Name: Jennifer S.
Tell me about the person who died:
My best friend Michele died of a heart attack in January 2015, at just 46 years old. She had struggled with health problems her whole life and I knew I would outlive her but I didn’t know that my time with her would be that short. We met in college and were best friends for 28 years, and I will be forever changed and empty at losing her. Luckily I’m also very close with her family and even call her mother “mom.” Her mom and I have mourned together and shared our sadness as well as our appreciation of being lucky enough to have had her in our lives.
I know I'm biased but she was seriously the most selfless person I knew. She always put everyone else first and was like that even as a child and throughout her life. Sometimes I think I unconsciously took advantage of that.
What was your experience of grief like after your loss?
Shock for the first couple of days and then I sprang into task mode thinking of all the ways I could help the family with the funeral arrangements. We had two services, one in Portland Oregon (where she resided) and one in New York (where she spent the majority of her life). Helping the family really helped me emotionally and made me feel like I was doing something for Michele. In the months since I have felt such an emptiness in not being able to talk to her and share life with her. I dream about her quite a bit and talk to her in my head.
If you had to describe your grief as a literal landscape you've been passing through, what would it look like and feel like at different points in your journey?
A black hole morphing into a desert. I was emotionally blank at first and slowly I've come into the light but I'm searching through an emotional desert that seems to have no end.
Tell me about an object that reminds you of the person who died and why?
Michele loved music and vinyl, and Prince was her absolute fave. She dressed in purple in high school and had those big round sunglasses. She also loved The Knack. In high school and college she had this great old 1970s 8-track; she would play “My Sharona" on it over and over, blowing out the speakers.
How did people support you in your grief? What was helpful? What was frustrating?
My husband was incredible. He helped booked my tickets to Oregon and New York and other tasks that were needed. He was very upset as well because he really loved Michele but he put my grief before his and supported me emotionally throughout and still does to this day. My family was also wonderful. Everyone knew Michele and loved her so there was a lot of grief around.
Was there anything about your cultural or religious background that affected the grieving process for you?
Culturally our family doesn't show emotions in public and saves that for private times which I know I echo. In public I didn't show any grief. It's hard for me to do. Only my family saw that side of me.
I've never subscribed to any particular religion but I have been studying the bible for a year or so now for the first time in my life. I had joined my local Unitarian Universalist church before she died, and having a newfound faith and church community definitely helped me cope with my grief.
Were there any mourning rituals or structures that helped you in your grief?
I prayed for her family. This gave me some internal peace.
How did your loss and your grief change you?
I feel more alone in life. I trusted Michele implicitly and she knew me better than anyone on the planet. She was the closest person to me and no one else will ever be that close. That will never be replaced or replicated.
This post is part of Grief Landscapes, an evolving art project documenting the unique terrain of people’s grief. Participants share an experience with bereavement, and I then photograph an object that evokes the person who died, transforming it into an abstract landscape inspired by the story. I’m looking for many more submissions and for a range of experiences, so please share widely! Learn more about the project and submit your story. - Mindy Stricke