When somebody dies, people so often say that they had a ‘heart of gold’, and I think that maybe, sometimes, we remember people as being more than they were once they’re gone, because it would feel wrong, dishonourable, at such a time, to do anything but.
We said those words about my friend, Zac, too. Except, this time, those words simply weren’t enough. You could not attribute any amount of letters to the warmth and vibrancy of his soul. I remember, that morning, how the world was stripped of the August sun and how it just rained and rained and rained, and I remember thinking what a perfect metaphor that was for the loss.
The grief. It came crashing in like a tidal wave. The very thought of it still sends a shiver down my spine: makes me wince a little. The weight of it. Those vacant, anguished expressions, and the way we nestled into each other, softly, and the endless cups of too-strong tea that were made by distracted mothers, because sometimes, there is so little else to do. The nights we just clung to each other, licking the salt of our eyes from our lips, and the nights we walked the streets he once did beneath summer skies, stumbling into each other, laughing, because looking back was the only way to survive in the heat of it, and looking forward was.
I would fall asleep, terrified, at 2am, only to stir again an hour later, haunted by the crippling realisation that somebody so young and so tender and so wonderful could just die. That such a golden heart could just stop beating. How he was there: full of life and love and thoughts and ideas and hopes and dreams, and how all of a sudden.
I missed the texture of his wild, frizzy curls, and how he would squeeze my cheeks in greeting. I missed him in places he had never been, and in half-crumpled photographs that hadn’t been taken yet, and in the poignant verses of the songs he loved. I missed the blistering naivety of before: the delirium of sun and youth and new beginnings and hope, and hope, and hope.
Perhaps it isn’t the absence of the person that destroys you, but the absence of everything they take with them.
Eventually, our heads started to surface above water again. Part of the injustice of it all, when somebody dies, is that the world keeps spinning on its axis as it always did. You cannot drown in that tidal wave of grief: you simply cannot. And I began to realise that, I think, in the months that followed, when I’d catch myself laughing: genuinely, full-bellied laughing at something. Those moments, those fleeting moments of all-encompassing joy, surprised me over and over again, until there were more of them. Slithers of light in the black.
Gentle reminders that life goes on, and on, and on, until it doesn’t, and that we are more resilient than we think. That we can break, yes. But that we can heal, too. There is no finish line for grief, I know that now.
But there has been so much healing.
There has been so much happiness, still.
It’s been eight years now, and over time, I’ve seen something beautiful, quietly beautiful, rise from the ashes of that loss: Zac’s precious legacy, seeping across the horizon like a spectacular August sun, waking us up to what it is to wake up each day. To feel. To think. To be.
I think, perhaps, that we are a little more grateful. A little softer. A little kinder. That we love more fiercely, and forgive more quickly.
I think our hearts are now a little more golden because of the scars they wear. That we are better people, because of him, and I love that. It is, at least, something. Something to hold onto, always. Because it means that although he isn’t alive,
he isn’t dead either.