A Year of Grieving: 10 Things I’ve Learned

My best friend died one year ago today, August 13, 2011.

10 Things I’ve Learned from a Year of Grieving

10. Shrines are a Wonderful Thing

Ok, let’s clarify some thoughts together. Someone you loved for as long as you’ve been alive is dead. After some of the initial shock and after a little of the smoke has cleared, there are personal items that stand in solid focus beaming in technicolor with magic-hour saturation and…and they stare at you hoping for renewal. Maybe you just want to take all the pics, cards, clothes, whatever and put them in a box. Then maybe you take that box and put it away forever and that’s ok. But one thing that helped me so much was pulling a few of those items into my world and giving them a place in my crib. I took a few photos, some candles, a bracelet, a shot glass, a handmade cross and placed them on my windowsill at first and then across a wooden mirror in homage to a friend that was taken too soon. But you don’t wanna get too crazy, you don’t want the shrine to take over your home.

You want a shrine to be that little piece of extra…the point in your home that pays loving respect to the little piece of you that belonged to the person who has passed. Kinda like this:

I’m sure you could make yours prettier but this is mine and I love it. Some mornings I even leave her a cup of coffee. Bustelo coffee, of course.


9. Get the Fuck Out of Dodge

You know all those friends you always mean to go see? The ones who might not even live that far away? GO SEE THEM. Hop on a mega-greyhound-amtrak magic fucking carpet and go see them. And when they wrap their arms around you, cry. Cry so hard that both of you shake. Cry so hard that every breath is a gasp and every gasp pulls you closer into their chest. This is what friends are actually for. Let them cook for you. Let them take you to roller derby matches. Let them tell you about their boyfriends, jobs, periods, cats with anxiety, whatever. Let them love you because you need it. Bring all of your sadness. Bring no bullshit. Leave your tough at home and just be. The one thing you need to do is travel at least 3 hours or more from home or from the place where you and your grief sanctuary exist. That is all you need to do.


8. Laugh Not

It’s ok to not laugh. I didn’t laugh for real after Christina died for probably eight months. 8 months seems pretty specific, right? But, from the day she died, all of the days became numbers ticked off in my head. So I know for a fact that it was the eighth month because that was when I went to Autostraddle camp. (More about AS later.) Anyway, I’ve always laughed honestly and heartily because why not, most things are funny to me. Also, I come from a family of loudmouth comediennes and laughing is the thing. It’s part of the dialogue. It’s part of the love connection. I never faked a laugh in my life but when Nena died, nothing seemed funny. On top of nothing seeming funny, I think somewhere along the way my body stopped being able to produce laughter. Her death was so sudden, violent and tragic that I think the shock of it took my ability laugh away. I was ok with that and glad for it. You don’t need to laugh or smile. You just need to keep breathing.


7. Do Something Big. Like Autostraddle Camp.

Seriously, this is not a plug. This is not some bullshit tie-in to get you to go to A-Camp. Your thing could be Bonnaroo, Dora the Explorer on Ice, the Running of the Bulls in Spain, Whale watching in Alaska, writing your novel or eating a deep fried Oreo at the Texas state fair (that’s a thing, right?). Anyway, do something. Do something bigger than the life you’ve been living. For me that thing was Autostraddle Camp. I think if I hadn’t gone to A-Camp, I might have just given in hard to drinking my sads and self away. I would have given in to wishing it was me that died and to feeling like life was completely devoid of worth. I lost my best friend, my oldest friend, the one that shared all of my intersectionalities, all of the things that made me me and made us us. Before camp, I’d also divorced my domestic partner and been dropped by a shit load of fucktards that I thought were my friends. Heading to A-Camp was a last resort. The night before camp I told myself that if camp sucked as much as my life did then there was no hope and giving up would be perfectly ok. But at the same time, I made myself give to Autostraddle the best me I had left. Thank Goddess I did.

Photo by Kate Hinchey

This pic pretty much sums up my A-Camp experience and proves that I got my laugh back.


6. Talk to the People

Christina’s death was public, as in all over the mainstream news for weeks. As in every second some news channel deemed it appropriate to show the Sugarland stage collapsing on the crowd, on the 7 people that died and on my homegirl. It was so public that news stations spent an entire day inside and outside of my home because they got my number from someone who said I was her best friend. So there was nowhere to grieve in peace, not for any of us. But this publicity seeped itself into my psyche and destroyed the filter I’d developed for 29 years. Her death lived on the edges of my lips and pores of my skin. I went to work, rode the subway and lived in the world with her death all over me and I couldn’t hide it. So when people asked me what was wrong I had no recourse but to tell them the truth and it was ok. It was better than ok; The act of telling was a major factor in healing. Why? Because it proved, I wasn’t alone. People are grieving everywhere. Most people didn’t say “Oh, I understand. That’s hard”. Most people sat and listened and started to cry for Christina and for their loved ones. I got to see the core of everyone I met as they told me about the ones they’d lost. They told me about twin brothers lost in motorcycle accidents, healthy dads taken down by massive heart attacks, premature babies dying in their arms, lovers wiped out from cancer and the loss of humans that were the centers of their worlds. We held hands in production vans, embraced in elevators and shed tears in between subways stops. This time in my life was the one moment I felt connected to the entire human race. So do it. Don’t be silent. Let it out and let them in.


5. Indulge Responsibly or Don’t At All.

If you can have a drink without getting blackout drunk, then have a drink. Have two and pour the third on the concrete and say two prayers. If you can’t have a drink, go to a meeting. Go to an AA meeting every day that you can. I know these messages seem completely contradictory but they mean the same thing to me. Having a drink, calmed my soul and took the self-destructive edge off my sadness. But if having a drink leads to having twenty, then go to an AA meeting and take a friend and be pro-active. Do not do any drugs. This doesn’t include marijuana. This includes: cocaine, heroin, crack, oxyies, meth, pcp, opium, angel dust and all the other shit that will push you into the darkness. Don’t do those things. You might never come back.


4. Be the girl in the coma.

coma co·ma (kō’mə) n.
A state of profound unconsciousness in which an individual is incapable of sensing or responding to external stimuli.

