Theme taken from Another Sense of An Ending by Sam Gwynn
Part One: The shitty, sentimental sort; Some static-tattered last report
When a writer dies, it’s not just them who dies. It’s the worlds they created, the worlds they were in the process of creating, and the worlds that they were going to create. The tragedy is that I’m never going to see how the story ends. No one will. The ending is going to be left a cliff hanger forever.
As usual, I got this whole damn thing wrong.
One of my friends, a writer, died at the beginning of last March, right before the world went to hell. I have been dealing with that grief, quietly, alone, and there is nowhere to go to distract me from it. Since I am isolated when not working, I live in it. I wallow in it.
There’s an excellent poem on YouTube called “Grief Becomes a Prayer”.
While I love that poem, for me, grief isn’t a prayer. It’s a hole. It gets bigger and bigger the more you think about it, the more you allow it to fester, the more people you lose.
I’ve had a lot of loss in recent years. Pets, family. Both sad, both hard. But not friends. There’s something different about that loss. I was privy to the diagnosis, but not the process of recovery, the moments of sickness, the quiet acceptance of the end. Unfortunately, since my friend was getting treatment outside of the province I live in, I couldn’t visit her. I couldn’t afford to. I couldn’t go to the funeral, either. There was no closure. One moment my friend was off in Toronto, in this far off place, getting better, and the next she was gone. Just…gone. She left behind worlds and worlds and worlds, stories unfinished, a life lived smiling through the pain. It’s been a year now. I couldn’t write about it then. I’m writing about it now.
Part Two: Suppose the words were insincere; Suppose you spoke but never spoke
I had trouble talking to my friend while she was sick.
My Grandfather died of cancer. It was a long, painful process. My husband’s Grandfather died of cancer. It was an equally long, equally painful process. Cancer is evil. It takes and takes and takes, giving nothing back.
I couldn’t find the words. I pulled away, because I couldn’t deal with it. What utter selfishness. My therapist says not to blame myself, not to feel guilt. But I do. It’s eating away at me, even now. I wonder if I’d really conveyed how much I admired her, how much she meant to me, and how much her work meant to me. I wasn’t sure if I had. That was the worst part.
It’s hard to tell people the truth of your feelings. There’s a cultural thing about telling your friends you love them. My parents aren’t affectionate people, either, not verbally. I don’t know how to express myself in a culturally acceptable way that doesn’t feel off to me personally. I write because I can’t do that, and then no one ever sees it. But Elizabeth did.
We met in a writing group. Of course she saw my writing, and saw how I wanted to connect to the world. I hoped that maybe that was enough. That the way I cared was evident in that, and evident in how I related to her words too. But suppose it wasn’t clear. Suppose the words were insincere. Suppose I got the whole thing wrong.
How do you live with that?
My husband doesn’t believe in God. I do. He’s willing to put aside his disbelief for me in moments of grief. He assures me that, if there’s a heaven, my friend is there, watching over me and all her friends and family. He assures me that if there’s a spirit world, she’s there too, watching over me. If there is a divine stream of universal energy that she’ll be there, too, a perfect being, one with the universe. He tells me that, if there is such a thing as an afterlife, that Elizabeth will be there, waiting. That, even if she can’t hear me now, I’ll have the chance to tell her then. Just think of all the stories you’ll be able to tell her, he says.
When I say that I doubt I’ll be going to heaven with her, or my family, he tells me to just be good so that I can.
I’m trying. Dear God, I’m trying.
Please, God, let it be enough.
Part Three: Suppose you got the whole thing wrong; It’s part of what you bring along
Hearing that my friend asked about me gutted me. COVID didn’t take my friend, but I couldn’t even grieve in person with our mutual friend. We could over the internet, but outside of my coworker, I grieved with my husband, but I also grieved alone while he was at work. My parents tried, but they didn’t really get it. They’re lucky; most of their friends are still alive.
Despite my faith, sometimes I doubt. Sometimes I wonder if there really is nothing, if this life is all there is. If my friend’s worlds are the only thing left of her, in this or any universe. The unpublished works only live in the minds of myself and those who were privileged enough to see it. When we are gone, maybe it will be too.
If I got it wrong, I know that my friend has made an impact on the world. I know her books still exist. I know that her website, social media, it all still exists. She will be remembered by a fan, somewhere. Her work will be there long after I’m gone. I’m sure of it.
But my doubt always fades. When I was moving into my apartment, I was moving a bookcase to another room. I wanted to see if I could lift the shelf with the books still on it, because I vastly over-estimated my own strength. When I went to move it, one book fell off the shelf. I was surprised; I am not coordinated. At all. I expected just one of my random graphic novels, or one of my husband’s fantasy books. It wasn’t. It was hers.
I know it could be seen as a coincidence. If you’re thinking that, don’t tell me. Let me cope.
I knew she was with me. That she was sending me a sign. She wasn’t in pain anymore. Her work would live on. I hear you, my friend. I feel you. I wait for us to meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when, but when we do, I want to have a story to tell you.
Conclusion: Suppose you suddenly awoke To hear the real words of the song
It’s almost a year, now.
Grief isn’t fresh anymore. It’s a faded wound, a scar over my chest, a painful white line where a friend used to be. It’s still a hole. It will never not be a hole. I want it to be a prayer. I want it to be poetry, but it’s not. It’s just an empty space I’m trying to fill with words, but it will never not hurt.
My friend is gone. Her pain is over. I can’t imagine the pain her family is in. The worlds she created are stagnant, but they are still there. If I imagine the endings to the stories, maybe they’ll stay in some state of movement. They are still there.
They are still there.
No matter what cancer takes, no matter what death wears away, somewhere in the sadness there is light.
I miss my friend. I have accepted that her pain is over, and I am prepared to live with the pain of missing her until we meet again. The pain of missing her is worth the joy of having known her.