February 19, 2010

Eleven Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:09 pm by jlp412

 

Trisha has been gone for eleven months. As her ashes settle deeper into the soil, I have lived through a 25th birthday, run a half marathon, switched jobs, moved into a new part of town, connected with strangers who are now a core part of who I am, set the bar of my horizon a bit higher up, bought a bike and rode it 70 miles, performed in a few improv shows, began to pursue a new direction. Lived. Healed.

During these past eleven months, I have also been broken, I have opened my eyes and wished they’d stayed closed, I have cried with a sorrow that cracks through right to the core of my insides and I have heard the same sobs rock my friends across hundreds of miles, I have missed Trisha actively, consistently, every day for eleven months, I have questioned the why’s behind the daily chores of living, questioned what the difference is anyway, if at the end of the day people like Trisha can just leave you, no matter how much you love them, no matter how willing you are to split your skin open and pour out all of your innerworkings if only they could seep inside the skin of someone else. During these past eleven months, I have been lost. Given up hope. Surrendered control over the fate of those I love and lived in fear of who I would lose next.

Losing Trisha and living despite losing Trisha have taught me that just because you made it through one more day of putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t confirm your survival into the next day, or the one after that. And it certainly doesn’t have any bearing on the fate of the feet of the people who walk beside you during your daily journeys. No matter how skilled you are at walking on your own path with a purpose, you can’t defend the purpose of the paths of the people who walk next to you when it’s time, suddenly without reason, for their paths to end mid-journey.

On March 19, 2009, Trisha’s legs stopped walking. But eleven months to the day later, somehow, my feet still take me places. So I’ll carry Trisha with me on my back, and I’ll show her what I see. Because I can’t scoop up enough dirt and pat it down fast enough to form a new path for her. All I can do is put one foot in front of the other, and carry her with me as I try to get wherever I’m going. And hope I end up somewhere she would want to see.

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February 7, 2010

In Honor Of

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:38 pm by jlp412

Soldiers die defending their country. They are given medals for their bravery, their families are given flags for their sacrifice and they give their lives for freedom.

The elderly die by succumbing to age, surrendering lives long-lived and well-traveled. Sometimes they leave this world as a result of disease, dementia, hospice or infection. Sometimes the loved one we bid goodbye to is not the same one we had known for all those years. But the elderly close their eyes on a story complete, if not difficult to read in its final pages.

Some people take risks every day, gambling their lives for a cause they deem worthy, a cutting-edge treatment that just might work, a love, a war. These people die “in honor of,” “in defense of” and “in love of” people, causes, ideas, feelings.

Others abandon their bodies when the pain of being ravaged by illness proves too much to bear. Some drift off into permanent sleep without even realizing their chests have stopped heaving. Sometimes we wish for the death of those we love, to ease their suffering, to restore them to a state of peace, to end a trying battle with a mental or physical illness, to stop the machine from controlling the air that keeps them breathing artificially.

Not so with Trisha. She vanished, just like that, only keeping us suspended for a few moments in the “what-if” of her potential survival. She died “in honor of” a life she was just starting to understand, a future she had just started to tentatively map out. She died “in love of” so many things and people – friends, a boyfriend, a family, an unyielding passion that propelled her out of a corporate job and into public service.

At her funeral, we didn’t thank her for her service to our country. But we did thank her for her service to its inhabitants – those she would have volunteered her time to help, those of us who she had already touched for 23 years just by being alive; all of us, the survivors.

What did Trisha die for? What is the reason? The meaning? The cause we are all supposed to dedicate our lives toward now that she’s gone? The one thing so great and unstoppable that it ended the life of someone who was just beginning to uncover its purpose?

There isn’t an answer. Trisha did not die for a reason. We cannot blame disease, age, a bet she made with her life that didn’t end on her side. Had she known where that Kentucky road would take her, she never would have driven on it in the first place.

So now, to honor her, I write. And scramble to gather up as many moments as I can and stuff them into as many hours of each day that I’m awake for and extract as much meaning out of them as I am able to and pour it all into my veins so the meaning flows through me and changes my heart’s rhythm.

