On Friday night, a friend of mine was killed in a freak accident. She was dancing in the surf on the beach after a party, and stumbled in the sand when a wave knocked her over. Then a big wave surged forward and grabbed her, and a rip tide pulled her out to sea. Her friends on the beach were helpless to stop it - it happened so fast. Her body washed up a half hour later, and they were unable to revive her. It's the kind of story you'd expect to see on the local news, but there's been no mention of it. If I'd seen a news report, perhaps it would feel more real. (EDIT: The news reports have begun to trickle in, finally, but it's still a strange feeling.)
They say that the first stages of grief involve some form of denial, and a strange dreamlike state that can last for some time. You see, I've dealt a lot with death in the last few years. But the people I've been close to died after a lengthy illness. It was brain disease, cancer - things that helped me prepare for their passing. I knew they were dying, and I went through the grief process gradually, able to say goodbye while they were still living. I was prepared for the end.
But when a friend is suddenly taken, when you're expecting to have lunch with them in a few days, and you get the call or the email that they've been killed, that they drowned in a terrible sequence of events... it hits you in waves. The grief comes all at once, the waves hitting you and making you feel like you're sinking, then floating, then sinking again. Pulled into a sea of doubt and confusion. You think, "This can't be real. Maybe I read that wrong. Maybe I heard that wrong. Perhaps this is all a cruel joke." But time and time again, it sinks in that yes, this is real. And this person is not coming back.
I've never understood until now how grief can make someone go mad, how someone can die of a broken heart. I didn't know her well, I wasn't amongst her close friends, but news of her death sent me into a kind of dreamlike state for hours, where sometimes sound seemed muffled, and I would drift off in thought, losing awareness of my surroundings. My husband took me to lunch, and encouraged me to watch movies, to talk about it when I needed to, and not to feel badly about expressing my grief, even when I made an ill-advised post to Facebook when I'd heard the news (which I deleted, realizing I'd upset someone with it - I could write an entire post about how this incident is making me rethink my entire relationship with social media).
I couldn't bring myself to the yoga mat yesterday. It was too much. I felt too emotionally raw to do anything. Tonight, at the encouragement of a mutual colleague and friend, I said the Amitabha Buddha mantra for my friend, who was a Buddhist:
OM AHMI DEWA HREE
Repeated 108 times, it resonates a connection with the realm of bliss, and I focused all the fruits of the chanting on her passing spirit. We all have ways of grieving, and for me, honoring her religious traditions with a chant that was meaningful to her and that is meaningful in death means almost as much to me as singing old Lutheran hymns to my father on his deathbed. Neither of them are my own religion, but there's a sense of universal connection in the processes of love and death that breaks down arbitrary distinctions of creed. What is meaningful in those moments is the moment itself, and what one chooses to do with it. I took the calm of the moment and brought that to my yoga practice, letting my grief drive the poses. A short, simple practice, letting my body fold in half, collapsing onto itself, supporting itself.
Ironically, last week my husband's hard drive crashed, taking with it three years of his writing work, photos, music, etc. It hadn't been backed up. Our honeymoon photos, the photos from the trip we took after our engagement, our wedding photo album... all gone. Yesterday, in the fog of grief and shock and sadness, we went and bought a backup drive so we could start backing up all of our work, our music, our photos... our memories.
I'll miss my friend, who loved to dance on the beach, who looked wonderful in purple, who helped me in moments when I really needed it, and treated it like it was nothing, even when it sent her out of her way, unbeknownst to me. The best way I can move forward is to remember the things for which I admired her, and live in a way that honors the best of what I knew about her, and grieve for not being able to get to know each other better, as we'd planned to do in the coming months.
There's something comforting about this, that even when we lose everything, even when we lose those who are precious to us, we must move on, grow stronger, sink our roots deeper into the fertile ground of life.
This is living.
This is life.