This idea requires some forethought because not everyone comes out of a coma. They must be entered into with some serious planning and understanding. A few months after Christina died, I literally shut down. I spent the month of December wrapped in a quilt, holed up in my room, watching every season of Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu. Maybe I ate, mostly I cried, tried not throw up and said nothing. If Grey’s wasn’t on my computer screen, then I was laying in the dark wallowing in numbness. Some people might say this was weakness or that I should have pulled myself out of the shit and gotten it together sooner. Ignore those people. You will need a coma to heal. You will need to shut down in order to really give your body and mind time to process the trauma. If you don’t give yourself this time, at some point later down the road you may completely break down. Also, a coma is not a spiral. I didn’t hole up in my room and cut myself, take eighty shots or try to kill myself. (This is not a judgement on those behaviors. I have cut myself and drank way too much during dark times in my life. But I refused to give in to those demons this time, she was way too special to be mourned that way. That was the only choice in grieving that I was able to make somehow.) Anytime I felt too dark, I called someone and pushed through those destructive instincts. Really I went into a coma for healing and I highly encourage you to do the same if you can.


3. Cut the Fat

(obvs this is in no way meant to be derogatory or indicate a preference for a certain weight. this is a metaphor.)

Give yourself a break. I carried around obscene amounts of guilt — still kinda do to be honest — about not visiting, calling or reaching out to Christina as much as I should have before she passed. I always thought there’d be time to do everything and we were both such busy chicks what with her trying to save the world and me running around film sets. Then she was snatched from the world and every moment I didn’t spend with her ate away at my skin, my soul. But the guilt needed to get cut, so I could just grieve. All the things that keep you from just dealing with the ultimate sads, need to be dropped away. You can do it.

Also, losing her put the world into crisp focus. I no longer have time for pettiness or bullshit from other people. Drama that I may have whole heartedly entertained prior to her death, is no longer worthy of attention. This includes people, places and things. If someone or something, feels shady or doesn’t surround you with love and respect, drop it. Let it go. Roll your eyes and keep it moving. You have an ex who keeps calling you for attention, stop picking up. Dealing with frenemies who pull you in and push you out? Get new friends. Fuck all those people who will use you during this time of grief. Grab all the ones who shower you with support and understanding. Nothing else matters.

via thepeacefulbirthproject.org


2. Preparation Helps But Is Almost Impossible

Remember how I mentioned counting the days after she died? Well eventually the ticker died down and then stopped completely. I was able to focus on getting a brand new kick ass job, moving on from a long-term relationship and rebuilding my life as I needed to. I imagine Christina would be so damn happy for me, proud of me…and well those are the thoughts that make prepping impossible. Last month the ticker came back, last month the late nite weeping swept back in and I was left gasping and confused. I thought I’d gotten over this part. I thought I was done grieving. But nah, it just doesn’t happen that way. The fact that the year anniversary of her death was coming, threw me back into the fuck and I almost went back into that coma. I really had to stop and check myself. I guess I just want you to know that this could happen to you and that it’s ok. Don’t go in to the coma again if you can help it. Maybe you take a night or two to cry on your tile floor next to her picture, maybe you take a long walk through the beautiful park by your house and just process and roll with it. This is how you get through the reemergence of grief that well honestly, won’t ever totally go away.


1. Do what you’ve always done.

If I didn’t write my feelings down, I may have crumbled. Along with the friends, the coma and the sharing of this experience, I had to write everything I could about all the feelings I was having. I implore you with my whole life and all my guts and my big brown heart, to do what you’ve always done. You’re a painter? PAINT. You write music? WRITE ALL OF THE MUSIC.

You have to. It’s the reason your gift/interest/passion exists in the first place, babygirl. All of those things are not only forms of expression but they’ve been impressed upon you as a gateway through the fuck of life. Do it even if it seems wrong. When I first started writing about my grief, all of it seemed so rambly, disconnected and strange, like they weren’t really my words. But I pushed through and let my fingers do the work, my words spill the pain and my tears guide the way. And if you’ve never done anything, don’t feel connected to anything, then let your grief push you into unknown territory of creation, of interest in something other than the everyday. Find a boxing class, hula hoop in the park, learn to bake a cake or tie all of the ties. You Do You but please, do something. You owe it to yourself when the world is dark. You will bring back the light, I promise.

Please feel free to tell me, us about ways you’ve dealt with loss. Sharing is the only way to help sometimes. That and baking cookies.

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Gabrielle Rivera is an awesomely queer Bronx bred, writer, spoken word artist and director. Her short stories and poems have been published in various anthologies such as the Lambda Award winning Portland Queer: Tales from the Rose City and The Best of Panic! En Vivo from the East Village. Her short film "Spanish Girls are Beautiful" follows a group of young Latina and Caucasian girls who like girls as they hook up, smoke up and try to figure sh*t out. She also freelances for Autostraddle.com while working in the film and television industry. Gabrielle is currently working on her first novel while bouncing around NYC performing spoken word and trying to stick it to the man.

gabby has written 102 articles for us.


  1. Dream. I dream every night, vividly, and I usually remember my dreams. Dreaming about my grandparents – spending time with them, being with them, is what has gotten me through since they passed away on December 1, 2008 and February 26, 2009 respectively. I talk to them, I hug them, I hear their voices and see their faces.

  2. Two weeks ago was a year since my dad passed away. Last year when he died I threw myself into doing all the things we talked about when he was here. Getting away from my emotionally abusive mother, doing the things that made me happiest. I also used those things as a way to block out his absence. I became so busy that as far as I was concerned he was probably still here and I just needed to call him sometime. I went to the funeral and sat in the back and I watched him leave me, but this year on his birthday I searched for Daddy in my phone (mature right?) and before I could hit send it came back to me. That somewhere between my constant urge to keep moving through life and present myself as well to society I didn’t deal with it. So obviously a year later nobody is going to understand why I want to take a break, but I didn’t know how to handle it then. So thank you for giving me some ideas. I am concerned about not overwhelming my friends especially when I felt overwhelming last year when it happened, but I am going to make him a shrine today and I am coming to ACamp in a few weeks because he wanted me above everything else to always keep exploring.

      • Done! You know when you feel like you might cry but you take a deep breath and think about something happy and it goes away? I feel like I have been doing that for a year. I think a hug and a cry with someone who wants to be there because they understand would be amazing.