Trisha did not die “in honor of” or because of anything. She died despite all the reasons why she shouldn’t have. We can’t trace any meaning or cause or sign to it. She died anyway.

So now, I live. In honor of Trisha.

January 24, 2010

Stilts

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:58 pm by jlp412

Imagine you’re a girl on ten mile stilts
You travel round the world, taking it all in
You’ll never touch the ground
Is it a blessing or a curse
And if you’re too high to be found
Are you lost or just rehearsed

Ten Mile Stilts by The Wailin’ Jennys

Today, this is how I imagine Trisha. She teeters above us, up high on her ten-mile-long stilts, as we dance and fall and rise and crawl beneath her. We reach clumsily for her long new legs as she balances there, a tiny dot bobbing high up above our heads. We are suddenly so small.

We search for megaphones so she can hear our cries. We seek out the tallest ladders we can find so we can try to climb up to her. In an act of desperation, we even try to pile on top of each other so she’ll trip over us and perhaps come crashing back down to earth. But her steps are measured. She does not falter.

She seems so close, almost touchable. It’s a tease – we see these long extensions of her legs, stepping around us and over us, without being able to see the person whose feet rest on top of them. When I dream of her now, she seems so real that I have to groggily remind myself she is gone when I wake up. And when I look at photos or videos now, I sometimes laugh aloud at one of her funny facial expressions, without the pang of knowing. I look at her in those photos like I look at the rest of us, all smashed into a school bus en route to a sorority formal, or decked out in purple and black at a sub-zero temperature football game, forgetting.

And then I remember:

Trisha’s feet will never touch the ground again. She will never be in another photo, never attain her graduate degree, never come back to D.C. to visit, never get married, never be there to assure the rest of us that our uncertain futures will turn out as they should, never get to live out a future of her own.

But I still see those stilts. And I try to follow them down whatever path they take, even though their strides are much longer than mine, because somehow, I know Trisha is up there, ten miles high, choosing each step.

January 19, 2010

Ten Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:54 pm by jlp412

Ten months ago today, Trisha was taken. Between the eighth and tenth months since we’ve lost her, my posts were less frequent, the words unsure of themselves, unwritten and unpublished, but not unthought.

The holidays came and went without her. We rang in a new year, I celebrated a 25th birthday. As we underwent these milestones, took part in yearly traditions with family and friends, shook off with a shudder the end of an awful year, it became harder and harder to convince ourselves that Trisha isn’t just actually in Ghana getting her MPH as she is supposed to be. And throughout the course of this strange trip of mourning her, I don’t know that I’ve ever been as much at a loss for words as I have been these last two months. Even during the more recent darker days, when I scraped the very bottom of my sadness, tearing off the sorrow and the fear and apathy in strips and absorbing them into myself, I could pour out words about it – I needed to, to trust that I’d get through it and come out the other side.

Now, words seem too trivial – do I write of resolutions made for the year to come, the one that Trisha will never know? Do I reflect on the year that’s been and how I’ve changed? This seems selfish. I am both excited and apprehensive about starting a fresh new year. I am inspired by Trisha’s friendship and by her death to make my life more meaningful in this next year, but I am also weighed down with the guilt of surviving into a 25th year, uncertain and unsteady as it may be, when Trisha will never get to.

Ten months after losing Trisha, I still think of her every day, but the way I think about her has changed. I still have the days where I see her as gone, lifeless, and the goosebumps come back and take me over for a moment, stop me from whatever task I am doing, and scramble my senses. But I find myself more often turning to her for guidance from afar, asking myself what she would think or say or do as I make career decisions and as I meet new people and as I spend a Saturday night on the dance floor among friends new and old.

I still ache for her, I still feel the waves of sadness that come with actively missing her. But I also find myself attempting to find new ways to need her and call on her for advice, encouragement and friendship. I think the act of living is an art, and through Trisha, I’ve gotten better at painting more colorful pictures. I may not know what the final product will look like – some days I feel like a Jackson Pollack and strive to be more defined and linear – but Trisha is teaching me how to hold the paintbrush and trust that whatever I end up with will be right for me.

