The Stillness of Grief

There is a phrase that came to mind today: the stillness of grief. After a lackadaisical Google search failed to unearth anything that matches what comes to my mind for that phrase right now, I’m going to write about it.

A good friend of mine died today. I’ve known her for almost twenty years; we’ve laughed together, cried together, argued, traveled, written and edited together. She was strange and colorful and unapologetically herself. Often loud, rambly, and easily distracted, she was also wildly and ferociously creative, passionately dedicated to her family, and a pretty goddamn cool person overall.

She’d been in the hospital for months; I didn’t go see her. I had my reasons: a long drive, my own health, the extreme heat, the price of gas, home commitments, depression, all the usual things. But I didn’t go see her. I’m not particularly mad at myself about that. Not after two years of watching people being unable to see their loved ones in their final days. No. What I’m angry about, offended over, is that she was finally home (although in hospice care as things had turned bad) and I had scheduled today to go see her. At two p.m. Today.

She passed at eleven thirty a.m.

Goddamnit.

I’ve found that there’s frequently a very selfish component to the beginning stages of grief. I didn’t get to see her. I didn’t get to give her the lavender I’d picked this morning. I, I, I.

That’s okay. That’s normal. I’ve grieved often enough, over the course of my life, to know the routine. I’m not beating myself up over any of my reactions. Much.

But this fucking hurts.

I can’t breathe when the deep, seemingly endless swell of pain crashes over me. There’s simply no air. I sit on the couch and stare at nothing until my chest hurts enough for me to suck in a deep breath, jarring me back into the present moment and away from the cascading bleakness.

And then there is a stillness. A silence. A time and a place without words, without images, without anything at all. Just … nothing. Not peace, not grief, not anger, not love, just … stillness.

As I emerge from that — for true stillness can’t last very long for most human beings, no matter the circumstances — I look around in bewilderment. What do I do now? I can’t rush out to help the family; I wouldn’t be of any use, nor, I think, welcomed just now. Which is also totally okay. I can’t go about the projects I had planned to work on today; well, I could, but I’d foul them all up beyond belief. I can’t really talk to anyone, because I’m constantly breaking down into unbreathing and stillness and confusion.

What do I do now?

Nothing. The worst part of grieving is this stage, where you literally cannot do a fucking thing except sit there and stare at the wall. I could take a pill and go to sleep, but that feels like a cowardly escape.

I finally realized that one thing I can do is to write, and thus: this post. Now that I’ve faced the words in stark black against the white screen, my breathing has evened out, and I’m not feeling quite so shocked and bewildered. It’s real. It has to be real, I wrote it down. This is really a thing that happened today.

My friend is gone.

I thought we’d have more time.

There’s never enough time.

There’s a line from a series by Seanan McGuire that I’m particularly fond of. When someone dies, it’s formally announced, as part of a lovely speech, as “they have stopped their dancing”. I think that sentiment is very appropriate here. My friend may not have literally danced much if at all, but her entire life was one great colorful chaotic dance.

I will miss her so very, very, very much.

I’m so sorry I waited too long.

Thank you for being my friend, Angela P. Wade. You were absolutely unique and unforgettable, an inspiration and a joy to be around.

I am deeply grateful to the family and friends who did their best to make Angela’s final months overflow with love and support. I pray that they all receive as much as they’ve given in the difficult days ahead, and that kindness and understanding, grace and faith, will smooth the fraught process of grieving for everyone affected.

Angela, my ever restless friend: be still, and know that you are loved.

Angela P Wade and her daughter
Angela P Wade and her daughter,
at a library book festival some years ago.
I don’t have many pictures of Angela, unfortunately…
I think this might be the only one.