Diane ❤️💔 July 14th 1956 – February 14th 2015
When I first learned about her, no less than two million buffalo stampeded across my chest. (That is just an estimate at the risk of sounding dramatic.) When the dust finally settled, when chaos clipped its own wing & the Earth relinquished her thunder, I found the remains of a heart not twenty feet from my aching body, trampled into a bloody mess. This heart did not belong to me, but I ripped open my own ribcage just to double-check.
Many years ago, on Valentine’s Day, her favorite holiday, I suddenly lost my close work friend at a former job to a heart attack. No one saw it coming. We were close but only in the workplace, not outside of work. We worked together everyday for almost ten years. We always said we would hang out one day outside work, and she would invite me to her house to celebrate the holidays with her family, but it just never happened. We never talked outside work unless we just happened to see each other on the streets or in stores. But she was often on my mind, and I could tell I was often on hers. She would tell me she saw things that reminded her of me. And she would come running over and say “Kim! I couldn’t wait to tell you this, you’ll never believe it…” (One day it was that her grandbaby said “f*ck,” and he learned it through her without her intending it 😆) She was old enough to be my mom and has adult sons and grandkids. She would hug me as we were closing up for the night and say “Love ya, girl, be careful!!” She talked to me and scolded me in a motherly kind of way. I used to overhear her bragging about me to people, telling them about classes I took, about how sweet she thought I am, as if I was her daughter. She had no idea I heard.
One day she collapsed at work and died on the floor. I wasn’t there that day, I was on a meditation retreat. I had this morbid need to see the room she died in, to stand on the spot where they told me her body hit. I thought it would feel cold and dangerous, dark, threatening, and for some reason I had to see, to feel it. I thought it would feel like a place where someone’s life ended, that the walls would somehow whisper of a last breath taken, of a warm body, full of energy, full of future plans, suddenly becoming cold & lifeless on the floor. I thought it would become a place of dread, a place I couldn’t bear to set foot, to lay eyes on. I never saw inside the room before that, just a quick glance once in a while. I had no reason to be in there in all the years I worked there. I thought I could somehow catch a glimpse into her last moments, feel her very last breath being drawn if I stepped inside. But there was nothing. Nothing at all. It was very ordinary. The same walls, the same floor, same dim light, the same sink and washrags hanging around, like the room I worked in. It was small & stuffy unlike the large one I worked in. It felt safe, actually, not a place where someone died, not the place that held my friend’s body as she left this Earth forever, where just a moment before she was reading a newspaper and sipping out of a water bottle. And I couldn’t feel anything except the pang of seeing her newspaper she was reading the morning she died, still folded up on the table, and her water bottle half full next to it, right in the middle of seemingly safe mundane life when her heart decided to give out just out of the blue without warning. She woke up that morning just like any other, probably wearing a red or heart shirt for the holiday. She was like that. I wondered about the people who took her away, were they cold, compassionate, caring? Did they think of her as someone’s mom, someone’s friend, someone’s coworker, someone? Or was she just their job, just another body to be carried out? I wondered if they felt compassion for us, for those of us left here in pieces in the now dark cold place that she occupied here on Earth.
I remember the day we met. It wasn’t love at first sight, at least not for me. I thought she was unpleasantly sarcastic and obnoxious. She was yelling and cursing to (not at) a coworker, I just began the job, and she was already there a while, then she asked me a question about how much we were selling something for, and I said fifty cents or two for one dollar, I meant to say 75 cents or two for one dollar, and she said “Yeah, well no shit it’s two for a dollar.” 😆 But she quickly grew on me, and I came to love her and her funny sarcasm.
She was a loud, funny, sarcastic woman. Every other word out of her mouth was “Fck.” If she was angry at us, we knew it. She was extremely compassionate and fiercely loving but not what most would call sweet. She was always giving her last dollar to someone else. All three of her sons at one point wanted to date me, and two were arguing over me. She told me she would be honored to have me as a daughter-in-law but that I was too good for all three of them (and every other man out there). 😆 She was angry at her sons, yelling “Don’t you fcking dare even think about going near that sweet innocent little girl til you get your sh!t together!!! I’ll kick your @$$es!!!” Then she turned to me and yelled “Don’t you dare even think about it with them til they get their sh!t together, then choose one!!” 😆😆😆 They were very close so they were always at our work coming to talk to their mom or drive her home. She always affectionately referred to them as my Daniel, my Thomas, My Matthew. She would make me lunch and bring it to me.
