Learning to sit with emotions – especially difficult ones – R.I.P. my best friend Chrissie

As time passes by the feeling of loosing beloved people weighs on me. Must be the aging process and sure enough I am not alone with this feeling. More and more often people are gone forever, the World as we know it becomes a different place without them. Every death brings us closer to our own mortality. Every lost soul reminds us that we too are passengers here on Earth, we too shall leave sooner or later. But it also reminds me of the mark we leave behind. Have we enriched the lives of others while we shared this space with them, have we hurt many knowingly or by accident? How shall we be remembered? Perhaps we were never acknowledged for our true self. Perhaps we remained in a shell throughout our lives, never having the courage to show who we really are. My dad used to say, for an artist not the share his or her art is like a crime towards human kind. It took me a while to fully understand what he meant. Not revealing a talent, not sharing nor spreading beauty around through creation is a true shame. I believe that many people remain hidden during their lives and that is a sad fact. Even so the impact we can have on people around us is enormous simply by how attuned we are with them. How sensitive we allow ourselves to be with them, how we are able to stand by them, give a helping hand, thought, give them our support. For some it comes by nature to be honestly open and kind and carry everyone on their heart. The friend I have lost was one of these rare people, and the pain of loss is awfully heavy.

A week ago She left us tragically and dramatically at the age of 56. 42 years we have shared together on this Earth as best friends, needless to say I am truly a fortunate person to have had the privilege of having a friendship like that. We spent our high school years together and when part of my family moved to Finland, Chrissie and I never really lost touch. Seeing each other every summer in Budapest where I would stay for a few months on holiday when I was a student in Helsinki, we carried on as if I’d have never left. We shared just about everything till the very last day of her life, the smallest funny things like what to wear to a wedding or Midsummer Eve, what kind of nail polish to buy, how to style hair, what to cook and bake and how to run a business. I don’t remember any occasion during this time of 42 years I wouldn’t have checked with her first, what’s her opinion on any subject. I knew I can trust her like no-one else. Always having my best interest at heart when advising me, but not just me, that was the way she was with everyone. We have lost parents already and shared our grief together, celebrated siblings’ newborn babies, all the ups and downs life threw at us. No matter how difficult something may have been, having her beside me eased every hardship. She was beside me when I got married and as I was a nerve wrack she just knew how to pull me together and guide me. When I had my miscarriages she was crying with me, and gave me hope to carry on when I was suffering a whole lot. It is strange how karmic relationships go. We were living tens of thousands of miles apart when she lived in Abu Dhabi for instance, but that didn’t reduce the intensity of our friendship. She was my sister at heart, we did consider each other family and that is a true blessing I think.

It’s been a week now that she is gone. I continue talking to her during the day, every day. I wonder now, will I ever stop? It’s this emptiness that forces me to sit with feeling of loss. Certainly not the first time nor the last. But learning about myself for many years I finally arrived to this calm presence where I am able to sit with pain. And just watch and feel. Not to judge, not to call it names, not to tag any emotion by naming it, just sit with it, let the tears fall if there is a need for that. Even this experience and the bare realization that I have arrived here is through her, and with her. I get the chill when I write these down, the feeling is profound. Gratitude and sadness interwoven.

I remember when my mother died, actually I must go back a long time before that. My first experience with death as I remember and peoples’ reaction or rather behavior was when my dad’s mom died. I was 5. Everyone was sad, crying, distressed, shut down and not really functioning in our house. I didn’t know what death was, I understood I think that my grandma is not coming home from the hospital, but I was left alone with my feelings, nobody really sat with me to nurture me to make sure I understand that this too will pass. I was just a young child and didn’t know any of the family background obviously. I don’t think I would have understood much had anyone explained why is it my dad was in pieces, why love disappeared from our house. I think I just learned to mind my own business while the others mind theirs so to say and to get out of the way. I was probably sad seeing sadness around, but couldn’t feel the sadness. Big difference. Dr. Gabor Maté calls it tuning out. I think I was tuning out a lot when I was a child. To protect myself. My heart most of all.

Then my grandfather died in Hungary while we were living in Finland, my mother’s father. I think I was 20 or 21 at the time. He lived to be over 80 and died peacefully. I used to paint with him in their tiny apartment in Pest when I was young, I remember him smoking a pipe while painting. Such a lovely man, kind and loving blue eyes, even though he was captured and taken to the Gulag by the Soviets at the end of the 2nd World War, he didn’t loose his heart and humor during those 3 years in prison. I admired him a lot and have learned about writing and painting from him from at an early age. He wrote the most beautiful poems to my grandmother when they were apart. When he died I couldn’t attend his funeral sadly, it was utterly distressing for me, needless to say.

Actually I was just heading back to the UK when my grandmother passed away, my mom’s mother. I was 29. Neither occasions provided me with any room for grief, I couldn’t attend her funeral either. It’s like there is no closure. Loosing loved ones when they are relatively old is obviously different from a sudden death, but still. I know now how a funeral brings peace to the heart and a closure to the mind. I saw pictures of the funerals of my grandparents, but couldn’t honestly mourn their passing and close a chapter of our lives together on this Earth. They were all in a mysterious place where I couldn’t reach them. As I got older, I did understand what has happened, my mind was functioning but my heart was a bit left behind. I remember arriving in Victoria Coach Station in London when I just found out my grandma passed away, I was crying so painfully when I saw my husband of the time, he thought I had a broken bone or some injury he can’t see. I was really close with my grandmother, went to visit her in the hospital before I have departed, combed her lovely long white hair, sat with her, told her that I will be back for Christmas again. Hugged and kissed her good bye. It was a warm September day I will never forget. I had my mother and Chrissie to rely on during that time, first time I honestly needed help with feelings of such pain. Chrissie lost her granny already so she was my rock all the way. There were memories we have shared of the oldies and soon enough I have come to terms with this strange and awful thing called death and loss.

