This week my significant other lost his 17-year-old son–a cancer warrior. Grief is a suffocating, all encompassing emotion that I am just now realizing I know nothing about. My friend Michael, though, does know a thing or two about grief. His girlfriend, Colleen, who was also my junior high friend and track teammate, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2015. Michael wrote the following blog entry sometime thereafter.
I have found and continue to find Michael’s post one of the best things I’ve ever read about grief. Only now, though, am I turning to it for my own purposes rather than just sharing it with others. Funny, how life has a way of dropping you to your knees in ways you don’t expect. When I’m able, I will share more about that.
For now, though, with Michael’s permission, I am posting his blog post called A Letter to a Friend. Thank you Michael Cameron for the use of your words.
A Letter to a Friend by Michael Cameron
I can only begin to imagine the pain you are feeling right now. While I have known monumental loss, loss of a proportion previously unfathomable, only you can now know what personal hell you are going through. I can try and offer you guidance and share with you what things helped me cope with the feeling of utter helplessness. I can try and assuage the feeling of despair. I can empathize with the lens of pointlessness that will likely shroud your world for a time. I can try and do all of this though, ultimately, it is you that will have to make the choice to endure what you have to in order to become the man you are meant to be.
I am grateful to be able to call you a friend and can only hope that the lessons I learned through my loss can help you bear yours. The ability for me to be here even in small measure today helps to add meaning to my lived experience.
Make no mistake you will have to bear the unbearable and I am sorry to say that this is not a burden that can be avoided. I did at times find solace in sharing with others but at times found frustration with well meaning individuals who simply did not, and likely never would, fully ‘get it’ I don’t think it was a lack of understanding that frustrated me, more the lack of empathy.
My advice here is to surround yourself with those that ‘get it’ and find forgiveness for those that do not. I recently did an interview where I was asked for my top values. It was for the reasons above why Empathy was at the top of my list. I believe that the quality of being able to feel what others feel gives you the greatest insight into who they are allowing you to find ways to make the greatest impact in their life. Examining, absorbing, and enduring what you are feeling right now will allow you to grow substantially. While this is of little comfort now it is the truth.
There is no easy road.
At least not one that I was able to find. For me I swore that her story would not end with her life. That I would continue to ensure her legacy lived on. I carry her with me daily. I resurrect her in my memory as often as I can. A song, a smell, a view, a memory or a conscious tug on my ear lobe like she used to affectionately do, brings her to life even if just for a fleeting moment. There is not a day that goes by that she is not still alive within me. I don’t know if this helps or hinders but it is the choice I have made. Everything you have ever experienced, everything that has made you the man you are today has prepared you for this. You will survive and you will adapt and it will fucking suck.
You will learn more in these moments than ever in your life. I encourage you to practice staying open to the lessons. The line in Ram Dass’ letter to Rachel that spoke to me most was when he said “Who among us is strong enough to remain conscious through such teachings as you are receiving. Certainly very few” I made a decision to remain conscious.
While this is not an opportunity you would wish upon your worst enemy it is an opportunity very few are afforded. Even fewer courageuos enough to receive the lessons. There will be times when you are not strong enough to stay conscious. Don’t. Retreat when you need to. For me it was yoga.
Maybe for you it is a walk.
They will tell you to “Be Strong”. I love them for their intentions but curse them for their ignorance. There can be no strength without weakness just as there can be no light without dark. If ever there was a time to be weak, this is it. Sometimes I would curl into a ball and weep softly, other times I would wail loudly cycling through grief and anger beating my hands violently on my steering wheel while driving. I would let the emotions envelop me completely, simply observing them. I think this allowed me to detach, so as to not become completely overwhelmed, while still letting the emotions flow.
There is no ‘right way’ to do this. Only your way. They will try and tell you the right way. Nod and acknowledge them but find your own intuitive way. Your heart will know. There is no time frame for this. I believe I moved through, and continue to move through, my emotions because I did not and do not fight them. I feel. Even the sadness has become a friend. Sometimes I will weep alone, holding her in my mind. They will ask “Don’t you find that painful?” To them I say no, it is more like having a coffee with an old friend. A quiet comfort held close.
Finding something ‘spiritual’ to grab onto helped immensely. The only way through is to have faith on what is on the other side of this. I believe it was you who said “Just about everything awesome is on the other side of something shitty.” I know this seems impossible today but have faith that tomorrow it will seem just the tiniest bit more possible. Run this marathon one step at a time. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Fuck I hate cliches.
You didn’t lose 100 pounds overnight, you lost it one pound at a time. Narrow the lens of the world to as short a time frame as you need to survive. Maybe you just need to get through the next 30 seconds. Maybe you can picture making it through an entire day.
I do not have any of the answers my friend but know I love you. I will never forget saying goodbye to you in the parking lot of the restaurant when we went for dinner just two days after Colleen was killed. You hugged me goodbye and said “Keep it together” I replied “Nope, I’m going to go home and lose my shit”. You looked at me, cocked your head and said “Don’t confuse the two. Sometimes in order to keep it together you need to lose your shit.”
I see you, I feel you and I am with you.
“For a good life
we just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go
Go somewhere we’re needed
Find somewhere to grow
Grow somewhere we’re needed”