    • I’m so very sorry for your loss. I hope you get all the hugs and all the love you need. If not, here are more hugs and love. xo

    • Terra,

      there are no words, really. just know that all of us love you just because. and and message me if you just need a person, ok?


    • sending you so much love and light right now… do what feels good for you right now.

  3. After kicking cancer’s ass for a year longer than his doctors told him he’d be able to, my big brother died at age 37. I wish I could have read this then, Gabrielle.

    My major creative outlet has been doing the academic thing, so I’m really only decent at reading and writing and thinking, so it felt weird to write out the story of his death, just because the tone and tenor and content was so different from anything I’d really done before. I needed to do it, though, to tell the rest of my family what had happened, because only three of us were with him when he died.

    It turned out to be one of the most cathartic things I have done since. After writing it, I was destroyed, and thankfully my younger brother could distinguish my words through my sobs. He came over, read it, and then we just hugged and cried, and it felt awful, but better because I wasn’t alone in knowing those things anymore. Later, when I shared it with my parents, the same terrible pain was there, but the same great love was too. It was brutal and beautiful.

    Much of what you shared resonates with me. When we mourn, we need outlets, even if they don’t feel 100% natural at first. We need people who love and support us, and we need the people who don’t, or who can’t, to go away (it’s surprising how many people, especially younger people, have a hard time with the sadness in others’ lives). Most of all, we have to give ourselves time and space to start feeling like we can deal again.

    There’s an ebb and a flow to my grief, but I’m feeling more buoyant, more often these days. It sounds like you are, too. Thank you for sharing all of this with all of us.

  4. you are such a strong person, and we are so lucky to have you on the AS team. damn girl, you have such a way with words.

  5. Well…Damn! I thought you were amazing at A-Camp. But now I’m just simply in awe of you. Thank you.

  6. Last year (Feb 2011-November 2011), I lost 3 people to whom I was very close – 2 friends and an uncle. I’ve spent a lot of the last year crying. It’s important to let it out. I’m not saying that you should air your personal stuff at work (unless you have some close personal friends there), but let it out somewhere, sometime. Cry to your mom and dad, your sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. Cry to your friends and your enemies. Cry to everyone and get out your tears. Eventually you will not have anymore tears to shed (not because you don’t still miss the person, but because you’ve rid yourself of sadness and figured out how to embrace the happy parts of whomever you’ve lost. It is inevitable that you are going to dwell on the times you could have seen/talked to that person before he/she died, but at some point you will start to reminisce about your lost loved one. I can’t say I have fully stopped grieving yet, or that I ever will. But i must say, it is very nice to know that there are a lot of other people in the same boat as I.

  7. My grieving process has been very similar these last 3 years.

    My parents died my senior year of high school from health problems. After it happen, I ended up going on autopilot the rest of my senior year. I did take a week or so off, but I’m the type of person that can’t sit still. I continued to do my work and graduated with a 3.75, but like I said, it was an autopilot type of thing.

    My “do something big” was moving out of the city that I have been all my life to go to college. Granted it was just two hours away, it was a way to make a new life away from those who knew my parents. Music also helped me a lot. I’m not much of a writer, but playing songs from my favorite musicians on my guitar and singing helped a lot (and still does).

    This article definitely resonated with my experiences and made me look at my own experiences and see that grieving may not end, but it does get easier to deal with once you figure out what you need to do to grieve in a healthy way. Thanks for this. :)

  8. whoa this really hit home. four years ago my friend since grade school passed away. i was completely catatonic for months and months. i holed up in my room reading, sleeping, and only eating so i didn’t scare my mom. i can relate to feeling guilty for things i could have done or should have done over the course of our friendship. i only wish someone would have told me to leave my tough at home and just kind of cry and talk it out, which eventually came later on.
    i’m so sorry for your loss. losing anyone, for lack of a more adequate way to describe it in words, really REALLY sucks. you’re a strong human and i’m glad you got your laugh back. i want to bake you all of the cookies.

  9. I am so, so, so sorry for your loss. I feel lame for saying such a common condolence, but I don’t know how to put it in other words.

    This past year, I lost a friend to suicide. We hadn’t kept in touch since she was a few years older and had gone off to college, but she had been so welcoming and inclusive when I was an itty bitty freshman. I felt so terrible that she had been there for me when I was young and lonely but no one had been there for her when she needed it. I wanted to go back in time and tell her how much it meant to me.

    I don’t cry that much and especially not in front of other people, but I sobbed at the funeral and later I held onto my friends and cried more. Now and then the tears come when a certain song plays on the radio because she told me that my Halloween costume reminded her of it.

  10. Gabby, this was so beautiful. Thank you for writing this for us.

    And I want you to know – getting to meet you at A Camp was a really special experience for me, so I’m so glad that you were there. You’re an inspiration.

  11. tears in my eyes, but a smile in my heart, you know? thank you. we can totally do this :)

  12. My nephew passed two years ago at 18 from heart attack while palying basketball…a heart attack at 18! He was more like a younger brother as I am (was) only 6 years older than him. He played football and had many physicals why did none of the doctors know there was anything wrong with his heart?!? I know I have not grieved for him because I have so much anger about the whole situation. Anger at his doctor, at his mother (my older sister) for not being a better mom to him and for sending him off to lve with other relatives when he was growing up, at him for dying, at his dad for never really being there, at all the people who attended his funeral and gave speeches about what he was like when none of them ever had the time for him or really knew him.

    I have a hard time looking at his pictures, or hearing his name. It all just pisses me off, and I do not know how to deal with it. I try very hard not to think about him at all, but it hits me out of nowhere sometimes. I can be at work and just start crying. I have never had to deal with anything like this before and everything people say to try and heal/cope just is not working.

    Its not fair that he had to die before he got to really live. He was supposed to start college that fall, he was a good kid, and now he is gone…been gone for two years but time is not healing this wound.

