“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” – Dr. Seuss
Grief is an interesting beast.
He likes to show up to the party out of the blue and uninvited. He pays no mind to whether it’s a holiday or whether you are in a wonderful mood. Once he snakes his way in with a memory, he demands attention.
With this in mind, it should have come as no surprise to me when he showed up on Thanksgiving Day.
I had just finished putting the bird in the oven with my mom and was in a state of absolute contentment. There was a wonderful warmth in my house, not just from the oven, but from the comforting presence of family and love.
My mom offered to get the family recipe for gravy going while I hopped in the shower.
This is something else I’m learning about Grief: He loves to tap me on the shoulder in the shower, of all places. It’s like he knows that my solitude in the shower is a place where I can’t escape my thoughts and emotions. I could give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s also making it a convenient place to wash away tears, but that might be giving him too much credit.
Well, there I was in the shower when I remembered a text I received earlier in the week. It’s coming up on the anniversary of a friend’s death, and the text reminded me that the anniversary of the last time I saw my friend alive had just passed. Suddenly, I was flooded with memories.
My husband’s best friend from childhood flew into town to attend a concert with him four years ago. Little did we know that he would die unexpectedly from a massive heart attack at the young age of 36 within a month following the visit.
I harbor a lot of guilt over the last time I saw B.
For some reason, and I can’t even place it, I was in a terrible mood when he came to visit. My ego wants to grasp at straws to justify a reason, that I was stressed out at my job, still adjusting to motherhood, or not prepared for more company that week when we already had other family members in town.
But none of these reasons are reason enough to let me off the hook.
I join a long list of other people that would name B as one of their favorite people. He was bright, funny, witty, warm, charismatic, and special. Yet here I was looking at him like another mouth to feed when he came for an impromptu visit.
Before we had dinner, B got his phone out and showed pictures of his beautiful wife and kids to one of the guests at our home. He was bursting with so much pride over his family. I’m embarrassed to admit that in that moment I felt a small pang of jealousy, wondering if my husband would ever similarly show this level of pride for our family. In the moment, I felt jealousy. Looking back now, this moment makes me feel equal parts happy and shattered.
The evening B and my husband went to the concert, they got home late. My dog was in my bed with me, and she kept barking at them, but they didn’t hear her with my door closed. I had two choices. Option A involved letting the dog out of my room but risking her waking up my son by running down the hallway. Option B was keeping my dog in my room and hoping she would stop barking. I chose Option B and she barked for the next half-hour, making me angrier with each passing minute I was losing sleep.
When my husband finally came to bed, he got an earful for not taking care of the dog and disrupting my sleep. I had no idea that B overheard me chewing my husband out.
The next morning, my husband left for work, and I made breakfast for B and myself. He apologized for the night before, and I was embarrassed that he heard me use my possessed voice towards my husband. When we chatted over breakfast, he told me that he had aspirations to eventually become an administrator at the school he worked at (he was a wonderful teacher). He told me that he wanted to have a big bash for his 40th birthday. He told me that he wanted to take his wife on a delayed honeymoon.
Each of these things is etched in my memory like shards of glass in an open wound. He wasn’t done living. He had so much to live for.
At the end of his visit, I was again in a foul mood. We had all gone out to eat, and it had taken much longer than we planned. I was sitting in the back seat in control-freak mode, trying to ensure that my son wouldn’t fall asleep during the car ride home because he would never transfer well for nap time.
My husband had to drive B to the airport, and I got out of the car with my son. I was inside my annoyed headspace, hating life, and B gave me a hug goodbye. I wouldn’t have even gone for the hug if he didn’t. Thank God he did.
Grief makes you go over circumstances, again and again, trying to come to terms with them. Not only do I have to come to terms with the fact that B is gone, but I have to come to terms with the fact that I was a capital B during his last visit.
It’s easier to come to terms with my behavior the last time I saw him if I allow it to change me for the better. Though I fall short all of the time, his memory reminds me that life is too short to not chase your dreams. It’s too short to be caught up in the small stuff. It’s too short not to go for the hug.
And I’m only one person. His life and death left an indelible mark on me, and I’m only one of the many lives he touched.
I stepped out of the shower and let out one of those cleansing sighs that come after a good cry. My heart felt ever slightly roomier, like a teeny pocket of grief was emptied out in the shower.
Maybe Grief is smarter than he looks. Maybe he came to visit me on the day of gratitude to remind me how grateful I am for that last visit, that last conversation, and that last hug.
I decided to go soak up every ounce of gratitude for the rest of the day.
Life is too short not to.