I found out from her mother. From her mother’s email. The one requesting photographs of our time together one summer long ago in London. She asked if I had memories I’d be willing to share. She said she’d be grateful. At first, I thought she was just organizing her daughter’s photos or making her daughter a scrapbook or surprising her daughter with images that had somehow been deleted from her daughter’s hard drive. All these thoughts to avoid the one that I feared above the rest.
But on her daughter’s Facebook page, I found my answer. I miss you more every day, her cousin wrote. I felt nauseous but still. Shocked and confused and ashamed and regretful, but still.
And then I found myself crying. Tears that weren’t just about her. Crying from shame for not knowing. Not just because I’d discovered such intimate news in such a public place. Not just because I immediately regretted not spending more time with her. Not just because my regret felt so futile and empty and foolish and cliche, that I was missing someone only after she was gone. Not just because I knew that her passing wouldn’t be enough to make me reach out to others. Not just because I felt badly that I hadn’t made the time to talk in years, that I hadn’t bothered to text her. Not just because I wondered if maybe that meant I wasn’t allowed to feel sad.
I cried about the inevitability of it all. About the certainty of death. About the fact that despite how much we want to believe it, we are not invincible. About time passing. About how young she was. About how her mother would never look into the eyes of her daughter’s daughter. About how her father would never walk her down the aisle. About how her boyfriend still had her in his profile photo, and together they danced, happy and perfect and frozen forever, but only here, only then.
I cried for her mother. For how painful it must be to seek the pieces to put together a puzzle that will bring no relief. About how the pieces of her daughter that remain are scattered like the hairs of the dandelion. That there was not enough time in this life to gather enough of her daughter to put the dandelion back together. That even if she could gather all the hairs, the flower would forever remain the same. Like a dried-out rose. Still lovely, but it does not grow, it does not age, it does not live.
About knowing that soon or not, closer friends to me than she would die. Then I cried from guilt for having such a selfish thought. At comparing friends as though their proximity to my heart made a difference in how long and how deep I should mourn them. I cried that I couldn’t be sure where we all go. That I couldn’t be certain that one day, this friend would greet me in a better place. That I couldn’t be certain that when that day arrived, I’d be ready.
I cried tears that I’m not sure were about her at all.
It dawned upon me that tears upon death are not for those we’ve lost. Not necessarily. Not in full. They serve as reminders. That no matter how many times we’re told, we forget; this life shall pass. And no amount of tears will keep us growing, aging, alive.