When she would bake cookies or something at home, she would remember me and save me some. At work we would laugh and joke together. I was always texting my mom about the funny things Diane did and said, the kindness she would show to others even when she was angry. We worked at a food serving place. One night she went to Rita’s water ice when they were about to close. The worker wouldn’t give her water ice(if you don’t know what water ice is, because I think it’s a Philadelphia thing lol, imagine ice cream but not milky? Like flavored ice but soft. Something like that). He said he was closing. The next day he came to our place when she was working. I worked at the other side, and she worked at the kitchen side. He wanted food right as Diane was closing. She said “you know what, I shouldn’t give you sh!t after you were an @$$hole last night, but I will,” and she stayed open later and made him food even though the night before, he denied her when she wanted water ice. She got nothing extra out of staying later to make him food.
One day my dad came to my work acting like he was messing with me (he has a twisted sense of humor like that, a couple occasions he came to the store at night acting like he was pulling a gun/kn!fe on me and a bunch of men at the bar on the corner would come running over to tackle him and I had to embarrassingly tell them he’s my dad just joking, I really did have a gun pulled on me one night working alone, by a stranger, and he thought it was hilarious to joke about) and said “yo what are you doing” in a loud demanding voice. Diane was going by in a car, and not knowing it was my dad joking, she yelled out the car window, “She’s working!!! The f*ck’s it look like she’s doing?!” That’s just one of the many occasions she told someone off for me. She was very protective.
The last thing I ever heard her say was “Unfuckingbelievable!” Then she slammed a window closed in my face. I never saw her again. She was angry, but I love that this was our last encounter since we had to have a last encounter. It was so her and makes me laugh.
When I found out, my world collapsed.
A cold empty feeling came over me. It felt like some kind of constant in this life of mine was stripped away and like a lonely empty space now existed in the world that was once occupied by a warm loving presence. I could have never imagined a life without Diane. A world without Diane in it made no sense. She’s the closest person to me who ever died, and I wasn’t prepared. I lost another work friend before that, which was devastating, but we weren’t as close, and it could have never prepared me for this. I knew grief then, but this was different, like a boundless ocean. My other grief was intense. It was real and true but when compared to this grief, it seemed superficial, like just the surface of it.
The feeling I remember most is the feeling like I was missing a limb. It wasn’t physical pain but felt like missing an arm, like something essential to my body/life/existence was cut off in a traumatic accident or something and felt like a numbing, tingling sensation in its place. I couldn’t identify where the numbness was or the tingling, but it was somewhere. It felt deeper than body but also physical. I never knew a feeling like this exists. All day, everyday, there was this nagging sensation like part of me was physically missing when it shouldn’t be; it felt like it was ripped away, not cleanly cut or just misplaced, like it was physically, messily ripped off of me. Something about the element of surprise worsened it. It was a completely unexpected loss. Diane was healthy and middle aged. The other feeling I remember was literally struggling to breathe everyday for no reason. It felt like drowning or suffocating. When I was eleven years old, I couldn’t swim. I fell into a swimming pool at 12 feet deep, when no one saw. I remember the feeling of not being able to breathe, my arms and legs were flailing, my chest was caving in. When Diane died, I remembered that day in the swimming pool all those years before, it felt exactly the same. My body had the same physiological reaction. I remember writing this years ago and saying it’s not a metaphor, like it was physically the same. I had to stop at random parts of each day and gasp for breath. One morning a couple months after she died, around 2:00, I woke thinking I was having a heart attack too. I thought the grief was literally k!lling me. I couldn’t breathe and never experienced anything like it. My heart was palpitating, I felt like something was wrong with my face and struggled to get out of bed. I looked into a mirror, and my eyes were completely black, it was like two black endless pits instead of eyes. It looked scary, I never saw such a thing outside of horror movies. I began to have something like convulsions gasping and gasping, thinking my mom or sister would come and find me dead of a heart attack on the floor at 28 years old.
