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Remember - Memoir of a Friend
I want to remember. I want to feel, and I want to release. A lot of this memoir is a recovery process of mine. In time, I will be healed. A lot of times what I find myself stuck in a bind. I don’t want to be in that bind anymore. In every recovery process there must be a goodbye letter written to all of your demons. You must say goodbye to the battles in which have haunted you, the addictions that have gotten in your way, and the fears that have stopped you from reaching your recovery. I try and do a few things, among these are: breaking free from my boundaries, holding back from nothing, cutting loose all assumptions, and finding what’s real.
Too many times throughout my life have I let something go wrong and because of it, chose to make some foolish and naïve decision that caused me even more hardship and heartache. And in what I write to you, I want you to be constantly reminded of one thing throughout your reading, and that is that there is never time in life for error. There is never a reason to stop in a time of battle, and complain, feel defeated, or feel useless. And I needed to write this to get that overwhelming feeling of defeat and uselessness off of my chest.
Just last October, in 2007, I lost my best friend and what I would pretty much call family, to a horrible disease that he battled all his life. Cystic Fibrosis, which mainly affected his lungs, caused him a terrible rollercoaster that he lived on through up until he was 21 – way beyond what doctor’s even expected. Today I am much different because of this. I have grown from this, learned from this, and I am choosing to move on from this. That doesn’t mean I will forget this and put it behind me, but I will put the feelings of sorrow, sadness, and misery behind me. I will never forget the amazing triumph this little man showed though.
I met Greg when I was at the very end of my freshman year in high school. Greg was unlike anybody else. He was a strong, talented, creative, artistic, and rambunctious 21 year old all packed into a little, tiny, 5 foot and 92 pound body. In the process of having the disease and taking the medication necessary to treat it, Greg’s hormones were affected. So he was really small! But for being so small, he had so much life, strength, and direction in him.
I won’t ever forget what the call was like the night of October 7th, when I was told that my best friend Greg was not going to make it. Earlier on in the day I had been told that it was just another hospital visit; that Greg had checked into the ER because of stomach pain, which was usual for Greg because he had suffered from an upset stomach a lot. But then his symptoms worsened, and they worsened fast. Before I was able to get to the hospital Greg was already sedated and decisions about whether to keep him on life support or do surgery, or let things be or don’t let things be, were all being thrown around the air as to what to do.
I still remember the smell perfectly, too. The smell of latex, the smell of disinfectant, and the stale, cold, air conditioned smell of the hospital. These all overwhelmed my nose when I walked into the hospital room, to sit in on my best friend’s last and final hours here on Earth. Because he carried a virus, everybody who wanted to enter his room had to glove up, gown up, and make sure all of their clothes were sufficiently covered. I can remember it like it was yesterday.
The blue latex gloves came in different sizes, we went through boxes and boxes from constantly leaving and entering the room again. I can still feel the “snap” the gloves made as I slipped them over my shaky and hesitant fingers. I didn’t want this to be real, and I didn’t want to have to be putting on gloves to visit my best friend in the hospital. Just sitting here, writing this, makes me choke up, and I’m not even talking. I’m writing.
After putting on the long yellow gown and having my other best friend Kari Ann tie it around me – she was Greg’s fiancée – we entered the room together, holding each other’s hands. She had already been there, and was long awaiting my arrival. This was so tough. I turned the corner, and saw my precious best friend lying peacefully on the hospital bed. Breathing tubes down his throat and out his nose, his whole entire body relying on the technology and mechanization of the 21st century. He exhaled, and inhaled, and exhaled, and inhaled. The machine exhaled and inhaled, and exhaled and inhaled for him.
