Friday, June 22, 2012

It's a whole different violent thing...

When your friend dies, people will tell you thinks like "Allow yourself to grieve."  But when your friend dies a violent death, whether self inflicted violence or violence at the hands of another person, what they don't tell you is that you have TWO things you have to deal with.  I'm not in the business of suggesting that a violent death is somehow "harder" to process or deal with.  But it IS different.  Very different.

There are two tragedies that your mind has to process...the first is, of course, the loss of your friend, and the second, is murder or suicide.  Even though they're connected, obviously, you're dealing with both death AND deadly violence. As a society, we are somewhat conditioned to accept "death" in a certain way....she's in a better place, etc. But when you throw murder or suicide in there, you have this whole NEW thing to deal with, and in can sometimes get in the way of your grieving for your friend. I know that happened with me. I don't think I actually began to grieve...TRULY grieve for Leslie the PERSON until I had processed the murder. And that took a long time. For me, it was almost five years.  It's OKAY to need to process the violence right now. Being angry about it and having feelings about it does NOT mean that you are not a loving friend who is grieving his or her best friend.

I've seen people who have been able to deal with both things concurrently and be okay with that.  When I was teaching at a rougher, urban school, I saw CHILDREN who were able to process both violent death and loss at the same time better than I was.  But, honestly, I don't think it's about being "better" at it.  I think it's about how your brain works.  Maybe it's about how you and the person you lost actually connected, particular communications you shared, maybe even concerning death.  I know that one of Leslie's and my other best friends, Brooke, dealt with the loss first and began to face the murder itself much later.  

I had the experience of wanting to know the facts of the murder right away...including the ones that aren't usually well received by loved ones.  I couldn't explain to you then why I wanted (actually NEEDED) this.  All I can say is that I've been  a "facts" person for my whole life.  It strikes some people as odd, considering I am in a creative field, but even my art has its rigidity and structure.   I like things explained, under control and I like things to make sense.  And when they don't...can't...make sense, I guess I have to find out as much as I can and see if I can make some sense of it on my own...even if I have to fill in some gaps.  As you read through some of my writings, if you have an eye for details, you can even catch how some of the facts change as I learned new things, got new documents and bits of knowledge from random, and sometimes surprising, people.

What I know now, after LOTS of journaling, introspection, talks with friends and family over wine and too many cigarettes, and, recently, some really amazing therapy with a counselor who must have been hand crafted just for me, is that, the way my brain works, I needed all the truth and factual information that was out there before I could begin to miss my friend.  I was somehow afraid of "coming to terms" with what happened to her and making peace with it only to find out later that it was different than I thought.

And It was also a great way to avoid it..."it" being the reall hard part.  I kept pretty busy with the events of death.  And when a death is violent and, in our case, public, there are plenty of events to keep you busy.  There were facts to figure out, news media to avoid, documents to sort through, scholarships to give out, speeches to write...  And when all that was over, I could ruminate on all of that for the next three or four years.  And, in the meantime, I could avoid remembering that, on the day after her murder, when I went to her apartment to feed her cats, I saw the clothes she had been wearing the day before on the floor of her bedroom...pooled up on the rug as if she had just stepped out of them.  I could avoid remembering that SHE was gone. 


  1. Did you have the opportunity to see her body? My 22 year old nephew died in December of 2009 (only 3 weeks after my mother-in-law lost her life to cancer). We were so wrapped up in taking care of things for my mother-in-law that we didn't participate in any of the memorial services or burial for my nephew. I last saw him at Halloween that year and then he was just... gone. It's a very weird sensation. I know he's gone, but it feels like he could call any day.

  2. I didn't. And, personally, that's okay with me, because I had seen her the day before, and the day before that... But I know that it was harder for some people...people who hadn't seen her in a while. Leslie had changed in appearance rather dramatically in the last two years of her life. I think that, to this day, there are people who remember a Leslie that maybe wasn't the Leslie who actually died that day.