  13. thank you so much for sharing this. i lost my dad to suicide when i was 13, and even though it’s been about 13 years since then, a lot of this really resonated with me. i tended toward the boxing up of stuff that reminded me of him, rather than the shrine idea, and now i wish i hadn’t done that. part of it probably had to do with the anger i felt toward him. i wish that someone had been there to tell me the things you shared today, like that it’s ok to go into a coma of sorts. i ended up missing the last few months of my 8th grade year at school and staying at home, and i always felt like that was a failing of mine, like if i’d tried harder i could have made it through. but i really think now that that was something that was necessary. anyway. thank you thank you.

  14. Thank you for writing this. My Opa (grandpa) just died a few months ago, so I couldn’t get through the whole post without crying. But what you’ve written has been so true for me. the first month after he died I found it so hard to do anything at all. Then suddenly I just started doing Big Things – like writing for Autostraddle. It was like all my insecurities melted away and I’ve just started doing the things I like and want to do with my life and I think my Opa would be proud of me just like I’m sure your best friend would be amazingly proud of you because you’re amazing.

  15. My grandaddy, who was the grandparent I was closest to and possibly the only person who has ever loved me unconditionally, died when I was 18. I grieved, and I cried a bit, but as the weeks and months went on I thought I was totally fine. I remember thinking how weird it was, that I loved him so much but that I was coping so well with his death.

    Then a year and half later, I was on a roadtrip through Ireland with my then-long term boyfriend, and we weren’t really working out (bc I was a giant gay let’s be real), and the trip wasn’t going well, and we stopped at this campsite for the night. I was tired and in a bad mood, and we got the tent set up, and then it just sort of hit me that it was twilight in Ireland. I will never not associate that with driving the one-and-a-half-hours home from seeing those grandparents, travelling through the mountains and listening to music and watching the sun set. And all of a sudden I started crying. I say crying, I sobbed and sobbed until I could barely breathe, and I couldn’t stop, and my poor bf was terrified and didn’t know what the hell was wrong (still doesn’t). I cried for so long I don’t even know how long it was. I think I’d just been completely in denial for a year and a half that that person I loved was gone, and suddenly it all happened to me.

    Grief is a really, really strange thing, is what I’m saying. There is no way to know what it’s going to do. And I am so, so sorry for your loss. But thank you for this.

  16. I lost my twin to suicide a week ago. Im still unsure of what to do or think.. but im think this may help. Im pretty sure i was suppose to see this. Thank-you for this peice of writing.

    • Baili, hold on to yourself tight. holy shit. why hasn’t the internet figured out a way to let us hold hands when we need to?

    • Holy cow I am so sorry for your loss. My dad also lost his twin, to a car accident, and joined a support group called Twinless Twins to help him deal with it. I have no idea if this is something you’d be interested in but just know that there are [far too many] other people in this situation – you’re not alone.

    • Baili, I am an identical twin and I can hardly think of anything that would rock my world more. I just cried for you.
      I would really like to help send you to A-Camp sometime? And/or send you a card from Australia?

    • Hey you. I’m just going to post again here so you may see this… I hope you’re surviving, somehow, and I hope that friends and family are supporting you and each other.

      Ps. I totally have a ‘cookie’ perk from the Autostraddle fundraiser with your name on it (they’ll send it to you) if you wish. I’d love to send you some- just let me know. Hugs.

  17. Thank you for this it made me cry it is so touching & beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss! I have had 3 close losses of family in the last 3 months bam bam bam! My aunt that was like my mother, my dad, and my 21 year old nephew that killed himself. I have been a shattered mess, I don’t know what to do anymore, I feel like I am in a deep hole, and can’t get out. I can’t make myself do anything or be with friends, I make excuses. It’s like the very life of me has been sucked out I’m empty inside. I will read over your post again, I know it touched me deeply. I just hope I can climb out of my despair, and feel again. God Bless You! xo

  18. Sam died at the start of the year. We weren’t close but she was the kind of vivacious person who leaves a handprint on your heart no matter how briefly you knew her. She put up a poster of a giant, glittery dick in the window of our school’s GSA because clueless straight kids kept walking in.

    I started watching a lot of sad movies – the kind where a character is bound to die, which is the kind I used to avoid. But I sort of revelled in them. Every death was Sam’s death. It didn’t matter what the character was – young, old, boy, girl… They were that wiry, goofy, larger-than-life teenager. I cried a lot. Almost non-stop. It was the first time I had lost someone unexpectedly. My nana had died, but she was 96 and probably glad to be somewhere where she was strong enough to whoop people with wooden spoons again. But Sam was seventeen and about to start university. She was gonna change the world somehow.

    I didn’t see my friends until the funeral, but it was then that I realized how crucial they were. I sort of collapsed into them (metaphorically, of course) and melted into this safe place that their presence created. Someone cracked a joke about our old principal and that was the only time I didn’t feel guilty laughing, ’cause it was the exact joke Sam would have made.

    The grief still very much lingers. Every time I go out for a walk I end up thinking about her. I snap at people who use her as a cautionary tale (‘if only she wore a seatbelt’ is the last thing anyone wants to hear). It helps when I can see my girls and we can talk about it. I’m starting a portrait of her – this adorable picture of her, holding up a praying mantis to the camera. Other than honouring her memory, I’m not sure what it’s gonna do for me. Closure? A sense of calm?

    I have no idea where I’m going with this – I’m certainly no expert on dealing with grief. This piece gave me lots of feelings.

  19. My best friend withered away in front of my eyes.

    That year was absolute hell. I cannot tell you how it was to be crammed in to a two bedroom apartment together, with him, his wife, and his three year old, while he died slowly. Another friend of ours died suddenly, in contrast, during this time. It was indescribably awful, as everything crumbled away under our feet.

    I still don’t feel as if I’ve truly dealt with it. I have never met a more accepting and loving person in my life and I fear I never will again.

    For a long time I felt such shame that he saw me at my lowest point, but then I realized he didn’t need to see my best to love me.

    You are right when you say that death removes your tolerance for bullshit. It changed my whole way of living. I think for the better, because I realize eventually I will be dust and there are no do overs. This has freed me from timidity and for that I am grateful.

  20. Fifteen years this September since my mother died, and grief never really leaves me. It changes, evolves, moves into different corners of your brain and heart, shows up at totally unexpected times, makes you feel weak, makes you feel so so strong, colors your perception of the world and the people in it.

