I’ve been staring at this blank screen for weeks. I want to write. I want, no, I need to write in order to get this grief out of my head/heart and into something more manageable. The fact that I’ve had a worrisome PET, that my new meds are proving complicated to handle, and the fact that the world has gone crazy … these I can handle, sorta.
The awful and wildly overwhelming grief that I need to get out is because my dear friend, Emily Garnett, has died. She took her last breaths on March 29, 2020 and I’ve not been able to fully breathe since.
I “met” Emily online in 2018 and stalked her until she invited me to be on her podcast. I don’t fangirl very often but the outpouring of love and grief at her passing reminded me that she has a lot of fans. We had such fun, laughing and sharing stories. I have two boys and her son and my youngest are probably the same person in different bodies. We bonded about that and how much we have in common, not the least of which was that we’d both been to law school, survived, and went on to use our law degrees in ways that fed our souls.
That was the beginning of many many conversations, so many late at night when insomnia hit us both. We collaborated on projects and had our own snarky exchanges that just hit the spot. She was the first person I told about what was going on with me medically (outside of my family, of course) and we exchanged info on doctors and trials and studies and how to help various people get their needs met. We both love cats and memes that have the word “fuck” in them and our text exchanges were full of those. I keep coming across things that she would love and that’s just another reminder that she’s gone.
I’m an introvert, which basically means that I get energy by being by myself. My husband and I joke sometimes about how awful I am at small talk. Like really awful. I am at my best in deep conversations with a few people or a defined role in a larger group.
That was not Emily. I was not surprised at all when one of the people posting on her timeline about her death was someone she met while taking the bar exam in 2013. In contrast, I didn’t talk to anyone when I took the bar exam. I was also not surprised when so many mutual friends eulogized her and talked about how she was their best friend. Emily was a true extrovert and her energy is part of what drew others to her and the others around her energized her.
Emily was amazing at making each person she was with feel as though that person is the most important person in the world to her. Others have talked about how the entire atmosphere changed when she walked in the room. Others have talked about how her death is like a sudden lack of oxygen in the world.
These are all true.
The first time I met Emily in real life was October of 2019 in DC where we attended the Metavivor Stampede, the METup Die-in, and we both read in the play, IV our lives. I treasure those memories. I will always treasure those memories, especially because there was little sleep and lots and lots of work, work that was worth every trial. The voice of Beth Caldwell in the play will always contain echoes of Emily to me.
When I was pregnant, I kept coming across the line … “having a child means that a part of your heart will always be walking around in someone else’s body.” I’ve definitely found that to be true with both of my boys. And while friendship is very different from having a child, a piece of my heart will always be with Emily.
And that grief, I know, is the price of love.
I love Emily. Not in a romantic way, but in a deeply significant part of my heart and soul. I knew, as we all do in the metastatic community, that since we were both terminal, our relationship would be cut short by death; one of us would die. And I wonder if that makes relationships like these so much more intense, poignant, meaningful. Maybe that’s it. Whatever the explanation, what I know is that her death is hard and it’s overwhelming and it hurts in the deepest part of me.
I’m tempted, at times like this, to pull away from the metastatic community. I’m tempted, at times like this, to protect my heart from being broken over and over. I’m tempted, at times like this, to not connect with other terminal patients, to withdraw. It is in the midst of this overwhelming grief that I am tempted to escape from the possibility of being hurt.
And then I remember how Emily poured into me, how she was always ready with a joke or a meme or an “omg, me too!” comment that just made it all easier and lighter. How she had so many plans that she just couldn’t finish. Her passion for life and her husband and her son and her community.
And I can’t withdraw.
Emily showed all of us how to be all in. She modeled it in so many ways. Her legacy is an example to follow, to celebrate, to emulate.
I love you, Emily, always, and I will never forget what you taught me.