missing my friend three years later

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.”

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My late, great best friend and boss of almost two-decades. I miss him every day!

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an anniversary to honor but not celebrate

Over the past year, I’ve peppered my generally upbeat, happy blog with some very sad posts due to the death of my boss/mentor/best friend, Alan. Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of his death. This time last year, I couldn’t begin to fathom the pain that would result from losing someone who was such a constant in my life for so many years and someone I loved unconditionally. For more than a decade, barely a day would go by when we didn’t communicate—whether in-person, by phone or by text/email. So to say going cold turkey was a shock to my system would be a gross understatement. I found myself reaching for my phone to text him at all hours of the day from different locations. Not for anything important. Just because. And then without warning, or perhaps a warning I didn’t heed, I couldn’t.

The urge to text him was so strong. I had so much to say! One afternoon, about a week after he passed, I made an impulsive decision while watching Huey Lewis perform at City Field that if I wanted to write Alan, I would! Rather than send him texts, I began writing him notes using the notes application on my iPhone. And I’ve been writing these notes regularly for the last year. There is no schedule to the “when”—during work, before bed, while out with friends etc. And there is no pattern to the “what”— I tell him how much I miss him, I recall a private joke, I express a fear etc. I thought after a year, I would read the notes back and see how far I had come in coping with my grief and accepting the permanence of his death – character development so to speak. The truth is I’ve read through them more than once because it makes me feel close to him and whenever I do, I cry because each note brings me back to that moment in time and is a reminder of what I was feeling in that moment. The notes are more hysterical at the beginning mixed with a lot of anger, both at the situation and, yes, with him too but even a year later, there is a lot of repetition. A lot of asking why he had to die and whether I’d ever fully recover it, I’ve come a long way but I’m nowhere near “healed.” I told my sister time doesn’t “heal” all wounds but hopefully it will “soothe” them.

It has been suggested to me that I publish these notes and I do wonder if others would appreciate such honest and raw expressions of grief. I also considered the possibility of donating much or all of the proceeds of sales to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. After giving it, admittedly, not much thought, I’ve decided it’s just too soon. I’m not ready to share my inner most emotions as they were expressed in real time with the world. Additionally, I’ve decided to keep writing them whenever the mood strikes. It does strike me less often than before. As Alan used to say, “Baby steps, Merrybeth.” However, in honor of the one year anniversary of his death, I’ve chosen to share a few of them:

I’m so pissed that the drug worked on 6 of 7 people and then killed you. Angry!!! You are so wonderful. Why? I’m sorry. I know you’re thinking: don’t dwell; being angry doesn’t change anything. I know. I know. I always hear your voice in my head. But I’m just so fucking sad. I miss you almost every minute of every day. I hope so badly you’re here with me- someway, somehow. Please jump in my head so I can hang with you in my dreams.  7/15/2014 10:41pm

“The mornings are the hardest. Knowing I have to go an entire day without hearing from you by text, phone is unbearable and the thought of no Alan for a lifetime is breaking my heart. I love you and hope you’re ok wherever you are.” 7/17/2014. 8:24 a.m.

You were in my dream last night! You were responding to tweets on Twitter which is weird since you weren’t on Twitter. I didn’t get any direct interaction with you which was disappointing but it was so good to see you. You were still dead (ugh I hate saying that!!!) but you were ok. Come back again please! I’m so sad. Dragging myself to spin class. I also got a weird vision that said “you’re prettier when you smile” and wondered if that was a sign from you. I hope so. 7/27/2014 9:34 a.m.

So, I went out to dinner with Abbe, Hilda and Jules tonight and actually had fun for the first 2 hours. I cracked jokes and everything. And then we had a drink somewhere after and it hit me that you were dead and I just wanted to go home. I keep thinking I can text you or you’re going to visit me somehow. I do believe you will but knowing I can’t control the when or how is so hard. And so is knowing that it won’t be the same. It will never be the same. I’m so sad. 8/1/2014. 11:15 p.m.

Today was a toughie. Alice is coming this week to start packing up your office. I don’t think I can stand it. I’m afraid I will lose it. Why can’t they just retire your office like Jeter’s number 2?? I miss you so much. It still aches. I still don’t underarm why you died. I feel like a child. People die. But I loved you. I wasn’t ready to lose you.  Spell check changed “understand” to “underarm.” I’m keeping it. It’s funny. Like you. Like me when I was with you. 9/29/2014 11:02 p.m.

I miss you. I’m scared I’ll forget your voice. I still can’t quite accept that I’ll never see you or talk to you again. I get through each day at a time but when I try to think long term, I panic. I know I have no choice but to deal with it but I keep thinking it’s all a big misunderstanding. Like Three’s Company. I hope you’ll visit me again. Please be with me tomorrow when I go to the doctor. I’m very scared. I remember last time I did this. You asked Rachael Benz to come with me. I bet now you would come with me yourself if you were still here. I love you and always will. XO. 10/12/2014 8:33 p.m.

Happy almost birthday. I was walking to the subway and got this urge to text you and I realized that, for me, texting you was like breathing. I didn’t think about it. I just did it. Sounds silly but it’s true. That’s why I can’t breathe sometimes when I think about you. 10/26/2014 10:48 p.m.

I lost it today. Some corny Dan Fogelberg song made me think of you and I cried. It’s ok. I’m used to it. Flying to Kentucky tomorrow. First time flying since you’ve been gone. No one to text “landed.” So pitiful. 12/10/2014 6:20 p.m.