    I learned so much from my mom, both the short time we had together, and from her death. The weird thing to realize now is that I wouldn’t be the person I am now if she hadn’t died when I was 15. For better or for worse. You can’t know.

    The ultimate gift any loved one gives to you, in the end, is that incredible them-shaped-space in your heart that never disappears.

    Well written/remembered, Gabrielle.

  21. This was emotional to read. One of my best friends died of cancer seven years ago and I still wish her happy birthday every year and I still feel miserable on the anniversary of her death. I can’t subscribe to “everything happens for a reason” and the world just seems so unfair it’s overwhelming. It hurts to know that people I love will fall away.

  22. thank you so so much for writing this. My girlfriend died in a car crash in January and I didn’t want to live anymore, she was my world for the time I had known her. She was my first girlfriend. I felt guilty for no particular reason and stopped eating. And I would cry over little things all the time, but it’s never actually about them, it’s about her. Still. Her best friend found a playlist on her computer that she had made for me before she died, so I listen to that a lot, and mix CDs we made each other. Losing someone close to you is so awful that if you’ve never had it happen before you can’t possibly imagine it, and I find that strangers and friends never know how to react. You are so strong.

  23. i love you very much gabby rivera. also, i’m glad you got your laugh back because i thought it was one of the best.

    all of my thoughts go out to you now and forever.

  24. Such raw, beautiful, honest words. Thank you for sharing this grief and giving us space for ours.
    And Bustelo? We should all be so lucky to be remembered with such love.

  25. My brother died nearly 4 years ago. This is all very true. It does get better, but sometimes I am still amazed that the world still revolves, that life goes on.

    One thing I regret very much is not coming out to him before he died. It is really hard to keep evolving as a person and they are still there, still 24 for all these years, not knowing what your life is like, always in that same space in time. On the plus side, for me, is that nothing will ever really hurt- REALLY hurt- ever again.

  26. No words for this beautiful writing, my partner and I have prepared something like you did at home for Christina, we miss our friend, she was so good to everybody that was around her, we minis you Chica.

  27. I took a trip to the beach by myself last Sunday, August 5. It wasn’t until I was standing in the water, looking out to the Bay that I realized that day marked the 1.5-year anniversary of the death of my best friend of over 10 years. He had drowned in that very same ocean I was wading in. I still can’t believe it was that one day that I had chosen to visit the Pacific; it’s only been the 3rd time I’ve been on the coast since his death. I got chills.

    His death was also a very public one. I was interviewed a few times. There’s now footage of me crying on a Portland news station. Great.

    After he died I didn’t eat for a day, and then the floodgates opened and I couldn’t stop eating for about 3 months after. And yet I still managed to lose weight. It’s funny what grief can do to you.

    The day after he died, another friend and I sitting in her Volvo. We didn’t know what to do. I told her, “Just drive.” She did and we drove into the surrounding hills and pretended like nothing else existed.

    We were high school seniors when it happened. All I could think was “This isn’t supposed to happen to people in high school.” It feels so purely, honestly, painfully bad that this is the shit people have to deal with. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone.

  28. gabby it’s so incredible that not only have you made it through so much pain but you’ve turned around and talked about it to help other people, and that you’re so strong you’re using your strength to show the rest of us that we can do it too. i’m so honored to read this and to know you.

  29. you found words i have been searching for since 2001. thank you for helping me when i didn’t even know i was looking anymore.

    i love you very much, gabby. you carry so much light and love in every one of your actions; you make other people feel not-alone. i hope you know that. <3

  30. Keep your head up beautiful, you can see heaven much better that way. Thank you for writing this Gabby.

  31. Thanks for posting this. It seems especially brave to do this so publicly now that we all actually know each other. I impulsively decided to come to camp again because I need to do something big as well. Can’t wait to see everyone.

  32. This couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for me. Last week (literally the day after my birthday), my eighteen year old baby sister was killed on her way to work. I think the initial shock of what happened has worn off but the numbness is starting to set in. I just can’t help but sit here and think about how much I want to call her right now to talk about this article and I can’t. The day after she died I was checking my voicemail and found a new one I hadn’t listened to yet. It was from her wishing me a happy birthday. I don’t think I have ever been as sad as I was in that moment.

  33. Reread the post about Christina and my heart ached all over again. I don’t know what you’re feeling but I know it must be terrible and I’m so so sorry you have to go through this, I’m so so sorry she’s gone.

    Last year the person I love had a heart attack and when I heard my first thought was that they had died and my second was that I was about to die with them. They were alright, I was alright, I wouldn’t have been alright but I would have lived, I would have carried on. That’s the closest I’ve ever got to feeling what you’re feeling and I know I’m lucky, I feel bloated with my good fortune, but I know I’ll have to feel this way someday and when I do, I’ll come back here. So thank you.

  34. i wanted to reply individually to everyone’s stories but that started to seem like a little too much. cuz sometimes you just want to get it out and let the words create their own atmosphere and be their own moment.

    so please keep sharing if you can and thank you for everyone who has left a piece of themselves in this post. if we keep stitching ourselves together like this then maybe one day we’ll have this beautiful quilt-y network of raw, humbled and connected queers and nothing will ever break us.

    also: cookies.

    • I just happened to open AS minutes after this article was posted. I read it, cried, listened to the playlist I made for Sara after she died, cried some more, and continue now. I haven’t had the courage to respond to you until now.

      Friday will be exactly 5 months since she passed away, but I miss my best friend more and more every day.

      Words can’t thank you enough, but trying to make Sara proud is all I have to go on. Thank you, Gabby. You are beautiful.

  35. Hi Gabrielle, I wanted to thank you for posting this article which really helped a friend of mine who is grieving a loss. You are honest in way that is rare to find around these subjects and I think that really helped her.

    I also wanted to thank you for including the note about abusing alcohol or drugs in #5. I was surprised (in a good way) that you were so open to acknowledging the dangers when it comes to self-medication with drugs & alcohol.

