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My best friend passed away suddenly.  Here’s what I learned about unceasing grief.

People rarely want to talk about death. Whether it’s their own death, the death of a loved one, or just the concept of death, most people would rather discuss colonoscopies and taxes than discuss something they so care about. scared and they don’t really understand.

I was the same way until I experienced a profound loss just over a year ago. My best friend since 9th grade passed away after suffering an epileptic seizure. She went into cardiac arrest and although she was resuscitated, a week later she was declared brain dead. Her family made the difficult decision to remove her breathing tube and let her go on her own.

We were friends from teenage to adulthood and had gone through all the milestones together. With the exception of a five-year gap in college where we broke up, we were in each other’s lives for over 40 years.

I was there when she got married. I held her children when they were born. I watched her become a gifted teacher. She watched me struggle professionally for years until I finally found my niche. She wiped away my tears over failed relationships. She was there during the biggest crisis of my life when my mother suffered a brain aneurysm. We had built an incredible life together based on understanding, acceptance and love.

When her husband called me that Monday morning, I didn’t understand what he was saying. All I could figure out was that she had suffered some kind of seizure and a flight for life had taken her to a trauma center in Portland. “How could this have happened? I asked myself. I had just seen her two days before and she was fine! She was happy and optimistic! I was stunned. And since this morning, nothing is the same for me.

After a week filled with hope and disappointment, she was gone. I’m grateful that her son put me on speakerphone while he was sitting next to her in the hospital so I could beg her to wake up and tell her I love her. But that didn’t matter ― I would never see my beautiful and amazing friend again.

More cups of coffee. More movies. No more shopping in bric-a-brac. No more late night texting.

It’s been a little over a year and I’m still devastated.

After his death, I spent the following months in the fog. I sell print advertising and my sales have dropped sharply. I will be forever grateful to my boss for being so understanding. It was the peak of the pandemic and everything was closed, so I gave myself permission to close as well. I was working virtually so I didn’t have to be my usual optimistic self. Most of my interactions with clients were via email, so I didn’t even have to smile or pretend to be interested in their lives. It took way too much energy to muster even the slightest bit of enthusiasm to try to convince people that advertising would help their business. How could I care about their business when my world had been turned upside down? I did everything I could to get through the day. And then another. And then another.

What little energy I had was channeled into supporting her husband and children. I checked in with her husband almost every day. I had known him for over 30 years, but had never really had meaningful conversations with him without my friend present. I had always loved and respected him because he was her husband and she loved him, but now I learned more about him ― not as a partner but as an individual ― and I started to forge my own bond with him.

“I learned that there is no timetable for grieving. There is no expiration date. Whether it’s been days or decades since you lost someone, it can still hurt as much as the moment they left.

Grief can be a punitive emotion. Sometimes I feel like I’m carrying a huge rock in my stomach. I sigh a lot as if trying to exhale the pain. I feel shaky and off balance. I am often overwhelmed by loneliness even though I am in a room full of people.

Grief is unpredictable. It comes in waves and when you least expect it. He’s always there and doesn’t care if it’s Christmas or your birthday. It casts a shadow over everything you do. It causes anxiety and panic attacks. It causes despair. It affects your work and your relationships. It’s like a perpetual storm with too few and too brief breaks to let in the sunlight before the dark clouds return.

I have experienced many losses in my life. I lost my mother and my father, whom I loved both with all my soul. I lost two of my brothers without warning, including one just 10 months after my best friend died. I lost pets that were so special to me, my world revolved around them. And I discovered that every grief episode is different. Each loss is unique and painful in its own way.

Grief also taught me about life. I discovered that the friends I thought would be there for me when I needed them weren’t. And those I thought didn’t reach out or care, did.

I learned that there is no time limit for grieving. There is no expiration date. Whether it’s been days or decades since you lost someone, it can still hurt as much as the moment they left. You just learn to accept the pain. You accept that nothing will ever be the same and try not to expect to go back to how your life was before the loss. You just live with it.

I’m happy to say that there are ultimately more sunny days than cloudy days. I can now think of my best friend with more smiles than tears. I am grateful to her for telling her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her. She lives through her son and daughter. I see his compassion, his humor and his ideals in them every day.

I read somewhere that grief is just love with no place to go. I’m grateful that I got to experience that kind of love because a lot of people never do. And I’ll do my best to get on with my own life to honor his.

Stephanie Baker lives in McMinnville, the epicenter of Oregon’s wine country. She sells advertising for a living, and in her spare time enjoys writing, watching trashy reality TV shows, and snuggling up with her dog, Darby.

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