|(Spontaneous night of wine and face painting with Jenna & friends, about 2013)|
Death is never a subject that I want to write or talk about, but a year ago a close friend of mine died. Since then, I have been learning to mourn, process, and remember.
I didn't know much about death growing up. When I was a kid my favorite Uncle Doug died. He committed suicide, and I don't remember my family ever talking about it after it happened. He died, his depression was mentioned, his suicide was mentioned, and then the whole subject was dropped forever. We never talked about it again. My grandparents and other aunt and uncle never talked about Uncle Doug in conversation, and we definitely never did anything special to remember him. His life and his memory were swept under the rug and forgotten.
Having that experience as a kid set the stage for how I would treat death up until now. Anytime there was death around me I ignored it. I didn't talk about it, I didn't remember the person, and I avoided funerals. It was as if the deceased person was erased from my life and I had no opinion about it. That is, until I married Andy.
Andy comes from a pretty tight knit family. After marrying Andy and spending time with his family, I very quickly learned about his Aunt Mim. (Mim short for Miriam, which is where Hazel, our daughter, gets her middle name from.) Andy's Aunt Mim was hit by a school bus and died about 10 years ago. Andy's family has a facebook page to remember her, they tell stories about her, they still have a lot of her things which are guarded in the family as prized possessions, and they remember her birthday and death anniversary every year. I have never experienced so much positive remembering of a deceased person. There is not much sadness either, the family finds joy in remembering Aunt Mim.
Now, I know that suicide and being hit by a bus are very different ways of dying, but does the way that someone dies affect how we remember them? I would hope to think not. A life has ended, and it is up to us to keep the memories alive of that life, or we will truly lose them forever. If they were a person that we cared about, then where is the shame in remembering them every year? There should be no shame in remembrance! That is what I am learning. Until now, I have felt deep shame and sadness in remembering people I've known that have died.
Just about a year ago, my good friend Jenna died. She had ovarian cancer and it took her life far too soon. At about the time that Jenna died, I was getting ready to give birth. I didn't have much time for processing and grief before bringing a new baby into this world and into my life. After the baby came, it was easy for me to do what I have always done with death, and "forget " Jenna. I was so distracted with newborn life that I didn't have time to process Jenna's death and figure out how or if I would remember her. Until a close friend of mine changed that.
This close friend of mine talked about Jenna nonstop. I think it was her way of mourning and processing our dear friend's death. She brought up Jenna in almost every conversation, even ones where I felt it was inappropriate. All of this remembrance and conversation of Jenna made me uncomfortable. The more my friend did this though, the more comfortable I felt and the easier it was for me to process everything around Jenna's death. All of a sudden, I realized that if I wanted to share a nice or funny story about Jenna, that I could! It was quite an amazing realization for me.
Between Andy's family and this close friend of mine, I have learned that remembering is ok, it is good, it is healthy and positive, and can even help others around me. I am still sad that my friend Jenna is gone, but I am SO HAPPY that I can remember her and all the joy and happy times she once brought to my life. She was a good friend who is now dead, but I will not forget her. I will continue to talk about her and remember her, because she is someone that I cared about. There doesn't have to be sadness and shame in remembering, but joy. That is where I am at, and I feel positive about it on this almost anniversary of Jenna's death.