It’s been exactly three years since one of my favorite people in the world lost his battle with cancer. Since I’ve posted about him many times in the past, I won’t bother to refresh your memories as to who he was, except to say he was my boss for almost two decades, only so much more. He was my closest friend for about ten of those years and probably the person with whom I spent the most time since we worked and had lunch together nearly every day. He was the person who made me laugh more than anyone else. He brought out the best in me, but accepted the worst in me. He was my sounding board, my words of wisdom when I needed them, a frequent shoulder to cry on, my figurative GPS when I lost my way, and my confidence when I struggled to feel worthy. His friendship changed my life and his death brought me to my knees.
I’d never experienced loss like this before and I had no idea what to expect. In all honesty, I never gave it much thought. Grief isn’t something that can be anticipated or prepared for until you’re immersed in it and by then, it’s too late. I legitimately never imagined a time when Alan wouldn’t be around, and so it never even occurred to me to gauge how long it would take to go on with my life without the near constant yearning to see him, talk to him, laugh with him, and simply exist on the same plane. I’ve read many books where a character loses someone she loves whether a parent, spouse, lover, sibling, or friend. Typically, the character is an emotional mess for approximately one-to-two years before coming to terms with the loss, accepting it and moving on the best they can. At that point, they are usually able to think about the person without crying. They can embrace the good memories without breaking down and asking “why?”
Where am I in the process compared to these fictional characters? I’m not even sure. I haven’t come to terms with the loss yet. Most days, I still have to remind myself that it’s real—that he’s truly never coming back. And I continue to ask “why” on a regular basis. At the same time, I’m frequently able to summon up a memory without crying. In fact, I mention his name in conversation each and every day because it brings me comfort. Usually it’s at work. My new boss, Deborah, adored Alan as well and we joke about him all the time and repeat “Alan-isms” often. I’m unbelievably thankful for those moments when we laugh about him (and sometimes “at” him) and grateful Deborah and I are in this together. His picture is in both our offices and we’ll point at it and say, “Isn’t that right, Alan?” or “Do you agree, Alan” and then we’ll predict what he would have said in response. These moments make me smile, but they also leave a lump in my belly and an ache in my heart when I remember (again) that he’s not really there. He’s not going to jump out of the wall and say, “It’s not a matter of if you’ll make a mistake. It’s a matter of when,” so we just have to say it for him.
I still think about him numerous times throughout the day, but I’m able to focus completely on my work, my writing, and whatever other activities I’m engaging in (exercising, socializing, marketing, reading, dating etc.). I couldn’t do this when he first passed away. At the same time, something will frequently be said that will drive my thoughts to him. For example, a phrase will be uttered that he used to say, or a memory will pop into my head, or a venue will be mentioned where we went together—it doesn’t take much. It’s anyone’s guess whether the memory will warm my heart or fill it with the familiar pain.
Random things make me sad. I wrote four books before he died. I’m writing my eighth now, which means at some point soon, I’ll have written more books after he died than I did while he was alive. That hurts even though I’m certain he’s proud of me and wouldn’t want it any other way. He bought me many electronic devices as birthday gifts. They all have a limited shelf life. Once they all break or have been upgraded, I won’t be able to say “Alan bought this for me.” I hate this for reasons that having nothing to do with buying my own devices!
Before he passed away, we texted to a ridiculous degree. Nearly every random thought in my head was shared with him because I knew he’d “get” it. If I was waiting in a doctor’s office and bored, I sent him a text. If I witnessed something funny, did something stupid, or just had time on my hands, I texted him. I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself when he was gone. I hadn’t a clue where to put those thoughts. Of course, I have other friends, but the esoteric nonsense we exchanged was so particular to our friendship. My solution was to write him notes on my phone just to get the thoughts out. I still write him notes, but with much less frequency. Rather than several a day, I can go entire months without doing it now. And then sometimes I’ll send three in a week again. But I’ve learned to live without communicating with him constantly. (I do talk to him sometimes and, no, he doesn’t respond…at least not the way he used to.)
Two years ago, I posed the question whether grief was a process with a beginning, middle and end or if it was a permanent condition. From my own experience three years in, it’s permanent. The severity varies from day to day, week to week, and sometimes month to month, but it’s always there. I can’t hear about someone else’s loss of a loved one without acknowledging my own ongoing pain. I know what these people are in for and my heart breaks all over again—for them and for me. I feel their loss deep in my gut because I know it’s an ache that doesn’t really have an end.
I might not have come to terms with Alan’s death, but I have accepted that I’m never going to wake up one day and no longer miss him. I’m not really sure where that leaves me, but to borrow one of his favorite phrases, “it is what it is.”