Ten months ago today, I lost a sister, a friend, a part of myself. But I also gained gratitude, for each breath I inhale, for each friend who has been there as I struggle through this journey, for the reassessments I do more frequently of the meaning in each person and each activity I choose to include in my life. Ten months ago today, Trisha left us, but ten months later, she is still teaching us. And all I can do to remember her is to try and keep learning. And breathing. And thanking her.

December 19, 2009

Nine Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:51 am by jlp412

Nine months ago today, Trisha’s time ran out. The world – our world, Trisha’s world – sighed into ordinary sleep, propelling us one night further into what we thought would be millions more breaths, hundreds of thousands more moments, trillions of chances to say the things we meant to say the day before. And then we woke up, shaken out of silent slumber with the whooshing sound of Trisha’s too-soon exit from this world. The silence has been filled ever since.

Our friends get together, more frequently now even though budgets are tight and schedules are tighter. There is a muted distance between us and Trisha that comes along with this confused state of nine months without her. Late night, unexpected emotional breakdowns where we crumble anew with the loss of her. Awkward, fumbling moments with people who don’t know, where death or car crashes or Trisha somehow come up in conversation and we stumble clumsily as we step around them. Pangs of recognition when we look at each other and see the journey we’ve all made together these last nine months all over each other’s faces. Strange beats of time when we look for her – on the dance floor, in a string of whimsical emails, next to us cuddled on the couch in sweatpants – and forget until that moment that she’s gone.

We all turn eagerly toward 2010, ready to shake 2009 from our calendars and guts and memories forever. But launching into a new year means living during a part of time that Trisha will never see, means more minutes will keep pushing us toward new months without her, means her absence is permanent, means we’re still here anyway.

Nine months. There’s a comfort in still saying “months,” because it means I am still closer to Trisha alive than I am to Trisha dead. But there’s also a distance lurking there that buffers me against understanding how to truly adjust to life without her. It’s just long enough to feel accustomed to saying that she’s gone, to swallow with success the unintended emotion that creeps up from my throat when I talk about her, to look at pictures without staring so hard into her gaze that my eyes start to twitch and water. Nine months’ worth of rehearsing the same line and going through the motions of the same reality will make a routine out of acceptance.

But it’s also been nine months of rearranging the building blocks of myself until they formed this new person who can dip a pen so deep into herself that the ink and the words that come up with it are still dripping with blood. Loving Trisha and losing Trisha and wrapping myself around the rest of us who did, too – it’s changed me.

Nine months ago today, Trisha’s time ran out and mine kept on going. She’s opened wounds that will take much longer than nine months to close up, and she’s thrust us toward each other with a strength much greater than her 23 years. Nine months. Writing it and repeating it may mean I’ve adjusted to a routine, but it doesn’t mean I’ve given in to accepting it. Nine months ago today, a perfectly healthy, ambitious, kind, do-gooder, adventurous soul started out on a journey she didn’t even get to begin. No, even though I’ve been telling myself she’s gone for the last nine months, I do not, cannot, accept it.

Nine months ago today, an injustice, a slip in the giant clock keeping track of all of our time left on earth, an irreversible mistake, took Trisha away. Took Trisha and no one else, took her, plucked her, grabbed her and thew her life up toward the sky and left the rest of us to dwell under it in search of her. Nine months now we’ve been looking.

November 19, 2009

Eight Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:48 am by jlp412

Eight months ago today, Trisha took her last breath. For reasons the rest of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend, eight months ago today, the cord connecting Trisha to the center of the earth was snipped in half, sending her flailing wildly into the atmosphere. Eight months ago today, Trisha went from being a friend whose impending journey I bragged about to anyone who would listen to a friend whose too-soon departure from the living made her unaccomplished journey a tragedy.

Eight months into mourning Trisha, I find her loss twisting its way into what should be milestones, new beginnings, moments of connection, and corrupting them somehow. Apathy is a scary, scary thing, and her death has made me – a person of too much energy and passion for my own good – a habitual user of apathy for a quick fix of explanation. Apathy can be, I’ve found, more consuming than pure grief, and much more debilitating.

