I used to host funerals for myself.
That’s about the most morbid, twisted, strange thing I will probably ever admit to you. That I, Hannah Brencher, used to host funerals for myself on the regular. They weren’t funerals where I died or anything. I didn’t recite a eulogy or lay down on the ground like a body with no soul left inside of it. I just would have these moments— these “I want to change everything about my life and the person that I am” moments— and I would remedy those feelings with a funeral.
I’d find a shoebox. I’d fill that shoebox with little trinkets, old indications of an old life, and then I’d duct tape the shoe box up and heave it into the trash. I’d wear black for the day. I called that little ritual a funeral— throwing away who I was to become someone new. Someone better. Someone more likeable. Someone you’d have a really hard time letting go of.
No one ever knew about my funerals. No one ever knew that so much of my life growing up was just a matter of facing a mirror and asking, “Could you just be someone different today? Could you just do me that favor and start over?”
I had one of those weeks last week.
I am sure you know the kind— the kind of week where you get so hellbent on becoming someone new. Where you run down a checklist in your mind of all the things you need to say and do and do better to actually become the person you’ve hoped to be since the first day you realized you could change, if you wanted to.
And so started the quest to be a more efficient human being on a Friday afternoon.
I should mention that it was the Fault in Our Stars that stirred this need to be different inside of me. And some of you are nodding your head, biting your bottom lip, and whispering beneath your breath, “Yes, I know what you mean. I saw the movie. I ugly cried too.”
Well, ugly cried would be the understatement to whatever slow, inconsolable sobbing got released from my lungs while watching that movie. I mourned. I maybe mourned for everything I hadn’t mourned for in the last seven years in the middle of a dark theater at midnight, surrounded by teenagers getting to hold their crush’s sweaty hand for the first time. I mourned deaths, and old flings, and paper cuts, and moments of insecurity, and friends lost, and moments slipped without me ever taking them for what they were. I mourned the death of old dogs, people I never said “I love you” to, yellow benches, bags of clothes once donated to Good Will, just about everything.
And when the mourning was over, my new friend and I sat in the still of an empty parking garage at 2am and we didn’t speak. And we didn’t stir. Just hours earlier, we’d been laughing with massive vats of extra-large sweet tea in our hands. Now we tried to start sentences for a long time. And my eyes were puffy and swollen. And she didn’t know, in that very moment, that I was sitting in the passenger seat of her car wishing I could be someone different— someone who carried the same thoughts and feelings about life as Hazel Grace. Some type of girl who let people in long enough to let them build some type of forever out of a series of counted days.
You see, I am more of the Augustus Waters type.
I am the one who, for so long, always wanted to do something wonderful— something that would make me be remembered by many. I know I’m not alone in that-- in wanting to be the sort of girl who stays on your mind long after you’ve met her. But I sat in the car that night and I wondered if I needed to become someone different— the kind of someone who realizes what she has when she has it. The kind of someone who actually sees the people surrounding her. She’s actually there for the big moments. She wouldn't miss them for the world. My mind trailed back to this one time where I was offered a free trip to Utah. All expenses paid. To just go out there and meet with some entrepreneurs. And I said no because there was a wedding shower. I’d already sent in my confirmation that I’d go. The woman on the phone said, “Let me know if you change your mind.” She assumed I’d change my mind. And I assumed I’d change my mind. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want be that person who forgets the people who are her covering. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t torn between wanting more and wanting what I have. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to strike a balance between the two more.
I want to be that more than anything though— the friend who doesn’t give up. The friend who says, “I’ll be there” and they always, always are. The friend who you can always call— be it for a book suggestion or the kind of conversations that start with, “Hey, can we get on the phone with a bottle of wine and just hang out for a little while? I need that sort of thing tonight.”
So my quest to be a better human being on a Friday afternoon started on Facebook. Because I want to be the type of person who remembers birthdays better and Facebook has ruined me in that capacity. I’ve gotten so guilty with just occasionally looking over to the right side bar of the screen and planting a generic “happy birthday!” into the spaces— sort of like a Mad Libs— and sending my boring message of gratitude that someone got born on that day into the inter webs.
So like I said, I started on Facebook. I took out my planner, the one with the black stripes and gold edges, and I began scribbling down the birthdays of the people in my life. And then I had a panic attack because there were suddenly too many people in my life. And then I rattled through a list of self-constructed questions: Am I good person? Do I talk to them enough? Are they mad at me because I fail them when it comes to text messaging? I should call her more. I forgot her birthday. I never saw it on Facebook. Should I apologize?”
I bullied myself so much that I didn’t get past the just seven days of birthday. I only wrote down seven days worth of birthdays and told myself, “Just start here. Just start with these next 5 birthdays…”
One of the five birthdays was this morning.
Libby. The girl who knows all the coffee shops throughout New York City destined to haunt you after you suck their mugs dry. She’s just one of those people I want everyone to know. You know, the kind of friend that makes you want to find random rooftops so you can bellow to the whole city, “Today, one of my favorite human beings was born! Let there be copious amounts of celebrations and spontaneous parades! Or just be extra nice to people today, she'd want that more than anything on this day.” She wears bright yellow sunglasses. She teaches me not to apologize.
I slipped outside of my office space early this morning to call her. I smiled as the phone rang. I could instantly flicker through all the times in my memory of watching my mother close her bible in the morning and then go to her address book, flip through the pages, and find the name of whoever it was she’d marked on her calendar. I remember hearing the dialing of the cordless phone. My mother would wait. And then the sound of a kazoo being played to the tune of happy birthday would be heard throughout the house. Any person my mother has ever loved could tell you the exact way a kazoo sounds when its left in a voicemail on your birthday.
I left a voicemail. I wished I had a kazoo. She called me ten minutes later and we talked. It didn’t last long but it was enough for the both of us— it was enough of a space of time to say I miss you and I’m proud of you and I’m cheering for you, no matter what.
It made the morning better. And I chose not to find the fault in myself— because I was trying. We’re all trying. And that looks different to some than it does to others. To me, and today, it looks like birthdays. Tomorrow I’ll plot some new way to be a better version of myself. Today it is birthdays though. And remembering to say "I love you."
It looks like I'll accomplish a lot of things today. I'm already on schedule for a productive day. But, for some reason, this birthday of hers will be the thing that matters more than the rest.