How Grief F*cks with Your Brain and Other Lessons in Mourning
Bethany was my friend. But she was more than a friend. We met at an event for Atlanta Tri Club and she asked me to coach the moment she found out I had some coaching experience. She encouraged me to become a USAT Certified coach. She submitted my name to serve on the regional council of USA Triathlon. She would ask me to contribute to her articles and even to her book. We dreamed of making the sport more inclusive to women and created events to do just that. We started a podcast together. Laughed together. Cried together. We would find each other at events when we ran out of extrovert energy and just wanted to hide out.
When I heard the news that my 37-year old triathlete friend had laid down to take a nap and never woke up, my brain disconnected from my emotions. My very first thought was, ‘that’s sad’, followed by, ‘I’m a terrible person. What’s wrong with me for being so disconnected?’. I casually walked into my kitchen and poured another cup of coffee. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor of my living room sobbing.
The day is a blur. A combination of disbelief, of tears, and of frantic texts trying to get information. I wanted to DO something to make it better but quickly realized that nothing would change the fact Bethany had played with her twin babies that morning, gone for a run, went to a christening, and ended up in the morgue by evening.
And the week was even worse. On Monday I starred out the window for hours, finding myself in tears every time I went to the bathroom. I would wake up in the morning, telling myself to get it together and get to work but by Tuesday afternoon, I had given up all illusions of actually working.
I alternated between sadness, irritation which felt like the worst PMS of my life, and exhaustion.
I haven’t lost anyone close to me in over 20-years. I’ve walked through grief with friends. Intellectually I know that it hits everyone in a different way but the whole time I felt like I didn’t have the right to feel the way I did. To grieve. After all, a husband had lost his wife. Two babies lost their mom. A mother and father had lost their daughter. We were very close but she had closer friends. I felt selfish for grieving.
My sweet friends all reached out to me, asking to take me to dinner or drinks, even dropping off gifts. When I told Lauren she hugged me more fiercely than I can remember being hugged in a long time and offered to drive me to the funeral. My team at work gave me flowers and told me to take as much time off as I needed. I struggled to say yes to the offers. I felt like I was bothering people, like I didn’t deserve for them to love me through the process.
The funeral was surreal. Surrounded by hundreds of people you know, waiting in complete silence for the service to begin.
During the funeral service I was almost stoic. I felt like I was watching as an outsider….an extra in a bad movie.
Because Bethany had twins almost a year ago, we hadn’t spent much time together this past year. The boys spent their first 3-months in the NICU and then in isolation to keep them healthy. I stopped by for occasional lunches and texts but she had two new babies and I had a new job. Life was just busy. But now, almost a year since we would regularly hang out, my memories of her are so clear. Memories that had faded are suddenly vibrantly alive. I can hear her voice like she’s in the room with me. It’s like my brain has taken memories that were buried and decided to display them on a big screen tv.
In the past week, I’ve come to accept that grief will be a long process - that I’ll likely cry at some point each day for a while. That my focus still isn’t where is was and my patience is still a little short. That’s okay. Grief fucks with your brain and sometimes you just have to let it.
But grief also brings it’s gifts. You reflect. When someone dies so young and so unexpectedly, you start to think about your choices and start to reprioritize. We always say that time matters but when you come face to face with unexpected mortality, it sinks in that it really matters.
And perhaps the best gift is that you remember what it means to really love people.
Taking the time for long lingering dinners with second drinks on patios despite the hot summer nights.
Real hugs - not those hugs that might as well be a handshake but hugs where you wrap the person in your arms and hold on tight.
Looking around the table at a birthday celebration and feeling overwhelmingly grateful for every person sitting in a hot bar on a Sunday evening.
Driving as fast as you can in rush hour traffic to hold your little niece in your arms and then sitting to watch those terrible tv shows that they make for 3-year olds because she wants to sit on your lap.
Putting away your phone while at dinner with your family because you know that nothing really matters more than an ordinary Monday night dinner.
Grief will completely fuck with your brain but it will also bring you gifts that you never imagined you needed.
RIP my sweet friend. Thank you for your love in life and your lessons in death. I will miss you always.