As I talked about in yesterday’s Gratitude Sunday post, today is the 7-year anniversary that my soul sister, Sonja, dropped her body. We were both barely 19 at the time. The circumstances of her death were very sad & maddening. I hope you don’t mind me sharing this story on my blog. The take-home message is one we’ve all heard so many times before: if you’ve been drinking, please please don’t drive.
Sonja was driving home on the evening of July 18th, and stopped at a red light. Behind her, speeding up at 70mph in his red truck, was a 52-year-old man who had 8 previous DUIs. He was too drunk at the time to notice the red light, and so didn’t hit the breaks and smashed into her car, crumpling it completely. She died 8 hours later in Intensive Care. I think the reason she didn’t die at the scene was that she wanted her parents to be able to see her and be with her one last time at the hospital, and to be the ones to decide to remove her from life support. She was their only child.
Sonja and I met in preschool, when we were 3 years old. We made each other’s childhoods! We really were joined at the hip. We got each other through life. Two sensitive souls, just so glad to have each other to lean on. When she was killed, I felt as though half of me had been ripped off. The emotional pain was searing, and it went on and on and on — a nuclear explosion of emotion. Turns out, the only way out of grief is through it. I mustered an inner strength I didn’t know I had, and moved through it without drugs or alcohol to numb it, without knowing how to get through it, and most of all, without Sonja to talk it through with.
A month after her death, our kitty was killed by a car, and a year later our dog, Snow, died. In private, I used to scream in anger and mostly fear, “WHO ELSE??? Who else is going to get taken???”.
But nobody else got taken. And now, 7 years later, I feel the best that I’ve felt yet. That is something to celebrate! I feel more of a peace; the pain is much less, and is more deadened. I feel like I can remember those awful days with some detachment…without fear of sliding uncontrollably down the slippery slope lest I remember too deeply. I still miss Sonja so much. Terribly, actually — especially when I see two girls, chattering and laughing and having a grand time. But maybe I’m finally resigning myself to the fact that she’s never, ever coming back…and getting used to that. It feels good to be at this point, because when I was in the depths of darkness and grief, I truly didn’t think it would ever end. But I got through it. I wasn’t sure I would — or really wanted to — but I did, and that’s something that makes me proud.
Below is something I wrote last year, in an email to my Hubby. It was meant to be a quick email, but the story just sort of came pouring out. It needed to be told.
“6 years ago today, which was also a Saturday, was my last day with Sonja. We had the best time! She decided to bring her bike over, and we rode bikes all around, going to the wetlands and walked around, admiring the city, then went to Peaberry’s and sat and had iced chai and lemon bread. We talked and talked and talked…then rode home and she and mom and I (dad was out of town) made these really awesome Greek Melt sandwiches with spinach and cherry tomatoes from the garden. We ate at the table and watched the Tour de France, and Lance Armstrong won the stage! We were cheering and hollering. Sonja had to go to work the next day, so we hugged and said “Bye, I love you!” like always, and I stood in the front yard waving the “I love you” hand sign until her car was out of sight. It was the last time I would ever see her.
The next day, Sunday, I baked a chocolate cake in my solar oven because it was Raisin’s birthday. I had trouble getting to sleep that night, and at 1am the phone rang. Mom answered; it was Sonja’s dad saying that she had been in a car crash — hit by a drunk driver, and was in a coma in intensive care. After hearing that, I was wide awake, heart pounding, frozen into a fetal position in my bed. I couldn’t move, or sleep. What a long, awful night. Mom and I didn’t go to the hospital; I don’t know why, we didn’t even talk about it. We just didn’t go. Later I would agonize over that decision, but came to realize that’s the way it was meant to be.
At sunrise, I got up and packed my backpack full of things I thought her parents would want, like healthy snacks and face wash, and was about to get on my bike and ride down to the hospital, but called their cell phone first. They didn’t answer, so I called their house. A family friend answered but was too upset to talk so she gave the phone to her husband. I said “How’s Sonja????” but he could hardly get any words out and tearfully said “Sonja passed away this morning.” I will never, ever forget those words. Remembering it now, I still get shaky. It was such a shock — all I could say was “No, no, no, no, no” and I felt like I was going to vomit. I went inside and just said to my mom “She passed away.” It was utter disbelief and I felt out of my body. Mom started crying, but I couldn’t cry for days. It just wouldn’t come. I was in such deep shock. Sonja and I were soul sisters, inseparable best friends for 16 years, since age 3. I didn’t have any other friends because she was the only one I needed.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I unpacked the snacks and face wash and took Snow for a walk. Then went over to Dan and Joyce’s across the alley because I nannied their 6-month-old daughter that summer. Mom went to Whole Foods and took food over to Van and Carolyn, then went to work.
Neither of us knew how to deal with our grief and so instead of hugging and crying, we got distant and snippy. It was incredibly isolating. Sonja was the only one I could really open up to, and now she was dead. A couple days later I went over and told Darlene the news, and mom could hear her scream from across the street.
The whole thing…it was so awful…I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t eat for a long time.
The news finally hit me an entire year later, when I was living in New Zealand for a while. I heard it all in my head again, and could finally react, and I screamed and screamed in anguish for 45 minutes.
It was such a long road of grief. It took about 2 years until I started feeling kind-of okay again. It was a living hell, and so many times I just wanted to die and make it all stop. But somehow I came out whole — and a better person because of it. In some ways, her death was such a gift. I could see the gift, but god it was so hard to move through all the shit that her death brought up. I dreaded going to sleep at night because of the hellish nightmares, and woke up to that choking, searing grief that would not let up. As much as I intellectually knew that one can create their own reality, and take control of their feelings….it was more than I could muster. The feelings would come in tsunamis and all I could do was feel them completely through to the end. I was mad at myself that I couldn’t control them. Feeling them…all their facets and complexity and the way they interwove and connected to the other feelings and emotions that were there… that was the only way I could get through it.
She and I used to talk endlessly about our future husbands, kids, and the trips we were going to take together. So many dreams for the future died along with her.
My parents did not react well to my grief and it hurt them to see me in such overwhelming pain, so I tried not to show it. I recall a few times where I was unable to get up from my bedroom floor, emotionally bleeding to death, but there was nothing anybody could do. And they were hurting too, because Sonja had been like a daughter to them. Life at that time was extraordinarily dark.
And although the feelings and the sadness will always be in me, so are the happy memories of everything that we did together. We were so close… we had such fun together! Gosh.
And it all seems so long ago. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that it’s in the past now.”
Anyway, thanks for listening. I loved going back through old pictures for this post; I think I had a smile on my face the entire time! It felt so good to remember all the fun we had. In fact I think I’ll begin a new tradition, where every July 18th, I’ll buy myself a fun treat to eat, and get out the old pictures and relive those happy times together!