This Is The Only Tool That’s Helped Me Truly Cope With My Friend’s Death

And it's super simple, I swear.
Publish date:
September 9, 2013
death, friendship, letters, i talk about therapy a lot

September 5th marks the day that my friend passed away. It happened a few years ago.

Prior to this month, I’ve called this occasion his “deathiversay.” I knew that word was tongue-in-cheek, and it made me feel a little gross, but I couldn’t seem to find the right phrase to describe this day. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my friends, “This is the day Guy* died X years ago, and this is why I get weird this time of year, REMEMBER?”

Now I can finally say September 5th is the anniversary of his death.

This change in semantics may seem minor -- I doubt any of my friends or family noticed. I’m sure they’ve noticed, however, that I’ve been a lot less batshit crazy.

What usually happens “this time of year”? Around my birthday (that’s mid-August), I start to feel not so good. I flip out over small things. Though I’m naturally a drama queen (Leo), happenings that I can usually recover from quickly, like missing a payment on a credit card, start making me sob for HOURS.

I then always black out on my birthday -- I was double-fisting whiskey and vodka on that day last year -- and, unfortunately, I am not your fun blacked-out friend. I threw my poor relatively new boyfriend’s full beer across the bar last year, and started running for the East River for some unidentifiable reason. (I think it was because I wanted to swim, ew. Bf’s convinced it’s because I wanted to off myself.)

You could call it a case of a brat who hates getting older. But my “acting out” usually spirals out of control for weeks afterward. Also, I like getting older.

September is the most beautiful month ever in NYC -- and it’s also motorcycle jacket weather, yesh -- but I can’t seem to remember what I did last year during this month, or the year before. I’m sure I was drunk and high during most of it. I know I cried a lot.

Two years ago, I think I was admitted to Bellevue in the middle or end of September after eating too many pills after a night of binge drinking. Last year, it might’ve been the beginning of November, or mid-October, that I had a manic freak-out where my voice changed and I got all Lifetime movie lady scary, and spent yet another glamorous night in one of the city’s finest psych wards. (It is with great shame that I type these words, but alas, I’m working on my deep breathing and giving less of a fuck about the past.)

This year, I started feeling these feelings again the day before my birthday. I spent the day crying, talking to people very quickly on the phone, and pacing. I thought, OH NO, OH NO, NOT THIS AGAIN.

Then I slept, woke up, worked, sat by the pool because that’s what we do in L.A., went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in West Hollywood, and ate a frou-frou donut for dessert.

I woke up telling myself, “We’re not doing THIS this year. This year, it’s going to be different.”

Everything hasn’t been perfect these past few weeks. I’ve been watching a shit ton of TV and sleeping a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. These are ways I’ve learned to dissociate that I don’t love, as they make me boring and not very productive. I know they’re much better than the alternative, though (aka going CRAY).

Guy’s death is obviously not the sole reason why my synapses fire a bunch of whacky ways each autumn. There was some other stuff going on. I think turning a year older, followed by a day that made me intensely realize that he was never going to, triggered me hardcore, though.

I’ve spent my life being reckless, and mostly suicidal. He went to a friend’s house, did something lots of people in our group did, got into his car, and, hours later, someone found his lifeless body slumped over his steering wheel. Why wasn’t it me?

Of course, I still miss this dude all of the time. But this year, finally, it stings so much less. And it’s all because I wrote him a letter.

I’m not suggesting this if you’re mourning someone who’s recently passed. Go forth and mourn! Cry your eyes out, hug yourself so tight as you try to hug their soul for one last time until your ribs break. Get angry.

Try to pretend it never happened, remember that you’re never going to get them back, and cry again.

Then, when enough time passes, write a letter.

I did this in treatment under the guidance of a counselor. A group of us sat in a big circle and were directed to write letters to someone who passed away. We were told to focus on the positive influence this person had on our lives, and to recall the aspects about them that we want to celebrate. Easy right?

However, an extremely important component to this session then entered the room, in furball form: PUPPEHS.

It was genius, you guys. As you wrote your letter, every time you started crying, which was inevitably once every 15 seconds, a little doggy would run up to you and slobber all over your hand or put his butt on your knee. It’d make you smile a little, wipe the tears and snot off your face with the back of your hand, and go on with your letter.

Eventually, I ended my short ‘n’ sweet note to Guy: You were a fantastic writer, and you inspire me to keep writing, I think about you every time I listen to the Beatles or see a dude with a cute Guy face in Brooklyn. You were so passionate about X, Y, and Z, and I loved that, and I forgot about all of this until now, ‘cause I only focused on the guilt and the death.

Some women read their letters out loud. I didn’t need to. For the first time since he passed away, I could think about Guy and feel happy. I wrote him another letter on the anniversary of his death last week, pausing between very deep breaths to watch snippets of a YouTube video featuring adorable baby pandas.

And yeah, it still hurts. I still try to wish him back from time to time. I think about getting a religion, so I can believe in an afterlife, and I can see him in it.

But for the most part, I try to focus on the aspects that I -- and so many other people -- loved about him, and it inspires me to go forward, and to be better. To do things differently, and to break this cycle.

Unsent letters are so underrated.

*Name changed for reasons I’m not sure of. Miss you, Guy!

Tell me ways you celebrate loved ones who’ve passed. And please don’t seriously break your ribs giving yourself a soul-hug: @caitlinthornton