“I’ve got a lot to tell you,” she said. I could tell from her voice that she was smiling. We were discussing one of our friends and some of the stupid decisions he was making. “Will you be able to come over tonight?” she asked me.
“Definitely,” I told her. It was a Tuesday and our night to spend time together.
It was nearing noon, and we were both at work. Necessity required us to keep the conversation brief. I had to get back to the task I was performing, and she had to leave for another appointment. The call ended with both of us looking forward to spending time together later that day.
Moments later, she was gone, and so was the best part of me.
Adapting to a New Reality
It seems impossible that it is twelve years today since I last spoke to the person who was my whole world. Every one of the 6,307,200+ minutes since then has felt like I’m living in an impossible nightmare that I just can’t seem to wake up from.
That day, she didn’t have a lot of time to go grab some lunch and head off to a late afternoon class. Perhaps she was distracted when she pulled out onto the highway, but the marks on the road proved that she was where she was supposed to be. The driver of the oncoming dump truck had crossed the centerline, and there was nowhere she could go.
It was one of the few times in my life when having bipolar disorder was a blessing. Almost an hour exactly to the end of our phone call, I saw her mother’s number on my caller ID. I picked up and said hello, and as soon as she said her first word, my gut told me what had happened.
Immediately, I was manic. My brain went into high gear and I started planning what I needed to do to take care of the family that had just lost their precious daughter.
The world blurred around me as I called and notified friends, visited the funeral home to make arrangements and sat with the family and the endless stream of comforters.
It was a world I didn’t recognize, but my bipolar brain kept me moving forward, with no sleep and little food or drink over the next several days.
Darkness Hovers But Doesn’t Descend
That first night, those of us closest to the family all stayed with them. We talked until early morning, sharing stories and comforting each other. Not long before dawn, the last of them fell asleep, leaving me alone with my thoughts for the first time.
There was no feeling, though, not yet anyway. It couldn’t be felt, not with so much to do. I didn’t have the necessary skills for coping with grief and bipolar.
I took advantage of the break and went home to shower and change clothes. I got things that the family and visiting friends would need and headed back to their house.
Most everyone was still asleep when I got back. I walked about in silence among the sleeping bodies scattered around the house and smiled to myself. I couldn’t help but think about how much my friend would have loved it had she been there.
The first real tears hit, so I found a quiet empty room, and let the first pangs of grief rack my body. It felt wrong to cry, though, especially knowing how much everyone else was suffering, so after only a couple of minutes, I went and splashed cold water on my face and went back to caring for everyone else.
My Smile Still Stays On
It was one of the biggest outpourings of support that I’ve ever seen. Friends and family gathered from all over the country in the days to follow. I can hardly fathom now how we cared for everyone or found places for them all to stay.
Without sleep, I made it through the next several days. I chauffeured family, answered hard questions, prepared meals, looked for pictures and poetry for the funeral, and stayed on my feet nearly perpetually.
I also quit my job, because that’s what you do when someone dies. Well, at least when you’re mentally ill. In my defense, there were good reasons to quit, especially when my employer insisted that I work that same night she died, but that’s a story for another post.
Part of me knew what was happening. My brain was aware that life as I knew it was over, and that all the people swirling around me were there to help me adjust to that new environment.
However, the bipolar part of my brain held control. It refused to let the heart feel emotions, for the eyes to cry, or for my body to just lay down and rest awhile.
Coping With Grief and Bipolar
Like a Slow-Moving Hurricane
I had no difficulties with the days leading up to the funeral. Like a professional, I played the host and activity director seeing to the needs of my fellow mourners.
The funeral and burial had their own stressors. For the first time in my life, I was a pallbearer and walked in silence behind the devastated father. I hugged those that couldn’t fight their tears and propped up others near collapse.
In a stoic manner, I stood as the guardian of the seven-year-old boy watching his sister’s casket be lowered into the ground.
A few tears escaped now and then, but grief itself was held at bay. That’s sometimes the way when coping with grief and bipolar.
The storm made landfall a few weeks later. When there didn’t seem to be as strong a need for me to go visit with the family every day. Colors began to wash away from the world and light grew continually dimmer.
The emergency over, there was no need for mania anymore, and bipolar was more than willing to flip the switch to the worst depression I have ever experienced.
Find Light Again
About six months after that wretched day, something clicked about coping with grief and bipolar. The only way to save myself, or so my brain told me, was to rid my world of all that remained of the life I once knew.
I packed up everything that she had ever liked or touched or that reminded me of her. I hid her pictures in a dresser drawer and stowed the gifts I’d received from here under the bed.
In those months, I managed to slowly adjust to a state of numbness. It’s a feeling that has never fully gone away, even with the passing of those six-million minutes.
Slowly, though, the darkness grew less black. I was able to turn the radio on again and actually started to have conversations with friends rather than just letting them do all the talking.
It’s been a very difficult twelve years. Every year, I tell myself that this is the last year that it will be this hard. I lie to myself that these are the last tears I’ll cry and the last year I will go days without sleep in the time surrounding this awful anniversary.
Things are better, though, even if my life will never be what it was. Her pictures are back out on display, and I can enjoy the gifts she gave me. Music is a comfort now, even the songs she loved or that remind me of her.
As much as my bipolar brain often makes me forget, there are things it also chooses to remember in the finest detail. An afternoon spent on a screen porch listening to the rain. Laughing like children after being startled by raccoons that had attacked the trash. Writing letters to our future selves with notes of the life we hoped we’d have.
Love What They Loved
My heart’s not whole now, but it’s also not completely broken. In my process of coping with grief and bipolar, I still talk to her every day, but I don’t think that’s the bipolar. How do you stop talking to the only person that ever really understood you? No, I think that’s just grief.
There is life and color in the world again, even if it was a long road to get here. I have great friends, and when together we laugh and enjoy each other’s company.
If you have lost the person that you loved the most, whether it be a spouse, parent, sibling, child, or best friend, know that it is possible to survive. Things will hurt, and probably for a long time, but things won’t always be as awful as they are right now.
For me, it helps to remember the things she loved. I watch the movies she loved, listen to the music she danced to, and read the books that made her cry. She lives on as long as I remember her and the things she loved.
When you can, search out the good things from the life of the one you lost, and learn to celebrate them. Remember their triumphs and continue in the things that brought them joy.
Most importantly, never forget that they loved you. Now you have to love you, too. They would want you to find a way to smile again and to continue living for all the time you have left.
Death is a terrible enemy, and the pain it causes cannot be totally fixed, but you have to keep trying. Choose to keep going and you will find that light will in time return to your world.
Until next time… Keep fighting.