June 28, 2009

Missing Her Still

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:10 pm by jlp412

Today, Trisha’s absence jutted out more than usual into the space around me and intercepted the thoughts that tend to fill my head on Sunday mornings. I suddenly wanted to call her, to see her, to update her on the status of my life since we’d last had coffee together in March. So much has changed. I wanted to laughingly tell her that the few of us making it back to Michigan this fourth of July are running a three mile race together in preparation for our half marathon. We will don exaggeratedly patriotic gear and likely jog across the finish line well behind the other runners. But we will do it, for her.

Today, I missed Trisha.

Is this what it’s like, this mourning? The logic of her death is real to me. I understand it. I can reach out and touch the empty space she’s left me with in place of herself, and I can feel the holes of her loss swelling up beneath the stitches that can barely stretch far enough to keep them sewn up every day. Though I do not know where she is, I know she is not with us here among the living. That much I know.

But still my mind resists this truth. I miss her. I ache for her. I want to wake up tomorrow and have this all be a giant misunderstanding, have her come bounding off a plane and tell us breathlessly of her adventures so far from her travels abroad, flipping through photos and speaking with rapid excitement about the people she’s met, the places she’s seen, the knowledge she’s learned and the person she is starting to become. I want her to come back to us, unharmed and alive, to live out the rest of the many years of her life.

It is not the natural order of things to lose a spirit like Trisha’s at 23 years old, to slash short the life she worked so hard to build, to rob her of the journey she was about to take. It’s cruel to have dangled this journey in front of her. She worked so hard to nurture the calling within herself, to uncover it from beneath the dissatisfaction we all often feel with the day-to-day grind of our jobs and to do something about it, to listen to it when it would have been easier to shove it aside for another day.

She applied for and won the Rotary fellowship, she tapped into expansive networks of people in several other countries to seek out volunteer opportunities for every spare moment she had available to give. She mapped out elaborate travel plans to reunite with family and friends, she was accepted into the University of Ghana’s MPH program, she packed up her apartment and set out on her way.

And she dies in a car? On a highway in Kentucky? It can’t be so. It makes no sense. She was taunted with a journey she never even got to begin. What is the reason? Why did she leave us in this way at this time?

I want answers.

Trisha is a tapestry, and most days I can feel the fabric of her swooping over my head and it brings me comfort. But today, I felt the holes she left me with stretch a little bit larger despite my best efforts to keep them sewn shut. Today, Trisha’s mother celebrated her birthday even though her youngest daughter will never live through another one. It’s not right.

I have brunch with a mutual friend and I miss her at the table. I develop a strong and increasingly meaningful friendship with her boyfriend and I feel guilty because it grows solely out of her loss. I go for a long run and before I can grow too proud of my progress, I am slapped with the reality that if not for her death, I wouldn’t be running at all. I get on a train or into a car or I ride in an elevator or on my bike and every single time, I recognize that I may not survive the trip. And though I surrender control and choose to get where I’m going anyway, I also give in to this new fear, this new sense of death around me, even if only for a millisecond and even if only to myself, before I take any journey any distance anywhere. If death took Trisha, who’s to say it will spare me?

Time has confused my mourning of her; it has not “healed” so much as blurred the lines of logic that separate the living from the dead. Time has made me able to speak freely of her without emotion choking my words, and it has somewhat tamed the raw, unpredictable waves of grief that commandeered my body and my psyche those first few weeks. But time has not given me more clarity, time has not given me an explanation and time has certainly not sealed shut the holes I’m left with instead of Trisha.

I suppose this is loss. I can’t tie it neatly up and package it away and open it only when I want to. It’s here with me now, every day, all of the time, even as I try to do good because of her and tell stories to remember her and write here to preserve my mourning of her. In ten minutes and in ten years, Trisha will still be gone and I will still have holes half-mended.

As one month becomes one year without Trisha, I will still be wandering around down here, rambling and reflecting, and I will be missing her.

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June 22, 2009

Possible

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:41 pm by jlp412

Today, two Metro trains in D.C. crashed into each other. As I write this, at least six people are confirmed dead. It’s the deadliest crash, in fact, in Metro’s history. Before March 19, 2009, this accident would have given me pause, compelled me to utter a silent “thank you,” and it would have moved me as much as any other news headline declaring senseless tragedy every day.

But today was different.

To my knowledge, my loved ones are safe and alive and unscathed, none of them passengers on the two trains that crashed.

But suddenly this window that was rusted shut is now propped open, and these types of accidents are possible, not just for everyone, but for me. I don’t ride the train to work, and I rarely ride the train to the part of town where the accident took place. I never get out of work by 5:00, which is around the time the crash occurred.

None of these improbabilities matter. Somehow it feels so possible. It could have been me.

Six people were killed, and although their identities have not yet been released, I can see their faces warped into the terror that must confront those who know they are about to die. I hear the sobs that shake their loved ones, as they shook us when we first learned of Trisha’s accident. I imagine the phone calls making rounds across the country as the news spreads, with the same echoes of whys and cries of denial and the anger of failed understanding that filled our frantic midnight phone chain.

