On Losing A Friend

It’s coming up on the anniversary of one of my best friends passing away from  …probably the most cowardly way I can say it is depression. The other word feels too violent.  But more honest.

I am suspicious of the idea that anyone takes their own life, except in cases of oncoming debilitating physical conditions.

In most every other case, I see that, in reality, a person who dies this way had their life taken from them, much earlier on, in a way that was never sufficiently acknowledged or repaired.

What was stolen from, or destroyed in, them, early on, planted the seeds of what would later look like self-destruction.

Eventually, the anger and sense of injustice they feel, rightfully meant for the taker, or takers, without sufficient healing or support, has no socially acceptable place to go, except back in.

And, of course, experiencers of trauma always blame themselves.

I should have left, I should have been smarter, I should have fought harder, I should have told someone, I shouldn’t have said that, I should have seen it coming, I should have been or done something else.

I know because I have been there myself.

I heard a fellow writer describe it like this.

The victim thinks, I’ll be free when the perpetrator passes away, or when I get some distance from them. And then they realize, in most cases, that the perpetrator’s control doesn’t die with them.

Because the control was never physical.

It was psychological.

The fear, and the event (or events), is buried in their emotional-physical memory.

The perpetrator is now in their head.

Meanwhile, the taker, also has a tendency to blame the victim, as well.

And, in American culture, at least, it seems we have more compassion and patience for dogs who have experienced trauma than human beings.

We expect dogs who have survived horrific events to need patience and time, and to be, in a way, forever changed by the events.

We expect people to just get over it. And we expect people to get over it, without processes or support to help them.

I’m not saying all this because I feel it’s practical, or fair, for anyone to bring up the events they’ve survived, or healed, without warning, or in everyday conversation; or because I think it’s fair for people to turn friends, family members, bosses, or co-workers into their therapists.

I’m also not saying it works that well the other way around, for someone to probe into the details of what another person once had to face or heal, because they want to know them, or in order to serve their own purposes.

I don’t. Friends, family members, bosses, and co-workers make horrible therapists. And people get to determine how, if, and why to talk about the details of their own challenges and healing.

I bring all of this up because two nights ago I had a dream, that reminded me of my friend.

It reminded me of a conversation we had not too long before I got the phone call that she had “passed away” — a phrase I hate but still take shelter in.

I remember the conversation clearly. My friend, we’ll call her Jo, was sitting crossed-legged on my living room floor. Looking back, I would describe her as contemplative.

Jo started by saying there was a favor she had promised a friend, and that she very much didn’t want to do the favor.

But, she said, there was no way to release herself from the obligation without hurting or upsetting the friend.

It wasn’t like she could hide behind being too busy, or not having the skill. She had both the time and skill. The reality was she would have had to say to the friend, I actually just don’t want to do this. 

The conversation went on to her talking distantly about much larger expectations, mostly coming from family. At that time, she was doing everything she could to get help for depression, and the lingering effects of violence-related trauma.

I remember overhearing someone she once considered a best friend, around the same time, saying, “Why can’t she just deal with this shit and get over it?”

Now, I can see feeling like that. But I can’t see feeling it about anyone I actually consider a friend.

I may not be able to play the role of therapist. And I may not be able to go down someone else’s rabbit hole with them. (I have my own.) But it doesn’t make sense to me that people can just “get over it,” without the type of support or processes that are most useful and meaningful to them.

As Jo tried to move more into the life and choices that did fit her, the pressure to remain the same only increased.

Her support systems, mostly wanted to support her back into being the version of her they most wanted, and needed, for themselves.

I wish anyone who was facing a change in a loved one’s priorities, habits, needs, and values would ask themselves, if the choice were between accepting them as they really are now, and not having them exist at all anymore, would I choose to accept them? …Even if it means our relationship will change.

…Even if it means that the two of us no longer work as friends, or boyfriend/girlfriend, or husband/wife. …Even if it means that they don’t fulfill my expectations of what they needed to do, as my son or my daughter.  …Even if it means I no longer get that thing from them that I needed, and kind of took for granted anyway.

…Would I accept, and free them, into their own happiness?

I know it’s more complicated than that.

I know a person, ultimately, makes their own choice to live or to not live. (Though I feel trauma can severely distort this thinking process.)

I just sometimes wonder if part of what goes into that calculation is the fear a person has that they will never been seen, appreciated, and accepted for who they really are, by the people who mean the most.

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