I listen to a podcast called, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking”. It’s hosted by a woman who lost her dad to cancer and her husband to brain cancer, all within a couple weeks of each other. She started the podcast to tell the stories of people in various stages of grief. Who have gone through terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things to remind all of us that we’re going to go through some version of these things, and it’s ok to feel terrible. And sad. And lonely. All of those deeply human emotions that we tend to run from, bury deep, and pretend we don’t feel.
Right now, I’m answering that question with, “fine”. Because I don’t know any other way to explain how I feel about life right now. In the span of 10 days I lost a friend to suicide, ran a half marathon, became an aunt for the third time and got fantastic financial news. To say I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions is an understatement.
The first of these emotions was pure grief.
I got a text from a friend while I was getting ready for work. All it said was, “are you ok?” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I knew I should sit down. Texts like that are never followed with good news. And then I saw the post on Facebook from his mom. My dear friend from growing up, the person I always thought would be there, loving me in the pure way he did, was gone. And I didn’t believe it. Because how could it be true? He had two kids that were the light of his life. He was goofy and kind and made friends with everyone that crossed his path. He smiled big and cared deeply. And now he was gone.
I called my ex-boyfriend from high school in disbelief. He picked up and we both began to sob. Because what else is there to do when someone you love dies? You cry and cling to the people who knew how special he was. And there’s an awful guilt that comes when someone you love chooses to end their own life. You go back through every text, every email, every correspondence to second guess your responses. What could I have said differently to let him know that he was one of the best humans in my life? What could I have done to let him know in that moment of deep despair that his life was full of people who loved him?
I have decided that there’s a different kind of loneliness that haunts you when you’re in your 30s. That community of friends and family are there, of course, but most people are so involved in the world they’ve created, it’s hard to ask for help. Who wants to be a burden to the friend raising their babies or chasing down their career goals? It’s hard to ask for help no matter what age you are, but I think there’s something particularly difficult about asking for it when everyone around you has built these lives that can be hard to fit into.
At his memorial service we all wept and leaned on each other. Sharing memories and stories about this man who brought so much joy to our lives. And these childhood friends were the people my mom never wanted me to hang out with. They were the ones with the long hair and lip piercings. They passed the time by playing in punk bands and skipping school. After we went off to college, they took a different path. They have lost close friends and nearly lost themselves. But they’ve come out on the other side as kind, gentle, life-worn people who pass their time raising children, living sober lives and dedicating themselves to island cottages and blind dogs. They all made it. Jensen didn’t. And it breaks my heart.
So I have spent the past month figuring out how to grieve my friend. A friend who reminded me that I’m worthy of love. Who brought me flowers throughout high school for the hell of it. Who would go hiking with me every weekend. Me in my hiking boots, him in his flip flops and corduroy pants. Jensen was always game for adventure, regardless of the journey or how ill-prepared he was for it. He’d ride up to my house on his green Honda motorcycle and we’d pass the time wandering around Bothell or just hanging out in my basement on my big bean bag chair. There is no other way to describe Jensen aside to say that he was my constant. He was so many people’s constant because he knew how to be a friend. He had a such a genuine heart. Full of love for the people that came into his life. He was the friend that you trusted, no matter what. Because he loved people that deeply.
And the last time I saw him I could tell that his heart was heavy. And I told him that he would get through it. Because life had a way of throwing a bunch of shit at him, and he always pulled through. I gave him a big, long hug and told him I was always there for him. Always had been, always would be. I wish that could have been enough. Or that he remembered that at the end.
So here I am. Trying to celebrate the big and exciting things—new nephew, great job, financial stability, etc.—with that heavy weight of grief I can’t seem to shake. And I suppose I’m not meant to shake it off. From what I’ve learned from fellow grievers, the best way to deal with this heaviness is to embrace it. Lean into it and let myself feel the sadness to my bones. Always one to hide my pain, being vulnerable about this particularly wide and open wound has been a struggle. But I want people to know about Jensen. I want to tell his story and how deeply I feel his loss so people don’t forget him. Lord knows I never will.
A couple of days after the world lost his light, I ran a half marathon in the north cascades with two of my best friends. We ran through fields of wildflowers and we ran in his honor. At mile 8 or 9, Heather exclaimed that she felt Jensen. That he was all around us. And I felt a sort of calm I hadn’t felt since the news. It seems fitting that wildflowers will always remind me of him as he used to show up at my door, bouquet in hand, a reminder that we’d always be each other’s special people.
You belong among the wildflower. You belong in a boat out at sea. Sail away, drift off the hours, you belong somewhere you feel free. Run away, find you a lover. Go away, somewhere all bright and new. I have seen no other who compares with you.