I begin to predict tomorrow’s news cycle – faded photos of smiling victims before their lives were lost, flashing through an embedded slideshow alongside the images of the wreckage; Metro Safety Board officials apologizing in monotone statements, scrambling to find someone to blame for making a fatal mistake, searching for the answer we’re all still trying to uncover ourselves – the answer to why at that moment on that stretch of highway Trisha’s car veered in that exact direction and caused her to die without reason.

There are no answers.

A beloved security guard was shot and killed at D.C.’s Holocaust Museum a couple of weeks ago and already the story has fallen to the middle or bottom of the news cycle. Thousands of other tiny tragedies occur all over the country and don’t even make local broadcasts.

Death is possible now.

I know well what it feels like when it slices through the air you inhale and shoots sharp pain through you as you reel from its violent introduction, struggling to still breathe. It settles in and twines around your ribcage and it marks you somehow, branding you, so that you walk around with a mangled, reluctant tattoo of it everywhere you go, so that it cuts short the breaths you take even when they feel full. What if now that death knows me, it comes by more often? What if now that it found a way in, it just rests there waiting for the next chance to wrap a little tighter around my lungs, to cut short the inhales and exhales of someone else I know?

It’s not that I walk around afraid all the time that at any moment I or someone I love could be whisked away with the sudden swoop of death’s arm and be plopped down wherever it is people go when they leave the living. Most days, I shake off this thought and tuck death away behind more palpable realities like my job and my tangible, living, breathing relationships.

But today, I remembered that death is possible. And tonight, for the loved ones who the victims of this train crash left behind, death is now possible, too. My heart hurts for them.

June 19, 2009

Three Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:18 am by jlp412

trisha laughing w molly_2

On April 19, 2009, it had been just one month since Trisha left the living. I remember writing that entry and feeling as if the words I wrote were splitting my skin as they pierced their way out of me. Her death was still so new and so surreal. And on May 19, after it had been two months without Trisha, I felt incredulous, in denial her death was still so lasting, so real, and I felt a deeper, more settled sadness. And now, on June 19, a mere three months after Trisha’s heart stopped beating, I find these words stirring around in a pool of conflicting feelings.

This cannot only be the third entry of its type; surely the loss we feel has been stretched out across more than only 90 days. Yet, at the same time, I have reached such a reluctant place of acceptance that Trisha is in fact gone, and it seems strange to have made that journey in what feels like a lifetime ago, on March 19. Her death at once feels fresh and far away; her years of life triumph over the short time we’ve been without her, but it becomes harder and harder for me to remember her life as just her life, without its abrupt, foreshadowed end dotting her horizon in the distance.

Three months ago today, Trisha’s departure from this world rippled across the rest of us trapped in it without her, and it changed us forever. Some of us walk now with more labored strides as we struggle to carry the weight of her loss with us each day. Others have started new journeys with buoyant steps, playfully twirling on the new paths we’ve laid out before ourselves. Some days, the fear and the loss and the holes Trisha left occlude any other feeling. And others, the life she left us with in our memories and in our stories, the way she touched us and the way she moves our feet forward even now, fills us with such warmth that we find comfort in it.

It’s been three months. I don’t have answers or explanations. I don’t have a guide book on how to grieve and how to move on. But I am up to 7.5 miles in my half marathon training. And I am still viewing the world around me through a kaleidoscope that shakes things up with color. I worry less about things that don’t matter and care more about people who do. I miss Trisha every day, but I also find joy in letting her still steer me on my way from that far-off place where she is.

These past three months, when life without Trisha strikes me as unjust and incomprehensible, I try to find one little thought or action each day that becomes my own silent way of thanking her, honoring her, making her a part of who I am since she left me behind. Sometimes it’s just a quick note telling someone what they mean to me when I otherwise would have waited until the next day. Other times it’s a spontaneous late-night conversation that otherwise would have been buried beneath the logic of sleep and routine. Whatever it is, that thing, that thought or action, becomes my way of keeping Trisha a constant, tangible part of my life.

Do any of these things replace her? Of course not. Would I still rather have her here than have this newly shaken perspective? With all my heart.

But if she had to leave, the least I can do is keep her with me, let her prod me into a person I didn’t know I could become. If I don’t, then she’s just Trisha, my friend who died three months ago. I can’t surrender her to a reflective smile and an occasional browsing through photos, and I can’t let the sudden moments of mortality that seize me become the way I remember her.

So this is how, after three months, I still find words to write. This is how I find the courage to step into a world each day that is content to still spin on even though Trisha isn’t in it. My actions to honor her are often tiny, and my thoughts aren’t always layered with meaning. But Trisha touches them, even now, and they change me.

It’s been three months. This is how I choose to remember.