Eight months into missing Trisha, I don’t feel any more at peace with her loss, and I don’t feel that time has dulled my longing for her. I have no guidebook, no compass, for this strange trip I’m on, and I don’t like that at every turn there seems to be a new feeling lurking on the sidelines, ready to throw itself at my feet and trip me as I try to gain my footing.

Eight months ago today, I learned what it feels like to cut yourself open and rip out your own heart. And now, eight months later, I am starting to learn what it feels like to pump its beat back again, and I am trying to find the courage to ask others to squeeze it sometimes when Apathy threatens to stop my hands from trying.

Eight months ago today, I shook my first to the horizon and screamed, to no one in particular, “Why?

Eight months later, I’m still waiting for an answer.

November 14, 2009

If I Could…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:38 am by jlp412

If I could, I would take you away from this…

If I could scoop up your ashes from the bottom of the lakes of Chicago and pick them apart from the soil grains of where your family lives in India and blow through a wind strong enough to carry them up from every other crevice of this earth that they have blown to and settled in, I would create a tornado of the tiny particles of you, and make you whole again.

If I could plop you out of my mind and onto my couch for one last soul-sharing session, I would tell you I am scared, of turning 25, of wandering onto the right path to follow for the rest of my days, of finding someone to walk beside me with a map and a sense of humor. I would tell you I am grateful, to be living in the nation’s capital among new friends freshly plucked since college, to be working at a place I love on an issue I have come to care deeply about. I would tell you how good it is to see you, how proud I am of your fellowship, of your study in Ghana. I would ask of your own fears and joys, inquire about who you love and who you want to become. I would make you some tea and cover our legs with my purple fleece Northwestern blanket, and then I would hug you and send you with reluctance on your way.

If I could unstick your pictures from the scrapbook I’m making, I would collage them together one by one, another tattered tapestry of your incomplete life, if it meant you could add in the missing pieces of the moments still to come.

If I could, I would throw away two or three boxes’ worth of your Chicago belongings so you’d have enough room in one car to pack your things before you travel to Atlanta. Or I would call you last March 19, five minutes or one minute before time decided to make you unreachable for the rest of its duration. Or I would drive you there myself, chattering away all the while about the many people you had mapped out to visit, playing stupid road trip games, listening to old CD mixes.

If I could, I would pry open your eyes just to shake you awake and show you all you’ve done through who you’ve known here. A fundraiser happy hour was held for you in New York last night. You were memorialized in Northwestern’s magazine. Every day, that jar of voices I sent you becomes more and more full of stories told of you here and gone. If I could, I would show you just how much you’ve done.

If I could, I would tie your wrists to your bed in Chicago so you would not leave that day.

If I could, I would unbreak your bones and unstop your heart.

If I could, I would vacuum up every conversation we’ve ever had and store them away in hundreds of brimming bags, pulled taut with their words, and I would listen to one of them each night for the rest of my life.

If I could, I would take you away from this…

If I could, I would save you.

November 2, 2009

A Letter, Part 3

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:12 am by jlp412

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Dear Trisha,

I’ve written you two letters since you left – one just weeks after your death and one about a month after. They were letters bearing gifts, frantic efforts of affirmation that you were somewhere where you could receive them. Back then, still reeling from the rawness of your abrupt departure, I didn’t need anything from you. I just needed to believe that I could send you things, things like jars of voices telling stories of your life and patchwork hearts scribbled with names of those you’ve touched. I needed to give you things, Trisha, because I felt robbed of the chance to give them to you when you were here, and I didn’t need you to respond, I didn’t even need you to confirm that you received the things I sent. I just needed to send them.

Now, I need you to give me something.

It’s been almost eight months and somehow you’re still gone. Everything is chaos now, Trisha. My metaphors for you do me no good, the shipping address I used to send you my two previous letters is missing and I can’t find it anywhere, because secretly I am uncertain if it really exists, and the fear that it doesn’t stops me from looking too long for it. We’re all reacting in different ways and in different places in our journeys to mourn you now, and that just makes it more confusing – we cry at parties when we should be laughing and we lie awake on nights when we should be sleeping and we stop new relationships we should be starting because they are beginning after you have ended.