“The dead can hold a grudge better than most scorpios.” Line from American Horror Story. Made me think of you because you were so damn proud of being a Scorpio. I hope you aren’t holding any grudges. I got a 3 star review from a reader who said she enjoyed Blogger Girl from the first page to the last and would read my other books. Go figure. Oh well 🙂 LOVE you. 1/2/2014 11:17 p.m.

I’m on a date. I kinda like him…1/9/2015 10:33 p.m.

Remember when we used to thumb wrestle? You always won and I always tried. We were so cute! I have a cold, tomorrow is my ultrasound AND my first book reading. I’m scared. I miss you! 2/11/2015 10:35 p.m.

Today is the eight month anniversary of the worst day of my life so far. 3/8/2015. 6:31 p.m.

OMG everyone on that show Nashville is so good looking! Like Sawyer times 50!!! I miss you L ./11/2015 11:38 p.m.

You used to make this silly sound “ba joobie joo.” I make it sometimes and think of you 🙂 Like now. 6/23/2015 12:34 p.m..

My late, great best friend and boss of almost two-decades. I miss him every day!

My late, great best friend and boss of almost two-decades. I miss him every day!

Dwelling

I was planning to write about part two of my vacation from real life—when I returned to New York City after my trip to Barbados just in time to greet my fellow authors from faraway lands who were in town for the Book Expo America Conference. I had such a fantastic, if not exhausting, time but I don’t feel like writing about it. My friend Samantha Stroh Bailey wrote a terrific recap here if you’re interested.

I was also thinking about doing a mass giveaway of my most recent novel, How Do You Know? I think it’s my best writing so far and I want to reach a larger audience but I don’t feel like promoting today either. (Although if you want a free ecopy, send me an email as I’m in a generous mood.)

My books are lighthearted, fun reads but my heart is too heavy right now to write a light, fun blog post. I miss my boss/best friend Alan so much and I can’t shake it off. Maybe I don’t want to shake it off. Missing him keeps him alive but the pain right now is excruciating. Don’t get me wrong, not a day has gone by since he died that I haven’t missed him and thought about him a hundred times an hour. But sometimes it’s a dull pain—I know he’s gone and I hate it but I go to work, write, spend time with friends, exercise, watch television, date, and yes, enjoy being alive. Other times, more often than not in the last week, the pain is sharp and I feel the grief so deep in my bones that I can’t breathe. The silliest things set me off and I break down while doing my ab routine at home, while doing sprints in spin class, while making coffee in the pantry at work etc. For instance, I cried remembering how Alan would sometimes reply to my emails/texts with a simple “Ok” and when I would complain that he wasn’t really listening to me, he’d respond, “Ok” again just to piss me off. I couldn’t be angry with him because I was too busy laughing. Another example: I was getting ready for work one morning, listening to a concert on the Today Show, and from out of nowhere, I heard Alan’s voice saying, “O No You Dit-ten” and I felt my heart in my throat.

The man could read my moods like no one else. He would take one look at me and know when I was having a bad day without my saying a word. He’d say, “What’s wrong, Merrybeth?” and my lips would tremble and the whole story would come pouring out. The amount of time he spent trying to cheer me up when I was down could be measured in years. I think about going the rest of my life without hearing his voice or his laugh and I’m terrified. I wonder how I will navigate this crazy world without his encouragement, guidance and humor. He had such faith in me and tried tirelessly to make me see myself the way he did but he died before he succeeded. Every day, someone’s life is irrevocably changed due to the death of a loved one and somehow the world keeps turning but right now, as I hover over my tablet at the coffee shop blinking back my tears, I can’t breathe.

It’s called a grieving “process” but a process suggests that it will end and I can’t imagine a time when I won’t miss him with a fervor. I don’t publicly dwell on my grief very often and only share it with a select few in sporadic outbursts. I think I’m embarrassed. Like I should be “over it” by now and the fact that I’m not makes me weak. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough but how does one “try” to stop missing someone? Alan used to implore me not to dwell on things I couldn’t control and I’m dwelling for sure. I’m sorry, Alan.

When I first started blogging on this site, I wrote a post called Blog Vows promising, among other things, to keep it real:

I vow to keep it real.  I will not paint my life as one of perfection because we all know that no one’s life is perfect.  I will post the good, the bad and the ugly.  But the ugly will not include pictures of myself after a two hour run or after just waking up in the morning.  I vow to post about my books and my writing but also anything on my mind I think might be of interest to my followers, including but not limited to events in pop culture and humorous observations about life in New York City or anywhere else my travels take me.   

So, today I’m keeping it real by admitting that I’m having a difficult month. But it’s time to wrap this up. My plan for this afternoon was to spend an hour on my blog and two hours on my fiction but it’s almost five o’clock and I need to get home and prepare for my evening out. Stay tuned for my next post which will hopefully correspond to the humorous, light tone of my novels! Similar to a good book, I like to keep you guessing and, truth be told, I often surprise myself.

blogging in darker times – guest blogger at Chick Lit Club

I was asked to do a guest post for Chick Lit Club, a fabulous blog with news and reviews on some of the hottest novels in chick lit and women’s fiction. With the death of my dear friend, I’ve been having trouble writing “light” posts and when I confided this to my fabulous book manager, Jennifer Gilbert, she suggested I use my grief as inspiration. This is what I came up with:

Darker Times