After the news and initial shock of my boyfriends suicide, after the writing and execution of the dreaded but necessary eulogy I knew I had to do for him (and if I’m honest, for myself), after life went on for weeks with a deafening quiet without him, I called her.
My friend from long ago who knew my heart. She understands life through feeling it. And when I brought her up to speed in one long paragraph from the night he died to the present, I knew I was breaking her heart. I knew she’d match mine. And when I told her what I needed was to literally put one step in front of the other with a weight of a backpack and the smell of earth to ground me, and her to walk with me, I knew she would figure out how to stop being a mom to three kids to do this for me. Oh and to also plan the whole trip because I didn’t have the energy. Without hesitation, she said, “Of course”.
That was 5 years ago. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed this morning, Kelly’s son standing next to a hanging dead dear appeared. She was both proud of him and because I know Kelly, broken hearted for the dear. My husband must have heard me sigh. He asked me what I was reading and who was Kelly. She is many things to me and has been a soulmate friend I rarely see for over 2 decades. I told my husband about our trip that maybe I told him about before, but it was early morning and he likes to hear me tell stories when he’s still sleepy.
I felt that if I could physically step one foot in front of the other, I’d have that kinestetic knowledge of how to apply it everywhere else in my life. This grief stuff was for the birds.
We had way too many laughs and mishaps for it to be the cathartic trip I’d imagined. First off, our packs were rediculouly too heavy. Kelly packed a ton of ready-homemade spaghetti that we immediately gave half of to a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail who’s trail name was Squirel. Kelly invited him to her house for a hot shower and warm bed when he reached Harrisburg, which by the way, he did take her up on.
We reached a campsite an hour or so before dusk and adjusted our intention for this journey. It wasn’t about lugging our ridiculously heavy packs for 5 days. So we decided to stay at camp and take day hikes. We had other kinds of adventures that were healing in their authenticity. My best memory was laughing my ass off and also Kelly’s safe space to lay my head and cry in.
What didn’t happen was finding a place to bury grief. What I learned was it takes as long as it takes. Grief lives on its own time. Not mine. It didnt care that I was a mother and self employed. What I learned is that if we are kind to it, grief will walk with us and be a sacred, personal friend; sitting with you outside on your back door stoop because the shining moon woke you before the world was awake, while you drink a cup of hot coffee, warmed by a blanket over your shoulders, pen and journal in your lap. Just you, the moon, and your loved one.
It’s a relationship that sets you on a lone journey. In the tragedy of a death, this is the gift that only you can feel and see and hear.
What we, the ones left behind share is the deep compassion we now have for others on their sad and sacred journeys. And the amazing love that pours into our lives from those who are alive, especially those who know what a broken heart feels like and lives life fully anyway. That’s my Kelly.