I wrote this about this time last year to commemorate the one year anniversary of a very dear friend passing away. With the two year anniversary coming up on October 8th, i thought I would take a minute and reminisce...
A few months ago while making my routine and astronomically high monthly bill payment to my cell phone provider via their website, I was pleased to learn that since I had been a dutiful customer of Verizon Wireless for the past two years I was now eligible for a complimentary new phone! Hidden in the bottom corner of the website, strategically located just out of eye catching view was the tiniest of all links saying “P.S. you’renoweligibleforneweverytwo” in the most boring, size 6 Arial font one could ever imagine. I have no idea how I ever saw it, but alas, I did (Score: Jenn 1, Verizon 0), and after spending countless work hours searching and comparing and agonizing over the newest and latest phone models available, I finally found one that “spoke to me” directly. I mean it literally spoke to me, as in it possessed the ability to talk. Now this was a huge selling point to me as I am an admitted chronic texter, and - though I’m not proud of it - I have been known to engage in this dangerous behavior while driving. (spare me the lecture, I’m now reformed). Thus meaning this hip, new, voice activated feature was somewhat akin to a life saving endeavor for me. Now I could simply speak out loud the words that I wanted to text and my phone would just input the text for me, meaning no more fumbling with the makeshift keyboard while steering with one knee to type out a quick “lol!” response.
But I digress, back to my point... I completed the online checkout process, and in the following days I patiently awaited my complimentary prize, I mean phone. I couldn’t help but feel like the dad from the movie "A Christmas Story", awaiting my Major Award for being such a wonderful and loyal customer. I guess today’s voice activated cell phone is the shapely leg lamp of yesteryear. After nearly a week spent incessantly hounding the UPS guy, and tracking the location of my package online, (It’s in Connecticut! It’s getting closer!) my new phone finally arrived. I immediately tore the box open, and settled in for a long day of getting to know my new phone. A few more countless hours of work time wasted, and I was in love. Not only did my phone know how to talk, but it also listened… I mean REALLY listened… and good communication is always key to a long-term phone purchase.
Everything with my new phone was going great, until I started to manually transfer over my contacts, one by one. Now I know there’s a much better way to do this, but for me I personally prefer to give each contact in my collection a little one-on-one face time, where after a few seconds of thorough analysis, I make the pertinent and irreversible decision as to whether or not the individual has “made the cut” to be transferred into my new phone. Though I admit that during this rigorous examination I generally have trouble actually deleting any contacts, I certainly do enjoy the memories each contact name conjures up during this housecleaning effort. All in all, it’s just another valiant effort to be super organized like the control freak I am.
All was going well and fine until I got to the “L’s”. Right there between “Laurie” and “Leanne”, was “Leah” staring back up at me in all her Four-Letter-Worded-Name glory, proudly, and a bit defiantly. I could almost hear her saying “what’s up now, bitch!?”. Here before me stood a conundrum that wasn’t really prepared for and I must admit that I had a tough time determining what to do. Did Leah make the cut into my new phone? Certainly Leah passed my rigorous examination questions with flying colors “Had I called this person in the last 12 months?”, “Does this person know of my existence?”, “Would I feel at all uncomfortable if I happened to drunk dial this person at 3:00 a.m. some night?” etc. Though I knew that I would never call her again, there was still something very unsettling about simply deleting one of my closest friends from my phone contacts permanently.
I eventually made the decision to transfer Leah’s phone number over to my new phone, though I knew deep down that I would never see her name flash on my new phone’s caller ID. Nor would I ever get another “GO SOX!” text from her, nor would I ever scroll through my phone’s photo album after a night out and find 15 pictures she’d taken of herself in a drunken stupor. Something about seeing her name in my contacts was comforting. You see, my friend Leah had been killed in a car accident about three months prior to this, and this simple exercise of transferring phone numbers into a new phone was just one more example of how deeply her loss affected every aspect of my life, and how much my life had changed since that fateful day.
When somebody is removed from your life, you are usually somewhat prepared. When it’s a breakup with a lover or loss of a friendship, you’ve usually initiated it or at the very least you “saw it coming”. You can take solace in knowing that there’s always the potential that you’ll see that person again, and maybe even work out your differences, though they’re no longer a part of your every day being, When an elderly relative passes the emotions are a little different, but you can still take solace in knowing that they lived a long and eventful life, and comfort yourself by telling yourself that it was “their time”. You had prepared yourself for the day it was going to happen, and are maybe even a little relieved that their suffering has come to an end.
When somebody is suddenly removed from your life with zero preparation, you learn how to cope with the loss as you go through the motions. Nothing in your past can prepare you for it, and the pain is more intense than any you’ve ever experienced. There is nothing to take solace or comfort in, and therefore anger and frustration set in. For me, the most painful part of the process was that I didn’t get to say goodbye. This sounds very cliché, so I will do my best to put it into words. Leah was removed from this earth one day, and I had no warning or time to prepare for it. I had spoken to her less than one day – 24 hours – 1440 minutes - one lunar cycle – prior to her sudden, tragic death, and I couldn’t remember when I last told her I loved her. I’m sure I ended the conversation with a “love ya!” but had I ever really told her just how much she meant to me? How deeply her existence affected mine? I was panicked. Oh my God… Did she know just how much I loved and adored her? Did she have any idea what she meant to me? More importantly, did she love me back? I would have given anything for just one more minute with her. That’s all I needed… one more minute to tell her how I felt about her. I don’t think you realize the importance of someone until they are no longer with you, and you can’t get them back. Not even for one minute.