    That said, I wanted to encourage you to try not to define a problem with drugs & alcohol as either getting blackout drunk or having 20 drinks. I think you might have been exaggerating for writing’s sake, but I worry about defining problem drinking or drugging under those specific limits — there are lots of people in AA for whom that wasn’t their using pattern. A problem with substances isn’t defined by how much you use, it’s what that using does to you and your life. As a member myself I have to come to realize that people with a substance abuse problem sometimes look for any reason why they don’t have one — denial is part of the disease — and if you read that having a problem means blackouts or 20 drinks, it could just be another reason why you don’t have a problem.

    Does that make sense? I honestly don’t mean to criticize because my overwhelming reaction is grateful that you brought this subject to light so succinctly and clearly. I just kept thinking back to the specific limits you outlined and how they didn’t feel 100% right, and since you seem to hit the nail on the head in so many other ways in this article, I just wanted to try and articulate another way of thinking about the topic of substance abuse.

    I’m really sorry if I am being oversensitive which is totally possible. I’m also sorry that my comment isn’t responding to the main point of your article. In the end, I am very grateful you wrote this article with so much openness and kindness. Thank you!!!

  36. Autostraddle, you all make such an impact on people’s lives. Somehow I missed this article yesterday.

    I got the dreaded call last night. I cried myself to sleep cuddling with my extra chubby cat.
    Hmmpfff… Here you all are putting your hearts out to the world and I feel terrible. Terrible because I just want to let it all out 1-on-1 with a complete stranger who’s willing to listen. And here I am reading all of your stories and not telling mine. A bit unfair of me, no? Lucky for my penpal (or not) I don’t know her name yet. Otherwise I’d be applying #1 to her at this very moment.

    • If you ever need someone to listen, I (and I’m sure many others) am very good at it. I know the feeling all too well of needing someone there to listen, and if there’s one thing I can do for my best friend that’s no longer with me, its helping someone who’s reaching out. Know that I’m here.

      • Thank you Brooke for offering to listen. It means a lot to me to know that there are kind people in this world like you. Your friend would be proud. I am feeling much better than yesterday. But would it be ok if I message you? Or anybody else who sees this.

        Again, you guys are all awesome. I truly hope for the best for you all and Autostraddle. :)

  37. You know, I don’t know what to feel right now. I guess you could say I’m grieving for a person I have yet to lose; my love. She has stage 4 cancer but she isn’t getting chemo so she does not appear to be sick. But oh, I’m so in love! Its such an amazing feeling to finally realize how great finding love is but you know, I’m also scared. I’m scared because not many people know about our love and I have so many other things getting in the way. I just want to be free. And I’m so scared of the day that I have to live without this amazing woman. Reading this has made me feel such a whirlwind of emotions and I can’t stop crying for her, for me, for us. I don’t think I can survive this if there ever came a day that I had to be without her. She lives in the moment and I’m just trying to keep up. It has been a great ride but still, there are times when the thought of losing her creeps up and I can’t stop feeling every single emotion within the span of an hour. Thank you for writing this.

  38. The part I hated the most about the year after my Dad died was that first moment waking up — for a minute, I wouldn’t remember that anything bad had happened, and then, WHAM, I’d remember: Dad’s dead.

    My big thing was this: after a lifetime of thinking I only wanted one child, I changed my mind and had one more.

    I named him after my Dad. He’s eight now and this week he drew a cartoon called “Space Aliens at the Olympics,” where the space aliens win big in some events and completely misunderstand the point of others.

  39. Gabby, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. This is really amazing, great advice for any kind of grief.

    I feel like a lot of us are at the age where our friends are starting to go (accidents, suicide, illness) and that’s not something we were ever used to and it’s intensely difficult for me to process. My cousin’s son (19 years old) shot himself a few months ago. I hadn’t seen him since he was a bubbly blonde little kid and I couldn’t understand it. Plus two (three, arguably–a case of alcohol poisoning that was questionable) of the kids from the graduating class (about 50) of my first high school have killed themselves.

    Like. How do the young people die, and how do you get over it? Life is just so stupidly ephemeral. Augh.

    Anyway, if it helps, when I’m wallowing in all of the feelings, I have a strict no drinking alone policy. If you know you have an addictive personality, I would recommend the same–you have to have a coping mechanism and if you’re okay with one or two drinks, like Gabby said, booze is fine alone once in a while. But if you’re a lightweight with a family history of alcoholism (like me!) and are terrified of drinking being the thing you do when you have a bad day, find something else.

    It could be surfing Autostraddle, it could be watching endless episodes of Scrubs, it could be riding your bike forever, it could be erotic Harry Potter fanfic (YOU DO YOU KIDS)–as long as it’s something that calms you down and cheers you up a little.

    Also, I just had to address the coma thing. Been there, done that, watched complete TV series. It does happen but you will eventually come out of it.

    (sorry for long, disjointed message).

  40. Gabby, this is beautiful. I am very thankful for Autostraddle because otherwise I might not know you. And that would be sad, because then I’d have no one else to look up to.

  41. #9 needs to be done ALL THE TIME. One of my bestest girlfriends ever, who I <3<3<3<3 like a little sister, tried to kill herself two and a half weeks ago. She's physically fine now, and getting help for the mental part, but it's really just driven into my head that I need to get my ass away from the computer, xbox, drawing pad etc. and go friggin SOCIALSE. You need to be around yourt friends, while they're still there.

  42. I also need to mention this…


    My loss was expected but it’s stll painful. Especially that it just happened today. Unfortunately, I have to be out in the world right now. With my face red & swollen from crying I am able to hold my head up high. Gabby’s words and Alex’s video helped make it possible. Thank you!!!

  43. Thank you. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. I mean that.

    My friend George died in a car accident, I stayed home because I wanted an early night before work, some friends were driving to the seaside for a drink on the beach, and the driver let one of our other friends tryt driving around a quiet residential area, but she caught the pavement and drove into a garage and he died because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt and he was in the passenger seat which hit the brick wall.

