Finding Warmth in the Heat

I write this post with the full knowledge that I could be expressing thoughts about our cultural monastery trip, my bundle of excitement and nerves at finding out the village I will be serving for the next two years, my first Independence Day abroad, or about how our trip to a local winery was canceled because the electricity went out. However, today is important to me for another, more somber reason. Today marks two months since my very best friend passed away. Thus, instead of the lighthearted topics listed above, the topic of this post is grief. I understand that this will be impossible for some to read, and at the very least awkward and uncomfortable for others. While there will undoubtedly be some who won’t understand why I would ever share such personal feelings, writing this is cathartic for me, and I write it with the hope that others who are going through similar feelings of grief during a huge life change might find solace or solidarity.
Exactly one month before I left for Peace Corps, Nico passed away. During the week and a half between Nico’s passing and graduation, I thrust all of my energy into giving lasting goodbyes to my friends in Portland. Having missed the chance to give Nico the final goodbye he deserved (although if I truly gave him that, I would be singing his praises for a hundred years), I knew I would regret hiding myself away like I wanted to do. I could never forgive myself if I didn’t tell everyone how much they meant to me. However, only now do I realize just how much energy I had spent telling myself I was okay; a feeling which I rationalized and justified by focusing on helping others. I talked with and consoled people who were struggling with the feelings of hopelessness, anger, confusion, and guilt that commonly creep up following a death of this nature. I knew the stages, the signs, and knew what Nico’s other close friends would need from me. Rationally, I knew that I shouldn’t feel guilt and anger. For a while, I thought my rationality had won.
The next few weeks at home were a blur in which friends came and went, my parents and I had discussions we had never yet touched upon, and all of the loose strings I had left hanging before graduation finally got on the nerves of this perfectionist, and I had to tie them up with double knots. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to feel. While that may sound impossible, it’s the best way to describe what was happening.
Now that I’ve been physically separated from the only support systems I have ever known, it’s a different story. For a while, the excitement and unfamiliarity of my new life, new position, and new colleagues forced any emotions unrelated to integrating into a new community far away. I am still sometimes busy enough to keep certain thoughts at bay. However, I have now experienced several moments in which an event will remind me of Nico, someone will ask who my best (male) friend is in Romanian, a meme will pop up that I would show him, or (and perhaps the one that hits me hardest) Alive by Sia will play when my songs shuffle. The hardest things in this world are not being able to tell him a Peace Corps story, respond with “prietenul meu cel mai bun este Nico,” send him a picture, or hear that song without seeing his talented form spinning fire right before my eyes (one of his many talents).
I have grieved before; it’s not new to me. But each grieving process for each new person makes it new. Not only was it someone my age, but one of the people who I was closest to, and who was closest to me. When I miss him, it feels like I’ve been stabbed with an icicle; it’s a cold feeling that comes suddenly at the core, and it spreads through the body before melting hours later. It’s the kind of cold that chills you to the bone, makes you sick, and exudes into other activities. Nico was one of the few people who had the ability to warm me at my core. Despite being able to Skype my loved ones regularly, and despite the immense heat here, it’s sometimes hard to believe I’ll ever be completely warm again.
At Nico’s memorial service, his father compared Nico to a firework. He shone brightly, lived to make people smile, and always brought fun into the darkest moments. Like a firework, his life was short—too short for those who watched him rocket into the sky with wonder—but all the more memorable because it was ephemeral. Some days I can just barely see his light and colors reflected off the faces of others. Some days, that hurts. Some days, it’s simply blinding. Perhaps it would thus be natural to think of him today on Independence Day, even if it didn’t mark 2 months exactly. Today, I remember him in a special way. Today, I don’t feel the ice. I feel the warmth that his spark provided. I feel so much love for my friends and family back home, and I feel so much appreciation for my new friends here. Today, on the coldest day since I’ve been here, filled with thankfulness and love, his memory gives me warmth.


2 thoughts on “Finding Warmth in the Heat

  1. Pretty hard to respond, grief is so personal, hard to say,” I know how you feel”, I actually don’t. You will probably find as you get older, you may never have such a unique relationship you had with Nico again. Not many people get that. I do know, that the feelings and experience of grief is a very critical part of maturing. I think it is good you are leaning into it, not just suppressing .
    It is too early, but you will find that you will be exquisitely prepared to help people with that kind of loss.
    Now we do want to hear all those things you led with!
    Love,
    Phyllis

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  2. I am so sorry for the loss of your Best Friend! Thank you for sharing! The timing of your Peace Corps assignment makes for complicated grieving, but grieve you must for it is the healthy thing to do. My love, hugs and prayers are with you during your grief process. Kathie A.

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