Today was a tough one for me. I had a wave of grief run through me that I hadn’t expected. In fact, I was thinking just the other day that maybe I had turned a corner in my grief journey. And yet, I found myself in tears three times today, then once more when I tried to explain this all to my husband. Grief, as I’m reminded over and over, doesn’t really allow you to turn a corner. When you are experiencing a loss, you don’t get over it. Grief is a lifelong journey, and my hope is that the sharp edge of it lessens as time passes. But I can’t say for sure as I’m just a little over two years in.
Back to today. My morning was uneventful. I headed out to work, on time no less, and listened to my Audible book on the way. Recently, I’ve been working through the young adult books of Jason Zentner. (If you haven’t read In the Wild Light, go check it out immediately. It’s the most beautifully written book — my favorite read of the year so far.) So now I’m listening to the book called Goodbye Days. It’s about a teenage boy who lost all three of his best friends in a car crash. The families of two of the boys want our protagonist Carver to help them have a “goodbye day” for their sons, which entails doing all the things that their boys loved and telling stories about each boy. In fact, this is sort of what I try to do on Ally’s death day, May 3, and on her birthday, June 28. Nonetheless, this was a trigger. Just as I was pulling into the parking lot at work, I got to the part where one boy’s parents were becoming vocal about their grief. And I teared up. I walked into the building and talked with a co-worker. More tears. I was in a tender place thinking about Ally and just missing her with all my mama heart.
After school, I headed out to see one of Ally’s lifelong friends and deliver her graduation gift. Her name is Nipam, and she was Ally’s first friend when she started Bentwood Elementary back in first grade. Nipam was the ying to Ally’s yang. Nipam was talkative, a little boy crazy, a little bold, but in the best of ways. Ally, even with her somewhat wacky sense of style, was a bit more subdued. So I was looking forward to seeing Nipam and her family, as she meant a lot to Ally. At the same time, I knew this would make me miss Ally even more. I knew this visit might be both comforting and hard.
I arrived at Nipam’s house, and her whole family made me feel welcome right away. I sat down in Nipam’s living room, and we started chatting. I handed her my gift, then I pulled out a bag with a few items from Ally’s bedroom. Nipam is leaving for college soon, and I wanted her to have some keepsakes. She started talking about her future (she wants to become an oncologist, largely inspired by Ally’s cancer journey), and then we started sharing memories. She started by telling me that she and three of Ally’s friends had stopped by the columbarium today to say goodbye before they headed off to college. I cried. I was a bit mad at myself as I hadn’t planned to cry in front of Nipam or her family. Nipam understood.
I spent the rest of the conversation fighting back tears. I asked Nipam to share a story about Ally that I didn’t know. She told me about how in first grade, she talked Ally into “picking a boy she liked” so they could pretend to make the boy “love her forever.” If you know Ally, you know that this was not her jam. She was not in any way boy crazy. In fact, in middle school, a boy asked for her “digits” and she declined. Ally liked boys — as friends. In fact, she cultivated some amazing boys who were friends. But even by age fifteen when she died, she hadn’t really become interested in dating yet. So I had to laugh when I learned that way back in first grade, Nipam coerced her into “naming” a boy.
As we talked, I shared some stories about Ally and about the two of them. I remember one time when the girls were at Bentwood Elementary, I took Ally to Back to School night. Keep in mind, Ally was always her own little person who didn’t mind being a bit of an oddball (in the best of ways). But that night, we were sitting in the bleachers hanging out. A group of girls from her grade sat behind us. No one spoke to her or invited her to sit with them. In fact, they acted as if they hadn’t seen her. Ally was too reserved to say anything. This brought out my mama bear instincts. I was both infuriated and sad. Ally was such a great kid, and it hurt my heart that other kids didn’t see that. And then…I saw Nipam enter the gym. Ally and I sprinted down the bleachers to greet her; the girls hugged! The rest of the night was absolutely fine. Ally had her friend — another true blue like Emma, Sophia, Jackson, Ben and Jack. You see, Ally had a knack for knowing what kids were worthy of her time. She didn’t have friend drama because she chose her friends wisely.
I left Nipam’s house about an hour later. I’d spoken to her dad, her grandparents, her adorable little brother, and her mom Namisha. Namisha and I hugged before I left, and we all pledged to stay in touch. I really hope we do. I walked out to my car, and I let the tears spill. The tears, I think, were for the beauty of their friendship and for my own sadness about what should have been — the life I feel that Ally deserved.
I drove home, and as I was trying to explain my day, I experienced one more rush of tears. Grief is like that…unexpected. It sneaks up on you in the midst of a good week, during a movie, talking with a friend or co-worker. Grief hits you when you think you’re feeling mostly happy, mostly normal. But grief is the price for love. If I had known when Ally was born that I would lose her at the all too young age of fifteen, and if I had been given a chance to undo this kind of pain, I would decline. My fifteen years of life with Ally were well worth the hurt I’m experiencing now. You see, grief is a part of life. And though I’m missing Ally more than I can even put into words, I am always grateful for her short, but meaningful life.
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”