“There is no way for me to fathom how this is going to impact all of our lives, Lexi.”
-Opening line from an entry I wrote on September 3, 2015
A year ago, on September 2, 2015, my friend passed away. I’ll never forget that phone call or those weeks and months to come when I experienced a physically painful, emotional grief that I didn’t know was possible to feel. I remember the following months all so vividly: the call, the driving to and from friends’ houses and spending all my time with them, the vigil, memorial, and monthly anniversaries. Walking through the halls at school feeling like our friends were all under a magnifying glass and trying not to break down when a teacher asked how we were holding up. Not wanting to talk about it at all, to only talking about her. Sleeping too much and sleeping too little. It was something I could never fathom until I was actually experiencing it. A year ago, when I wrote that entry, I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like 365 days later.
If I could jump back to then, I’d tell myself that there are things that happen that are so heavy that they can’t help but impact you, so don’t try to avoid it. I’d let myself know that I would soon learn so much about myself and about life from these things, and that what I learn would somehow mend the part of me that broke. So, this is what i’ve learned:
1. Just because death is permanent, there is an upside.
I swore from the moment I heard that phone call up to just a few months ago that I would always feel that harsh pain lingering inside me. I still do; you just kind of get used to it. However, the short-lived friendship and life that Lexi shared with all of those she loved is worth every ounce of pain that those of us who knew her may feel. Even though that pain may last forever, that also means the friendship will last forever.
2. You don’t always have to find the positive in everything...
Some things will be stamped by the loss, and appear ruined. I normally have my Spotify playlist on shuffle, and this past year Regina Spektor’s Eet always crept its way to the top of the queue to play next. I would get angry when I heard it. I knew I could just click next, but the day would somehow feel ruined when once I heard it.
3....But it helps.
But after a few months, I stopped getting angry. It no longer ruined my day, which now even makes me feel guilty for saying. This song was played at her vigil and holds a personal significance. I have my headphones in on the bus sometimes or in the library here at school, and now when the song finds its way through the wires of my headphones, I feel my heart jump a little--some sadness, some happiness, some gratitude. Sad that I can’t hear one of her sarcastic comments, happy that I can remember all the hilarious comments she did share, and thankful that I got to experience them. The song is just Lexi stopping by.
4. Vocally appreciate everyone you’re appreciative of. We don’t do it enough.
One of the things I wrote in the entry was,
“Lexi, you are the reason I met and joined our wonderful, crazy group of friends. You are the reason I found my way through school and taught me not to give any cares what people thought. You were great at that. Your sarcasm and humor lined up so well with mine, and I am sorry that we drifted and didn't build it up more.”
I’ve learned not to be regretful because regrets, in the case of a death, won’t help anything. So that’s why, no matter how cliche it sounds, all we have is now. Yes, it’s nice to be appreciative, but be proactive with it. Grateful that your friend is really good at listening? Tell her. Thankful that your cousin has that weird sense of humor that can always make you laugh? Tell him. Happy that your family exists just because you like being around them and feeling at home? Tell them. Even the littlest things, vocalize them--make them the big things.
5. Listening to sad songs and crying actually helps.
I tried for a while to avoid those typical, sappy songs. I thought, “Why put myself in a place that is guaranteed to hurt?” But it is so necessary. It is so necessary to feel that hurt and experience it from every angle. The pain is what will help you grow, growing is what will help you heal. Sometimes, you will want to refuse the pain because you think you have to be strong, but that’s why you throw on the saddest playlists you can find and just let it all out. It would hurt, but I found that after those crying sessions sometimes, I would laugh. I thought about how Lexi would be poking fun at me for how funny my face looks when I sob, and how she’d be doing some weird voice or gesture to cheer me up.
6. Make the most out of every moment. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
One thing that really gets to me is that our senior class got to have that “senior year experience” and we would all be looking forward to the next chapter of our life with the college experience. It hurt me that Lexi wouldn’t get this. Living in the moment was something Lexi was great at. It taught me to focus more on my feelings and being present and grateful. We are alive and are living this human experience, how amazing is that? We have this ability to feel emotions, good and bad--take them all in. We have an ability to think and to form thoughts and ideas--run with those ideas and make the most of them.
7. It is OK to keep your head up.
I remember feeling like it was a sin the first days I started to feel a little better. I felt so guilty. But if you keep your head down and your gaze on the ground, you will miss eyes that were meant for you to meet. You will miss the way the sunset changes the sky, you will miss the stars that are still shining to remind you that “this too shall pass.” It in no way means that it’s forgotten, it means that the past isn’t the only thing we’ve got going for us. Just because Lexi can no longer enjoy the taste of her favorites snacks, like Takis or Lemonheads, doesn’t mean family and friends shouldn’t enjoy them for her.
8. Laughter can feel so wrong at times, but like music at others.
I remember hearing the laughter of strangers in public. After her death, hearing laughter sounded like the devil’s lullaby. I hated it and hated those people for laughing. I was angry that the world was still going on like nothing had happened, while the world's’ all of those who knew Lexi were at a halt. I, myself, didn’t dare to laugh, it felt so wrong. Yet, at one of the many get- togethers with our friends, we came across a video of Lexi having one of her laughing fits. We all laughed with her, and I’m sure they’d all agree, it was the best thing we’ve ever heard.
9. All your feelings are valid. Every single one of them.
I remember feeling my stomach drop and collapsing when I hung up the phone. I remember not feeling much on the drive to my friend’s house the night of the accident. I remember feeling guilty for not always feeling something. I remember feeling stupid for feeling too much at inappropriate times. I remember not knowing what I felt. Every emotion is valid and fair game. Something so profound is bound to leave you speechless in a whirlwind of emotions. Don’t feel guilty for feeling fine sometimes and being left crying out-of-breath at other times.
10. Everything happens for a reason.
This has always been a saying that is very personal to me and is close to my heart, and it was validated through this experience. I realized I learned things from Lexi that I was meant to learn; we had our arguments but they were necessary to make us the people we were meant to be. She moved to our town freshman year because she was meant to fill our halls with her loud personality and use her beautiful voice in our musicals. There was a reason Lexi was meant to be a part of Lemont High School’s Class of 2016, and there was a reason she had to say goodbye for now. These reasons are personal for each person, and it’s important that we find these reasons for everything--good and bad-- in our lives so that we can grow and come to peace with whatever turns life takes.