11 Ways My Friend's Death Has Changed Me

Thursday, August 15, 2013

You may recall that a close friend of mine passed away in March after a long bout of cancer & related illnesses. I feel weird saying she was a "close friend" because, like, am I allowed to say that? Elissa had a thousand & one friends, & all of them loved her more than the next. I've been struggling a lot with whether it's "OK" for me to feel the way I do, but... you know what? It's OK. I think of Elissa every day, & her death is guiding my life in a lot of ways I didn't foresee.

In remembering her, I want to share with you some of these lessons I'm learning, even - & perhaps, sadly, especially - in her absence. Here are just a few of the identifiable ways I'm living my life differently post-Elissa:
  1. I'm saying "yes" more. The day after Elissa's funeral, I went through all of my texts & emails to & from her. Some of what I found was comforting, & even more of it was distressing: There were repeated instances of Elissa inviting me to hang out... & me saying no. I'm sure that sometimes I had legitimate conflicts - & that many times, I was just too tired/anxious/busy working/whatever to make the effort. I don't remember the reasons I bailed on Elissa, but I sure as hell remember the fun times with her - & I don't want to be a person who misses the good times for the relaxing times. I've started making plans & following through with them, even when I don't feel like it.
  1. I'm making memories. As a result of saying "yes" more often, I've been doing things. I went out to eat with a stranger. I went to a friend's sister's house for a Jewish holiday dinner. I took an impromptu visit to D.C. spend the weekend with my best friends. Even though I was initially inclined to say no to every single one of these things, doing them has been awesome. Way more awesome - & more memorable - than sitting home & watching Criminal Minds reruns. (Matthew Gray Gubler, sorry, I love you, call me.)
  1. I'm prioritizing the people who matter most. After Elissa died, I went sort of crazy, defriending from Facebook anyone who I wasn't, like, real-life BFFs with. This was actually a mistake that I regret, but my intentions were good: silencing some of the noise so I can pay more attention to the people I love most. I don't ever again want to look back on texts from a dead friend & think, "If only I'd made more time for this person." Strangers & acquaintances are deserving of time & love, too, but not at the expense of the really important people.
  1. I'm paying more attention to the news. When you live in D.C., it's pretty easy to be "into politics," even if you're not, well, into politics. I've never been a person who understands the inner workings of government, but while I was surrounded by people who did, it was easier to keep up. Now that I'm removed from that environment, I sometimes forget to educate myself. Elissa was an activist in every sense of the word, & I'm trying to keep her spirit alive by staying better informed about issues I care about - which happen to be issues she cared about, too.
  1. I'm trying to be more understanding. I'm, uh, not generally known for being understanding of those whose socio-political views differ from mine, & to be honest, I don't have a ton of interest in being more understanding of people who are, say, anti-equality or anti-choice because those things offend me deeply & sorry I'm not sorry. Still, Elissa was a proponent of working with those with whom we might otherwise disagree in order to make progress on the issues we can agree upon. Recognizing the value in this, I'm trying to just... chill, you know? People have different beliefs than I do, & even though I may find those beliefs abhorrent, it doesn't necessarily mean those people are.
  1. I'm being nicer. This is, in some ways, related to the above point: I'm just making an effort to be less of an asshole. I know I'm a nice person underneath, but sometimes snark prevails, & I'm not... as nice as I could be. Elissa had a solid snarky streak, too, but she was not typically one to find humor in jokes with people at the butt of them. Whenever I've considered tweeting a funny picture of bad fashion or saying something rude to someone who wishes harm upon me, I'm making a more concerted effort to suck it up, smile, & stop being a jerk. (Except for that hair photo I shared with you on Sunday.)
  1. I'm telling people what they mean to me. It doesn't always go that well, & sometimes it's really awkward, but I think it's worth it. Because if I die, I want people who I like to know how much I liked them. Like, in my own words, not just in action or assumption.
  1. I'm realizing that... YOLO, seriously. Most of this, so far, is related to travel. Have the opportunity to go to London? Meet up with 68 bloggers in Vegas? Go to D.C. for a spontaneous weekend? Hey, let's do it. I also have a number of adventure-focused plans in the works - skydiving, parasailing, glass-blowing, new tattoo? Workin' on 'em.
  1. And I'm letting go of FOMO. I'd been hating New Jersey, right? Kind of a lot. I wished I were anywhere else, to the point that I stopped going into NYC because every time I visited, I fell into a mini-depression, wishing I lived there. Now, I'm trying to just appreciate where I am & what's happening in my life right now & not waste my timing wishing I were someplace else. Because I'm not. I'm here, & I may as well love it. 
  1. But I'm trying to figure out what I want. Even though I just said it, I don't want "may as well" to be a part of my vocabulary or my mindset. I want to do things because I want to do them, because they're important to me, because I chose them. Elissa tried her damnedest to be happy, to actively seek a lifestyle that contributed to her happiness. I want to find what it is that makes me truly happy & make it my reality.
  1. Our family friends have two daughters, & a long time ago, when one was having behavioral issues, the other yelled at her, "I only have one life, & I want it to be a happy one!" That's the gist of this, really, of all the things I've learned from Elissa's death, & I wish I'd realized it sooner, but you know what they say about late versus never: I only have one life, & I want it to be a happy one. And finally, finally, finally, I see that that's on me to pursue.

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