In the first few days I coped by surrounding myself with Leah’s friends and family and people who also knew and loved her as much as I did. Their presence was somewhat of a distraction to the matter at hand but then that eventually ended too. Eventually when the services are over, and you’re forced to move on, all you’re left with is your thoughts, your memories, and a mind that is ill equipped to heal a broken heart. It’s during this time that you try your best to hoard memories… pictures… text messages… mementoes of special times the two of you shared together. For me, some of my most treasured items are a favorite belt buckle of hers, and some concert stubs that bring me back to a different time and a different place before I fully realized just how unpredictable this life could be.
Everyone copes with tragedy in their own way, and those of us affected by this loss certainly tried it all. My cousin Kristen focused on staying as active as possible. She was out every night, refusing to let her mind comprehend what had happened and refusing to let the hurt in. She claims that to this day she still hasn’t broken down. She won’t let herself. My friend Jesse, who is no stranger to death having suddenly lost his father when he was 13 years old, simply accepted it with a “well I guess that’s life” blasé attitude. Though he missed her with a ferocity, he simply chose to accept what he could not change right off the bat. My friend Leigh-Ann cried nearly every single day, and reached out to those who were closest to Leah for support. Her agony proved too heavy a cross for her relationship to bear, but she in turn found a partner who understands better than most what she is going through. Another friend of mine who had lost his best friend in High School told me that he coped with the loss by never thinking about it, ever, in the ten years since the accident that took his friends life. Anytime it came to his mind, he forced it out. He even went as far as to sever ties with his deceased friend’s family so as to lessen the pain, and while he regrets it now, he readily admits that that when he was a teenager that was the only way he knew how to cope with the loss.
It wasn’t until about three weeks had passed since Leah’s death until the finality of the situation fully hit me. I was blindsided with a “low” that I had never quite experienced before, and was completely unprepared for. I wasn’t just sad, I was hurt, and I was angry. Three weeks was much longer than her and I had ever gone without seeing each other or speaking to one another and I was starting to fully feel the weight of her absence. There was a void in my life that was hard for me to accept. I used to say that I had a “top five” before “top five” became a Sprint marketing tactic. There were five people in my life that were close enough to me that at any given minute of any given day, I always knew where they were, what they were doing, and what was going on in their life on that particular day. If I was looking for something fun to do I would call one of them. They were my besties, and Leah was one of my “top five”. It was during this time that I clung desperately to the memory of her existence, and all that reminded me of her. I didn’t see the point of talking to people who didn’t know Leah, because they couldn’t possibly fathom my pain. It amazed me that people were able to get up and go to work, or go out to dinner, or see their favorite bands, see their friends, have fun and laugh or do whatever best helped them move on from the tragedy. What was even more shocking was being invited out with them. Are they serious…didn’t they know my friend had died? How can they possibly be okay with this?! How can they accept this? It’s too soon! I just wasn’t ready to pick up the pieces of my life and begin the process of putting it behind me. I just wasn’t ready to start healing. I wasn’t ready to admit it was over… that she was gone… that life moves on.
There is a saying that time heals all wounds, but I think a more accurate description is that “time lessens the pain of all wounds”, or “time takes the sting out of all wounds” but I guess that wouldn’t really have the same flow. Time certainly does not heal all wounds, because if that were true it would suggest that all I had to do was “slap on a Band-Aid and I’m as good as new” since Leah’s death. Anybody who has ever experienced a loss of this magnitude can attest that this could not be further from the truth. While I am no longer angry, I am certainly still sad. There’s still a void. When you lose a friend, it’s like you’re permanently marked for life. I miss my friend. I miss her laugh, I miss her carefree existence, and mostly I miss the person I was when she was around. Time definitely takes the sting out, but it also serves to make the memories I hold so close a little fuzzier as the days go by. A year to the day since I lost my friend, I find that It now takes a little longer for my mind to remember every single last detail of our times together. A few weeks ago it occurred to me that I could not remember what her voice sounded like. I also realized that I have no choice but to accept and make peace with the fact that these things do and will eventually happen. Just because my memory fades, it doesn’t mean my love for her has to.
I’m sure someday there will be a day that goes by that I don’t think of Leah, but that day is not today, it certainly won’t be tomorrow, and probably not next week. What I do know is that there will never be a day that goes by that I am not affected by her presence in my life. Whether it be the friendships and bonds that I have forged with others who knew and loved Leah, my resolve to live my life to the fullest potential in honor of a beautiful life cut short, or simply the act of transferring phone numbers over into a new phone, her life and it’s subsequent loss have affected me deeper than most anything else ever has. I’m lucky to have been loved by her, honored to have been her friend, and inspired by her every single day.
I love you Leah and I miss you every single day.