I have already talked about my mother’s passing in this blog. Such a painful event I am still shaking just by reliving it in order to be able to write about it. I knew the time will come because of her illness, but one can never be prepared for the emptiness a loved one’s passing leaves behind. It’s terminal. Absolute. Cruel. Cold. I think the support of family members that they are able to provide to each other is crucial to stay sane in such a distressing time. I didn’t have that support from every member of my family sadly, on the contrary. During those distressed weeks leading up to my mother’s funeral I was totally thrown by the malice I have experienced. My ever so sensitive heart broke through that viciousness. I think I have learnt that grief does bring out the true nature in people. Whether it is empathy, support, sadness, anything and everything that sits with the true self. I would have most probably died from heart ache without Chrissie during that awful 6 week period in my life. But she kept me sane once again with her never ending kindness, support and love for me. I was able to fight for my right to attend my own mother’s funeral, which by itself is a horrific experience I do not wish to relive. It is strange how different cultures treat death in my opinion. Nevertheless I am lucky to live in a culture that is humane and most probably shaped simply by forces of nature i.e. we have long winters here in Finland and the land stays frozen for long periods of time, so we bless the dead and cremate them yes, but the burial might take place months later. The ashes are waiting in the homes of family members or a funeral home. I think this is really honorable and beautiful in fact. Later I have learnt it’s not a characteristic only of the North but rather a common way of processing the necessities all around the western world.

I think I also mentioned my father’s death during the Pandemic. Now that was once again something I do not wish to relive ever again. I was told what my siblings have decided regarding the funeral. Malice and viciousness entered life again already when my dad was in hospital with Covid. Awful memories, I am having chills just by remembering them. As with many people during the Pandemic, I could not travel either, and since I wasn’t even asked what my wishes would be considering there is a way of delaying funerals (at the time in Hungary the number of deaths were on the rise so there wasn’t even a possibility for a quick funeral) once again I was left all alone with a broken heart and the loss of my father, no support or any trace of empathy whatsoever. Looking back one could call this kind of behavior all kinds of names, but we know all too well that when you put a name to something (anything in fact like for instance cancer) it gets a definition. And definitions are man made “contracts” of how we then perceive the subject in hand. So I refrain from calling the events and behaviors any names, I leave the reader to create a feeling through my text. Anyway, family as we know it ceased to exist for me, and once again, if it wasn’t for my darling friend, I would have most probably gone insane. But there we were, writing and speaking, crying and laughing. Weighting the options of me jumping on the next available flight or not regardless of Covid regulations. I didn’t get my Covid-19 vaccine back then, so basically I couldn’t travel, there were no flights either for a while. But. Strangely this time was different. The pain and sorrow was targeted at my dads passing and no matter what people around me were doing, it didn’t affect me anymore. I was there with my heart and my feeling of loss and that was mine to experience. I was talking to my dad throughout the time he was in hospital. Talking through my heart. In return he passed me the little energy he had left and my following scans were clear. I do not expect everyone is able to understand these words, but that is what Chrissie told me, so that’s what I too believe. In that pain and sorrow I found peace, love and gratitude with her help. I don’t know where she got her strength and clarity from, but she always had a spare for anyone in need.

So why do I have the need to write about these utterly painful moments now one might rightfully ask. I think it’s because with Zen meditation and mindfulness there has been a shift in how I perceive life and me in it. Strange enough we discussed faith and God and religiousness with Chrissie many many times, and we always arrived to prayers in the end. It really doesn’t matter in my humble opinion what faith one practices, the power of prayer is Universal. And in prayer we just sit with the emotions. We connect. The joy, the pain, the guilt, the gratefulness – we sit with all the emotions. If we are lucky, after a while prayer brings peace and joy to our hearts regardless of the situation.

Knowing that this too shall pass. And while it lasts, we have the chance to decide how to relate to it. This is the teaching I would have needed when I was a young girl. For someone to explain to me that the feeling of sadness and miserable is OKAY. No need to run from it, no need to suppress it, no need to suffocate it, no need to tune out or to try to deny it. It’s normal to feel sad and hurt and lonely and lost from time to time, but it’s equally important to know that as with everything else in life, this too shall pass. So there is no need to direct the painful emotions and create more suffering though it. To be able to live through pain but not get scattered by it. Not to get broken to pieces by it. Not to get consumed by it so much so that the breathing stops.

This is what I am working on daily now. My beautiful friend has left, so I have her memory to rely on. I breathe in slowly and out even slower knowing the air we shared doesn’t have her life force in it anymore. So I sit with the emotion and will watch how sorrow and sadness will slowly fade with time. Love and joyous memories are preserved in my heart though. She is locked in there forever and ever, till the day I die.

In loving memory of Chrissie Swart ❤️

Krisztina (Chrissie) Swart 1966-2022

P.S. she would have proof read this blog post before posting. We had this thing you know ………

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