Then I remembered that a panic attack can feel like a heart attack and thought maybe that’s what this is. I never had one before. I remembered panic attacks aren’t dangerous and won’t k!ll, just feel like they will. Back then I was a Buddhist student and remembered all the breathing and meditation techniques. I forced myself to breathe deeply and mindfully and envisioned a Buddha surrounded by bright wh!te light like we did in class, stopped it in its tracks almost instantly. That’s when I realized it was the beginning of a panic attack coming on. I never had one before or after that. But occasionally, rarely, I still have some anxiety rooted in her death. Before Diane died, I never had anxiety except claustrophobia.
I also frequently had this feeling like I wanted to scream her name hysterically until my throat was raw. I would imagine climbing with just my arms and legs up all the buildings in the city and getting to the top and screaming hysterically for her, screaming her name off all the rooftops. The pain felt like something throbbing. (I have a similar feeling to much of this when I have a pet who dies, but I expect them to, their little lives are so short and fragile, I don’t find it traumatic like this) My whole body was in throbbing pain(this is how I experience all grief). I used to lay on my bed or on my bedroom floor, curled up in a ball in agony on all levels, hugging myself trying to will the pain away. Until then, I never really realized that someone can just suddenly die even though I knew people before this who did. It stripped me of my sense of security. I felt like everyone I knew, especially my own mom, was going to just suddenly die on me without warning, and it filled me with dread and panic, kept me awake all night. My whole body was filled with trauma. Every moment I just kept thinking who is dying now, everyone I looked at I imagined them dropping of a heart attack, no control whatsoever. The ticker gives out for no reason whenever it feels like, even in young seemingly healthy people, and there isn’t a thing we can do to stop it or know it’s coming.
One day while sitting in the back of my dad’s car speeding on the highway, the throbbing was so relentless and urgent, I briefly, uncontrollably imagined opening the car door and letting myself fall into the traffic simply to stop it. It wasn’t depression or su*cidal. It was just a passionate throbbing of my entire existence that wouldn’t let up, and I had no idea what to do with myself.
I felt guilty for grieving so hard, for my body’s reaction. I felt like it wasn’t my place. She was just a work friend. I felt my grief was disproportionate to our relationship, not valid, that I wasn’t worthy of sympathy, that my grief wasn’t worthy of the place it was taking up in my body. I felt it wasn’t worthy of putting into words and out into the uni-verse, though I still did. I struggled to understand if it was a real thing or just a me thing. Unpleasant questions would intrude into my mind throughout the days. Would anyone else in my position have this reaction to such a loss, to losing “just” a friend, a coworker? Was it normal? Some kind of over attachment? Was I just being dramatic? Was I hijacking the grief of the real mourners? I knew people grieve for friends, coworkers, but mine felt not valid and too much for the situation, the fact that she wasn’t an outside of work friend made my grief seem disproportionate, and I do believe it’s even more difficult to lose a friend who is a friend in every aspect of life, not just work, both are painful and difficult. But some losses are more profound and challenging than others. This loss is terrible, for sure, but not the most profound or life altering someone can experience, like losing a spouse/life partner/child/friend who is like family in every way…Even though I knew it was real, it felt like it wasn’t, like it wasn’t mine, shouldn’t have been mine. It felt like it should have been reserved for someone else, someone more important than me, for her husband if he was still alive, for her sons, for her family or friends outside of work, like I had no right to it. I used to write about it a lot back then and often felt it was meaningless to because other people have experienced worse losses, and here I am complaining about the loss of a coworker. It seemed petty next to the loss others experience. But the pain and loss were so painful, nothing petty about it.
