You Can’t Unsubscribe From Grief

From Electric Lit:

Replying All on the Death Announcement Email

On New Year’s Day, I got an email from an old writer friend announcing plans to end her life. Her life was already ending. This expedited ending-of-life had been approved by a medical professional. She was electing to die with dignity. Her death was scheduled for the following day. Like a hair appointment or a visit to the dentist.

It wasn’t an email directly to me. I subscribe to her newsletter.

Farewell, the subject line read. That was her voice. Grand and direct. There was no beating around the bush. Happy New Year! the email began and then: I’m planning to end my life.

After I closed the email, I tried to stop thinking about her, but that night, on the eve of when I knew she was going to die, I couldn’t sleep. I googled her name, read every article that appeared on my screen. Read all the hits that weren’t actually about her. The ones with her name crossed out that the algorithm insisted were relevant. Maybe it knew something I didn’t.

I read about all the diseases I was probably suffering from that had nothing to do with her (or the disease that was killing her), I read about all the new diet trends that would shed my hips of love handles (I hadn’t seen her since she got sick, but in her last photo she was rail thin), I read about a minor celebrity cheating on another minor celebrity and then them reconciling and then them breaking up and then them getting back together again (she loved the thrill of gossip)—I read everything in the hopes of catching a glimpse of my soon-to-be dead old writer friend.

A week later, I got an email from a literary magazine announcing the death of its co-founder. I did not know its co-founder. I just subscribed to the newsletter.

I read the announcement from the literary magazine as if it were the announcement of the death of my old writer friend because after she died, I didn’t receive such an email. Because she was not here to write one. Or to send one. Though she could’ve scheduled one. Which is a thought I’ve had more than once since her death. Why didn’t she do that? That would’ve felt so like her. Not so fast, it might’ve read. I’m still here.

After the newsletter announcing the death of the literary magazine co-founder, my inbox was flooded.

I am so sorry to hear this. May you and yours find comfort. Keep him close to your heart.

I didn’t email anyone when my old writer friend died because it felt like I didn’t know her well enough. We met at a writing residency in Wyoming in 2016. We watched the presidential election together: I baked cookies, she bought liquor. We only inhabited the same space for a handful of weeks. So, how can I justify the vacuum suck of losing her?

The day after the election, we sat at a kitchen table and talked about our bodies. About who they belonged to. About culpability. I remember us disagreeing. The strangeness of feeling so connected to each other and then realizing, suddenly, that we may not actually know each other.  

I cannot keep the literary magazine co-founder close to my heart because I did not know him at all.

Life is eternal! Your memories are the tap that keeps him living!

I think my old writer friend would’ve liked the idea of tapping a memory, like a keg or a maple tree.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

3 thoughts on “You Can’t Unsubscribe From Grief”

  1. I also had a friend with ALS and often visited him in a large veterans hospital when I was in town for courtroom appearances.

    The slow progression of the disease is one of the characteristics that make it so hard for the victims. First, you slowly lose the ability to control one part of your body. Then the same thing happens slowly to another part of your body.

    The patient can become very depressed during this long decline as the nursing staff has to increase the number of care tasks it provides for the patient. Even with kind and caring nurses, this outward manifestation of relentless progression of ALS is quite likely to bring on a deep sadness, if not depression.

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