The Other Side of Mourning in Real Life
Last week I released a short story on my website about loss and mourning (The Other Side of Mourning) and coming out on the other side of it. This year, I experienced the other side of mourning in a different way. My very good friend of sixteen years died suddenly in February. She was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer for the second time in fall 2021. Her first battle came in 2019 after a year of health problems, first with open-heart surgery due to a massive build-up of fluid around her heart, then a hysterectomy, a wound that didn’t heal properly, and then a cancer diagnosis. I was there for her through it all as her companion, nurse, and taxi. Though it was a difficult year for both of us (her much more than me), I was glad we had that time together. Late 2019 through early 2020, she stayed with her sister in New Hampshire to get her cancer treatments. She had chemo and came home. Clean bill of health for more than a year. Then, her CA125 was elevated at one of her last follow-up appointments in 2021 and she was once again diagnosed. In January 2022, she was back in New Hampshire to get her remaining cancer treatment.
I spoke with her via text and messaging more often than we spoke on the phone, but on her last day, she called me. We laughed and talked about her new grandbaby, we talked about her cancer treatments, how they were making her sicker this time and how she worried the blood clot filter they put in her leg in 2016 had shifted. She promised to talk to her doctor about it on her next visit and also to talk to them about how the treatment was making her feel.
Then she died. It was that sudden. In the early afternoon, she was there and before midnight, she was gone.
I found out the next morning via a Facebook message from her wife, “Sayword Loretta passed away last night.”
I’ve never had a close friend die before. I’ve had people I know pass away, but never someone unrelated who I loved like family. That’s what happens when a friend becomes a best friend, isn’t it? They become family. She was one of my best friends and she was gone.
I stayed quiet for a few days. Having experienced the nuances of dealing with the death of a loved one not too long ago, I understood the family needed time to get things in order. I didn’t need to be part of that. Then, I sent a message that was read and unanswered. I waited, lamenting to my husband how I was stuck between two minds, one that knew her family was mourning and needed space, and one that was also mourning and needed answers. I was there for my friend, without question, whenever she needed me, yet I couldn’t find out a single piece of information about the celebration of life mentioned to me.
Still, as someone who isn’t family, I am not entitled, am I?
Eighteen days after her sudden passing, I received a message saying they were still planning a memorial for her. Upon asking if there was anything I could do to help, I was told simply they were still planning and trying to keep the family on the same page.
The single word “family” told me my place. I can mourn her but I have no right to any further information. That was my interpretation. When I received a message later that day from another friend of my friend with detailed information about the upcoming memorials, I was further reminded of my place, a place I’d never stood in before.
I was suddenly the woman standing outside looking in, but the scene was incomplete and blurry. All that was certain from the exchanges I’d had, and those I hadn’t, was that I was unwelcome in this setting. I didn’t have the right to be there.
Even as I type this, I wonder if I should. The interpretation of me as selfish has played a constant loop in my mind since I grew weary of waiting for someone to just do the right thing. Not just where I’m concerned, but also where my other dear friend is concerned. She spoke to our lost friend every day. Every single day, and she didn’t get a call until today, more than a month after our friend passed to let her know what is planned.
Mourning is difficult enough when you’re family and you’ve lost this person you’ve loved for decades, but imagine if you lost them and no one spoke to you, or when you messaged them they ignored you. It’s a complicated and uncomfortable place to occupy.
For me, I don’t look to receive any communications anymore. I don’t want them. I will take my memories and create my own memorial for my lost friend, my lost family. I wish everyone who loves my beloved friend peace and healing. She wouldn’t want them to become stuck in the pain of losing her. She was a religious woman, and she was sure she would see everyone she loved on the other side someday, even though we all hoped that someday was decades from when she actually departed.
What I hope to convey here in this post is not anger or disdain toward my friend’s family. They love her and want to protect her, and that’s all anyone can hope for. The message I hope to send to those who are in the same place I’ve been since February 3, 2022, is, I know it’s awkward and frustrating, and I know it hurts, but give those who don’t understand your position the benefit of time. Do your thing to remember your loved one. You don’t have to stay in place with your grief. Donate to their favorite cause in their name, plant something in their memory, walk or run a marathon in their memory, or just light a candle and tell them how much you love and miss them. You don’t need permission to remember their life.
And remember, found family is just as important as blood. Your sadness is not insignificant.