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Processing the Suicide of my First Love

On the flight back home to California, I wrote, “I’m ready to get back to my real life. This weekend has been 1000x harder than I ever imagined.”

I lost my first love, an incredibly formative part of my past, to suicide 3 weeks ago. And last weekend, I traveled to my hometown of Helena, Montana for maybe the 4th time in almost 20 years. I was going to comfort a family I know intimately and grieve with old friends I hadn’t seen in forever.

I didn’t expect it to be easy…

But mourning privately, with the support of my husband + girlpack in SLO, with solo time to dance, cry + rage to a storming ocean, was a far cry from the weekend I had just experienced. Being prepared with heartfelt letters + gifts for the tiny humans in no way prepared me for mourning with shell-shocked families + brothers + women who had lost Tanner’s physical presence in their life.

Every night in Helena ended with me sobbing in confusion as I lowered my exhausted body into a strange bed. Grateful to be there in communion, grateful to be able to feel my feelings, but wishing for nothing but the oblivion of sleep.

It’s not to say there weren’t moments of beauty in the middle of the mess… There were.

I re-experienced the pleasure of wintertime hot springs, of frozen frosted hair + eyelashes, of screaming while making snow angels in -9 degree weather. It was beautiful.

On Sunday before my flight took off, I got the chance to gather with Camp friends for brunch and laugh + cry for hours. It was beautiful.

I drank my 300th cup of weekend coffee tucked into a dark booth at the Merc with Tanner’s best friend Joshua, while we downloaded memories + acknowledged the holes in our hearts + caught up on our lives. It was beautiful.

Running through security in my heavy snow boots with giant bags under eyes, trying not to miss my flight home, my new 4 year old BFF yelled out with pure joy, “MOOOOLLLLLLYYYYYYY!!” as I blew kisses to her on my mad dash to board. It was beautiful.

But as I wrote what felt like my “final letter” in my journal to T on that flight, I felt a desperate need to separate this period of grief (+ anger + sadness + regret) from my general set point of joy. I tried to convince myself that when I returned to California, I would be returning to my “real life.” I could release the numbness and step into my hopeful intentions of #bemama19, #beguide19, #beadventurer19.

As I was writing + crying (pretty normal flight time activity for me, honestly), I was hit with the heavy realization that this wasn’t an aberration. There was no return to a version of myself from 3 weeks ago…

This is my real life. This is my messy, beautiful, heart-breaking, tragic, joyful life.

My chattering teeth that accompanied the speeches at the service made by men I had known since I was 16? My life. Awkward declarations about the pride I felt about staying sober this entire time? My life. My new habit of ending every phone call with literally anyone by saying ”I love you?” My life. The fact that I will never get to know 38 or 48 or 58 year old Tanner? My life. The inability to stop my eyes from spilling over with tears for going on 3 weeks now? My life. A brand new tiny fear that when someone is late, they are dead? My life.

This is my real life.

And not only was this my real life — this was everyone’s real life. The unexpected, the tragic, the hardship. We don’t remain unscathed on our paths. Our hearts don’t remain unbroken.

I realized that there was no box I could put the sadness + regret into, no safe compartment for the stories I had heard that weekend that broke my heart all over again, no way to protect myself from saying the wrong thing because there is no training manual for this kind of situation.

We are who we are by our trials + suffering, our lost hopes + dashed dreams, our naked hearts + moments of humanity. I am who I am because of Tanner, because of his love + his life + his death.

As I sit here today, tucked upstairs at my daughter’s gymnastic lesson, trying to turn my tear stained journal musings into something to share, I thought of you.

I thought of anyone, everyone, in the middle of the unexpected, the tragic, the hardship.

And while I don’t have any magical solutions to making it all better or any tips for avoiding the “mess” — I do know you can attempt to show up fully to each moment + be incredibly kind to yourself when it feels impossible.

You can throw up your arms and scream, “Fuck!” or “Amen!” or whatever you’ve been biting your tongue on. You can rage + sob + soak until the bathwater turns cold. You can ask for help + for hugs + for someone to hold the piece of the story that is breaking you.

You can get up each morning and feel the morning sun on your face. You can let that be enough.

Let life open you, love. All of it.

​​​​​​​Let it rock you, mystify you, soothe you, and hold you.

This is your real life.

And this is my real life.

p.s. Love you T. Always have, always will. Thank you for helping me become the woman I am. Thank you for being you, relentlessly. Soar on + safe passage. XO B

p.p.s. My love? If the depression, despair, darkness or the lies they tell are knocking on your door too loudly or with too much force — call someone, anyone. Call your Mom. Call 1-800-273-8255. All of you is wanted in this world, in any amount of pain or ruin.

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