Is there freedom in death? Whenever I hear people say there is freedom in death, I wonder how they can know this without first dying themselves. What poses a greater mystery to me, especially now, is the question of whether we are freed when those who hurt us die.
On Mother’s Day Weekend I learned that a friend of over twenty years had died on my mother’s birthday. In no way am I saying my mother caused the death. The timing just seems to say my mother is watching over me and wanted me to know it. Maybe, maybe not. Either way I did not find the death freeing. When those who wronged them die some feel relief. I felt none.
Coincidentally or perhaps not at all, the week before Mother’s Day and the news of this friend’s passing, I happened over cards from her, one a lovely handmade card and the other a card with an angel on it that says “Abundance.” I thought I had disposed of everything she ever gave me so it felt strange when I saw the cards among my papers. It was an odd remoteness though the cards were fully tangible in my hands, the smoothness of the glossy cover of the angel card and the roughness of the paper used to make the handmade card, yet both so distant from me they meant nothing at all.
A few years ago my reaction might have been to tear the cards to shreds or garbage them immediately. Something inside me had shifted. The cards could not hurt me anymore. I felt so at peace with the past I didn’t even mind seeing them. At the time I even thought how pretty they were, how her hands had made these just for me and what a shame it was we ended so sourly. My friend wrote notes of love, friendship and caring in each card. Both cards were given to me while she was secretly sleeping with my ex husband.
My ex and I were then separated for two years and I did not care who he was with. I did, however, figure I deserved better than a 20 year friend spying on me to carry tales to my ex in efforts to stop him from loving me. While visiting me at my apartment she and I walked the beach, went out for lunch, stayed up into the wee hours just to get the right photograph of the moon and shared my bed on sleepover weekends. All the normal things good friends do together. I had no idea I was being spied on and scrutinized for an agenda she could never fulfill. She never had the decency to say a word about what she was doing, nary a mention of ‘he and I are thinking of going for coffee’ as one would normally do out of sheer respect. She knew all the reasons why I had to leave the marriage. She also knew I left with virtually nothing while he kept the house, brand new vehicle, most of the furniture, savings and a ton of home equity. It wasn’t even her who told me they were together all that time but my ex. I didn’t believe him, I said he was just trying to hurt me with his lies because I knew she would never do that to me.
Later, I returned to that former marital home to collect more of my stored belongings under assurances she would not be present. Instead, she kicked me so brutally a doctor said one inch over would have burst my bladder and killed me on the spot. She hated me purely because she could not make him hate me. A year’s worth of lies and deceit capped off by a near fatal kick constituted what my trauma counselor deemed physical, emotional and mental rape.
For nearly two years after all of this happened the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I was left with saw me speak of little else. My scalded mind kept shocking over and over and over that this had happened to me. Whether a familiar’s ears or a stranger’s didn’t matter, I just couldn’t stop sharing my life that then felt like being trapped in a horrific movie I wanted out of. I just wanted the pain to stop. I didn’t realize it at the time but talking about it was getting it all out of my head, helping me heal though I suspect a few people wished I would fall silent. I was utterly traumatized and hoped someday I would wake up out of the nightmare that kept revisiting my broken heart and psyche.
A sister asked, ‘couldn’t you see what was going on?’ No, I said at the time and I felt badly for being so stupid, so gullible at my age. I later came to understand I couldn’t see it because of who I am. Even suspecting it was not in my innately trusting nature. The trauma counselor said the reason I could never understand what my friend did to me is because I could never do it. That, to me, is a good thing and something that has anchored me through the years since all of this happened.
What hit me almost as hard as the physical injury that lasted over a year until I healed fully from the kick was that some relatives I had supported over the years, been there for through thick and thin and helped for decades with their own or their children’s issues were suddenly nowhere to be found. I later learned they were siding with my ex yet none of them even knew the abuses I endured in that marriage. I was trying to exit quietly until my friend’s betrayal blew everything wide open. My closest oldest friends along with new friends I made in trauma support groups and here online saw me through. It was a lesson in who cares when you really need them as well as a lesson in who cannot be trusted to keep you safe or provide comfort.
People say we should not speak ill of the dead. I get that. Calling people down is juvenile in the first place, dead or not, but speaking ill of the dead has absolutely nothing to do with speaking the truth. The truth is often ugly, cold and traumatizing. Voicing that truth is not speaking ill, it is removing heavy chains that bind us in sorrow to events we had no control over. Healing is in the telling as a psychologist colleague once said of the inmates she worked with. At that time I was working with victims of violence and never thought I’d see myself requiring the very resources I had provided for others. Many I served trusted me to keep them safe, shared their painful stories and thanked me for supporting them as they navigated the legal process. Yet, two decades later I was doing the “leaning” and the judicial system I had worked in was helping me heal. Social workers and victim support workers I had worked alongside for years stood by me during the court proceedings and much more.
The most difficult challenge for me was separating the anger, abuse, despondency and mourning from the facts of what had happened to me. I was often in another place, barely coping and lost days of time to the nothingness that was apparently my refuge. There are entire sections of lost time, days and days I cannot remember a thing about. The awful hurting would not stop so I think my mind just took me to the safety of not remembering. It was better than the nights of sleeplessness, days of constant crying or feeling angry about having my entire world so upended.