June 12, 2009

Telling Stories

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:04 pm by jlp412

I had coffee with a friend about a week ago who I had not seen in years. We went to the same high school, though we did not share many of the same friends growing up. We reunited at a recent Christmas gathering in St. Louis hosted by one of our most beloved teachers and realized we would both be in Washington this summer. After a bit of phone tag, we finally scheduled an afternoon of museum touring and conversation.

We spoke of our respective fields of study in college, extrapolated on our academic and professional ambitions and churned the St. Louis gossip mill. We skated along the thin surface of comfortable conversation for a long time, until somehow, in the inexplicable way it always seems to do, Trisha’s death pinpricked the layer of protection we’d worked so hard to cultivate, and slowly stories of her started to overflow and take over the words we exchanged.

I do not know this friend particularly well, and yet I spoke to him about Trisha with such an urgency that it was as if I were helping him cram for an exam on her life and her loss and the people she left behind. I spoke of her binding role within our group of friends and of our reunion without her this May. Words poured out of me about her fellowship, the journey she began and never completed, the boyfriend she had grown ever closer to in the months leading up to her death, her incredible family and her consistent level of joy in the ordinary. I rambled about the mess we’re all left with in mourning her, I confided that there was not a single spare moment of my days when my thoughts do not turn to her even now, I spoke of the good she did, the decision she made to change her life’s course and how she had inspired me to take steps to do the same. I trumpeted on and on about the motley crew of half marathoners who are running only for Trisha.

Emotion overcame my friend even though he never knew Trisha. Across a tiny table at Teaism in downtown Washington, as a bridal shower crowd squealed and shrieked with laughter behind us, as large Asian fish drifted listlessly in a pond next to us, as I nibbled on mango chutney and as we slurped our Bubble teas, Trisha touched us. One more person grew to know her and came to love her and miss her that afternoon. One more person wandering around among the living gained a bit of momentum to fill his days with more meaning, and maybe he’ll tell someone else the story of our afternoon, and they, too, will come to know Trisha.

My friend then shared with me the tragic loss of a good friend of his who also went to our high school but who I did not know well. He died from a complicated genetic heart condition a couple of years ago, and he was a gentle soul whose intellect, wit and kindness moved former classmates from across the country to gather for his funeral. My friend also confessed that he thinks of this friend, misses him, tries to do more good because of him, every single day. This brought me strange comfort somehow. Perhaps my thoughts of Trisha will just meld into my own and become one in the same.

Trisha’s death seems more distant now even though it has not even been three months since we lost her, even though her 24th birthday is less than a month away. But Trisha’s life seems somehow closer to me; as I navigate my course with a shaky step, she steadies my stride. I just hope as I continue on my way that I find the right way to keep her with me, that I am able to continue the good she would have done had she only been given more time.

I will keep telling stories to strangers of her and friends of her and friends of mine, because it keeps her closer. It gives her life more meaning even now that she’s gone. The stories we all tell of Trisha float pieces of her through the air on the backs of our words until they settle into the lungs of more and more people, until she’s in the oxygen we breathe across the table and across the ocean, until the air around us is saturated with her.

We are all storytellers now. Even though the words may not always come easily, even though our audiences may not fully understand why we need to tell the tales we do, we must keep talking, keep sharing stories of Trisha. We can’t just surrender to the silence.

June 3, 2009

What I Wouldn’t Have

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:54 pm by jlp412

What I wouldn’t have if Trisha hadn’t lived:

My first apartment in Washington, D.C.

A tiny taste of sunshine.

An air-tight packed suitcase of my entire sorority room that I otherwise would have abandoned in a heap of clutter and frustration.

A lesson in just laughing it off.

A friendship that seeped in like mortar between the bricks of the rest of us, holding us steady in our foundation.

A confidante who didn’t judge me as I rambled on my way, an adventure companion who dropped everything to accompany me, whether on a trip I was scared to take or a journey I was excited to begin, and a staunch supporter of any endeavor I took on, be it a play or an internship or a birthday celebration.

An embracer of life without an agenda.

A sister.

What I wouldn’t have if Trisha hadn’t left:

Unexpected mentors and guides and friends from across the country who try to fill the hole of her loss with words from each other.

Deeper inhales and slower exhales and a silent gratitude for the breaths in between.

Stretched-out moments that seep into the next day when they otherwise would have been cut short by sleep.

A burning in my heart that is a constant lull beneath its beat each day.

Fragility.

Fortified friendships that tie parts of me to all of us who knew her and swap out patches of hurt for swaths of healing.

Timelessness and sleeplessness and sudden, consuming washes of sadness.

The words that strive to give shape to the senseless; the language that wraps around my thoughts and nudges them out of my head. This blog.

Without Trisha’s life, I wouldn’t have known her; an endearing extension of myself who dug up the more ragged parts of me and scrubbed them until they shone. Without Trisha’s loss, I wouldn’t have felt the depths my hurt can reach to or the richness the hurt can bring when it resurfaces as remembering.