Sometimes, people don’t stick around for the hard times. For one reason or another, good or bad, they leave you behind. You can be angry or you can accept it. If you’ve gone to enough therapy, sometimes you can do both.
My best friend died. After months and months of caring for her, being available to her at every moment of every day, of hoping she would get better, she succumbed to her illness. And it’s hard not to feel like a failure. The only solace to be found is that I did everything I could. Every inch of my heart and my body, I gave to helping her get better, but it wasn’t meant to be. She died and the grief is all consuming. But the grief also keeps me thinking about the life I have to keep living without her and all the things that happened leading up to this point.
As I cared for her, people left us both behind. She was difficult in her illness, as most people are when they’re very sick. There weren’t very many people who could keep up with her, who could care for her the way she needed to be cared for. I understand that in the logical side of my brain, but my heart hurts and is scarred from watching all the people who just… left. They couldn’t handle it. They didn’t have space for it. Their lives were already too hard without watching their loved one suffer. I get it, but most of the time I’m still angry about it. Maybe I’m not angry at one specific individual or even a group of them, but I’m angry that it’s so common. So many people leave you in the hardest moments of your life.
In the deepest parts of my soul, I wish I could stop thinking that if some of them stuck around, maybe she would still be here. If she had gotten just a little more love and care, she would have gotten better. But that’s not fair. Her death is no one’s fault. And it probably couldn’t have been prevented. It just happened. It just is. She’s just not here anymore.
When I’m feeling particularly selfish, I think about what would happen if I were to be ill in one way or another. Who would come running and who would sprint away? How many friends would think I was too much of a burden to care for?
To some, this hypothetical might seem unfair. It probably is. But the thing is, I am sick. I do need a lot of care. My brain is resilient, my heart has room to spare, but my body is fragile. It can break and ache at any moment. A small accident could land me in the hospital. When I was given the news that my friend had died, I was rushed to the emergency room. My dearest friends had worried looks on their faces and, honestly, I probably traumatized them. They witnessed the worst pain I had ever been in, both physically and emotionally. And even knowing and experiencing the fullness of love and compassion from the people around me in my darkest moments, I still think about who would show up for me if it were to happen again under different circumstances.
People showed up when she died. I held a Mexican version of Shiva in my home to comfort myself and those who loved her. I mourned, I laughed, I cried, and I comforted anyone who would walk through my door. And as awful as I feel and as awful as it is, I still found myself screaming into the void inside my head, “Where the hell were all these people when she was sick?”
And that’s not fair. She didn’t need an army. She didn’t need a church full of people who loved her at her door every day. Truthfully and selfishly, she needed me. Because I could take it.
The part I’m still working through is the fact that it wasn’t just her that lost friends during all this. I did, too. People left me, too.
Mostly I’m angry that they left her because she was the one in need, but I also needed my friends, too. I needed people who understood, who loved us both. God dammit, I was sick, too. I needed help, too. And I can cry out to the universe about how unfair it is that all these people I had loved and did my best at loving left me behind without telling me why, but it only makes me feel worse. Holding it against them only makes me ache. And it doesn’t bring her back.
When I come back to reality, when I can be self-aware enough to look around me, I see all the people that did show up. There were even people who I thought would abandon me in my deepest time of need who went to every extra mile to make sure that I was taken care of. People cleaned my house, brought me food, let me cry, encouraged me to cry, and let me say nothing at all. Friends who called me everyday. Friends who came to the home I shared with my deceased loved one to make sure I was alright. Friends of hers who made sure that her legacy would be kept alive unblemished. This is the hardest period of my life, but it has also been the most beautiful. I only wish that those who left us behind were here to see it all unfold because it makes the grief so much more bearable.
Maybe I need to meditate on what it takes to leave. I’ve been told that it’s hard. The hardest thing some people have to do. Maybe I need to imagine a situation in which I have to leave someone in their most desperate hour because I am not the person to care for them. Maybe then I’ll understand. But truthfully, I don’t want to understand.
Call me a masochist, call me arrogant or too altruistic or a control freak or whatever, but I never want to leave people behind. I want to hold them in my arms until they break off my body. I want to feel others pain and take pieces of it from them. My soul was not built to walk away. Even in all of it’s fragility, my body will not let me leave people behind. Because I don’t want to be left behind. This whole feeling is probably selfish, but everything is selfish. I want everyone I have ever loved to know that no matter the time we spend apart or the distance in between us that I will come running when their lives are at stake. I will risk it all to make sure they feel loved, in every beginning and every end.
I’m probably not very good at that. But I want to keep trying. I don’t want to be the friend that leaves, even when I am. Even when I should be.
My mom often sarcastically says that I want to be la salvadora del mundo. The savior of the world. That’s something I don’t have in me, but in my heart of hearts, I know that helping someone save themselves can be the greatest catalyst for changing the world for the better. If no one had helped me save myself, I’d be dead, too.
When someone dies, I'm told that it's normal to feel anger at anyone and everyone and no one at all. I'm told to feel it, to honor it, but I just want to anger to go away. Anger and I are best friends. Partners in crime. When we get together, all we want to do is burn everything down to catch it collapse in the hopes that it heals us. But anger is never healed and anger has never healed me.
I've come to the realization that grief is almost an unbearable feeling for me. I don't want to cry. I want to compartmentalize and remember only the best of times without remembering that my loved one is no longer here. I don't want to feel the hole in my soul, I just want to laugh and smile. But they deserve so much more than that. They deserve my heartache. They deserve to be missed. It's a connection to each other across universes and timelines that I'm trying my absolute hardest to hold onto instead of letting it fade away.
I lost my friend. She died. Those are the facts. I love her, I miss her, I did everything I could for her. Those are facts, too.
Everything else is just an assumption. I don't know why people left. Maybe I don't need to know. I don't need to know how many people will show up at my death bed, because I already know that someone will. As much as I want to, I can never fully understand death. All my questions will remain questions.
As fucked up as it all may be, I find some solace in this thought: The loss of those who left me is nothing compared to the loss of my friend who died.
I don’t know who should stay or who should leave. I don’t know who can handle what I can handle. Honestly, I don’t know much at all. But what I do know, now that she’s gone, is that I did everything I could to help her save herself. There is no guilt in my soul. Most important of all, I know without a shadow of a doubt that my friend left this world knowing that I loved her unconditionally and that I would forgive her for everything, every second of every day. With that peace in my heart, soul, and mind, I think I’ll continue to be the type of person who stays.