I don't really know how to write this post. It might turn out disjointed and nonsensical. That might be fitting.
Five and a half years ago, after Shoes and I had decided that we were serious and moving forward in our relationship, I started to meet his friends. This was 100%, thoroughly and utterly nerve wracking. Shoes grew up with the same group of friends, attended undergrad with many of them (lived with them as roommates), and after undergrad, when they split for graduate school and different parts of the world, they stayed as close as they had ever been. Years upon years upon years of shared history and experience. They are still an extremely tightly knit group, full of love, encouragement and forgiveness for each other (when you're friends for that long, rifts are bound to happen.)
V. was the wife of Shoes' long time friend S. The first time we met them, we had gone up to the Northern part of this state to have a long weekend with them and two other couples. In essence, the entire group was welcoming, loving, enthusiastic and opening.
So very open to having me infiltrate their strong friendships.
V. was there that weekend. And she, with the other women, was vivacious, loving, curious, affirming. She was a large part of what made being friends with all of these guys so very easy.
V. is hard to explain. She was, in a sense, the best part of who you are. Honest and blunt, but without force or aggression. She was vivacious and loved to laugh and adored making sure you were comfortable. She was compassionate and tender hearted and tough. So very strong. V. came from a very large Laotian family; watching her relationships with her family was a sight to behold. Loving and loud and boisterous. Her family were her friends and no matter who you were, V. made you feel like you genuinely, authentically were her best friend. All of she and S.'s summer barbeques, graduation parties, etc, were packed to the walls with the friends they had accumulated over the years.
This is where it gets a little sad. That's my grief. You don't have to keep reading from here. I would understand.
Everybody - and I mean that quite literally - everybody loved V. On the day that V. passed away, she had been experiencing strange physical symptoms in the morning. The events surrounding how she got the hospital are long and complicated, but she did. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital S. works at, and a medical team who was very familiar with S. worked all day to revive her as she kept crashing. (That's not exactly quite how it went, but to protect the family's privacy a little, that's how this version goes.)
They were unable to keep her stable, and at one point, after 20 minutes of chest compressions, the medical team had to let her go. As the medical team filed out, the nurses dissolved into tears and the lead physician crept around the corner, and believing he was unseen, crouched down on the floor, put his head in his hands and started sobbing.
When S. told the children's preschool teacher, she also dissolved into uncontrollable tears. V. had made friends with her, with the other parents, with the children ... V. was your friend. Period. If you knew her, you were loved by her.
Shoes and I have been rocked to our core with grief. I realize that sounds melodramatic, but I cannot remember the last time I was this affected by anything. I have spent hours in tears that sneak up out of nowhere. Shoes and I have been sad, and irritable, and slightly grouchy with each other. We have spent hours texting our close friends, emailing them, talking on the phone with them. The loss of V. creates a giant hole in each of us individually, and in the group as a whole.
Shoes and I just returned from her out of town, Laotian Buddhist memorial service. Please know my heart - in no way do I want at all to disrespect another person's culture - but the ceremony did not offer the sense of closure we were hoping for. I think this is because it's just not how we, in our Western thinking, have been accustomed to grieving and the ceremony of saying Goodbye. We all know that V. would have most definitely wanted a fully Laotian service, though, and for that we were very, very grateful. Some elements were shocking to us and while I won't mention most of them here, I do want to touch on that final goodbye.
This may be uneasy to read and may be triggering for people who are experiencing grief or have complicated loss / grief in their pasts. Please feel free to stop reading.
At the conclusion of the memorial service, my husband and his close friends were asked to follow S. with wreaths and lead a processional from the room the service was held in, around the side of the funeral home, to the room with the crematorium. Shoes and his friends were followed by the monks, who were followed by the nuns, who were followed by V.'s casket (on wheels.) The rest of the ceremony guests followed this processional as Laotian matriarchs threw coins wrapped in tin foil at us for luck.
Once we arrived at the incinerator at the crematorium, those at the front loaded V. in her casket into the incinerator. The door was shut and latched. The incinerator was immediately turned on.
Most people left for the Laotian Buddhist temple at that point. We lingered to be with our friend as he visited with other funeral guests. As Shoes and I were getting ready to leave, we looked back at the crematorium roof as smoke started clouding out of the chimney. Shoes looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "What did we just do?"
Of course, that's not that. After that, our close friends went to dinner and stayed up late drinking wine and telling V. stories, grieving in the ways we know how.
Woke up the following day, and still felt sad.
Sad that my friend is gone. Sad that her two very young children don't have a mother. Sad that her husband now has his own grief that only he can get through, in his own way. Sad that when we gather together as a group, her loss will continue to be a large hole in our fabric. Sad that an entire mess of people miss the woman who let them know that they were loved. Accepted.
It doesn't make sense that a 35 year old woman with two very small children four and under woke up one morning, didn't feel well, and by the end of the day, had passed away. It doesn't make sense that a four year old child now asks their father every day "when mommy is coming home." It is heartbreaking to watch an even younger child cling to their father and scream when given to somebody else to hold because the entire situation is too confusing, too scary and to devastating on an entirely emotional level. And while none of it makes sense, I've stopped looking for meaning and just come face to face with this terrible grief and sadness.
The only way through it is through it.
I get that. But I would totally be lying if I didn't also say that I am looking for the days when it doesn't feel so heavy, so enveloping, so all encompassing.
It's such a terrible cliche, but V. was the best of all of us.
And that's a very hard thing to let go of.