This past summer, I lost a friend. My best friend’s mother, in fact. I’ve known this family for half of my life and watched as cancer took its toll. I consider myself lucky that I was able to be with her in her final days and in her final moments. My friend had been taking care of her for the better part of the year. She put her life on pause to come home and act as nurse, friend, therapist, and daughter.
The family gathered around daily to wait. We knew we were waiting for her to go, but there was also that glimmer of, “Maybe she will say something?” “Maybe she will improve?”
When we finally had reached the end, the plan of action was no longer keeping her alive and comfortable but now planning a proper goodbye. Neither of us had ever been anywhere involved in this process. We’ve attended many, but like a large family dinner, it was always prepared for us before we walked in.
After the flowers were ordered, cremation plans made, and services were arranged, we had two days to sit around and do absolutely nothing. The bed where she had previously slept was a rented hospice bed. She slept in the living room of their small apartment for the last few months and now it didn’t seem so small, just depressingly empty. The night following her passing, we sat on the couch struggling to think of what to do. Of course there were tears and constant grieving, but there’s nothing worse than anticipation and dread of something you simply don’t want to do.
We took a trip to the store, I can’t remember why and I’m sure it was utterly mundane and unnecessary. In the distance was a ferris wheel. The town was setting up their carnival for the end of summer. When we arrived, we noticed that it wasn’t to start for a few days. Glimmer of light extinguished.
We began to look up all of the carnivals within an hour’s drive that were running. However, there was nothing on that night and it was growing later and later. Instead, we drove the hour and a half to the Jersey shore and went to the boardwalk. We shoveled cheese fries and sweets into our mouths. We rode dizzying rides and smiled and took pictures. We looked in the stores for random objects and items that served no purpose. We played in the arcade and won a fake mustache and a lunchbox.
We are both 30.
All the while, there was a shared guilt between us. We’re supposed to be at home crying. We’re supposed to be feeling her pain. We couldn’t tell anyone about this venture. And certainly photos couldn’t appear on any social media for fear of being chastised. We were expected to behave in a certain way. Ms. Manners would be pissed.
The drive back home was shorter, as it always seems to be. We had one more day left until the big day. The day to say goodbye. The shiny black shoes, primped hair, handshakes and smiles that had to appear friendly but not ecstatic. Grieving smiles. “Good to see you, but not under these circumstances” smiles.
The thing is that we have this view of how we are all supposed grieve but in the days before the funeral and the day of, we all told jokes, sometimes idiotic, sometimes funny and sometimes a bit wrong. Never once did we leave the grieving process to do this, it was just a part of our own healing. It’s something that we haven’t spoken about to many people and it’s sad that we can’t.
Her mother would have loved it. She was a ridiculous woman full of fun and adventure. She would have been there with us and, in fact, we would have been forced to ride more rides and eat more deep-fried nonsense. That was who she was.
That night, we took a vacation from our lives and our grief. We did something spontaneous and fun and thoroughly selfish. We did it because we needed to and we did it because we wanted to. I don’t feel the need to hide it anymore. Perhaps pieces of our loved ones enter us and we embody that person for only a certain amount of time. Maybe we went because she wanted us to go.
Whatever the reason, on a night we were supposed to be crying, we were laughing. And I see nothing wrong with that.