It was two and a half months after Brad’s death. I was running away and was in Florida at the time. I stubbornly refused to celebrate, not wanting to acknowledge the day. Not wanting to acknowledge another minute had passed without Brad. And with the exception of a “non-celebratory” stop for tacos and tequila at the nearby hole-in-the-wall mexican joint, we didn’t. It was my 34th birthday and my first major milestone. And I was exhausted.
Grief is exhausting. All the time. Even the mundane, daily tasks require 100 times the normal effort, oftentimes requiring superhero strength just to get to the pile of laundry taking over a significant corner of my bedroom. Grief also has a way of taking previously joyful occasions - like holidays and anniversaries and other momentous celebrations - and turning them into gut wrenching sobfests.
And ‘tis the season for big milestone dates, coupled with the constant reminder of where I was this time a year ago (With Brad celebrating our anniversary in the Upper Peninsula. With Brad healthy and happy. With Brad sick. With Brad dying.)
I am constantly tallying an emotional checklist of all the major milestones I've already survived this season and the ones I have yet to get through. Each one preceded with copious amounts of dread and followed by an exhausting emotional crash.
Wedding Anniversary: Check!
My Own Cancerversary: Check!
One Year since Brad's Diagnosis: Check! (Barely.)
Annual Holiday Party: Check!
New Year's: ?
One Year Since Brad's Death: ??? (FUCK.)
Some of these moments are beautiful and joyous occasions. Others are harsh and traumatic reminders of what I've been through. Both can feel unbearable having to tackle alone. But I have no other option than to keep moving and get through them.
And that’s the thing. What used to feel like days I had to get to, now feel like days I have to get through.
And each milestone feels heavier than the last, breaking me down just a little bit more. Each one adds to the weight I have to carry with me. Each one, I silently carry alone. Until I can’t carry anymore. Until the weight of it all crushes me.
It feels like there is no escape. And in some ways there isn’t. Grief is my constant companion - it also just happens to be the loneliest company.
Getting through all the “firsts” this year has been a rollercoaster. It’s been lonely and empowering and joyful and painful. After January, I’ll be in my second year of milestones, which I hear for many, is worse than the first year. The first year is a blur of basic survival. The second year is when some of the grief filled haze lifts and reality really sets in. The unbelievable reality that this. is. my. life.
Every day I move forward - every milestone I get through - feels like a step further away from Brad. One day further from “the last time” with Brad. I’m constantly juggling the juxtaposition of wanting to move forward and find meaning and happiness and purpose in this new life, but still gripping so tightly to my past one. I hold hope for my future in one hand and grief for the loss of my past in the other. It is the confusing and uncomfortable dance of both pushing myself forward and digging my heels to stay back.
It is a delicate balancing act carrying both life and death, joy and sorrow.
Ultimately, it’s all a reminder of time. Time we had. Time we didn’t have. And mourning it all.
Next year I won’t be able to look back at the previous year’s milestones and think “this time last year” with Brad. Next year, I’ll be looking back on just myself.
And somehow, in spite of that heartbreaking thought, time - and me - will continue to move forward. One day at a time.
Guest Post: The Bradford Frost Memorial SIT Study Abroad Scholarship Fund - By Jake Byl and Jessica Santillo
There is something powerful about being in the right place, with the right people, at the right time: It changes you forever.
For us, a pivotal moment happened on a study abroad program in Durban, South Africa in 2004, when we met Brad.
The program was a field-based immersion program that, unlike many study abroad semesters, integrated students fully into local communities. That made for incredible growth, hilarious mishaps, deep friendships, and a rudimentary grasp of the Zulu language (such as “Yebo Gogo!” means “Yes Grandma!” and can be used when answering the phone).
Brad was such a profound part of that experience for us. He asked great questions. He really listened to answers. He made people laugh wherever we went. In many ways, Brad was the seasoned sage of the group because he had already done an SIT study abroad semester in Switzerland. But in other ways, Brad was like the curious child of the group who was willing to ask difficult questions or marvel over a new sight. With his mix of wisdom and curiosity, he helped turn what would have been just an interesting semester into a profound one that changed how we see the world and the people we share it with.
Like many of you, the SIT Study Abroad South Africa 2004 alumni have been struggling with how to deal with Brad’s untimely death. How to honor him, remember him, and continue the great work that he was doing. And at the same time, figure out ways to process our own emotions and connect with others who are doing the same thing. That is why, together with Brad’s friends and family, we have created The Bradford Frost Memorial SIT Study Abroad Scholarship Fund to honor Brad, and his lifelong commitment to connecting with people—whether in his Detroit neighborhood or on the other side of the world. Keeping with that tradition, this scholarship will offer promising students from public universities, community colleges, or HBCUs the chance to study abroad—students who are too often underrepresented in college study abroad programs. In fact, Brad was the only one of our cohort who came from a public university. There are no other Bradford Frosts out there, but we need more people like him.
We need to raise $5,000 by the end of this year in order for this scholarship to get started. Please consider a donation of any amount. It is a fitting activity for this time of year when we gather ourselves and look back at our year to count our blessings and mourn our losses.