On November 18, 2013, we lost Monica. And I say lost, not as a colloquial term to avoid referencing death, but because that’s what it felt like—that one moment my brother’s beautiful, talented, kind-hearted girlfriend Monica was there, and the next she wasn’t. Gone. Lost. Never to be found.
I’ve been fortunate in my life, in that up to this point I had never really felt grief. Sure, I had experienced sadness—for lost friendships, missed opportunities, a difficult breakup—but I had never truly known what that all-encompassing, suffocating, painful grief felt like. I continue to be blessed with the love and support of all four of my grandparents, and my friends and family are in good health. It almost seemed like for the first 27 years of my life I enjoyed a sort of innocence—that I was blind to, and sheltered from, the harsh realities of loss.
In some ways, especially at the beginning, grief brings people together. Clichéd though it may sound, when you lose someone, you also lose a bit of yourself, and leaning on those around you helps plug the hole and stop the flood. I probably have never felt closer to my immediate family than in those first few days after losing Monica—at the very least, it had easily been a decade since we had all spent that much uninterrupted time together. My tears were their tears, and there was comfort in our shared sadness. And sometimes even through heartbreak, there are smiles—my younger siblings, Noah (now 6) and Leila (2), helped bring light to the darkest moments with their innocence, their laughter, and their love.
I was (and still am) touched by those friends and relatives who came to the funeral or visitation, who called or sent an email, or who reached out to tell stories of their own. I was grateful to my boyfriend for being the rock that I needed, and to my colleagues who picked up the slack, no questions asked. I also found a friend in Monica’s sister, who I had not met prior to her passing, and who I remain friends with to this day.
But when the dust settles, when life goes on for the people around you, grief is isolating and lonely. Everything seemed to be a constant reminder that I was no longer just Emily, that I was also now Sad. Returning to work after a week, finding my coffee mug in the exact place I left it and my computer still on, I felt alone and resented the normalcy that percolated around me. I found it hard to concentrate, and even harder to make small talk or sit in a meeting. When I heard people complaining about home renos or the weather or a subway delay, I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know what REAL problems and REAL sadness are?”
I was angry and fragile—like if someone pushed too hard, I would turn to dust and disappear. I hated to see people having fun. As much as I remembered and valued those who were there for me, I became fixated on those who weren’t. I was spiteful when people would ask politely how things were going and then shift uncomfortably in their seats if I told them the truth, or shared too much for too long, or—heaven forbid—cried. I know now, and probably deep down knew at the time, that this was unfair, but in my weaker moments it didn’t matter. To me, I had the right to be sad whenever I wanted, in whatever way I wanted, and that it was selfish and mundane to expect to talk about work or Christmas shopping when I had just lost Monica.
There were times when I too felt selfish, and guilty. Monica was a beloved member of my family, but I had only known her three years and she wasn’t someone I saw every day. Compared to my brother Jacob, or to Monica’s sister, parents and lifelong friends, I had hardly known her at all. I often asked myself if I even had the right to be as sad as I was, if perhaps in my grief I had claimed something that wasn’t mine to take. I had, after all, gone back to the office after just a week. I moved in with my boyfriend, had dinner with friends, even ran my first half marathon. On the outside I had resumed my life, even if in my heart I still felt Sad, Sad, Sad.
In time, I realized that to survive, I had to be gentle with others, and with myself. It was ok to cry, to wonder why, to miss Monica, but I also had to know that I couldn’t expect others to be sad alongside me all the time. I reminded myself that there’s no shame in accepting that things weren’t ok, but that running or working or having fun didn’t diminish her memory and didn’t mean I cared any less. Slowly I’ve also started to remember Monica, not just grieve her. She was a knitter, and I’d always wanted to learn, so I took a few classes—putting it mildly, knitting is not for me, but it helped me reconnect with the notion of Monica as a real person, not just someone we had lost.
It’s been a year now, and after losing Monica, I’m now on the journey of finding Emily. I have learned that grief can be erratic. It is confusing and completely non-linear, but it is mine and it is part of me, whether I’m alone or not, through the days that feel normal and those that don’t. I know that not one day has gone by where I haven’t thought about her, or missed her, and I know too that time may not, ultimately, heal every single wound. But, I’ve also learned that though there is so much pain in loss, there is beauty and even laughter in remembering—whether it’s something kind she did, a joke she made, a story she told, or with the scarf I’m (unsuccessfully) trying to knit.
This article is dedicated to the beautiful Monica Post (August 31, 1992-November 18, 2013), and to my courageous brother, Jacob Abrahams. I love you both.