Regardless of how fulfilling our life is, nothing can derail that fulfillment faster than the loss of a close friend. Throughout life we come in contact with so many incredible beings. Some connections are instant, either kindred spirits or soul mates (not necessarily in the romantic sense), more those we felt like we have known in a previous life. Kindred spirits and soul mates leave lasting imprints, though the void that comes after loosing them can make it difficult to feel any of the imprints that are left behind.
Having lost one of my best friends when I was just twenty years old, after a failed heart transplant, I was no stranger to the empty feeling that occurs after the death of a companion. Unfortunately, previous experience does not alleviate future loss and in the last year I faced two epic loses. Last May, my first best friend and person I greatly admired, my Papa (grandpa) passed away. Despite feeling as though he had died several times before his actual death, as the Alzheimer’s and Dementia ate away at the person I grew up knowing, the official death left a feeling of loneliness I was not anticipating.
Loosing someone that at one point was larger than life to you is rough, mercifully the feeling of being alone was quickly over powered by thirty-one years of mischievous adventures, sarcastic wit, and life wisdom I would be able to pass down. Then nine months after his passing, my dog of almost twelve years died. As those who have had pets know, loosing a pet is a unique loss that affects the feel of your entire home. It does not matter how much love your home is filled with, the emptiness once they are gone can be suffocating.
Given how large their presence is, it makes sense when you think about the many roles pets fill in our lives; best friend, fur baby, security blanket, and protector. They are always there for you, greeting you at the door waiting to hear about all your highs and lows. They alert you when something is suspicious, or in Marley’s case, when random people (otherwise known as neighbors) were walking in front of his house. Their love is uniquely unconditional and they inevitably make your life better.
I got Marley less than a year after my childhood friend passed away, just before Nolan and I would have turned twenty-one (our birthdays were two weeks apart). I think Marley was my way of focusing on the future, as I faced a big birthday alone and continued to mourn the loss of my friend. When I saw Marley, I was instantly connected to him, at the time I wanted to rescue him and make his life better. In the end it was my life that improved.
Though some life choices may have taken place regardless, many of the decisions I made in my formative early-mid twenties were done with Marley’s best interests in mind. Everything from the incredible man I married, to our decision to purchase our first home. When the time came to move on from our first home, it was watching the chipmunks and squirrels running around in the backyard of the second home that sealed it for me, knowing Marley would relish chasing the woodland creatures.
Looking back, my life could have ended up much different had Marley not been a part of it. His presence made it better and his love only increased as our family grew. Marley accepted and protected my girls from the moment each was brought home. Happily sitting with my oldest for tea parties, allowing her to cover him in blankets in their forts, and was her best patient during her Doc McStuffins phase.
After over a decade of always being there for all of us, the hardest part when it was time to make the decision to say goodbye, was feeling like I was not there for him when he needed me most. My youngest was just three months old when Marley was diagnosed, meaning when Marley was suffering most the majority of my time was spent attending to our spunky spirited newborn.
While uncertainty can feel worse in the beginning, it has been my experience that in the end, it does not matter. I feel the same about ‘good-byes’, when Nolan passed he was in New York for the heart transplant and there was no ‘good-bye’. Marley died with his head in my lap, I had the chance to tell him how much I loved and would miss him repeatedly. Yet, in both scenarios the grieving process was roughly the same. The pain of the first few days weighs so heavy it feels almost impossible to get out of bed. As the week goes on the happy imprints begin to over power the pain. Then with a few months under your belt, the next wave hits – for me, it’s when it becomes real. There was no bad dream, they are still gone, and it still sucks!
As a good friend advised, ‘I’d love to tell you it gets better, but it never really does. Life doesn’t go back to normal, you just learn to live with it, it becomes your new normal’. Even though this sounds rather grim, it has actually brought much needed relief. In realizing after each loss of a close friend, there was no moment when that part of me felt full again and that’s all right.
As Aristotle once wrote, ‘A true friend is one soul in two bodies’. It would be impossible to not feel empty after loosing a friend, as it does very much feel like part of your soul is gone. However, while the lack of their physical presence may leave us feeling empty, what they have imprinted on our soul will always be there. Perhaps the best we can do in building our new normal is to hold tight to the imprints their soul was kind enough to leave behind, while remembering how fortunate we were to have them at all.
* Sadly, Nolan and I grew up pre-iPhones and digital cameras.The few photos I have of us, I do not currently possess, or I would have shared them, as well. *