It’s a similar feeling when an online friend dies or even just someone we follow and don’t interact with but always seeing their content. We know our pain is real, but there’s that guilt, that nagging question, like is it really my loss? Is my grief real, valid, appropriate? Or should I step out of the way and let the real people have their grief? That would be easy and all well and good if the grief wasn’t nagging day and night, keeping us awake, insisting that it is in fact our own loss as well. If the loss and the love weren’t real to us, there would be no grief to ponder, but still it’s hard to embrace it as valid. If my grief wasn’t so intense and at some moments even v!olent, I wouldn’t have questioned the realness, the validity. Anyone can be sad when even a stranger dies. But this was a deep, heavy personal grief I did not feel entitled to. There are so many memories of just the two of us. Laughing, eating, joking, drinking hot chocolate together, listening to Rod Stewart… memories only I hold. Someone has to grieve for those lost moments and give them a place, honor them. Someone has to give them life. Who else can? We had a relationship, a connection, memories that only we shared, that were ours alone. No one else can grieve for that, only I can. Thinking this way makes it seem a little bit more valid.
I tried looking up things on Google about how to cope with the loss of a coworker to death, looking for something to validate my grief, and couldn’t find much at all. Google seemed to think I was looking for ways to support a grieving coworker and also suggested ways to support the family of our dead coworker. This hints at how it’s really not considered a significant/personal loss and hardly even worth mentioning. I looked it up again recently out of curiosity. I found two things for that specific loss but mostly just the same stuff as before and about grief and loss in general.
I always loved her, and I sensed she loved me too, and she was a significant part of my everyday for nearly ten years, even when we weren’t together, but as platonic friends and only at work, I wasn’t sure how valid our relationship was, how important it really was, not to us, but to anyone else, society in general, just whatever truth exists, I felt the grief, sympathy, should be reserved for real friends and family and couldn’t understand why I was reacting the way I was, felt I was overreacting, dramatizing my situation, but I couldn’t get it to stop. It was beyond my control. It was physical.
I remember writing that if I knew that last moment what was coming, I would have never let her go, would have slashed open my chest, cracked open my ribcage, if I could have, ripped out my own bleeding heart and handed it to her. And I would have.
Recently Instagram suggested I follow an account of a complete stranger. I loved the thumbnail picture I saw, a beautiful young woman and man on their wedding day. I love sweet posts like that so clicked her account just to see her love photos and was very surprised and dismayed to see in her bio, “widow.” At 26 years old! Part of my brain wouldn’t let me believe it at first, I knew it couldn’t be true at their age, but it is. I read her posts where she describes her grief after a tragic car crash, and I was surprised to see it somehow resembled the first couple years of my own grief, she described the missing limb feeling(I never heard anyone else say this), a feeling like part of her body missing, a feeling like drowning and suffocating, the physical sensations, the sense of panic and panic attacks. It was everything I remembered. I know hers is much worse, but so similar in some way. I could tell my grief wasn’t as profound, not as permeating, not as life altering, that there were layers and aspects missing even while the throbbing and aching were at their worst. Things I will never understand. And she mentioned something about not really understanding true grief or pain til you lose a husband and the father of your kids. And I do know what she means. It brought back that old feeling like I overreacted, that I had no place grieving, especially to such an extent, such depth over a friend, just a work friend. I felt guilty like I was taking off of someone else’s real grief and loss somehow by having my own experience. U.S. society and others, as a whole, favor romantic love/relationships and parent/child ones. Any other relationships/grief/loss/love…get pushed aside, and all the sympathy/validation tends to go to the spouse/romantic partner/child/parent. So it can sometimes be challenging to have intense grief for a different loss and see it as valid or even real. It feels guilty. It feels almost like being some kind of imposter, taking on the role of someone in mourning, someone broken over a shattering loss, when there is a more important person somewhere suffering even worse over the loss. No matter how much we suffer about a loss like this, there’s going to be someone else seemingly more entitled to that suffering. Ours will forever be overshadowed, dwarfed by theirs. It feels like playing make believe or playing house or dress up because we don’t yet or won’t ever know the real thing. It makes it seem insignificant yet the pain is still so heavy and real.
