It’s a best friend. It’s a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s your husband or wife. It’s the person who you confided in and they confided in you. The person you spent nights until 3 a.m. making sure you had all the jewels in the level of Spyro you were trying to beat. It’s that person whose fingertips you were barely holding onto anymore. Their hand was there. And you could feel it. But it wasn’t as warm. Their company wasn’t as comfortable. When you looked at them you saw that they were in front of you, but it wasn’t the person that came over with Mean Girls and your favorite brand of gummi bears the night your Grandpa died. That was a real death. That was a real heart torn apart, inconsolable, awful, can’t breathe, never-going-to-feel-whole-again kind of death. But this death.
Death is permanent. You can believe in afterlife and you can believe in reincarnation, but the truth of the matter is that when someone dies on this earth, you don’t see them for who you knew them to be ever again. But what happens when someone dies, but they’re still living? The person who was once such a constant in your life, but isn’t anymore. That’s a death too. And I would surely take someone leaving me and not wanting to than someone leaving me because of a conscious decision.
This still living, still breathing, conscious death was a slow one. Like a cancer that has exhausted all treatment options. The kind of death that you wish would just happen already so there’s no more pain, but selfishly you want them to hold on because you can’t imagine your life without them. The pills make the pain less dull, but you know it’s there. You still laugh and you still go hiking and you still work and make plans to go camping and you smile for pictures. But you both know there’s something there that’s a ticking time bomb. Sometimes when you’re together there’s a shooting pain and, oh… you both remember the cancer. That elephant in the room. The elephant that causes you to one day look at them and not recognize the person withering away in front of you.
Only this isn’t cancer. And they’re not withering away. The only thing changing and the only thing dying is the relationship you once knew. And the person in front of you is no longer your best friend. The person in front of you is no longer that vivacious and fun and caring person you grew attached to. You know it’s THEM, but it’s not really them. Their eyes are still the same brown and they still feel like the same person when you hug them and their voice is still low and their laugh still makes you smile, but somewhere along the way even that became a distant memory.
And then they die. They choose to die. They choose to be dead, but only to you. The people you once shared a mutual friendship with are now also dead. You mourn the loss of not just one person, but several. It’s like a mass exodus. People you thought would always be there aren’t anymore. You thought real death was a heart torn apart, inconsolable, awful, can’t breathe, never-going-to-feel-whole-again kind of emotion. But this death.
This death is harder. This death is open-ended. This death leaves you open to seeing the ghost of the person you once knew like the back of your hand. This death is a haunting of sorts. This person is still walking around and breathing and laughing and playing Spyro until 3 a.m… but they don’t want you to know that. This death leaves you reeling about what you could have done different to save them. You spend months with no contact and without any mention of their name. You have the same death nostalgia you had for your Grandpa. You think of all of the things you did together and the happy memories that make you cry when you realize you’ll never have that again. But the difference between your Grandpa dying and feeling nostalgic and your friend willingly dying is this: hope. Your Grandpa is gone. But your friend is still alive and well. You know this because of your mutual friends, all 138 of them (or so it seems). And this open-ended, haunting, death-but-not-really-death-because-it’s-only-to-you leaves you with the tiny flicker of happiness in your heart that you may run into them again.
So you hope. You hope that someday you will run into them at one of your 138 mutual friends’ weddings and you’ll catch their eye across the church and you’ll nod and they’ll smile and their frosty exterior will melt away to reveal the person you knew before. And you’ll see each other at the reception when you’re in line for the bar. And you’ll joke about buying a shot of goldschlagger because of that one night and the ice will chip away some more from their cold exterior. And you’ll smile and say how much you missed them and they’ll say the same. And you’ll dance later while they do that stupid Bernie dance and you’ll both laugh. And you’ll finally feel the warmness of friendship between you two come back and that overwhelming feeling that it will be okay someday. But the truth about hope is that it has an ugly side that crashes down in the form of reality.
Because this death. This friend’s death will leave you two at a church for a mutual friend’s wedding. You’ll walk into the church to say hi to old high school friends and you’ll catch a glimpse of them and there is no nod and there is no smile and there is no melting of the coldness that surrounds their exterior. Instead tears well up in your eyes. Instead it is very much like a haunting of someone who has long been dead. Instead you’ll excuse yourself, and you’ll avoid eye contact. And instead of getting to the reception, the two of you won’t even make it through the receiving line outside the church. He’ll walk away with you looking after him without even a hello, let alone a goodbye, without a smile, without a nod, and without a word. Because he died. He’s alive. But he wants to be dead. But only to you. He is a haunting of a friendship that no longer has hope. Because there is an ugly side of hope: reality.