The words escaped my lips before my brain could comprehend what I was saying.
“I think I died with him that day.”
The magnitude of what I said didn’t process until I felt the tears on my cheek.
My therapist gave me a knowing nod and a sympathetic smile. Perhaps he knew the truth of this statement before I did. I sought therapy after a break-up led me to lash out in anger and fear. I said mean things to my ex meant to hurt him. Things I would ordinarily never say to another. I became obsessed with making him feel pain by throwing every attempt at consoling me back in his face.
The severity of the emotions and reactions frightened me. They seemed bigger than the situation warranted. Deep down I knew it stemmed from the loss of someone I adored with all my heart. I was afraid of someone else I loved abandoning me.
My friend had killed himself four years earlier.
He was an ex, a lover, soul mate and one of my closest friends. Although the definition of us changed with the wind, we never allowed more than a couple days to pass without checking in with each other.
He was my rock. My serenity. When I was unemployed he treated me to weekly sushi night for a year so I would never feel deprived. He sat through some of my darkest times and absorbed my pain never expecting anything in return. I felt safe sharing my emotions and heart with him.
I taught him to paint. It was the only thing I knew which truly made him happy. We spent hours putting paint on canvas and discussing the meaning of life and our existence.
He confided in me that I was the keeper of his secrets. He shared his fears and said he’d rather die than grow old alone. He once stated that if something were to happen to him it would take days for anyone to figure it out. I disagreed and shrugged it off. Those words continued to haunt me. It turns out he was wrong.
During a long conversation about religion he asked for an explanation on reincarnation. I now realize he was contemplating what would become of his soul when he passed on.
I blamed myself for not saving him, as if these conversations were hints I should have picked up on. I should have realized something was wrong the last time he called to ask if I was happy.
I told him I was.
A few days later he killed himself. Perhaps my happiness gave him permission to leave me?
I owned his death and it threatened my own existence. I thought I deserved punishment for not saving him—not knowing. I felt guilty for being happy. I deemed myself not good enough for him to stay.
I lay on my kitchen floor for hours as the sobs overcame me. I didn’t think I would ever recover and at times it seemed I had lost my mind.
My life as I knew it was over.
Finally, with all my strength, I picked myself up off that kitchen floor and made a choice to survive the only way I knew how. I chose to believe that he was in a better place and no longer suffering. It was a story I told myself to numb the pain.
I replaced my sadness with affirmations: I am strong and resilient. Life is wonderful. I no longer allowed myself to cry.
On the surface these actions did a hell of a job numbing the pain.
But our minds are brilliant. They protect us from ourselves. They only let us shut down our emotions and hearts for so long before the alarm bells sound. My alarms came in the form of angry outburst and tears out of nowhere.
My emotions felt out of control. I was afraid if I didn’t work to overcome the grief I would never find myself again.
I had to confront the loss of my friend. I was forced to admit that I had given up on myself the day he died.
Learning to sit with the emotions and process the pain was terrifying. I had no false affirmations left and no room for denial to ease the pain. There were moments it felt like my heart was made of glass and the broken shards threatened to cut me deeply.
But somehow, amidst the pain, I found my light. My canvas is brighter now and paints promises of a future filled with joy instead of only darkness and fear. I take chances and practice vulnerability. I share my stories, even the painful ones through writing. I wake each day with a new curiosity and the confidence to handle whatever life throws my way. As my heart continues to open, I embrace the undeniable beauty of all those I am grateful to have in my present life.
For the first time in years I feel hopeful.
None of us should carry the burden of another’s death, yet some of us cling to that like a security blanket. We punish ourselves for surviving. We quit living out of guilt.
Last week, during meditation the leader called upon our spirit guides and asked us to open our third–eye.
I was sceptical.
But I let my mind empty and relax all the same.
Somewhere in the moment a soul appeared before me. He looked exactly the way I remember him. I’m still not sure if he was an angel, my guide or a figment of my imagination, but I do know I was meant to receive his message.
He smiled at me. He told me that he loves me. He told me to be happy, that he knew I’d be okay. These are the things I imagine things all of our loved ones who’ve passed on would share with us.
As he turned to walk away his head turned for a final glance. His words were simple, but they gave me strength.
“I need to leave you now. It’s okay to let go.”
There was a peace in this goodbye. As he disappeared from my mind I was certain I would find happiness again.
In that moment I made a choice. I’m ready to live now.
“We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.”
~ Pema Chödrön
Author: Kelly Chesney
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Image: Lau_Lau Chan/ Flickr