How To Honor The Living

Months ago I wrote a post exploring how to cope with losing someone, but not through death. If there are great notes about how to grieve a “living loss” that’s not a romantic break up, I’m not aware. It’s not like there’s a greeting card series or shared cultural ritual for dealing with it. It’s just, someone decides to leave the relationship and you have to sit there and accept it and handle it mostly alone. There’s no bereavement leave or floral arrangements for losing a friend who yet lives. There’s just you and the void they left, soldiering on.

It’s happened to me more than once. Sometimes it was for the best, because in short hindsight the relationship was toxic and headed in a dangerous direction. Or based on a mutual situation or understanding that ended and took the person with it, and what can you do? Stuff changes. But the people for whom I grieve didn’t leave like that. They were special friends more like family, people I’d known from the time I was a little girl, people I assumed I would always know and love. One called me her sister; the other her soulmate. How much closer can you be?

“It’s a thin line between love and hate…” Chrissie Hynde used to sing from my parents’ tall speakers, describing how quickly affection can turn sinister, and how deeply individual the reasons. I would ponder the song, wondering how it was possible to burst with love for someone and suddenly want to push them down a flight of stairs, so towering was your hate. I’ll be a music nerd and quote another lyric, “When love is gone, where does it go?” Win Butler implores, describing perfectly the wondering ache.

Both of these losses were shocking to me, and I still don’t quite understand them. I certainly don’t accept them. I mostly just work around the void, glumly pursing my lips when a song or situation or nothing at all provokes a memory. So many memories! So much love and laughter and shenanigans and hurt and misunderstandings and forgiveness and sharing! In-jokes and secrets and traditions galore! And that very special understanding that flows from those who have known you longest, and therefore know you best. It’s never over.

I let them go because they wanted out, away from me. I never got a clear or adequate explanation, more of a slow slipping away that when noticed became a fatal blow. In both cases the severing was done via email, and people, may I implore you to handle such serious business in person or over the phone? Email is just so fucking…cold. And yet I understand the impulse to avoid a person-to-person connection when trying to leave, because what you’re trying to rid yourself of is just that. Sigh.

The reasons given are personal to them, and I will not violate their confidence here. In both cases I left the lines open, telling both should they later, however later, because hopefully our lives will be long, wish to get in touch, they should not hesitate. I would welcome the contact.

For me, neither relationship has resolved, only ended on their side. Neither person uses social media that I can find (yes, I have searched, of course I have) and so I am completely out of touch, their lives untraceable. But in that wonderful way the social fabric weaves itself, I found out one of them had a baby, via a text from another old friend whose mom ran into someone who knew. My best friend from childhood had a baby. Has a baby.

It crushes me anew to know she’s entered a major new life stage without sending word. Not that she owes me anything. She had the right to leave me. But knowing her as well and as long as I did, I know her relationship history with friends is as unstable as my own has been sometimes, and that what she enjoys most are reunion scenes. I’ve seen her reconnect over and over, and she’s urged me to reconnect with people, especially when drawing close to life’s milestones. Understanding she’s reached a milestone as huge as having a baby while maintaining this silence brings the full weight of her loss down on me and I stare off into the distance, wordless, devoid.

Just earlier this week “Give Up The Funk” came on the radio and I jumped up to dance, remembering her. Every summer from the time she turned 16 and got her license we would drive endlessly around our hometown in her grey coupe with the flip-up 80’s headlights. Every summer had its own song, an anthem we played endlessly, a single track soundtrack. One year it was De La Soul’s “Eye Know”, and another it was Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. As I moved around my apartment, fist-pumping, I saw the fuzzy red dice on her rearview mirror. I felt the warm summer air flowing over us as we drove with the windows down and sun roof open. I remembered the time a pedestrian threw up a fist yelling “P-Funk!” as we passed, music blaring, causing us to laugh our asses off.

Remembering, I didn’t cry. I didn’t curse. I didn’t twist my face in bitterness. I opened my arms wide, lifting my heart, giving up the funk to my dear friend, wishing her and her baby well, wherever they may be.



2 thoughts on “How To Honor The Living

  1. Anonymous

    “In both cases the severing was done via email, and people, may I implore you to handle such serious business in person or over the phone?” But ending a close relationship without explanation via text is okay in your book? Or better yet, ending a friendship with one half of a couple (via text) while making the other person collateral damage without any acknowledgement of the friendship you’ve severed?

  2. Jim Williams

    I’d like to say it gets better, less frequent, more consensual, but history tends to prove otherwise (at least for me). Sometimes things happen that make any reconciliation impossible, in my case two suicides by friends I once felt would be around and in touch forever, regardless of conflicts that in retrospect were minor. The worst was a reach-out by one that I misread. Understanding, recognizing and not being hamstrung by past events is often the best you can do – and if there are other ideas I’d love to hear them. After retiring and breaking away from dozens of friends, I try to keep up a tradition of connecting as a group every couple of months, but it’s not the same.


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