Updated: Aug 22, 2019
A black hole of agony.
That’s the only way to describe what if felt like. It’s been 5 years since Brad and I climbed to the top of a granite summit in Yosemite and 5 years of reconciling the enormity of his death that day.
I remember screaming so hard my throat was raw. Eyes swollen shut. Desperate terror. Begging the gods and the heavens and the stars to wake me up from the nightmare. Nothing would take it away. Nothing could change it. Nothing was ever going to bring him back.
I survived. We all survived. And we only survived because of our families and community, and because of hope and decency and respect and a shared commitment to take the pain and do something greater with it. I willingly tiptoed into that black hole of agony, not knowing if or how I’d return. Life has grown in and around that hole, in ways I could have never have imagined, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.
Brad Parker was a silly, beautiful, radiant man who made everyone around him feel seen and heard. I loved him. I carry him still. I will never be “over it”. But I have chosen to be happy.
It’s a weird reality to honor a “deathversary” by standing in happiness, knowing that it might not be what other people want or what society says is normal or appropriate. I really don’t care what any other human says I should or shouldn’t do, or should or shouldn’t feel. There’s no road map for this. I’m traversing as best I can and I wish we had a more common dialogue around the sacredness, complexity, and reality of grief.
My deep down truth is this: being happy now does not negate the pain of his death. They don’t cancel each other out. I have the capacity to carry both joy and sorrow. Those two realities can share space in my heart, in my body, in my head. They do. Every day.
If you’ve lost a loved one and you’re feeling immense guilt around the idea that at some point, you’ll eventually find a way back to happiness, please know that it’s absolutely normal to feel that way. I was disgusted with that idea for a very long time. It may takes months, it may take years, but slowly, eventually, you’ll create a new life amid this blown open, devastated landscape. Little by little, pain and love will find ways to coexist. You may even find that they cannot exist without each other—or that the richness of holding paradoxical concepts allows you to be a more kind and compassionate person. You won’t feel wrong or bad having survived something awful. You’ll know it takes courage to heal.
I hope you do.
Photos: Jerry Dodrill