“I didn’t know anyone else came out here. I thought Phillip was being forgotten.”
Running into another person in a space I was starting to feel comfortable being alone in led me to confront feelings I had been having and not necessarily dealing with. At first, I was embarrassed to admit how often I visited his grave, and yet I didn’t want anyone to think he was being forgotten.
I had a bench built because I was out there so often. I left letters almost every time, too; though I have lost track of how many I’d written and I probably wrote the same things over and over sometimes. I hadn’t worried about whether or not anyone noticed me out there, or thought about anyone reading what I had written, but for a while after this I felt self-conscious. I started visiting less and less, but not going out there didn’t help with my grieving. I didn’t want to be ashamed of spending time at his grave, but I also didn’t want anyone to think I was being weird.
It was an inner conflict that tore at me until I reflected and remembered that not being who I am to my core was against everything that Phillip had helped me come to terms with for myself. Spending time at his grave was me continuing to show my love for him. As much as I understand that he is not there nor does he linger in any form at his grave, I still visit. I visit because I love and miss him dearly. There is relief and peace that he is not reduced to a grave, but it is also comforting to have a grave to visit.
Phillip was a quiet soul, but he loved strongly and out loud. He poured love into me that continuously overflows, even with him being gone. Heaven knows I wasn’t done loving him either. Love doesn’t die, and on days I tend to feel empty, I am confident I still have his love. Going through life I struggled with believing I deserved love, but Phillip was there reassuring me and fighting against that belief with me until I overcame it. For an entire summer, he texted me “good morning” every single day. The year of my own suicide attempt, I was considering dropping out of high school and college was the furthest thing from my mind, but he pushed me through both. Even when our lives seemed like they were the furthest from being connected to one another’s, he always reminded me that I deserved better than settling into the lows of depression.
One of the toughest struggles in life I faced was when I became a single mom. Phillip had just finished basic training and only had a few days to visit, but he made time to see me. The conversation we had will forever impact me and it was the last time I saw him in person. During that pregnancy, I felt the most alone I had ever felt, but Phillip was my shoulder to lean on even states away. When my son was born that year, it was the last time Phillip came back to visit Texas at all. It broke my heart that we missed a visit. Before my son turned one the following year, Phillip died by suicide.
His death weighs heavier since we were always so open with each other about our daily battles. But I am deeply grateful that love is one of the most powerful weapons you can wield against depression, because his love fought for me and is a reason I am here. I know my love and the love from those closest to him fought for him as well; death doesn’t mean any of us lost that battle but rather our love has followed him to his next place.
This November marks three years since his death and I have slowly grown out of spending time at his grave. However, I have been blessed to become part of a tradition his family now has of an early Thanksgiving in his honor on the anniversary of his death. He is still my family, and through his family, I am able to continue loving him by loving them. Our relationship still has a connection and a purpose though he is gone from this world. His big, beautiful family has been more than welcoming towards me. Phillip’s friendship left me this gift, a place to belong and being around them lets me know him in a new way. Growing relationships with them has let me see how I was able to even meet a soul like Phillip. Our friendship still stands.
I know not everyone has a support system like this, but it has been such a crucial lifeline during my time of grieving. I do want to reassure others though, that there are no set rules for grieving. It especially doesn’t recognize healthy versus unhealthy coping mechanisms. It only recognizes the overwhelming longing for someone who is no longer here and the need to have an outlet for it. Loving your loved one years after they are gone and wanting to express that love by honoring them, wanting to honor them, is not weird. If you ever felt you needed permission or an ok to do so, please let me give it to you.
I would also like to encourage those that are able, if you haven’t, to reach out to others who have been affected by a loss similar to your own. If you were shy or hesitant to reach out to your loved one’s family, know from my experience, you can at least try. I do hope that you are comforted in love and continue to heal and find strength in your own grieving.