Some assume you stay angry all of your life after something bad like this happens to you. That is not true for all of us who do the healing work. My anger over injustices of childhood or this traumatic adulthood event is long resolved. It is not anger I write out of, only my always brimming with questions writer mind. It was not anger propelling me to press on, to ask questions, to examine why or how certain things happened to me. It was always a quest for understanding. I sought to understand and be understood. While we can never expect other humans to be compassionate even if they are the ones who caused the harm, the answers are the keys to healing past the pain. Even if the answer is no answer or proves abusive beyond the initial transgression as in an adult who finally musters the courage to share childhood stepfather abuses with a parent who replies “Well how do you think this makes me feel, why can’t you just let sleeping dogs lie.” For me in this situation with my friend, I accepted that there could never be an answer from someone so mentally disturbed they still blamed me for what they had done to me. Accepting these human limitations is freeing. Telling our stories and asking questions is normal, far more normal than suppressing them is what I have learned from all of this.
Sharing is how we heal and how we help others going through similar experiences on their healing journey. Not asking questions or not pressing for answers often becomes ‘stuffing’ and we’ve all seen the ways stuffing our feelings does not work: addiction to food so severe it results in morbid obesity, drugs, alcohol, repetition of unhealthy relationship patterns, obsessions, shopaholic behaviors, dark legacies of intergenerational abuse, yelling people shut in anger, anything to avoid dealing with truth and realities. People die, we are all assured of that but covering up the truth or trying to silence anyone who tells it is a toxic move indicative only of the unhealed source of the squelching.
When the news of this former friend’s death arrived I was not overjoyed. I did not jump up and do a happy dance. I did not feel a sense of closure at all. It was a bit startling but that’s about it save for reflection on some joyful memories we shared long before her mission to destroy me. And this, to me, was a true sign of healing past our wounds so well that there is no longer any anger, there is literally no feeling at all. It’s like reviewing photos of people you no longer have contact with. They lose their value as time heals and you come to understand why people toss entire old photo albums away. There is no point in keeping or caring for that which no longer means anything. I already had the closure I needed mentally and spiritually so her physical death meant almost nothing to me save for a fleeting sadness that she never lived the life she wanted.
She was always angry at someone or something and I hope she finds the peace in death she could never find in this realm. It was no surprise she and my ex only lasted a couple of on again off again years since the relationship was founded on serving him, ferrying him to casinos, delivering him alcohol, buying groceries for him and even signing the credit note for a brand new car for him. I never understood why she thought servicing his needs was a relationship but there was a lot about her I will never understand. She once told me he just needs the right woman. A couple of years later she called to ask me for help, said he has very serious addictions. My sharp tongue reminded her what she had said to me. How is that right woman business working for you, I asked before adding, if you ever call me again for any reason I will get a restraining order. That 2016 call was the last time I ever heard her voice.
I never understood her constant anger or her stubborn nature and when I gave her feedback, she’d often say “Oh! I never even saw it like that!” or “I didn’t think of that!”I have to believe, no matter our roots, we humans are meant to cross paths for some reason though I hope I never comprehend why some humans are so compelled to leave pain in their path they spend their lives blaming others for glaring facts they refuse to see. Even in court this friend was still trying to blame me for what she had done to me until the Judge said to her, “I am striking everything you have said from the record!” It never made sense to me and still doesn’t that the night she kicked me she was yelling at me “I love you! You don’t understand!” It was painfully clear talking to her or asking her any questions would prove fruitless.
While working in the justice system a program called “restorative justice” was launched where victims meet with criminals who apologize for their wrong doing. To me that just assuaged a guilty conscience and would do little, if anything, for all the hurt left in the wake of the harm. I decided to do what my wonderful aunt advised: “Just forget about them and go on with your life.” A long time sister-friend recently said: “Myself, I come from a long line of grudge bearers.” We laughed but sadly this holds true of many families, entire life sentences willingly served nurturing grudges just as my friend had done and that has never been at all appealing to me.
The cards from her I found the week before Mother’s Day still sit on my desk. Gifted to me just before I learned her secretive doings, I could still feel angry that she was so duplicitous. But I don’t. Nor am I glad she is dead. I am glad I am in such a peaceful place in my life that I can look at these greeting cards and hold them without being triggered to a puddle of tears as I once was by gifts she had given me over the years. When I found the two cards I set a paper weight on them, a rectangle of clear crystal with a pink cherub inside. The paper weight was a Christmas gift from another dear friend who would likely rather die than ever do what this deceased former friend did to me.
Was it a coincidence that I found the cards a week before I learned of her passing? Was it a further coincidence that I chose to set a heavy angel cherub on them instead of hurling them into the trash bin? Was that cherub a foretelling, a foreshadowing of her death or was it spiritually symbolic in that I had physically laid her to rest before I even knew she had passed? Was she wishing me love and abundance from beyond, the love and abundance she resented me for while here? Was this encased cherub a symbol of her life on earth, trapped in a realm she was never truly at peace with? Was it a coincidence she passed on my mother’s birthday, I learned of it on Mother’s Day weekend and my mother so cherished angels, angels both in the cherub paper weight and one of the cards I ran across? We will probably never truly know.
Some of my family and loved ones say this was karma in motion. Maybe so. There was a time I wanted to ask her why she did what she did to me, how she could do all that to me. As with all crimes against us, sometimes there are no answers, only endings. I am at peace with who I am and where I am in my life. In the midst of emotional turmoil, multiple losses and grieving, writing buoyed me and I managed to get two books out there, nothing great by any stretch but those and writing here on my blog are gifts that stopped me from pitching right over the edge. There is another less tangible gift in my healing journey: the need to ask questions of anyone who was cruel to me stopped mattering a long time ago.
What will I do with these cards? I don’t know. Somehow the cherub balances out the deceptive vein of these two cards. I am now left appreciating the beauty of the handmade birthday card and the red haired angel of abundance looking up at me from the other. I’m not at all sure what I mean to do with the cards. That doesn’t seem to matter anymore either.
So, is there freedom in death? Maybe.
If I weren’t already free.
© JT Styles