It was midnight when my phone rang. I checked the caller ID and saw the name of a friend who never calls me. His voice was tight, tense.
"What is it? Are you ok?"
"Have you heard. . .?"
Before he finished his sentence, I thought, "She killed herself."
He confirmed what I feared. How did I know?
The words "what and why" played on a loop in my head.
He told me about a gathering for friends and family. I was invited. I thanked him. I made sure he heard me when I told him that I loved him and hung up the phone.
I didn't know what to do next.
It felt strange to cry. I mean, I only spoke to her when I saw her at parties; she wasn't a close friend. Did this mean I did not have permission to grieve her passing? I sat cold and empty for a minute.
Then I called my boyfriend.
"I am not sure what to think of this."
"Maybe don't think, just feel how you feel."
I did. And then I lost it.
Through teary eyes, I found the next flight home and booked it.
After landing, I went straight to a celebration of her life. Photographs and shared memories wallpapered each room and cards with her favorite sayings were interspersed amongst the images.
She is beautiful.
She was beautiful.
One man spoke too loudly, as though the grief took away his ability to control his own volume.
Another man sat in the corner with aviators over his eyes, rolling his head while he tossed one beer after another down his throat.
I saw an old friend I had not spoken to in years because of an immature disagreement. He walked over to me and we held each other forehead to forehead, and wept. Superficial arguments mean nothing when you are faced with tragedy.
We all sang "Hey Jude" in honor of her and our voices rang out in a twenty block radius.
We thanked her for her time on earth and blessed the soil that we used to cover the roots of a tree we planted in her name.
Throughout the day I kept jumping in and out of "commentator mode." It felt so much more comfortable to sit in my head and watch myself and others go through the process of mourning, all the while commenting on the status of grief and the way we should be handling the situation versus the way were actually handling it. Like a sports announcer for my own experience.
"And she is off to feeling shameful again, oops... there she is coming around the corner of judgement and settling back into compassion. Don't you just love it when she finds her way back to a nicer place in her head... how about that for a process, ladies and gentlemen?"
The battle between the safe-haven of my analytical brain and the raw, burning ache in my heart and throat was strong. I wanted so badly to figure everything out from the neck up so I could escape how sore and tender I was everywhere else.
She was loved -- truly and deeply. This was evident at her wake with the outpouring of friends and family coming together to hold on to one another, to each of us, in efforts to somehow ease the burn inside each of our chests. We used our voices, our tears, our embraces and our laughter to ride each wave of sadness and confusion brought on by the recognition of her end.
We were celebrating her existence. And, in turn, we were celebrating our own. Dehydration and sore throats from weeping and singing acted as mortar, holding us together, while we weathered this storm.
I wish I could have helped my friend. I wish I could have reached into her lost soul to understand what she was going through, and find any way I might have been able to help. Selfishly, I wish I had that capacity. I wouldn't be grieving this way if I did. But . . . I didn't, and don't. Accepting, respecting, and learning from her choice is the best way forward from this point.
Suicide is complicated. I cannot pretend it is something I understand and even as I write this article I am battling with so many questions around life and death, choice and victimization. I want to say that my friend was wrong and bad for ending her life so abruptly. But when I step back from the pain, I feel from losing her. I see that really I am just trying to cover up the fact that I will miss her. I am scared; scared of how fragile we are, scared of the permanence of death.
I don't know how to mourn. I hate it when I don't know how to do something. Immediately I look for some sort of a guide or lesson plan, "How to Grieve Most Appropriately," or "What Getting Over a Friend's Death is Meant to Look Like." But, there is no book -- no standard process. Mourning just happens. As with all things in life, there is no consistent or reliable way to overcome grief. There is just our own unpredictable, vulnerable, fumbling process. We can count on that.
I don't really know how to contend with the end of life. Distracting myself with all sorts of stories and accusations feels better than sitting and staying present with the finality of this loss.
I want to apologize to my friend -- apologize for not being closer to her when she needed help.
Because of this experience I have been able to refine, deepen and uncover the truth of what is most important to me about life:
When I lie down at the end of the day, am I proud of the kind of lover, partner, friend, sister, and daughter I was that day? Do those people know how much they mean to me? How much I love them? How much I care? Was I kind? Was I honest? Present? Compassionate? This is what matters. All the rest is filler.
And as I looked around the room at her wake, looking at her life and the people who loved her most, I saw such beauty and felt intense gratitude.
Thanks for the lesson my sweet friend, wherever you are. I will miss you in body but carry you with me in soul... always.
Follow Allison Mack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/allisonmack