Facing Difficult Anniversaries

This upcoming weekend is the three-year anniversary of the day a friend from high school passed away suddenly. I find myself dreading the date every year: I can’t stop my brain from remembering everything leading up to and immediately following the tragedy. I can’t stop counting the time that has passed without them, or the moments I’ve lived through that they never got to experience. The memories tumble through my brain. Like a tattoo on my soul, they feel inescapable. 

 

These difficult anniversaries bring with them conflicting emotions: I feel guilty for still being so deeply sad, three years later. I feel angry. I am melancholy over what could have, and should have, been. I wish for things to be different, and I stay up at night flipping through what-ifs until the early hours of the morning. 

 

Grief is cyclical, I’ve learned. Like the ocean, it ebbs and it flows. Sometimes it’s a calm body of water. Inside your grief, you can see a reflection of the person you love who has passed. (Because what is grief, if not love looking for a home?) Other times, grief is a tidal wave. It crashes down on you without warning while you’re looking the other way. It leaves you gasping for breath, scrambling to find the surface again. 

 

For a long time, I struggled to reconcile how they died with how they had lived. I could not detach my sorrow and anger from any positive memories or reminders of them. Any moment with this person that had joy attached to it inexorably became a heartbreaking, painful recollection. 

 

That is why, this year, I am making the conscious effort to be grateful for the beauty this person brought into my life. As time has softened my pain, I’m able to fondly recall our friendship without being immediately struck by how it ended. I remember how they hugged me after their performances in our high school’s musicals and how they grinned at me in the school hallways. And now, sometimes, I can even smile.

 

As a community, my high school and my family came together in the wake of this loss. I also remember how we kept each other afloat, pushing one another up with shaking, straining shoulders to help each other breathe again after a tsunami of grief swept away our air. 

 

I’m trying to find beauty in my grief by being grateful for what I did and do have. Grief isn’t a simple process. Three years later, those great, tumbling waves are fewer and farther between, but they still exist. When they hit, they hit hard... and in my grief, I’m not alone. 

 

Losing someone you love is one of the absolute hardest things a person can go through. There is no way around or out of grief. There is only through grief, and learning to live with grief, and trying, even when it’s hard, to find beauty in the love people have for each other.