    I couldn’t see anyone, and I couldn’t sleep because whenever I started falling sleep my dreams did this:
    I’m somewhere on my own, either a deserted street or a deserted field at night, and it’s dark, except for a little light around me so I can see how alone I am. Then I hear the sound of a car, if I’m in the field then I can see headlights coming from the bushes, but there’s no car. For a long time there’s no car, but I can hear laughing.
    By this point, I would usually have woken myself up. It was too much. I think something happened where I realised, though, that I was cheating myself out of a little chance to work through some pain. Your brain is giving you these dreams because there’s too much for you to work through in your waking life. Dreams are good, don’t force yourself to stay up so you don’t have to face them.
    Th dream changes every time, but the clearest version is this: I’m alone in the field, I hear the car, I see the lights, I hear laughter and it gets closer. He is just passing me by when he notices me sitting there and his face is horrible. He doesn’t have his face, he has a beaten rough face and he’s wearing a suit. Someone’s watching, I can hear, but it’s not such a threat. He sits with me and we’re facing each other really close like we’re going to kiss, but I can just feel his breathing. He goes to make a move on me, I say not now, he says “that’s ok, it’s just a comfort thing really” then stays for a little while and then he says he’ll see me later, waves me off and walks into the dark. Someone’s still watching, and I don’t know how to wake up.
    Then I wake up.
    Writing this comment is making me cry like sob, pop out for a fag and try to finish writing it down type of crying. I need this. I need to wake up crying because it’s too hard to just sit on your own and think, ‘George died. How do you feel?’ So, what I’m saying is, dream it out if you can’t work it out.

    • p.s. I’m not saying the dreams will be nice, or you’ll even dream at all, everyone brains work differently.
      I was so troubled by some of these dreams that I couldn’t even tell my therapist who went to specifically to help me cope with them. Eventually I did, I told her that sometimes I dream that he’s with friends and he walsk past without speaking to me, or saying horrible things about me, and once I dreamt that we had sex and woke up feeling sick to my stomach because he was like my brother and he’s dead and I thought I was disgusting, but she explained that could be interpreted as my subconcious trying to give me a chance to be completely physically connected to his living form. Sometimes those dreams are horrible, but that’s because you feel horrible.

  44. oh you! and to think you had the strength to reach out to me back then.

    thank you so much, for all of your words.
    I now have a friend whose (sort of estranged) dad is about to die and I might have gotten her to start searching for a therapist. but the fuck is going to creep up on her anyways and I hope I can be there, somehow.

  45. Re: Coma – My Nana died recently, and I’ve just left my long-term partner and moved house – For a while, some it was all I could do to just crawl into my protective blanket-cave until I had the energy to even just sit at the computer and trawl tumblr for a few hours. I am a big fan of the blanket-cave. (Also tea. Tea is always good for every occasion.)

  46. oh fuck the coma.

    I have had all sorts of things happen in my life for the last couple of years. A dream relationship that turned into such a horrid devolved mess with fuckups from both sides that even NOW it still affects me emotionally despite how much work I’ve put in to try and heal. Family and friends dying (including two suicides). Losing friends and networks partly due to the previous incidents. My permanent residency app being pushed further and further into limbo. Medication changes messing with my brain. Feeling total alienation and dismay that I just wanted to end it all. I couldn’t live like this.

    I’m now in SF, about to start grad school in a week. It’s my dream city, I wanted so badly to come here where I felt like home, everyone’s been so lovely to me – so why do I feel like SHIT? From the moment I got accepted to now my emotions have been either a messy whirlygig or a shutdown. I lost the ability to look forward to anything. I was massively creatively blocked. Every option, every possibility, filled me with dread. WTF?

    Then I read this article, and reach your point about the coma. And then it hit me.
    My body’s trying to get into a coma.
    It never got the chance to heal or recover. It had to push on with life because there was no opportunity to just wallow without it turning into potential self-destruction. In trying to survive physically I was also dying emotionally.
    My body’s crying for a coma and it will do anything to make that possible even if it means taking away my ability to feel joy and happiness.

    (I’m going to a small hippie school and one day as part of orientation our teacher got us to do a small meditation. In it she asked us to re-experience a moment where we felt joy. I was horrified to notice that while I could intellectually recall such moments, I could not bring back the feeling. At all.)

    fuck. what do I do? there’s nowhere I can go. I have an MFA to do. I spent so much in time and energy and sacrifice to be here. I wanted this but how do Ideal if my emotions aren’t cooperating? There’s nowhere I can go. fuccccck.

    • maybe you do the coma in doses, like i’m obvs not a therapist, i’m just a chick with some feelings and i feel you, girl. maybe when you have any sort of personal down time, you do nothing.

      you’ve acknowledged what you need and that is the very first step into giving yourself that thing.

      so you have an hour, a free hour, instead of checking email or reading autostraddle, you put your phone on airplane mode and take a damn nap. instead of shoveling lunch down your throat to run off to the next thing, you take 25 mins to eat it in a quiet place and take some deep breaths. instead of meeting a friend for drinks, you tell that friend “hey what if like I just came over and we cooked something together or like could we just take a nap?” — naps helps so much and you’d be surprised how many people are like “holy crap, hell yes, i will take a nap. i love you for suggesting that!” it’s a thing.

      sometimes life cannot stop. when Christina died, i was working full time on a tv show and then a pilot, clocking 100 hr weeks. i was sick, caught a crazy infection and had no time to do anything but go go go. its ok. when the time presented itself, i took it to heal. you will too.

      you got this. <3

  47. Thank you for writing this. I don’t know what to say other than that. This is a beautiful essay.

  48. It will be the anniversary of my finds death soon, her name was Clare she committed suicide. I found that setting myself tasks for each day really helped. They ranged from things like;do the laundry, to go on a huge roller coaster. Thank you for this article xx

  49. Thank You! Sincerely!

    Today is the one year anniversary of my loss and some of the things said- coma state, having no time for drama- really hit home. I feel unburdened.

    We read to know we are not alone

  50. Hey…I realize its been quite a while since this was posted but damn, did I need it today. I have been blindly going forward through a lot of grief and not sure what to do or how to get through other than without feeling anything. I don’t know how I found this, but I am grateful. My struggle to find someone who understands what its like to loose my first partner to suicide shortly after my son (who was a product of rape) died has been long and most of my friends are straight and view what I had with my partner as some lesser form of what they have with their husbands. Its bull. But this, this was a comfort. If only I could find someone like you in Philly…

  51. This showed up on my tumblr today. I also learned of my grandma’s death today.

    This part especially hit home: Give yourself a break. I carried around obscene amounts of guilt — still kinda do to be honest — about not visiting, calling or reaching out to Christina as much as I should have before she passed.

