Before 2008, death was an abstract concept for me. But that year, I lost a friend who was younger than me. And somehow my own mortality became... real. Until then, I had seen the occasional weepy movie, and I had supported some friends in times of loss. But I didn't get it. Even when my friend passed - because I didn't attend her funeral - it didn't feel real.
Then, last summer, I supported my brother through the loss of his best friend. He, with his 192 cm frame, honed by years of boxing, was broken. My heart went out to him. I did everything I could to comfort him. I felt so sorry for his loss. Even then, I didn't get it.
Nothing I knew prepared me for the instrumental blow I would receive just a month later.
My best friend, my ex-boyfriend of 5 years, passed away suddenly. I was stunned.
And the experience of the two days leading up to the funeral made it all so much worse. He was not found immediately after passing, and the morgue didn't inform the family that they needed to use a funeral home for the embalming. Yes, I know this kind of things aren't supposed to happen anymore. Yet it did.
And through those excruciating two days I sat by his casket before the funeral, I looked at his face, barely resembling the person I knew and loved, and said to myself he shouldn't know he looked so gruesome. Told myself I didn't have the right to be scared. Forced myself to be there.
My close friend, his sister-in-law, stuffed me with pills. It all felt like a dream. I was crying, but on the inside I was numb. On the last day, the body smelled.
For about a week after the funeral, I thought I would be fine. I even thought to myself: it's okay, it's actually not that bad. I will be okay. It hurts, but I will be okay.
And then it started. It snuck up on me like a dark shadow. The first day it started, I just couldn't get out of bed. I slept in the same clothes for about a week, ate in bed, had to push myself to take a shower.
I had always been there for him - including after his first seizure which, although not deadly, foretold the disease which would ultimately claim his life. I took him to the hospital, stayed by his bedside until 4.00 in the morning. I was there through every health issue, big or small, he had encountered in his last 10 years. When he had surgery, I even held his bedpan for him. He was family. So much so, that I had managed the impossible - my ex-boyfriend, him, and my husband had become good friends. He was family.
The night he passed, I wasn't there. I had spoken to him that day. All I could see in front of my eyes were his last moments. Shocked, alone, scared. The fact that doctors told me it was almost instant gave me no solace. I was desperate that I couldn't be there for him in those last moments. If he had to die, I wished I could have held his hand through it. The guilt crippled me in a matter of days. So much so that I quickly reached the point where I didn't want to live anymore.
In a moment of desperation, a few weeks later, I realised I wasn't able to function anymore. My friends and family were supportive, but I just couldn't cope. So I called a helpline and they offered me five sessions of counselling. I couldn't accept fast enough. Although my depression was swallowing me up like quicksand, I knew I was headed down a bad path.
I knew about the Kubler-Ross model. In theory. It sounded accurate. I read a lot of psychology articles. I thought I knew about the human psyche.
But what I never understood about the Kubler-Ross model is that it's not linear. It doesn't follow the five steps and then you're done. No. It's cyclical. One day I would wake up and believe that I had accepted it. And the next I would cry myself to sleep in desperation again, unable to convince myself that it had been real, angry at the world.
The anger stage was so bad that I verbally bludgeoned everyone in my life. I hated them and myself. It took me about three months to realise I had become someone else. He had been such a big pillar of my life and personality, and I was coping with redefining myself while taking swings at everyone else.
What I was trying to do was not let go. I did not want to move on. I still don't. He was suddenly gone. Not thinking about him every waking moment felt like a betrayal. I was looking at photos, trying to find solace in all the great moments I could remember. And I felt worse and worse.
And then I started having new symptoms altogether. I would have problems remembering the exact events in those few days leading up to the funeral. I would walk on the street, travel on the tube or read the news. And then I would feel it. That smell. I was back there, sitting beside the casket. My eyes would tear up. I would get nauseous instantly and become unable to function. The counsellor told me these are symptoms of trauma. I read up on it. Apparently it's not uncommon. But it was uncommon to me.
No one told me that you can become obsessed with the idea that if something happened to a loved one, it can happen to any of them. Sometimes I'm scared when my husband goes to the corner shop. If I find two missed calls from my mother rather than one, I'm scared to call back. I'm anxious and panicked that something bad has happened. I live with these "monsters" everyday.
To those who supported me through all this madness, thank you. I can't even imagine what it looked like from the outside. One of my closest friends walked out of my life on the day I got the news. Just gone. Death and mourning is not something everyone can deal with. Some people just want, or need, to protect themselves. I have come to accept that, and it's okay. It has all been a journey of understanding things about myself and others.
And I realised this: if I had dedicated all of those months to my friend, it would be something. But instead I lost all of that time to depression. That was not a tribute to him. It was just a waste. So I made the decision to find ways to celebrate his life every day. I'm still working on that.
He was a skinny, freckled ginger. He loved movies. Scratch that. He was obsessed with movies. He was a loner. He was an everyman philosopher. He was a pessimistic, dry-humoured amazing guy. One of the greatest people I had ever met. And I will neverlet go. But I have to keep living.
So after almost six months, travelling this path of guilt, loneliness, and sadness, I must say to anyone out there suffering from loss: you are not alone. Give yourself time. Find ways to focus on the great moments you shared with them. And remind yourself to always take it one step at a time. You need to keep moving. Cry. As much as you need to. The love of your close ones is a fantastic pillar, but it might not be enough in a situation like this. Seek help, if you need it. Depression, feeling sad is nothing to be ashamed of. And, when you're ready, find ways to celebrate who they were.
In the end, this is what got me through it: his amazing contribution to my life is the legacy that will be with me forever...