The Aftermath of Grief

Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. - Vicki Harrison

Initially, when I first heard about my best friend's death, the sadness I experienced was overwhelming. The circumstances were highly unexpected and shocking, and I am still seeking a logical explanation - the autopsy results come out in a few weeks, & for the sake of some peace of mind, I hope they are conclusive. I found the plethora of emotions I faced really challenging and hard to understand - everything ranging from disbelief, shock, sadness, fear, pain etc. Some days I felt like I was trudging through thick sand, some days the memories would just hit me continuously, some days my brain and heart felt disconnected, some days I was able to distract myself in a healthy manner. They say that there are numerous stages of grief - denial, depression, acceptance are the ones I've encountered. Even within these 2 weeks which have felt like such a long time, I know now that grief is a journey. It is not something that you can get over, but possibly get on with because you just have to deal with ... life. I don't think anyone can fully go back to being the person they were after experiencing a traumatic event. During the week after her passing, I was busy coordinating and honestly did not yet really have the time to understand my emotions - it was a flurry of calling friends, relaying the same shocking message over and over again, creating the Facebook group to keep everyone updated, communicating with her family, meeting her family and trying to offer some comfort, compiling messages and photos for the powerpoint presentation that would loop at her funeral and serve as a keepsake for her family, arranging logistics and preparing for the funeral. I did not have much time to understand and process my emotions, so this post is exactly about that - understanding and dealing with the grief. I write this as well for people who have experienced loss but did not really know how to deal with it, hopefully they can find something in this to relate to. I am the type of person who usually likes to keep occupied and experience many different things, but know that it is only healthy to have my rest, self-care, time and space, because this and life in general isn't something to be handled all at one go. 

One of our friends remarked that he still felt like she went away on a very long vacation. However, we know the reality of the matter. It still feels quite weird - ironically enough, even though being around our mutual friends does remind me of her absence, it is comforting being around people who remember and knew her well. I never want to forget her or anyone I know and love who dies. I appreciate the empathy of others, but those who didn't know her personally or experienced the context of our friendship probably cannot begin to understand our relationship and my grief.

It's strange that I cannot message her randomly and expect to receive her typical sassy, straightforward and insightful remarks. We saw things quite differently but complemented each other well. To be honest, I can kind of anticipate her response to most things I say, but it's just different when I can't just rattle off what I want to say at any given moment and have an actual conversation with a human that just gets me. It's weird not to be able to arrange spontaneous meetups, or have that ride-or-die friend you hang out with that makes time for you and makes everything better. It's weird that she doesn't view my IG stories or like or comment on my Instagram posts, and I get that digital twinge of connection that someone who really understands me is updated on the ongoings of my life. It's weird not to be able to post random things and inside jokes on her Facebook wall, which serves as a funny break in the day. It's weird not to have her as a core part of my life anymore at such a crucial juncture. It just feels too final, too soon. 

Attending her funeral viewings and funeral mass really hit home and made it all seem more real. I'm pretty sure funerals are confusing and awkward for most people. Are we supposed to grieve for or celebrate the person? At her funeral viewing, many of our mutual friends came, and there was a heavy silence that hung over everyone. It was the most awkward group gathering, to put it casually, and many people were shocked, sad and distraught.  The contrast of the usual warmth of our interactions and how motionless she was at the front of the room was not lost to me at all (I am glad that we hugged the very last time we met in person, and that it was our usual #realtalk session over Coco Salted Foam Bubble tea, less than a week before she passed away) Chris, Remi and Charles all made great and truthful eulogies. Remi's and Charles' eulogy emphasized her stand-out qualities. When I made my eulogy, I choked up at points but it was ultimately quite cathartic to be able to honour my friend in a real and raw manner with specific milestones.

The funeral mass was enlightening in the sense that the Minister really spoke to my sorrow and offered clarity. He mentioned how we should stop wondering "why", and that God was in control of her life and it was his will ultimately. The real beauty in life lies not in being self-serving, but about our impact on others, like how she truly served her family and friends through her actions. His religious words offered some solace in the midst of all the grief. As my mother shed tears, I remember thinking that no parent should ever have to experience this. Speaking about her again in front of her co-workers allowed me to showcase a more personal side of her, besides the #bossbabe everyone knew her as. At one point, I felt very confused and sad about the casket just ... sitting there. It was hard to believe that she was inside it and not with us, breathing and being. At the very end, when the casket was about to be driven away, my mother tearfully nudged me towards it, asking me if I had any words left to say to Demi. I was at a bit of a loss for words, but muttered under my breath that I had already said what I wanted to.

There was too much to say, though I know that many future words would be left unspoken. 

Lunch, which her family members generously arranged, was a bit of a relief after all the heaviness of the past few days and my friends and I all joked around as per usual. The highlight had to be speaking to her co-workers, because of the esteem and respect they held for her. I was so proud of her for winning awards and nominations and we also laughed about how direct she was (I have so many examples of what I feel was her best quality). 

