Where I Finally Found Peace In My Best Friend’s Death

I’ve always been curious about cemeteries. I think it’s human nature. They always seemed so peaceful to me, but I was so afraid of them, always shuddering at their perfect mix of death, serenity and beauty. 

When I was in grade school and middle school, I spent every weekend at GaGa’s house. Literally, every weekend. One afternoon, we drove out to the cemetery to put flowers on my grandfather’s grave. GaGa told me all about Papa Jimmie and how he would have loved me so. Then she lightly stomped her foot on the grass next to him and said, “And this is where I’ll be one day.”

In utter shock, I quickly replied, “Don’t you ever say that GaGa!” For my entire childhood and much of my adult life, I refused to accept her mortality. You’re supposed to live your whole life with your best friend and that is just what I planned to do with mine. Of course, most people’s best friend’s don’t trump them by 58 years.

The only time I have been to GaGa’s grave was two weeks after her funeral when my sister came to town from Cambodia. I did not want to go, but it was important to my mom for both of us to be there. So I went along and did my best to not fall to the earth below sobbing. I was still in such a state of shock. I honestly remember very little of that visit.

In the five months since that day, I have dreamt of (and dreaded) returning to GaGa’s grave. My mom told me last month that her grave plaque had come in. Unable to bear the thought of such a final (and tangible) piece of her death, I quickly changed the subject.

My children and I landed in New Orleans this morning. The kids faces lit

up when they saw their Annie and Pops waiting for them at the airport. It is a sight that never gets old. We drove to Baton Rouge chatting about theweeks ahead and the fun things planned.

We arrived at my home, I quickly changed clothes and grabbed the keys. My mom knew where I was going and knew that I wanted to go alone. 

My heart pounding and hands trembling, I stopped to get sunflowers at the store. Two perfect sunflowers were waiting for me as I walked in the store. I prayed not to see anyone I knew because I felt like I was floating and was going to burst at any moment.

As I turned into the cemetery, I was struck with an unexpected tidal wave of peace. I parked, grabbed my quilt, flowers and tissue and began walking to visit my best friend.

I knew my mom had been out the day before because GaGa and Papa Jimmie had the most perfect arrangement and in GaGa’s was a single sunflower for me.

This scenario has played out in my head the last few weeks. Would I collapse in tears? Would I sit stoic, afraid of the grief that might overcome me?

I did neither.

I knelt to the ground and noticed the grass had grown over the once fresh dirt. It’s almost been sixmonths – seems like a lifetime and yesterday. I traced the letters G-A-G-A with my finger and began to quietly cry.

“I miss you so much,” I began. “I have so much to tell you.”

I stood and unfolded the quilt that was once Manning’s when he was a baby. GaGa loved that quilt. I laid it on the ground in front of her marker and sat. I placed the two sunflowers down and continued tracing the letters with my fingers. After a few minutes, I decided to lie down on my quilt and fill GaGa in on life.

I filled her in on the kids, smiling at what her reaction would be at Manning and Marjorie’s silly stories. I cried to her and told her how unsure I still was/am about life without her. I asked her about PaPa Jimmie and her best friend from war, Roddy. I told her I would miss keeping her company on my parent’s terrace while she smoked. I told her about Jordan and how she would have loved seeing his player win on tv. I told her to give me strength as we begin to clean her house this week. I told her to send me a sign and let me know she is with me.

I could have stayed there forever. It was an indescribable feeling of comfort and closure. Not the end of a relationship closure, but closure of what was and peace about what is the new normal in our relationship.

There’s been quite a bit of avoidance in my life lately. I have avoided thinking about this trip and what was to come and now that it is here, I know I am going to be okay. Sometimes we build things/events up in our heads, letting our doubts get the best of us.

This grief in death is a new one for me. I am also not great with the unknown. Rather than accept that I can’t plan my feelings and the future, I spend waste energy creating scenarios centered around self-doubt. I tend to do this in many areas of my life.

These next two weeks will be filled with every emotion under the sun. As much as I wish I could perfectly color code and schedule each feeling in my calendar, I’m just going to let it go and embrace that life is both joyful and sad at times.

And when my heart is sad and hurting, I know where I can go to find peace. It is a place I would never in a million years dreamt to be my happy place, but I’m thankful I found it today.

See you tomorrow, GaGa…

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  • Deanna
    June 24, 2018 at 9:28 pm

    I am so relieved that you finally got there. It helps me so much to go visit Joey. I tell him about what I am doing, what his friends and family are doing, how his favorite sports teams are performing, as well as how hard I am trying to simply survive.
    Your GaGa is there with you, McCall. Embrace it. Talk to her. I do believe she is listening. {{{hugs}}}