I took my gloved hand, and ran it across his forehead. He did not look like himself. He had caught a virus that most people catch and can fight off with natural immunity. However, because Gregory was born with Cystic Fibrosis, after a lung transplant at ten years old, possible surgeries on his art, and scars to show his fight across his chest, he had a low immunity. Medication that he had taken over the course of his life to keep his lungs operating normal (most lung transplant receivers don’t live long), had made weakened his immune system. I remember when I met Greg his family would say to me “Jorden! You can’t ever come over if you’re sick! It’s not we hate you, we just can’t expose Greg.” We’d all laugh, because it really was the truth. If I was sick, they’d tell me to go home or get out before anything happened.
So because of his immune system, he caught this virus and it overwhelmed his body. I quietly moaned in the thought of anything like this ever happening – an amazing 21 year old who’s life is being taken from this world’s cold and harsh disease and infection. I couldn’t hold it back anymore, just like everybody else in the room that already couldn’t, and I started to weep. I cried and I cried and I cried while I picked up Greg’s hand as he lay there in complete peace. He was heavily sedated so he couldn’t feel the pain of the virus taking over his body. There was nothing we could do this time for Greg. His time to go and be with the Lord was tonight…
The overwhelming emotions of watching my best friend and closest thing to a brother lay sedated in a hospital bed ripped my heart apart that night. I can remember the white little socks that the nurse had put on Greg’s feet to keep him warm. Greg always got really cold easily, even during the summer.
Those gloves I wore kept getting in the way though. They prevented mobility and a smooth touch. So I asked Greg’s parents and the nurse if it was alright if I took one of the gloves off so I could hold Greg’s hand that night. I wanted to be next to him the whole night. I held on and I never let go. The mix of shaky emotions and the freezing cold air conditioning just right outside of his room caused me to shiver. I still remember it – I never stopped shivering and shaking that night. Now I know it’s not because I was cold, but because I too slowly felt the life slipping out from under my feet. I was feeling empty. The taste of my tears was too much for me and I grabbed a tissue near his bed and wiped them away; that didn’t help though. The tears never stopped rolling, and they beaded off my cheek continuously all night. It got to a point where I didn’t even think crying was still humanly possible for me. Although everyone around was talking, crying, conversing, and whispering to Greg that they loved him, and he brightened their life – there was a quiet blank void in my head. I heard nothing. For the first time in my life, people were talking, but I heard nothing. Physically I could hear. Mentally, there was nothing there. I was in a void.
As I do not wish to go into full detail, I left that night with one less friend on Earth. And although I knew that Gregory was instantly in front of Jesus, and face to face with the Lord and the Kingdom of Heaven, I could not help but feel the absolute feeling of grief.
Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was to get high later that night when I got home. Thank God, I picked up the phone and had called another good friend of mine and they came to get me so I could stay the night. I didn’t want to sleep at home. I didn’t, in fact, for a really long time. And when Greg was alive, it was not that I had even stayed the night at his house on a daily basis. No; that wasn’t it. The feeling I felt was a feeling of emptiness and brokenness. My world was shattered and I felt that if I was alone I really didn’t have anything left.
I felt like a soldier who was wounded in battle. There was no point to me; there was no point to where I was going or what I was doing. Everyday I woke up was another aimless, bullsh** excuse of life. I couldn’t ever help but think why someone who was so precious to so many people, who was full of so much life for such a small human being, and who cherished life so much, was taken away. In my heart, I knew why. I knew that God wanted to relieve him of his suffering finally. And Greg deserved it. Greg deserved to be present with the Lord. I just couldn’t stand him not being here. And I did feel selfish, but I also felt like I had a right to feel the way I did, because I just lost someone dear to me.
As months went on, I really did start to lose a sense of my identity or who I was. I wasn’t ready to go on; I wasn’t ready for other friends of mine to be there for me. Because even when friends were there for me, I didn’t feel like it was anything comparable to Greg. I still felt empty and I still felt dead inside. The feeling numbness is pretty much what caused me to spiral out of control and dig a hole so deep for myself that there wasn’t any way of getting out without the help of someone else.