Some of my healthy ways of coping include the following: 

  • Openly acknowledging my pain and talking about it - trying to ignore it or keep it from surfacing is only unhealthy in the long run. I knew that I had to find healthy methods to cope with it, go through the pain bravely, or it would derail other aspects of my life. 
  • Writing my eulogy was a major form of therapy for me - I started it the night I found out and revised it multiple times in preparation for her funeral. Writing helps me to understand what I feel and think and is a form of release as it helps me to process my pain. I did my best to honour her memory and the essence of who she really was through my words - because everyone deserves to know how amazing she was and about the connection we shared. I am heartened by the impact and power of the words I spoke at such a grave time on her family, friends and co-workers. 
  • Blogging/writing letters is great and very comforting. Setting aside this me-time to just freely express in an unfiltered manner is nourishing for the soul. I hope any of my insight and experiences help someone out there. 
  • Creating a powerpoint presentation including many happy memories. Doing this as a highlight reel of sorts was definitely nostalgic, as all of the great times we enjoyed with friends came streaming back. It was bittersweet as we definitely had many great and unforgettable times, but won't be able to experience more ups and downs together. The visual representation of everything and accompanying music will definitely be etched in our hearts and minds, and I will watch the powerpoint at appropriate times. In my quieter moments and when I get the chance, I like to slow down, look back and remember many highlights.
  • Brunch celebration with our mutual friends. We had agreed to meet with Charles on March 17, Saturday and carried through with our plans. Jam Cafe was an amazing choice, and we had great times discussing her favorite topics with good friends over good food. It felt great and normal, except that she was clearly missing. Lots of light, love and laughter - it was one of the few bright moments in the aftermath. We agreed that even though this was really hard, we would have to move forward no matter what. She would have wanted that for us. Afterwards, we chilled at one of our friend's houses. I love hanging out at my friends' homes as the surroundings give me better insight into who they are and how they grew up. It's also really cosy and feels more intimate. It was one of those gatherings where everyone was in good spirits.
  • Prioritizing me-time and self care by listening to music, reading good books, watching films, walking in nature, crying (crying releases pent-up emotions, and there should be no shame in this). I find greater pleasure in not going out as much on Friday or weekend nights anymore, and just enjoying my own presence or that of my family at home. Solitude is a beautiful and underrated thing. Being by myself gives me the opportunity to be present and authentic, to hold it together or not hold it together, to have my space not to have to be accountable to or accommodate anyone, and to recharge my batteries during a trying period.
  • Quality time with friends - talking about what happened, how we feel and cope and  seeking out real-life support from people who care about you really helps. No matter how easy it is to isolate yourself, I think that's a short-term solution. Reconnecting with close friends who I barely have time to connect with because... #life. I am very heartened in particular by the support of many friends who messaged me, or made the effort to include me in their activities, as well as my closest and oldest group of friends in Singapore. 
  • Nurturing new friendships. As much as I know how irreplaceable our connection was and how I will always think of her as one of my soulmates, it is important to be open-minded to new people and embrace the beauty of connection and life. 
  • Focusing and keeping really busy at work. This is very important for professional progress and just channeling your grief in a productive manner by striving to be your best. It is really one of the most welcome and happy distractions because it is a tangible form of progress. As someone who was very career-driven, she definitely motivated and advised me a lot in this area. 
  • Working on my goal-setting sheet - this is definitely something I can attribute to how meticulous of a planner she was. I made mine a lot more S.M.A.R.T. and started a chat group with our friends so we can provide specific feedback and motivate one another to improve. I am grateful to have many #Bosses in my midst who are driven and supportive, helping to push us forward. 
  • Being open about grief and death on social media. I think that grief is still considered a very taboo topic, but is something we all need to have healthy and mature discussions about. It is a very real and troubling issue, and needs more awareness. 
  • Planning events in memory of the person. I created a hiking group, because it was one of our common passions. I want to bury my letter to her in the wild, so that her spirit can soar in the sky and mountains - where we are truly free. I also aim to hold a fundraising event or charity event during her birthday period to show that her life held a deeper meaning. 

In the days after, I connected with 2 of her close childhood friends in the Philippines who shared a really heartwarming video prepared for her just before she came to Vancouver around 8 years ago. It was nice to get to know people who grew up with her and saw another side of her. The whole process of the funerals in Vancouver and long rituals in the Philippines have been very exhausting and I just hope her family gets some much needed rest and know that they always have our support. At some point in the future, when I am ready, I will have to visit the beautiful scenic Philippines (I always told her that I wanted to visit the wonderful beaches) and the ashes of my friend. 

Death is an inevitable part of growing older; you start to lose people. I'm not sure if the impact of it lessens or changes as you experience more losses. My maternal grandad is experiencing deteriorating health ("his body is weakening, but his mind is still strong" and thankfully, he chants in recognition of his buddhist faith) Even though I'm not sure if I'll be flying back to attend his funeral, it doesn't lessen the significance of his life, or death.

Death really reinforces the importance of living life to your fullest. Every single life started out as unique and pure, and every death ends in quite the same way. We celebrate the person for the unique and complex individual they are. I think the emotional suffering you feel during grief will always be there, especially at certain moments. Some say it lessens over time, or maybe you think of it less often. I learned a lot from talking to others who have lost people who were really important to them. We would like to believe the deceased are in a better place and there was a higher mission out there for them, as they are not currently with the living. It really put a lot of things in perspective for me and made me reexamine my life. It shouldn't take anything this traumatic to initiate a change, but it just heightened my awareness and where I need to improve on. Hard as it is, I will move forward and strive to do my best & live my truth to honour and celebrate her memory, always.