We’re replaying otherwise innocuous moments that are now laden with meaning – about the last time we all saw you, about the night we called each other to say that you were gone, about your funeral. And we’re scared, Trisha, of so many things – scared we’ll forget this feeling of missing you, scared we’ll lose more friends along the course of our lives as we age, scared your meaning and your importance will somehow fade as the years increase that we’ve been alive without you. Scared you’re out there somewhere. Scared you’re not.

So I need you to give me something. And when I say “me,” I really mean all of us, since we all seem to need slightly different things from you right now. I hate to ask it, Trisha, and to be honest, I tremble as I type it because what if you can’t do it? What if what I ask is impossible? Does that mean you’re not getting any of my letters at all? I don’t know, but I have to ask it anyway, because I can’t seem to give myself what I need during this part of missing you.

I find myself retreating to the days last March with a strange longing – I want to be ravaged and consumed again by the emotion of having just lost you, because the emptiness and sadness I feel now would be best expressed in the torrential cries and explosions of emotions I felt then. It’s more real that way – that level of anger, of grief, mirrors what it’s like to live in a world you don’t. But – for good reason – I don’t react that way anymore every day. I can’t and I know I shouldn’t. But I want to. Because this muted, strange acceptance is so much worse. I feel like I’m not giving you enough. I need to feel, Trisha, and I don’t know what to feel anymore.

That is where you come in. I don’t need what others need right now – some need you to start appearing in their dreams, and different dreams mean different things for different people, so you will have to alter your appearances accordingly. When I first dreamt of you, you were terrified because you knew you were going to die, and I tried and failed many times to stop it, to save you, but I couldn’t. In my dreams, though, then, I needed to try, and I needed to fail. I needed to know that I didn’t cause your death, that I couldn’t have stopped it even had I known it was coming. Some of us need that now, too. And others of us need something a little trickier – they need a sign, an unexplained in-this-life, tangible sign that you are okay. I recognize this is tricky, but I have faith you can find a way to provide that to the ones who need it, and that they will have the patience to wait until you can show them.

But I need something stranger even than that. I wrote in a recent post that I struggle sometimes between lifting you above me for guidance and pinning you down with the weight of my grief. A friend responded by telling me that I should try to rest my burden a bit and let you walk beside me instead. As soon as I read her words I realized that is what I need you to do. I need you to help me navigate new relationships with people who are meeting me after you left my life. I need to feel you somehow, Trisha, and I don’t know if that will come in the form of a sign or a dream or just a new something in my life. But I need you to walk beside me. I’m getting lost now walking alone. I need to feel you next to me as I go, even if I can’t reach out to grab your hand. I need somehow to know you’re there anyway – you can decide how to show me. I just need to know you’re there. I need you to walk beside me.

My love to you wherever you are,

Jamie

October 27, 2009

Cancer Didn’t Take Trisha

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:35 pm by jlp412

Cancer didn’t take Trisha. There was no devastating diagnosis, no quality-of-life-compromising treatment, no hair loss or weight loss or misleading prognosis of remission. There was no loss of faculties, no doctor telling her she had six months to live or could never have children or would spend months on end hooked up to machines dripping drugs into her bloodstream.

We never had to see Trisha not as herself. She did not survive the car crash with injuries to her brain or heart or limbs. She did not lose her speech or ability to walk or think or dream. She did not have to wake up every day for the rest of her life knowing another life ended the same day as hers, for I fear the weight of that knowledge would have killed her in a different way.

When I remember Trisha, I remember her smile, the one that persisted even when the rest of us were drowning in thesis research or final exams or post-college quarter life crises. Unlike so many other loved ones I’ve lost to disease, I didn’t have to wrestle with a final image of Trisha ravaged by an illness that took over her body; I didn’t have to shake away any final memories of days or months of wasting away from disease or dementia that took the Trisha I knew and replaced her with one I didn’t. The last Trisha I saw was the one I hugged at Starbucks on M Street, alive, healthy, about to begin a journey.

The only final, fleeting moments of Trisha’s last minutes alive are the ones I see in my head – was she asleep? Aware? In pain? How long was she lying there before her father made it back to her, before paramedics tried to rescue her, before she left this world?