For the next two months or so, I binged on drugs. I popped painkillers, that is all. Other drugs weren’t for me. I just needed to feel numb and relaxed. I was too anxious all the time. It felt so good to know what was going on but not care about it anymore. It was euphoric, and I felt like I was at an advantage point to others who were still in the grieving process of Greg. I didn’t mind the fact that I had to do drugs everyday to get rid of all of my problems; I just liked the fact that for once they were all gone. I continued using and using and using all of my problems away.
Eventually after two months or so, not only had the fact that I had lost Greg not change, I also started to lose other friends of mine. Aside from that, I lost a lot of weight too. I was a loser. Constantly losing everything and everyone. I lost my job, I lost my identity, I lost money, I lost a sense of who I was or where I was or what I was doing. I didn’t even remember Tuesday from Saturday. It was ridiculous. I woke up one morning and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked like sh**. I had lost easily a good 14 pounds, which you can instantly tell on a person who is 5’11” and only weighs 135 at his healthiest. I finally decided enough was enough. I don’t remember what morning it was, or what day it was, I just remember I decided to stop.
I stopped for a few months, too. It was good; I went on though, just going through my days, lost and in a daze. So many people noticed. Eventually, I went back to using. Today, when I write this, I have only been okay for 10 days. Life is still an ongoing struggle. However, something has drastically changed for me after writing this. I have realized that the only way to overcome an obstacle is to talk about it, to release it, and to heal from it. The recovery process is long and hard, and I usually like dig a deeper grave than I have to, which is an ironic statement if you get what I mean.
I still think about Greg daily, but nowadays I think about him and his life in a different aspect. Yes, he is not here, and some days are better than others. But, he is with the Lord, as these are my beliefs. Also, Greg’s life was an inspiration to many others, not just me. Greg’s personality and attributes harvested so many good relationships and taught me so many different virtues.
More than anything, I liked Greg’s appreciation, determination, stamina, and non-complaining attitude. Greg had every reason in the whole entire world to complain about having a disease that plagued his life and hindered from doing a lot of things. Greg spent more days in the hospital throughout his whole entire life than days out of the hospital. I liked that Greg loved God and loved people. He wasn’t afraid to speak up the truth and tell people what was real. He was down to earth, charming, funny, and always there to lend a helping hand. Gregory had a huge heart, and he always showed hospitality toward others, which is a direct reflection of what his family has taught him and he was always sure to do what Jesus would have done for others.
Not only did Greg help me come to know the Lord better, he also taught me the fundamentals of having fun and not letting other people get in my way. When I met Greg that 4th of July, he, Kari Ann, and I spent every waking minute together that whole entire summer! Kari Ann worked as a barista at a coffee stand, I worked at a clothing store, and Greg was getting hired at the end of the summer for T-Mobile. Our schedules never conflicted, so we were always able to be around each other all the time. Greg helped me overcome different personal obstacles and battles, such a drug addiction that had formed at the end of my freshman year/beginning of my sophomore year. Greg showed me the brighter side to life and that we didn’t need drugs and alcohol to enjoy life. Greg was never numb to what was going on around him. He was always in the here and now, and was always prepared for whatever was coming next. I loved that about him, and I try to take that with me today.
Out of everything I have taken with me from the friendship and the time spent that Greg blessed me with, there are a few things that I wish to tell everybody that they too can take with them, even though they didn’t know Greg. I have learned from Greg that there is never a reason to complain. The origin of happiness is completely up to the person. I can’t rely on other people, things, places, money, or substances to make myself happy. Being happy is a decision that you make when you wake up every morning. Happiness isn’t for weak people; it’s for people who can handle the truth, who can handle sadness, destruction, and not always a good time. Happiness is key in not breaking down. I learned that from Greg. I will take that, and distribute that, like Greg did. Life is going to be full of obstacles, opportunities, love, fear, death, structure, and destruction. But it really is up to you to make sure you grow from mistakes, you learn from what you’ve lost, and you choose to make progress in your life. And that, is what I live by.