  52. Hello. Instumbled across your blog entry, because today is 2 months to the day that I lost my mom. I lived with her, my whole life, minus a total of about 3 years sporadically. My fiancé and I moved away in July of 2011, this was the first time I had ever really “moved” out on my own. We live in Florida and him and I moved all the way to New Hampshire. In May on 2012 my dad passed away. Being the youngest child and the free spirit I always was, I didn’t have any ties to keep me there and my fiancé was having a hard time dealing with his dad and the job we moved up there for him to have (family business) and we were the only ones out of my 2 sisters and brother (one sister is from my dads previous marriage as is my brother, and my other sister is from my moms previous marriage) that had the ability to up and go. I believe we were back by the end of May or beginning of June in 2012. We had to come back, because my mom was all alone, and she never was. Her house was always full, from friends of mine or my sisters. (the one from her first marriage, there’s a significant age gap between me and the rest of them, 10 years between me and Kelly, my moms other daughter, and 20 years between Lynn my dads daughter. My brother is a little younger than Lynn so about 15-18 years). There were ALWAYS people in and out, company was always over, we did big holidays. I had to come home, I had to be with her and I had to help her. My mother and I were the epitome of best friends. She shared things with me she never told my other siblings. She talked to me like I was her friend. We had no secrets. We had each other. She wound up going for surgery in 2014 I think. (Time is the most insane thing I’ve ever experienced and I never know how long ago things were or what). It was a major surgery because she had what’s called a triple A. An abdominal aortic aneurysm. It had to get to a certain size before surgery could be done and it reached a cm or 2 below the mark, so we went ahead and scheduled it. Well holy shit, they always tell you there may be some complications or issues from the surgery and whatever. Well there was. She was in the hospital 52 days. She lost a kidney, they were both working at low percentages already, but he had one clamped off too long and she lost it. So as a result she had to start dialysis. Fast forward to July 2014 and she came home. Started going to treatment every other day of the week for dialysis, about a year. It was slowly killing her and making her incredibly tired. She couldn’t take it anymore. We were told she would qualify for home dialysis, so my mom, my aunt and myself went everyday for about 2 weeks and learned how to do the treatment at home. It was going a lot better than the in center treatment, those places are a JOKE and I am completely disgusted by how the patients turn into numbers the nurses have to meet weekly. My aunt would do her needleds, check use I’m not good with needles, and go home, (she lives next door) then I would do the rest of the four hour treatment on my own, log her numbers, BP, take her off the machine, strip the machine and set up for the next day. My aunt is older than my mom, and she was having a hard time with the needles and I could tell a lot of the issues e were getting from the machine were due to her just not getting them in right. Eventually my aunt wound up in the hospital and I was the only one that knew what to do. But I did, I fucking did it! I got her needles in, she would tell me it didn’t hurt, and the treatment was going ok. She did decide to stop treatment far the holidays. We all supported her decision, because at this point she was using a machine to stay alive, the machine did what her kidneys couldn’t. Her quality of life was terrible and she just couldn’t be herself anymore and there was no hope of anythin getting better. We got through Christmas this past year which was her favorite holiday and we had my brother and two sisters come down before that and spent a lot of time with her. Kelly as here the whole time, 3 months. My other sister came down in the beginning of December and flew her kids down around Christmas, and my brother also came down in December when she did. Christmas was wonderful, we had a lot of family together we haven’t had in over 30 years. My brother wasn’t able to be here, but my cousin was,neither my sisters, friends of my mom’s it was wonderful. The pictures we have of her that night, she looks WONDERFUL. Like nothing was wrong, like she wasn’t sick. She was the happiest she could’ve possibly been. Christmas passed and everyone left except my sister Kelly. ❤️ There a few little things my mom wanted to do, and we made sure we did those. She wanted to go to the hard rock casino and she just kept winning, like she always did, and from her winnings she wanted to pay for dinner. My mom, my sister, my fiancé Johnny and I went to red lobster. Standing in the parking lot after dinner I looked at John and I said to him “im not ready I don’t want this night to ever end”, but it did, because you can’t pause or rewind time. The next week we had a pow wow and she told us she was ready to call hospice. They came after the weekend and basically came to give her some meds to keep the pain away and keep her comfortable. I think it was 6 days later. Johnny and I were up with her the whole night before because she was having a really hard time breathing and we had to call the nurse. That next morning Johnny had went to lay down for a bit, cause he stayed up while I slept with her for a few hours. Morning came and my cousin and sister woke up and came in. I couldn’t sleep so I went to Walgreens (it’s like rite aid) to get her some stuff and therapy shop for a few things myself. When I got back there were a car in the driveway, I didn’t think much of it, just that it was probably a nurse, but I don’t even think I thought that. I went in… put the bags don, went in her room and she was dying…. The nurse couldn’t get a bp and her breathing was getting erratic and short. I ran next store in a complete frenzy to get my other cousin bobby, hysterical, and then woke up Johnny. Everyone went in and talked to her, held her hand, kissed her. Then she was gone. On January 20th my whole world collapsed. The light in my life was gone. Today it’s 2 months. I’ve never been so lost in my life. I’ve come to accept and be ok with the fact that I am going to cry everyday. Just a little. She was the most beautiful person with the most beautiful soul I have ever met in my life. She radiates positivity and anyone she ever met, was always better because of it. The aching in my chest never stops. She was such a strong energy, it’s so bare without her. I’m sorry this is so long. I just need to vent, to people I don’t know. I need to communicate today, so I don’t focus on the fact it’s 2 months today. I’ve heard every piece of advice possible. It’ll get better, she’s in you, you have her strength, it’s going to a long road but one day at a time. I just … I don’t know… I don’t know what I need to do. I guess today I need to find people I don’t know who have suffered an incredible loss, and reach out. Thank you for listening. And I commend you for being as strong as you have been and am glad you have found a way to go on. Your friend is proud of you, and always will be. May you always find peace.

  53. Thank you for writing this piece. I wish I had a friend like you to call up & discuss the reality of grief with.
    Thank you again.

  54. I know this piece is old, but I just wanted to say thanks. My partner died six months ago, and I am still always looking for good advice.

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