“Heaven knows,” (for lack of a better term), I never asked for or wanted that traumatic experience or deep deep pain, that panic. It came at me. I never wanted to lay on my floor at 3:00am, eyes black, wide awake, gasping for breath, shaking in agony & panic at the thought of never seeing her face again. And I will say, I don’t wish I was one of the important ones. I certainly don’t envy the girl who lost her husband or the son who lost his mom or the dad who lost his daughter. This “lesser grief” isn’t about wanting to be a part of it or wanting to play the role of a grief victim, a loss survivor, but is just a natural reaction to something that is a loss to us in its own context, its own way. I may not be an important one and maybe it’s much less in magnitude than a real mourner’s, but for whatever reason this loss is a devastating one, and grief will reflect that.
My grief nearly ten years later is no longer as prominent as it was. It’s a quiet, deep, ache that sometimes washes over me. Sometimes it’s still heavy enough to feel it could have potential to bring me to the ground, but that feeling is very brief when it hits. It used to be heavier, threatening to bring me down in random places, feeling as if my body would collapse wherever I was standing. Sometimes I would leave for a store and on the way feel I couldn’t go on and thinking I may have to turn around and go back home. It would hit anywhere, on a bus, walking up a street, in a grocery store. Sometimes it was more panic than pain, like a claustrophobic feeling, but feeling like the world is too large instead of too small, feeling like she’s lost out there somewhere and I would never find her. Thinking about her never seeing her sons again, never meeting her new grandbaby she told me everyday she couldn’t wait to meet when he was born, never tasting her favorite strawberry ice cream again, never listening to her favorite song, never again hearing her voice, my body would threaten to collapse. I no longer experience the fear, the panic, just the sadness part, but it’s almost never overwhelming, deep but not threatening. It’s more sadness now than unbearable pain. It can exacerbate sometimes and be especially deep, either randomly or something that reminds me of her. I often feel it in the beginning of Fall because it’s my favorite. I still have a slight sense of something being cut off, missing but mostly faint. I can tell it’s not going to fade any more than this. It’s a part of me now. It’s like background noise usually, unless I focus on it or something brings my attention to it. Writing this brought it all back. There are moments I desperately wish she was here, not necessarily always for me to see or talk to, but that she was here to get to live and have her favorite strawberry ice cream and listen to Rod Stewart, to watch her grandkids grow up and yell at her sons.
Anyway, I’m not even sure why I’m inspired to post this, but I am. Just seeing that girl’s grief so raw and so well articulated, took me back to my own, as I was reading, I was shaking my head in agreement and saying yup to myself, yet I haven’t a clue what it’s like for her as I haven’t suffered a loss like that. I would never think I know. But it felt like some underlying part is similar or maybe it’s the surface that is, I would never say that to someone struggling though, never ever would I say or even think “I know how you feel.” I know there are more layers and aspects to some losses than others even if the gist of it feels similar. Then I had that feeling all over again like it wasn’t valid or real even though I know it was real.
Since I met her I have spent as many years without her now as I have with her, but the years with her feel like much longer than the ones without, packed with so much experience, so many memories. It doesn’t even feel long since I last saw her. I can still remember her love all these years later. I never felt that I lost that. Losing her never meant losing that love.
She told me of all the amazing things in this life she wanted for me, love, my dream job, happiness…the main thing she hoped for me is that I would always keep my sweet and kind and gentle personality even in the face of challenges and encountering difficult people. She said one of her worst fears was me becoming cold hearted when I see how cold hearted the world can be. She told me to always stay kind & keep loving no matter what.
And I want to say to anyone reading this, if anyone is, I’m sorry for YOUR loss, the loss of your online friend, your coworker, the loss of your neighbor, the loss of your brother or sister or sibling, that’s not just your parents’ loss or their spouse’s and children’s, that’s YOUR loss. And it’s ok to grieve. There’s, unfortunately, enough grief for everyone.
…the rhythm of my heart
Is beating like a drum
With the words ‘I love you’
Rolling off my tongue ❤️
Sending love to all in need,