Mourning the Living: A Story of Freedom

Image courtesy of design ecologist at Unsplash.

When I was twenty, I went through a terrible break-up. Heartbroken, I felt that I would never be loved again. You know … the twenty year-old heartbreaks are always the worst. I spent months trying to pick up the pieces and figure out who I was without the person that I once loved so dearly. It took over a year to realize that I could move on. I lost a year of my life to binge watching television shows and eating ice cream every day whilst also alienating myself from my friends and family until I no longer knew who I was. A part of myself had been taken. I had been stripped bare, left with no sense of self or motivation to go on.

One evening as I logged into Netflix and grabbed my regular ice cream, starting the routine with which I had grown so accustomed, I received a text from a friend I hadn’t seen since the break-up. She was just another casualty of my broken heart. The text was simple enough: Hey! What are you doing tomorrow? I replied Idk knowing full well that I would be doing the same thing I did every night … Netflix and ice cream.

I didn’t really understand at the time what was happening to me. I mean an entire year had gone by and instead of getting over it, I relished it. I didn’t see any reason to get out of my funk because the alternative was just not appealing to me. I sat there with my phone face down and just forgot that my friend had even contacted me. I didn’t feel excitement or joy when I saw her name pop up on my screen. If anything, I felt anxious and almost annoyed that she had disturbed me.

The next morning, I just woke up and went to work. My normal routine for the last year. After work I finally looked at my phone messages and noticed that my friend had replied to me the night prior. She asked me out to get drinks and catch up. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t have the energy or the conviction to do it. I texted her Not tonight, and left it at that. I then traveled to my living room from the freezer and started my nightly ritual … Netflix and ice cream.

That evening I woke up at 4 a.m. and that text was still on my mind. I was obsessing over it. I didn’t understand what exactly it meant, because I definitely wasn’t going to go out and get drinks with someone I hadn’t even thought about in a year and, to add to that, I wasn’t ready, right? I was inundated with anxiety at the mere thought of exiting my home and breaking my nightly routine. It wasn’t the best time for me, but for whatever reason I continued to stare at her name in my recent messages trying to convince myself to make plans. Inevitably I did. I texted a simple, If you’re free tomorrow, why don’t we order in and hang out at my house? It was simple and safe. I wouldn’t have to go out. If anything, it would be nice to have ice cream with company.

The next day, my friend showed up to my house at 7p.m. I was nervous. I don’t know why I was so riddled with anxiety; she was my best friend the last time I checked, but it was almost like meeting someone for the first time. We talked about the normal things that night. How are things? What’s new? You know the random stuff that no one really cares about.

All of the sudden a lull in the conversation happened and we were just staring at each other awkwardly. What was happening? We never had silence in our conversations before. The distance had changed us both and now we didn’t know how to go into deeper conversation. After what seemed like an eternity, my friend finally broke the silence.

“So …. How have you been? … really?”

“I’ve been okay. Nothing to report.” I knew my answer wasn’t very convincing.

“Oh, come on,” my friend jumped in. “You fell off the face of the earth when you broke up with that dude. I haven’t heard from you in almost a year.”

She really wanted to know. I get the concern, sure, but there was no sugarcoating to her question. Just a big jab in my heart.

“It was tough. I’m still not over it. I don’t know. It’s just been really difficult on me and I’ve been doing okay by myself. I don’t have to explain anything if I don’t have people around,” I told her reluctantly.

“That’s not healthy, man. You have to let it go, no matter how hard it is.”

“I don’t think I can.”

“Have you ever mourned the living?” she asked me.

“What?” I responded, very confused.

“When someone passes and you are at a loss, the only way to get over them is to mourn them, right? Like if your mom or dad dies, you have to go through the stages of grief before you can truly heal and let them go. Sometimes, you have to do that with the living. You have to free them so that you can be free, as well.”

She had lost it. You can’t mourn the living. I mean … they’re alive. There’s no way to do that. You would have to be completely looney to think that would work.

“Look, I know it sounds crazy,” she interrupted as my thoughts were racing. “You have to say goodbye. You have to remember the good times and the bad times and then let them go.”

Mourning the living. Could this be the cure to the Netflix and ice cream ritual that had trapped me for the last year? Three hundred and sixty-five days wasted because I was giving power to someone who did, in reality, leave my life for good. I would never see him again. I would never laugh at his stupid jokes when we were going to bed together. I would never feel the pain I felt when he told me I was stupid and worthless. Nor would I feel the sting of his slap when he was angry. I had been free for a year. Free of him, but caged by him at the same time. What had I done?

“You’re right,” I said breathlessly. “I’ve cut all ties with the people I loved because he left. I’ve given power to a person who will never enter my life again.”

“Let him go,” my friend said, reaching out and holding my hand.

“Goodbye.”

That day will always be stuck in my mind. It was the day I was finally freed. Mourning isn’t just for the dead, but also the living. It is cathartic and will free you if you are stuck in grief from a broken heart, a family member who will not accept you, or a loss of a friend you never knew you had. It’s the power of grief that sets us free: living and dead. Be free my friends.

[Written by Sheldon Slinkard.]