The last five months have been one of the more complex times for the monkeys running the show that is my conscious experience. In short, everything is wonderful. I have a good job. I have a loving partner. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the country, perhaps the world. I have friends, real friends, that show up and care deeply. I think I may have found the closest thing to a home I have experienced in my adult life.
But at the same time there has been something gnawing at my grey matter. The feeling was at odds with the ache of previous versions on myself who would have been uncomfortable being so settled, who were terrified to hold on to anything too tightly for fear of letting go of freedom. This feeling was more akin to a constant underlying sadness. A deep pain lurking and occasionally emerging with my brain spiralling into inescapable despair.
How could I be so miserable when everything was so wonderful? It made no sense. I blamed my field of work. I blamed myself. I searched desperately for purpose and meaning. I was all too aware of the fragility of existence. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Not because I had something to say but because I was stuck in a pattern of introspection trying to make sense of what was going so horribly wrong in my own mind.
When Emily died people spoke of grief being this unknowable beast. “Everyone grieves differently” they said. “There is no right or wrong” they said. “It takes time” they said. To my engineer brain this just said that grief was not well studied enough or at least the people dishing out this advice had not read the literature on it. I wanted a five-point plan. I wanted a time frame and a strengthening program. I wanted to know what to expect.
I have grown up with sayings like “if you’ve got live ones, you’ve got dead ones”. I have lost all manner of pets from a young age. I have seen the insides of animals become outsides. Of all things I thought I would have a handle on life and death was one of them. Its simple right, once you’re dead, you’re dead. The end.
Perhaps because of these experiences. Perhaps because I don’t feel justified in my grief. Perhaps just because grief is “different for everyone”. My grief lurks low in my conscious often arising as something else or something unexplainable. I dissolve into tears, get lost in my thoughts, become unreachable or inconsolable.
More often than not, I think I just miss my friend. I miss the light and joy she brought to my life. I miss being understood and validated by her. I miss laughing with her. I still can’t comprehend how she was taken away so suddenly. I still wonder if she knew, even for a single moment, she would leave us. I still think about how awful that moment must have been.
I have always had a high self-preservation instinct. I am often irrationally afraid of getting hurt. But it used to be abstract. In the past few months, I have morbidly considered my own funeral and the funerals of those dear to me far too often. Suddenly that abstract fear is concrete. I am no longer just afraid of falling. I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of leaving behind more pain and grief. I am afraid of having to live through losing someone dear to me again.
It has been interesting to observe the polarising reactions death brings to a community, especially those with a passion for the outdoors and adventure. The divergence between those who see the tragedy and immediately want to seize the day, freeing them of fear or hesitancy. And those like me who have regressed, like a snail in to their shell, all too aware of the void that surrounds them.
Recently I noticed my journaling had slowed. From writing multiple times a week – confused and introspective thoughts – to not having picked up my journal in a few weeks. I still don’t have the answers to how much risk is too much? And conversely how we ensure we live before we die but I am trying to accept that with such a human sized hole in my heart, it is okay to feel how I feel. That this feeling and everything else, even our time on earth, is temporary. I feel I am beginning to know the beast.