After Roman: Some Thoughts on Grief

Moth” – photo by Col Ford and Natasha de Vere

 

I want to write about the grief.

His name was Roman.

But the grief isn’t coherent. It’s not chronological. There is no rhyme or reason. No safe, predictable pattern.

It is volatile.

As he was.

First, I’ll have a memory from 3 years ago of us Skyping — him, crying — he was scared, he was out of a job, he had no education, he was debilitated by PTSD from his cultic upbringing — he was crying but there was nothing I could do.

Then, my brain will skip forward to 1.5 years ago, the day after I learned of Roman’s death. My partner cooked for me. I tried to act normal. Tried to act like this was just another normal day, another normal meal.
But I ended up sitting there, staring down into the bowl of food, and then it started — first it was my lip trembling, then my jaw, then my hand was shaking, the fork was wagging up and down, and god help me, I still tried to look composed and put food on the fork and lift my shaking hand to my shaking mouth and take shaky little bites with tears streaming down my face and tried to swallow through the giant lump in my throat, all the while keeping my head up and back stiff as a board.
As you might imagine, it was a mess.

I had not yet learned that, yes, I was allowed to show how sad I was. That kind of vulnerability would take some time.

 

Grief can be embarrassing.

After his brother wrote to me with the news of his suicide, I emailed my professors to ask them, embarrassed, “Please don’t call on me in class for a while. I’m afraid I’ll break down in front of everyone.”

The next day, my favorite poetry professor canceled her lesson plan so we could goof around all period. After class, she walked with me to the school counselor and, as the elevator reached my floor, she said, “I lost someone to suicide too, sweetie. You just have to…” (and then her eyes teared up) “…you just have to let yourself feel it.” And then she hugged me and I went to the therapist and we didn’t speak of it again.

It’s really something strange to have that kind of a moment with your professor. But it also made me realize this: although grief is one of the most universal experiences, it’s also one of the most taboo. So here we are, all these humans walking about Earth, carrying the same pain but not sharing the burden, not letting each other let it go.

 

Grief can be cliche.

I want to tell you “He was that friend I could talk to about anything,” but pretty much everyone says that about their deceased loved ones. How do I make you understand that he was different? He was special? How do I make my grief make sense to someone else?
Maybe if I tell you about the way my body hurts now, always, subtly. Stiff neck. Tight joints. Jaw like a vice grip.
Maybe if I post every film he’s ever made, every song he ever wrote; publish every shimmering, bloody beautiful poem and story he’s ever written; throw his art out there into the open, and make people look — maybe then I could shake them by the shoulders and beg, “Now do you see, what he took with him when he left this world? Now do you understand this gaping hole in the center of my chest?

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Outcast. Roman Darius, 2014.

 

Grief changed me.

After Roman, I was hurricane, ravaging everything in sight.
You never call me — fuck you! You never ask how I’m doing — fuck you! Everybody said they were here for me but nobody is fucking here for me! Fuck everyone!
Delete. Delete. Delete. Block. Block. Block.
During each dissolution of a friendship, I would feel so proud of myself. So certain that I was right, that I didn’t need anyone. No, I was fine. I’m fine! 🙂 Everything’s fucking fine! 🙂 🙂 🙂
But after a year of burning bridges, I now realize my mistake. In that petulant storm of rage and sorrow, I killed more friendships than I can count.
Perhaps, subconsciously, I was trying to avoid grief by controlling the ends of friendships, where I couldn’t control the end of Roman. To abandon others before they could abandon me.
And now I’ve burned so many bridges, I am an island unto myself.

I know what you might be thinking. “Just make new friends!”
But it’s not that easy. I don’t want new friends. I want Roman. And nobody is him.

 

Grief can be mean.

Since Roman, I’ve

  • moved out of my parents’ place
  • graduated college
  • learned a new language (then forgot it, for lack of practice 😦 )
  • gotten my first real job

And though I know he’d be bouncing-off-the-walls happy-for-me for each life event, I feel incredibly guilty for moving on while he’s frozen in time. As if freezing my own life would somehow justify the end of his.

 

Grief can be annoying.

I’ve spent so much time trying to convince myself that I didn’t love him, that he wasn’t that important to me, that we didn’t even talk that often. Anything to make it hurt less. It’s frustrating. Irritating. I would like to delude myself into thinking I can control my emotions. That they aren’t bigger than me. That I can handle this.
But that’s the thing. I can’t. All I can do is distract myself.
Or take some small comfort in knowing that how much you miss a person is a testament to how much you love them.

 

Grief can be magical.

Not long after his death, as I prepared to leave for school one day, I asked him for a sign. Specifically, a moth. Minutes later, I opened the door — and a moth flew up from the doormat and fluttered around my face. Ever since then, all I have to do is ask him for a moth, and I see one before the day is over.

 

Grief can be invasive.

It strikes at the worst times. On the subway. In the middle of conversations. Walking down the street. I’ll just remember him and BAM! Wet eyes! (NO NO NO, NOT NOW, NO!)
And it took me forever to be able to watch trains come into the station, without thinking of his body slamming into the front of one.

 

Grief can be beautiful.

The fact that Roman’s gone makes me appreciate the good memories, to a degree that simply wasn’t possible pre-grief.
But just as I’m reminiscing about a happy memory, it’ll get too intense out of nowhere.
Like, I’ll remember the time he walked me through the process of getting a credit card,
because I wanted to move out but didn’t know where to start,
and it’ll feel sweet to remember that moment,
like he was my big brother, looking out for me,
but then I’ll also remember that the conversation ended with him saying,
“I’m so proud of you. You’re going to be okay,”
and then it’s horrible and awful and painful again.

 

 

And the most god-awful thing about grief, out of all of this, is that it doesn’t stop.
Every time I’ve hit a milestone so far — made it through a week without him; the first month without him; 6 months now; one whole year — it doesn’t hurt any goddamn less. I miss him I miss him I miss him I miss him I miss him. And, like a tattoo he left on my life, it’s not going away until I do.

There was once a time when I didn’t miss him, because he was right there, and it didn’t occur to me that he ever wouldn’t be there.

Will I ever feel that again?

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