I never had a friend like Zac before he was in my life, and I’ve never had a friend like him after he was gone. And for a long time, that thought kept my heart in shambles. Not only had I lost this person, but I had also lost the idea of ever having someone that close to me again.
Grief is this weird, ever-changing, monster that will crawl out from under your bed at the most inopportune times. And society has standards for grief that are not humanly possible to meet. I didn’t deserve to grieve. I didn’t deserve to feel as broken as I felt. I wasn’t his family. I wasn’t his wife. I wasn’t one of the guys. I didn’t even live in the same town when he died. I was just Joyce. I was his Joyce, but what grief category did that fit in? Because I couldn’t find one society deemed appropriate. So I ignored the monster the best I could. I locked him up. And when he came out for air, I pushed him back. And I stacked things on top of him. Heavy things. Things that would bring grief of their own. And eventually I passed societies statute of limitations on grief for just a high school friend. I was stuck standing there holding the monster in. Because if I moved, he would come out. And I would be marked crazy and damaged.
I have this theory on grief. Society has levels of grief for us to follow. The world tells us what is appropriate to feel. Did you lose a child? Did you lose a parent? And at what age? Because the years they lived and how they lived them determine how much grief you earn. Did you lose a grandparent? Did you lose a sibling? Did you lose your job? Or did a pet die? Did you get divorced? Did your girlfriend or boyfriend break up with you? It’s a never ending list. And society tells us when it’s appropriate to get back to life the way it was before.
But that’s not how the monster works. For every individual there is individual grief. The most pain a person has ever felt, is the most pain that person has ever felt. Regardless of how it compares to the person beside them.
It took me years to understand that. Years. And I had a big pile of stuff to get through before I got to the bottom. Eventually the grief gets out. And it’s not fun. But it’s better than the struggle of keeping him locked away. Because the constant fighting is what wears you down. The constant battle of convincing the world that you’re okay is what eats away at your soul. Because it’s dishonest. There’s no truth in fighting grief. The truth is in letting it wash over you. The truth is in knowing the war has been won for you.
And life doesn’t go back to the way it was before. That’s not possible. But if you’re reading this and you’ve got a monster of your own you’re fighting off, invite him in. That’s all he wants, is to be invited in. And he may stay for a really long time. Or he may only stay for a short while. And he will show up periodically for a visit uninvited. And if you don’t answer the door, he’ll just bang and bang and bang until the noise drives you crazier than letting him in would have.
It is possible to live your life with grief holding your hand.
I don’t typically share things this personal on social media. I think social media is for pictures of dogs and funny memes. I want the people who know my mess to be the ones walking through it with me. Not because I’m embarrassed of it, but because it’s mine. It’s not yours. And if I’m gonna give you parts of my mess you better be giving me yours. But I’ve been looking around lately seeing a lot of people being suffocated by their big messy pile. The piles they made to push the grief down. There are people in your life who will help you dig through the pile. And if you’re too buried to see them, come to me. And I’ll help you look.
Today is Zac’s birthday. I went to my friend’s grave for the first time. For the first time in over seven years. And that in itself brings a little grief and shame. But I went. And you bet that monster went with me. And that’s okay. Not fun, but okay. I cried a little, and laughed a little, and I just was for a little.
Happy birthday, buddy.