I found out this afternoon that a friend perished in a helicopter crash yesterday. Her name was Brynne, and she was 25 years old.
While this post isn’t going to necessarily center on her (I’m not emotionally equipped to do that just yet), it will cover some thoughts and feelings as brought on by this tragic event.
I’ve been in a sort of emotional haze most of the day, going between feelings of intense sadness and self-preserving detachment. For the past two years I’ve crafted a narrative that indicated I was immune to most extreme emotions; that I was calm and strong enough to withstand the onslaught of unfortunate happenings and circumstances that life would inevitably visit upon us all. I’ve lived a relatively charmed life, but I’ve also experienced my fair share of pain; if you could call any experience of pain “fair”. The coping mechanism I’ve developed during my battle with depression is to not even feel pain. To avoid it at all costs, as if I wasn’t easily affected. What was once viewed as a cool aloofness by many of my friends has come to my attention to be a lonely state of denial. Sure, we all want to avoid pain. It’s just that some of us go to greater lengths to keep that pain at bay, locked away so as never to get too close.
I once had a conversation about death with an 89 year old man who was a member of a church I worked at. He stated that while he was grateful to have lived such a long life filled with joy and happiness, his most difficult truth to adjust to was that he was outliving those closest to him. One by one his friends and family passed, and he remained while death loomed like a schoolyard bully awaiting an opportune moment. Death visits us all on occasion, and will eventually take up permanent residence. For such a crucial, almost singular and scientifically proven fact about the human existence, death is still surprising. We know that it will come, but when it arrives we are shocked. The sudden pain numbs and dulls our senses, and we are left in a near catatonic state. Or we explode. Or both.
I have no words of encouragement for those experiencing a similar despair. No universal truth that will assuage the pain and transition it into acceptance, bypassing the stages of grief that we all experience.
Death is terrifying, but it’s not my own eventual death that keeps me up at night; it’s the death of those around me whom I care about. It’s the utter helpless feeling I have that there’s not a thing I can do to change it. That no matter how hard I ignore or wish it away, it will be as persistent as a pit bull with its jaws around a rope. (I have one of those; they don’t let go.)
In my sadness over Brynne’s passing, I wasn’t sure where I could turn to. Who I could talk to. You see, I’ve compartmentalized my entire life into segregated groups of people, rarely allowing for overlap because it’s so much easier to manage things that way. One group of friends can help me forget about a terrible situation with another group because nobody even knows about it, so it’s never brought up. This works great for when I don’t want to confront something terrible, but it works equally as bad for when I need the help and love of those closest to me. When you decentralize your relationships, you lose a stabilizing force that allows you to stumble with the protection of loved ones surrounding you. By allowing myself to get close with many groups of people—but not close enough—I’ve removed the risk of community, with community being something I’m utterly terrible at.
The risk of community is shared pain. A sharedness that allows for the lamenting of pain people other than just you feel and understand. Brynne’s passing has shown me how I’ve avoided such a safety net because while I was close with her, I wasn’t close with many other people that knew her. I don’t have anyone to share a story with that contains a mutual context of the type of person she was. This makes it difficult to grieve, as I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to be grieving in this moment. All I am left with are my own thoughts and emotions, and they are of little consolation.
Some nights I’m afraid to fall asleep because my worst fears play out in my dreams, as if my mind wanted to present a massive middle finger in my direction. This is one of those nights.