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The Sweetness of Our Aching Grief is Love That’s Blossomed into a Garden

Photo by 2 Bro’s Media

Feelings are weird. 

They can hide so deeply in the crevasses of time and denial, that you believe you don’t feel them at all anymore. Until a little sticky reminder floats along and yanks them all back out. Like pulling a dead tooth. Finally, you see: Oh. THAT’S what was under there.

For me, it was a dream. 

January of 2021. An odd, eerie dream about a friend who died in a nasty accident nearly eight years  prior. 

It uprooted that tree, and all that grief I’d so neatly packed down, sending shards of dark, wet sadness flying everywhere. Grief I thought I’d healed years ago. Yet there I was, recounting the events of March 18, 2013 to anyone who would listen, as if it had JUST happened yesterday.

Grief is a tricky little thing. I can never quite figure it out.

How can I miss him more now than I did five years ago?

It’s cyclical, maybe.

Dreams: The Funhouse Mirror to our Inner Worlds

He’s shown up countless times in my dreams since 2013, and yet this year, he visits me more regularly than ever before.

Some dreams are scary. Back in January, I ended up re-reading those awful news stories from that stormy day eight years ago. A few times during those weeks, my dream world had me seeing him lying on wet pavement, motionless and bloodsoaked.

Some dreams are chilling. I often dream that I’m back at my old high school. In these dreams, it’s always nighttime, yet the school’s still packed with students. I dream that I’m desperately searching for him, but can’t find him anywhere. These dreams often end with me looking down to see that I’m the one who’s covered in blood.

A few months ago, I dreamed that I was following him down a dirt road, when a cougar came up and stood between us. I later read that cougars apparently symbolize impending doom and death.

As 2021 progressed and that thrashing tornado of grief shrunk into a tiny, crying baby that I could hold in my arms and soothe– I found that the dreams gradually became less fantastical. Now, I still see him when I fall asleep sometimes. But I see hugs. Smiles. I see elation. Like a long-awaited reunion. 

The 17 Year Old Me Who Couldn’t Grieve, and the 25 Year Old Me Who Helped Her

How can I feel closer to 2013 now than I did five years ago?

Maybe it’s because five years ago, that crushing grief still lay in the darkness. Waiting. 

There was a version of me hidden away down there– she was maybe 16 years old– who screamed and screamed and screamed.

Even on the day we laid him to rest– even immediately after his death– I could not even get close to my own despairing sadness. 

I had no way to handle it. No clue what to do.

I knew that, deep down, part of me had just died with him. It was that sweet baby Taylor who loved having someone to walk to class with. Someone to sit with at lunch. Finally, finally, someone to look forward to seeing at school, instead of dreading waking up every morning the way she did only a year earlier. THAT version of me had just been crushed to her death.

He’d graduated a year before I did, and so baby Taylor had been without him for 10 months already. Well, not entirely– he still showed his face at my band performances, because that’s just the kind of friend he was.

It was that little Taylor, who’d struggled so much to make friends at 15; little Taylor, who’d watched a friendship materialize out of thin air. She couldn’t imagine she’d mean so much that he’d still show up as he did during his final year, when he wasn’t even obligated to do so anymore. It was that little Taylor, who stared at her phone in disbelief on the morning of March 19, looking at a text that her friend had sent only two hours before he stopped breathing forever. 

I think I knew that that grief could easily kill me if I got too close.

Sometimes, We Stuff Our Feelings in Self-Protection

I refused to hold back my gentle tears at his funeral. But the aching black hole of despair? That, I had no bearings for. No bearings for the feeling of absolute drowning misery, as I lay in bed the night after praying my goodbyes to his cold wooden box, and remembered all of the times that I could have spent with him, but didn’t. That chilling void threatened to destroy me, just like that tanker on a stormy interstate had just destroyed him. 

Yet here, on the other side– though I still often ache so desperately for him to live– I find that grief can be so sweet.

The sweetness of the aching is love that’s blossomed into a garden.

It’s my reminder– just like those sweet dreams– that he could really never leave. That our bodies are only clothing for our souls, and that some of us vanish far sooner than we’d like. That although it’s torture to not hear them speak… We can hear them. 

And our grief is so sweet, because we can hear–

We can hear all of the rushing rivers of love they were too human to express to us while they lived.

And they, too, can feel it. They can feel all the words  we never had the chance to say.

I know that the sunshine of his smile, that brightness that greeted me every morning back in 2011… It brightens me still.

He’s the sunset, he’s the flowers, he’s the laughter, and he’s the tears. 

We are eternal sunshine. We will never truly die.

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