There’s no playbook for grief

I was pretty amped for this week’s essay.

My editorial calendar had some good ideas queued up, especially as follow-ups to my 43 lessons at age 43.

I wanted to dive into why it’s easy to make money. I wanted to deconstruct the desperation behind the 9-to-5 hamster wheel.

But the powers that be had different plans for me. Instead, I was swallowed by grief.

A few weeks ago, one of my dearest friends (and one of the OG RadReaders dating back to issue #1) Lanie Zipoy was killed in a tragic hit-and-run.

Lanie always was an angel.

She was wise. Passionate. Kind. Creative. Fiercely loyal. Authentic. And she deeply and selflessly cared for everyone around her.

I’ve been blessed (touches wood) to not have lost many loved ones during my time on this planet. (Yet.)

Yet processing this grief was unpredictable, surreal and just downright confusing.

And while I’m no expert on any this, here are a few things I learned about myself over the past few weeks.

You’ll replay all the “missed opportunities” you had to show up

As I reread our last text exchange, I remembered that I was being selfish in determining our meeting spot. We were negotiating “what’s halfway between Carroll Gardens and Fort Greene” but I was trying to tilt the scale in my favor, as I had both kids in tow.

While trivial to our friendship, I couldn’t let go of my selfish behavior. I hear Lanie, with her soothing voice telling me “don’t be silly – you know I didn’t care.”

The other “take-back” I’m grappling with is my failure to show up as a friend during the past few years. Lanie had experienced a series of significant health issues that had really taken a toll on her.

Once again, I was absorbed in my own world. Building RadReads. Dealing with COVID and homeschooling logistics. But also, just putting myself and my interests first, despite knowing that my friend was hurting.

This is a tougher pill to swallow. I try to give myself grace.

And I also remember that there are many potential “take-backs” in my life right now. So what am I waiting for?

I never cried (until now)

When I was 12, my mom lost her best friend to a sudden heart attack. The memory of me holding her, as she sobbed is etched into my brain.

Fast forward 30 years and the same moment replayed itself. I was sobbing uncontrollably (something I rarely do, outside of the occasional Pixar movie) for what felt like an eternity. And my eldest daughter, just held me.

Etching, yet another memory into my brain.

Through some of my own introspection and coaching, I’ve been curious about my capacity to feel.

I’m a heady-cerebral type that tends to process everything with thoughts and words.

Furthermore, when I do need to “feel” something, instead I go “do something.” I bury myself in work, workouts or scrolling Twitter.

But for the first time I really felt emotions. Intense ones, coursing through my veins.

How much of this is about me?

What I found most upsetting about losing a peer from our “age group” is the unfairness of the life they still had to left live.

And this felt particularly unfair for Lanie, who still had so much to give to the world.

But I also asked myself – how much of this was about me?

How much of this was me having to face the uncomfortable question of “what if this could happen to me?”

And how much of this was about what I wanted from our friendship? How much I wanted her to see our kids grow up?

How much I wanted to continue all the deep philosophical conversations we had about life.

So with grace, I asked myself: How much is this grief is about my desires?

The fear of being forgotten

This week I’ve been absorbed in text threads, picture exchanges and memes reminding us of our beloved friend.

But it’s inevitable that this will activity will wane.

Life’s daily tribulations, anxieties and dreams will pull me back into “default mode.”

Yet how do I continue to honor, celebrate and learn from those who are no longer physically with us?

There are “hacks” – tattoos, calendar reminders and birthday gatherings – yet these feel incomplete. They don’t seem to do justice to the gigantic loss we have all experienced.

(Also, how much is this about my own fear of being forgotten.)

They’re not really gone

“They’ve left their body.”

One of my spiritual teachers, Ram Dass doesn’t use the language: “X has died.”

Instead, Dass says they’ve “left their body.”

Which implies that there’s something, dare I say, a lot that still remains with us – until eternity.

He adds:

“When someone we love dies, we get so busy mourning what died that we ignore what didn’t.”

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