Girls of Summer
Spring is in full bloom and with sunshine comes bittersweet happiness and sadness. This year will mark the fifteen-year anniversary of my beloved friend’s passing. It is hard to believe that I have lived so long without her being present in my life, yet she has a big presence in it. The feeling of bittersweet stems from her absence. The “what ifs” that I often ask or the moments when I know she would be happy for my successes.
For the longest time after her passing, I believed that I was not worthy of having a happy life. I questioned why she wasn’t spared, and why I was still here. I remember pleading with God and trying to bargain with Him. I remember crying, face towards the sky, telling Him I would trade places with her because the shock and pain we were all feeling was too much to bear. There was a part of me that believed that the world would be better without me.
At the time I was changing majors and felt lost. I had little to no direction of who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do when I grew up. She was on track to being a teacher and loved by everyone. She had overcome an eating disorder and had turned her life around. She was on the road to success so when she passed, I felt guilty. I could not comprehend why someone with no purpose could still be alive, and one that had direction and was doing good could be gone in an instant.
I lived for at least the first decade after her passing feeling that way. I worked hard and started working in a career that I love and found purpose. I traveled to various parts of the world, got married, divorced, found love again, adopted a dog and have made the best of the life I have. I have learned to appreciate things more and be grateful. Despite the success I have experienced, the voice in the back of my mind made me question if I was worth any of it.
I thought these feelings were associated with my heartbreak. That they were normal and that they would dissipate, but they lingered. When I got married, I felt indifferent. I wished she were there. I was unhappy, which I can attribute to the cracks in my relationship, but I felt like I did not deserve to reach this milestone without her in the crowd. The truth is that a lot of happy moments are overshadowed by a feeling of discomfort of experiencing joy without her there.
The memories of us talking about who we would be when we grew up flood my mind in moments of happiness. She was supposed to be here alongside me to experience it all. We discussed living on the same street and starting families at the same time so that our children could grow up together. All of it gone in an instant and while I do believe she is at peace, there is something in me that is not.
I have told my therapist often that the world stopped when she died. I found comfort in the lies I told myself about her absence for the first few years. I accepted the hardships I experienced in my twenties because I believed I deserved the heartache, the abuse, and the darkness. The sun set on the day she died and never did shine the same again.
I recently found out that I have been struggling with survivor’s guilt. I have lived under this dark cloud for over a decade not knowing what it was and only writing it off as heartache. When I heard “survivors’ guilt” everything clicked. I saw the dots connect in my mind.
The heavy emotions I have been carrying around for fifteen years are not only heartache, but stem from the trauma I experienced when losing my friend. Understanding survivor’s guilt is still foreign to me, but me feeling guilty for achieving milestones or feeling paralyzed by my guilt have prevented me from fully experiencing life and it is not right. I need to start processing these emotions and need to get out from under this dark cloud.
Once a free spirit, I tend to hold back. I am more rigid, which I can partly attribute to being an adult child of an alcoholic (ACA), but something in me snapped when she died. I do not laugh the way I did when she was alive. I have become reserved in some areas and have been putting on a show for so long that I feel the lines have blurred at times. The act of being happy when I am not, is a heavy burden. Stopping yourself from experiencing pure joy because you do not feel worthy of it is hard on your soul.
For many years I have been carrying extra weight with no explanation behind it. I have worked on myself and have worked hard to be where I am thinking of her every step of the way. When I have talked about her to family or significant others, I have been asked why I do not try to make deep connections with other people. Replace her? That cuts deep when people suggest I should replace her. She is irreplaceable. I cannot replace her friendship for another’s and mask this wound. The truth is, if she died abruptly, so can anybody else.
I know their intention is not to hurt me, and they are not suggesting I replace her (I am interpreting it that way). It is an innocent comment, and they are trying to help me find what I had with my best friend. The truth is you cannot break deep bonds and even when I do make deep connections – it has happened, I have close friends – it is not the same. My bond with Mary was different because I knew her since I was three. We grew up together and shared many secrets with each other. We went through adolescence together, spent many sizzling summer days playing under the sun, riding ATVs, and swimming. She was someone I believe would be an integral part of my life until I died, and all those dreams and things I counted on are gone. It is an empty feeling.
Although I know I will never be the same, I understand that I can start healing and give myself permission to feel happiness without feeling guilty. I am hopeful that through therapy I can get to a place where I can set down my guilt and laugh hard without feeling bad for doing so. I am hopeful that through therapy I can find peace and let go of the feelings of unworthiness. Mary would not have wanted me to feel unworthy, and it is time I do the work to live life to the fullest.