthy. It was a simple picture of a beautiful day where it looked like she went on a hike. With the caption “Today is a day filled with so much sadness and beauty… I will always love you.”
Immediately, I picked up the phone. For a while, there was silence. I knew she was about to call me anyway because I would know what to say. But I didn’t. My heart ached for her pain — a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The robotic phrases ran through my head: “I’m sorry for your loss,” “She’s in a better place,” “I’m here if you need anything.” But I knew she’d hear them about a million times over the next few weeks. Literally a million. Of course I told her I was sorry. Sorry she had to feel these feelings and live the next few weeks telling everyone she was “hanging in there” and she’ll “be okay.” Sorry that she will be inundated with flowers and food and love for the sole reason that she lost someone she loved so dearly.
But then I gave her the best piece of advice I could give her. The only thing that kept me going after my step-father passed away. The thing I try to explain to my mom when she starts crying out of nowhere. She’s with you now. All those times you were out doing things and living life while she was stuck inside missing out. She’s doing those things with you now more than she was a few months ago or a week ago. Everything you experience, she will see. I believe she is there experiencing them with you now, a hundred times more than when she was lying in that hospital bed.
See, my step father was an amazing man. He married my mother when I was just shy of 3. The day he married her, he put a ring on my finger, too, forever promising that he will love me in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part. And he did. Now I had a father. I wasn’t abandoned whatsoever and my father is a great man who is still a huge part of my life today. However, that didn’t change the heart of my stepfather. He still treated me as one of his own blood no matter what. From money and material objects to love and attention to discipline and punishments — I wasn’t spared anything. He had three children with my mom (two biologically and one adopted), but in his mind he had four children.
Growing up, I didn’t realize that there was anything unique about him. I thought all stepfathers did that for their stepkids. But as I got older, I realized they don’t. Once I was talking to a friend’s stepfather and he said “God gave me exactly what I wanted, a boy and a girl.” And I said, “No you have two girls.” Then he claimed my friend wasn’t his daughter; that’s how I knew that I was given an extraordinary man.
I remember going to visit my stepfather in the hospital while he was sick. Two and a half years of sickness and he was still the happiest guy in the world. He’d laugh at everything I said and we would watch TV shows and movies for hours. I knew he would be sick forever, but I didn’t know how short forever really was.
Here’s the thing I learned about death: After you experience death, the kind of death where everyone is thinking of you for two weeks and then they go on with their lives (as they should), you’re still sitting there wondering what the hell just happened and if it’s really real. The kind of death where you suddenly have to readjust your life, your present and your future and live a new life of “normal.” The kind where there’s one less person there. The kind where one of the few people you truly loved and trusted in the world is just gone. This kind of death will show you true heartbreak.
I’ve dated before, been in relationships, broken hearts, had my heart broken, lost a best friend. But this heartbreak is different. This heartbreak is the kind where your whole being just shatters into a million pieces. Where you’re supposed to just understand, accept, and continue life knowing that you are no longer whole. A part of you is gone. And that part will never be there again.
Death makes you strong. I can see that now. At first I thought it made me weak. I thought I was this forever broken, damaged person. A million things have run through my brain, like the painful realization that the man I marry will never get the chance to meet him and my future children will only have stories and pictures of their grandfather. But as time goes on, all that brokenness and all those fears work together to make you stronger. They make you appreciate everyone and everything around you. Even if you already appreciated it, death will bring that appreciation to a level you never knew possible. You’ll take advantage of your time here as best as you can and realize that you can do anything and everything right now, at this very moment. And you’ll just do it.
Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be able to be hurt again. Like no one will ever truly be able to break my heart again. I’ve felt that pain and I’ve survived it and anything else that comes my way is a speed bump that I will recover from much easier.
So to my beautiful, gracious, amazing friend. I love you so much and although I’ll never know the right thing to say no matter how many months pass, just know that when you want to cry or laugh to reminisce or vent, I’ll be here. I’ll be here tomorrow, in a year, in three years, in ten years. I know I only met her a few times, but if she raised you, then I know she must have been amazing. Thank you for being there for me even before you understood my pain.