Three years ago today, I was sitting at the desk at my part-time office assistant job, chatting with the 90-something-year-old woman who’d helped build it from the ground up. Mrs. D was an absolute doll—though I can’t say the same for her son’s girlfriend. Anyway, it was a slow day, so Mrs. D and I kept each other company while working on odds and ends. Then I got the text.
“Sean passed away,” Mike wrote.
The world flipped. My mind went as white and cold as snow. No. Then I entered the first stage of grief: denial. This has to be a joke. And it’s not funny.
Sean and I had been friends for 12 years—ever since the day we’d sat together on the bus my freshman year and bonded over our Gameboys. Our friendship was the oldest one I had, one that had changed very little over the years. We were super close, though a little too alike in our short tempers; we often had heated but friendly debates about anything and everything. We’d seen each other through tragedy and milestones: his first painting sold, my first book published, him moving in with Gabi (the love of his life), me marrying Mike (the love of mine).
So when Mike texted me those three little words, I couldn’t believe it.
“Excuse me,” I told Mrs. D. “I need to step outside and make a call.”
“Of course!” She smiled warmly at me, then continued what she was doing at her desk.
I walked out to my car on shaking legs. I hadn’t had a cigarette in two years, but at that moment I needed one. I opened the passenger door and sat down. Then I called Mike.
I tried to take long, slow breaths. Why, my brain demanded to know, would Mike text me something like that and then walk away from his phone? It was starting to feel less like a sick joke and more like a horrible misunderstanding. I couldn’t just sit outside forever. So I logged into Facebook.
As I scrolled through my feed, I told myself that I’d see everything was fine. I’d see Sean’s or Gabi’s latest post, and then I could kill Mike for pulling such a nasty prank. Who does that? my brain insisted.
He’s never done anything like that before, though. He may be a goofball but he’s not mean. Never mean.
And then I saw it.
A mutual friend of Sean’s and mine had posted something along the lines of “Just found out an old Kaynor friend passed away.”
Just as the tears started to blur my vision, as I frantically tried to tell myself maybe it was someone else, Mike called.
My poor husband couldn’t talk.
In his shock, he’d managed to fire off those three words and then he’d broken down.
He’d seen it on Facebook, too, but the post had specifically named Sean.
“No,” I sobbed. “We would’ve heard something from Gabs.”
Meanwhile, our lovely, sweet girl was barely keeping it together while she sat with his parents and helped make arrangements. She’d wanted to tell us herself because she didn’t want us to find out via Facebook, but understandably hadn’t had the chance to yet.
It was true.
All of it.
Still, my brain insisted that if I just went to Sean and Gabi’s, I’d see that it was all a joke. Or a mistake. I wouldn’t even be mad that they’d pulled such a mean prank. I’d just give him a big hug.
This was the second stage of my grief: bargaining.
The rest of January passed by in a haze. There were nights at Sean and Gabi’s place. I stopped sleeping, binge-watching Lost instead because we’d long had a debate about it and I guess I needed to put that to bed. There was a wake and a funeral, and two autopsies that gave us no cause of death.
Only a black hole in all of our hearts.
He was only 28. He had his entire life ahead of him—along with a beautiful, loving girl who he was going to marry. It wasn’t fair. They’d been in our wedding; we were supposed to be in theirs, too, damn it. The four of us were going to start families together, continue our Friday night tradition of games and drinks, and grow old together. I still hadn’t even gotten him to sit down and watch Game of Thrones or Firefly with me—two shows that I knew he’d love but he hadn’t made the time for yet.
He left paintings unfinished and goals unachieved. None of us could grasp that someone so young could just pass away, for no reason at all.
I still can’t, not really.
It has gotten easier, though—at least, a little. I no longer hope he’ll text me on a Friday morning with “What are you guys doing tonight?” Hanging out with you guys, duh. I still want to text him every once in a while, before I remember. And I always wish I knew what he’d think about certain things, like the new DC and Marvel movies, the LEGO movie we all went to see just weeks after losing him, and the new Coheed album. I know we’d probably debate it, but I’d give whole limbs to be able to argue with him again.
Today makes three years since the day Sean passed away. Much has changed since then. Our group is now scattered across Connecticut, rarely connecting because of our hectic schedules. Mike started painting, beginning with a memorial piece for Gabi. And me… I poured my grief into my stories.
Rather than feeling sad, I now cherish the memories—of which there are so many good ones. Though I’ll always miss him, the grief is no longer debilitating and consuming. I’m not religious, so I don’t know what I believe about the afterlife, but I do know that someday, somehow, we’ll cross paths again.
Because ever since I met Sean in 2002, our paths crossed again and again—even when we weren’t really speaking. I’ve always believed that there are certain people we’re meant to have in our lives—people we instantly connect with because in a sense, we already know each other.
So even though my heart is heavy today, it’s the good memories that make me smile and remind me of how precious the people in our lives are. As they say in Rent, there’s “no day but today” to live our lives and appreciate the people we love.