To The Person Who Lost Their Forever ... Forever

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To The Person Who Lost Their Forever

Nothing can prepare you for the grief that comes with losing the one you love.

I held one of Smith's hands; his sister held the other. His mother and father stood at his feet. White surrounded us: white on the walls, white on the single bed. White on the hard tiles already hurting our feet. I squeezed his hand, pink for the last time. He was dying of myocarditis, an infection in the heart muscle. Maybe.

They unplugged the ventilator as the church bells pealed noon. We clutched at every ring, every one another chance for Smith to breathe on his own. Just breathe, I willed. I tried to push it into his mind, the mind the doctors said was gone. I watched for the rise and fall of his chest. It never came.

They pronounced him, and I walked out of that room I'd never return to, from a face I'd never see again, to tell our friends lining the hallway. Smith was dead. I'd lost him.

To understand what you've lost, you have to understand what you had.

I met Smith on the first day of college. A friend introduced us, and I looked up, up. Smith was 6'4" and said, "I like your name." And then we were inseparable. We did all the romantic things college students do: we snuck alcohol and drank it sitting on the shower floor so no one would find us. He took me nightswimming. Christmas was diamond studs and Valentine's Day a rose-printed underwear and bra.

I lost my virginity to him. We were that gooey, lap-sitting, making-out, in-jokey couple everyone loves and hates. But more importantly, Smith was, other than my grandmother, the only person who'd ever loved me unconditionally.

I could show him my deep depression without fear of rejection. I didn't have to lie when I cut myself. Smith made me get therapy. He helped me get medication. And he never, ever turned me away when I was sad, or angry, or frightened. He never told me to get over it. Once, he rocked me like a baby while I cried. Smith was always there.

Until suddenly, he wasn't.

I didn't have to tell our friends he was dead. They saw it written on my face. One of them had said that if Smith didn't make it, I'd end up in the ward or the morgue. Others had been so concerned they'd approached my parents, who had cornered me in the backseat of their Toyota. They yelled at me for an hour, threatened to take me home from college if it would help. Panicked, I swore it wouldn't help. I couldn't leave the only place I'd known Smith.

You don't think you'll ever sleep or eat again after the love of your life dies. But somehow, I did. Somehow I got into bed, and somehow I woke up again. I was fighting with my roommate. I dug my heels in and swore I wouldn't hurt myself, just because she thought I would. Just to spite her. Grief gives you weird motivations.

Grief also gives you images: I saw myself in a dark kind of Wonderland, a place where nothing made sense and never would again. "It's like I fell down a rabbit hole," I'd tell people, when they asked how I was doing. They nodded: humor the crazy person. So much of grief is odd and off-putting that it takes a devoted friend to stick through it.

It also takes a devoted friend to hook up with, because no matter how broken you are, you can't stay celibate forever. You need someone who understands the depth of your grief, but who's willing to put up with it and hopefully comfort you. Because of that, it's easier if they're grieving, too.

Hence began my string of dating Smith's friends. First Kettrey, the stoic one, the strong one, the one of the "ward or the morgue" comment. He was deeply wounded by Smith's death, but finally tired of my constant grief. Then there was long-distance Darrell, Smith's best friend from college, now living in Chicago. We messaged back and forth for hours, greedy for what the other could share about Smith.

In the end, it took me years to process the one-year relationship that became my everything. We were going to get married. I don't think I healed to any degree until I met my husband five years later: the only other person I'd ever known who could deal with my anxiety and depression the way Smith could.

He wasn't threatened by my grief; instead, he knew it was an integral part of who I am. He accepted it with open arms, the way he accepted me. He knew I'd always be broken, like those Japanese jars shattered and put back together with gold. Those who lose their forever always are.

We need someone to embrace our brokenness, to keep from being threatened. To ask about Smith's family when I talk to them. To let me say I'd have married him. To accept Smith as part of me. And to love me not in spite of, but because of it.