Have you ever noticed that the signs of depression closely resemble the signs of grief? Have you ever considered that maybe the desire to medicate that feeling away is one that should be ignored from time to time? That upping your body’s feel good vibes isn’t necessarily fully acknowledging your emotional reaction to a traumatic event?
We (Americans) are so messed up about the grieving process, relegating it to a ceremony or two, a few weeks of sorrow, maybe some drunkeness, and then expecting life to continue pretty much as usual. If you look at the ways we deal with grief in our popular media, it’s pretty clear we are not supposed to wallow in it, feel it for the long haul, or even spend much time trying to get over it. We portray ourselves coming across a piece of memorabilia and pausing to gaze at it, preferably in front of a window at twilight with the light filtering onto our saddened faces, while a single tear sneaks past our stoic guise and creeps slowly down our cheek. Alternatively, we drop to our knees, loudly scream “Nooooooo!” in complete anguish, and then run off to exact revenge and overcome the pain with a new life, usually filled with lots of money.
If anyone evidences anything beyond a well mannered grief, we begin trotting out the meds and telling them how depressed they are. I am guilty of that sin myself, telling my mother she might want to take something to help her when she was still clearly grieving her parents death years later. Mom, I apologize. I simply didn’t get it.
I get it now because I am grieving. I lost an important and essential person, one who I spoke with every day, and who I planned on working with for decades to come. A friend to me, my husband, and my children. A man who I could call for professional advice, personal advice, or simply to share some of my geekier law moments with. In the place of him, I have grief. I acknowledge it in the morning, when I wake up and gently remind myself that he is still in fact gone. It sneaks out after the children have been tucked in at night, and I whisper to it, telling it that I know it’s still there, and yes, it can come and sit with me a while.
I have been haunted by memory and grief since his death.
See, Nick was one of those people who sidle into your life, linger for a little while in the ‘cool person to hang with’ zone, and then suddenly become crucial elements of your life. His time in my life, relative to my age, was fairly short, but he had impact. He changed me.
When he died, my heart broke. There was a resounding CRACK from deep within my chest and I can visualize the deep, red, dark chasm that now resides in the place of his existence. I can feel the emptiness in that one spot. The rest of my heart feels fine, it revels in Otter snuggles and Monkey stories, it rejoices in my family, my friends, my work. It gets pumped up to industrial music and thrills when I drive too fast with the windows down. My heart loves and beats as it did before, just not in that one empty spot.
Why was he so crucial? Sadly, the reason was something I didn’t fully understand, until it was gone. I loved him when he was alive, and I thrilled in our friendship, but I didn’t know exactly what made him so special until a few months after his death. You see, Nick was a believer, he was the ultimate cheerleader, a constant morale boosting inspiration. There simply wasn’t anything I couldn’t do in his opinion. Every idea I had, every crazy notion I spewed from my mouth was received with optimism. He was like that with everyone. He simply believed in people. He had endless capacity to cheer them on.
He also loved me for exactly who I am. He knew I could be flaky, selfish, and stubborn, that I love to argue with anyone and about anything. He emboldened me, championed my true self. With him I could simply let go and be thrilled with learning something amazingly hard. We gorged on knowledge together. I never had to apologize for thinking endlessly about the law, trying to find it in every conversation, every experience, because he was doing the same thing.
We called each other every time we saw a sign that a lawyer had been at work. The highway sign by the correctional facility that read “Do not pick up hitch hikers”, the street sign in Jersey that read “Bridge freezes before road surface”, the “extremely hot beverage” warnings on to go mugs. Every time we saw something, we called, or sent a text message, sharing the inside joke. Every time I see something now, I still want to call him, or send him a message.
So I still grieve, fourteen months later, for the person who used to loom so large in my life. Frankly, I don’t know if I will every stop feeling that empty place in my heart. I am haunted by the little traditions we created, by the support I am missing, and by the unconditional love that came from such an unexpected source.
It turns out there are people you simply can’t replace. He walked into my life, created this Nick shaped space in my heart, and no one else fits in the hole he left behind. I am just going to have to get used to it being empty.