This week, my best friend would have been 26 years old. It’s been four years since he died, and every birthday without him still feels strange. The irony of his birthday falling within the same week as National Overdose Awareness Day doesn’t surprise me, for the little idiosyncrasies of life’s natural flow never cease to provide deeper meaning to the otherwise seemingly meaningless events that take place. Whether or not I overanalyze or over-assign meaning to dates, times, and events, doesn’t discount the grief I still feel even after all of this time has passed. I was deep in my addiction when he passed, unable to see my inevitable fate if I hadn’t gotten the help I needed. While friends have died since then, and my perception to the unfair hurdles life throws at us sometimes has also changed, grief is a constant battle. It looks and feels different today, but it is still there.
How I handle my grief today is different. I know it comes up unexpectedly, and that it doesn’t need to look or feel a certain way. Sometimes, it hits me out of nowhere, and I find myself lost in a daydream of what could have been, or I find myself stuck on memories of what it was like. No matter what comes up, I find myself in a position today, grounded in acceptance, where I don’t shame myself for feeling sad, confused, or angry at the losses I have experienced.
I’ve been asked before to write commemorative pieces, to speak at services, to provide tangible proof of life and death for a person who lost to their addiction. It is humbling and painful to do such things, for the memories I have, both the good and the bad, have to suffice in times where words do not seem to do justice. I can share my experience, I can share my pain, and I can share my hope, but I cannot bring people back, nor can I stop them from using in the first place. I am empathetic for those who have struggled the way I have, for those who have lost loved ones, for those who have gotten stuck in their grief to where they cannot see any other side to it other than the one full of constant pain and fear. I am grateful today to know that it is okay to still mourn, even after years have passed. I know the pain subsides and gets easier to manage as time goes on, and I know I will have the love in my heart that comes with their memories to carry on and spread a message of perseverance. I also know it is okay if I need to take some time to light a candle, look at a picture, and cry today.