[tw – death, grief, gender discrimination]
Grief is a strange emotion. One text message read early in the morning can send your day into a long walk down the beach of your own memories. Memories flood back, making us conscious that these lost moments of time were never really lost to us, but locked under deep layers of interlocking memories and contexts that only had to be connected back together, like a broken circuit. Today, my memories and heart are on my former summer camp roommate and friend Hannah/Honor Loeb. (I knew her as Hannah in her life, but at time of death, she identified as Honor, so that is the name I will use for this post.)
When I think of you, Honor, a mixed spectrum of emotions comes over me.
First, I feel selfish for making a post that is probably as much for me as it is for you. A great irony in death are the many interpretations of an explanation it brings. It is impossible to know exactly how the deceased would wish for their death to be remembered, because they are not present. Yet those who were connected to the deceased also experience their own spectrum of emotions. Perhaps it is human for us to make the death of someone else about ourselves, where we become included in the attention that death brings. But perhaps it is also the natural experience of how we process grief and trauma, in that making someone else’s death about us, it affords us the privilege and opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their life, and how we will continue to live our life in light of their absence.
Second, I feel happiness and joy. I remember my first experience living together with you as roommates at the Duke University Talent Identification Program at the University of Georgia. I remember the trips from Georgia to Alabama to visit and stay with your family. I remember the time you showed me Battlestar Galactica for the first time, and staying up with me to watch episode after episode. Even though you had probably seen these episodes countless times before. I remember the warm sunny mornings in Montgomery when we would go out for breakfast and we would talk about life. I remember when at the end of every meal out, I never had a choice of whether I would pay for myself or not.
Third, I feel guilt and shame. I remember being afraid to invite you to my home in Georgia, because my home was not a safe place then. I remember when you drove from Ithaca to visit me in Rochester, and you let me interview you as a member of the trans community for a class assignment. Then, months later, I remember not replying to your texts, missing your calls, and always putting off invitations to meet. I remember seeing our lives slowly drift apart, and how I felt powerless to do anything about it. Even if the powerlessness was imagined. I remember not knowing how to help you with your emotional burdens when I was still figuring out how to carry my own experiences and traumas. I remember the random times in my life where you did come across my mind, unprompted. In those moments, I thought of all I learned from you and how you lived in life. In those moments, I remember hoping you were well, but I also remember my fear and hesitation about reaching out to you after so long. I remember consciously deciding not to try the phone number or the email I had saved for you from 2013. Maybe your contact info changed eventually. But maybe it didn’t. I’ll never know.
Today, I learned that you passed away. You are dead. I will never get to see your smile, I will never get to hear your voice, and I will never get to have a warm hug with you again. These are all hard truths that I must acknowledge. Like I said, grief is a strange emotion. We all handle and process grief in unique, personalized ways that reflect our life experiences. For me, I have to define and understand the losses of this experience in order to practice gratitude and appreciation for the positive moments and experiences we shared.
The end of a life is never black-and-white. As you always exemplified in being a powerful trans voice from the socially-conservative state of Alabama, a binary understanding of complex social issues is rarely sufficient. Experiencing my grief from the end of your life is a wide spectrum of emotions because your life spanned several different emotions. Instead of categorizing my different emotions into their categorical boxes, I am allowing them to all wash over me. The happiness, the joy, the sadness, the anger, the selfishness, the guilt, and the shame. I know I cannot deny any of these emotions because they are all a part of you.
I have to accept these emotions as feedback to what your life means to me in this moment. I appreciate the great ways you expanded my mind and taught me to see the world differently. I lament the ways I let our connection fade and sputter, and that the last significant moment I have to connect with you is in your death. From what you taught me as a teenager, I began to see beyond the binary belief instilled in me from my youth. From what you taught me as a young adult, I know that how we carry our relationships, friendships, and love throughout life is always in some part our own responsibility.
When reading the news of your death, I have to be honest with myself. A part of me was not surprised or entirely shocked by this news. In a world where queer and trans folk are often treated as second-class humans, the pandemic of mental illness and suicide are undeniable in LGBTQ+ communities. I don’t understand how I feel even now to learn that your death was from a “non-COVID infection”. You fell sick. To what degree this infection inflicted pain upon you, I don’t know. All I know is, the path in life I followed brings me to this point where the first thing I hear about you in a number of years is your death.
Part of me knows I cannot assign myself blame for these circumstances. I know I alone cannot wear all blame because we live in an interdependent world, where every effect and outcome is linked by several smaller causes. But if only for myself, I have to acknowledge what my role is in your life and how I will choose to continue my life in the knowledge that yours ended too soon. I acknowledge that I probably played differing roles in your life, sometimes a loving friend, and sometimes an apathetic jerk. But again, life is often not so binary, not in life nor in death. I only hope that if you had the opportunity to read this, you would be able to forgive me for the ways I wronged you in your living life, and for you to know how much I really did love you.