Almost two years ago my cousin took her own life. She was born just a few months after me and we were raised like sisters when we were young. She was the first best friend I ever had and losing her has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life. But some things really did help:
  1. My first, visceral reaction after the news had set in was to immediately be as close as possible to all the things she left behind. I rushed home and got all of the photos of us I could find and all the cards and notes she'd ever sent me. I was grateful that I had never thrown any of that away.
    At that moment, it felt like the last pieces of her soul could still be alive in these objects. I started carrying them around with me everywhere. I felt like I could keep her alive, or maybe just safe.
  2. The second I got the news, I became acutely aware that all of the experiences we ever had together were finite in a way I had never fully understood. It was scary to think that now our entire friendship, everything between us, was now just going to live in my brain. I started writing down our stories. I wanted them to be recorded.
    I told myself and my friends our stories over and over. How we got caught with fake id's. That time we got chased by peacocks. When we learned what "lesbian" and "divorce" meant. When we got my brother's car stuck in a ditch. I just wanted to do anything I could to draw our friendship outside of myself and make it a third entity again.
  3. I wanted answers, I wish my family would have been more open to talking about what exactly happened. There's so much shame associated with suicide, it only added to the confusion and frustration. Ultimately, the thing about suicide is you'll never really know why someone died. By the time you find out that they were that sick, it's too late.
    The details are hard to hear but for me, they were helpful. It turns out it was much more violent than what I originally imagined. But once I found that out, I could rule out all my other "theories" in my head and begin to accept that she was experiencing a mental illness that was completely overwhelming.
  4. My other friends were so wonderful. You don't want to hear "Let me know what I can do to help", because at that moment all that you think helps is to undo the death. The people who just do something without being asked... send groceries or lend you dresses for the funeral or say "WTF THIS IS BULLSHIT I LOVE YOU" those are the people who matter.
    It sounds silly but at that time, I remember thinking "I've lost my best friend, what if I don't have any friends anymore?". But the grieving process only brought me closer to the people in my life who truly cared for me.
  5. That being said, I felt like I was living on Grief Island. Grief is an extremely isolating emotion. Your pain is strange and layered and coded just for you. I read Meghan O'Rourke's The Long Goodbye and felt less alone.
    Being around her immediate family was good and bad, especially her husband. Of course we all felt overwhelming guilt and responsibility and I felt ashamed for her and, eventually, very angry. But we all lived on this strange island together now and it was hard to interact honestly with each other because we all felt so breakable and so unable to solve anything. It was cruel, because here we were unable to help her and now unable to help each other.
  6. I watched so much TV. And Netflix, etc. This was actually really helpful because it helps you turn the hurt off for a little while and focus on someone else's problems.
    You don't know what to do with yourself when you're grieving, because functioning like a normal human being is not always an option anymore. When the grief would wash over me, it would be so exhausting and I would feel overwhelmed not knowing how I was going to move forward. Losing myself in another narrative about something else entirely was sometimes exactly what I needed.
  7. Right after getting the news, I had the strangest sensory feeling that she was sitting right next to me. I can't explain it. And my dreams were so intense for months. She showed up in them every night and sometimes we talked, sometimes I witnessed more of her suffering. It was hard. Some nights I was afraid to go to sleep. I often woke up sobbing.
    My boyfriend at the time had lost his mom. He swore every time he dreamt about her he would wake up at 4:44 am. It makes you re-think everything, and realize we are tied to each other in ways we can't truly understand.
  8. I made it through. The anniversary of her death and her birthdays are hard. But I try to do things that will honor her. And there really is a way to survive and move on and be happy, even with a giant hole in your heart.
    I try to remember that all goes onward and outward. I think she exists somewhere still.