And of course on the darkest of days I revisit her funeral, the winding car ride from her family’s home to the funeral home, which I made with a friend and with relatives of hers I had not met before. We got lost along the directionless roads of Alpharetta and almost didn’t make it. We made nervous jokes inside the rental car, we called friends to ask for directions, in the deepest parts of ourselves hoping somehow we might not make it on time, that it might not be real, that we might not be going to bury Trisha. We had never met each other and suddenly found ourselves traveling together on one of the most difficult trips we would ever make.

At the funeral, her father read quotes from a paper she wrote on death being like an eternal state of sleep, between torrents of tears. Her roommate read a card she wrote to Trisha that was never read, found in the trunk of her car unopened, referencing growing old together as lifelong friends. Her boyfriend spoke of books they were reading together, the trip they had planned for this past summer to Nepal, which would have been the first time they would have seen each other in nearly six months. I clutched my friend Nayna’s arm until the color seeped from her skin as we walked down the aisle together to sprinkle pink and yellow petals across Trisha’s lifeless body, a final goodbye. I stared at Trisha’s downturned mouth and closed eyes. I stumbled toward my friends and I fell into them.

Cancer didn’t take Trisha, and I’m grateful. But sometimes it’s hard to understand what did take her, and all I can see is the mess we’re left with because something, somewhere, did.

October 19, 2009

Seven Months Ago Today

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:40 pm by jlp412

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Seven months ago today, Trisha died.

It seems so cold and wrong and true when I write it as it is, without metaphors to soften the blows of it. Trisha is dead. She has been gone for seven months and she is not coming back, even if I smile looking at her smile back at me in photos, so happy in her state of unknowing, even if I miss her more now than I ever knew I was capable of missing a person. And I have missed people before, and missed them hard.

Missing Trisha washes over my thoughts and laps them up like a tide that crashes further and further onto the shore until it knocks away the sand castles that once stood there, defiant. Missing Trisha disintegrates my thoughts and scatters them violently along the bottom of an ocean of just plain sadness. How small they seem, now.

It’s been seven months, and even though I can spew out words of her life and her death to the new people I meet, even though I can still shake up my world until I see color where I didn’t before, even though I ran 13 miles in her name, she is still gone and her death still pounds on my chest until my ribcage rattles.

I feel like I am not on the same course of healing I was on a month ago. I feel like I am spiraling, like I am backing out of the progress I’d made trying to make sense of what happened to her. My mind goes now to Trisha, to my imagined final moments of her life, to the fantasy future I’ve mapped out for her that she will never know, to the people whose hearts she was only starting to scratch the surface of.

I am a positive person. Retreating to sorrow is not something I’m used to. I am fighting off the urge to label myself weak or depressed or slow to move on. But I live in a world that Trisha does not, and sometimes I feel that just by breathing and laughing and succeeding and failing along the way of my life, I am accepting this world, I am waking up and saying to myself, “It’s 60 degrees today. I need to go to the drycleaners. Trisha died seven months ago. I forgot to charge my Blackberry.”

Exciting things are happening. I have a new job. I am moving to a new apartment. I have friends who are getting married. I have become a runner, and even mildly enjoy it. But missing Trisha nags at my mind, and the guilt of still missing her this much seven months after she left just makes the tug of her absence pull harder.

Seven months ago today, my world changed forever because Trisha left it. And I will keep trying to hold her up above me as a guide rather than pin her down below me with the weight of loss, but sometimes my arms just can’t seem to lift her up.

Trisha didn’t slip out of this world silently, and she certainly didn’t leave it by choice. None of us could have known she would abandon us to crawl around inside the hole she left, in search of answers, running into each other without knowing why.

I talk of Trisha in metaphors – tapestries and holes and splashes of color and beating hearts and tattered skies. But at the end of the day, these are temporary fixes. At the end of the day, stripped of adjectives and the buffers of comfort they bring, Trisha is still gone.

Seven months ago today, Trisha died. And seven months to the day she did, I still can’t really believe it. My love to you wherever you are, Trisha. I miss you.

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