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The things I learned from Jamie
His life, and the way he lived it, has inspired untold people.
We’re all familiar with the pedestal effect that happens after a person dies; we brush away the bad parts and remember only the good things about the people we miss. It’s a lovely, albeit limiting, thing that our sweet dumb brains tend to do as we try to make sense of loss and find a bit of comfort in its wake.
I admired Jamie while he was alive. We had a solid and caring relationship, and I felt happy and carefree in his company. Sure, there were times that we fought or annoyed each other, but overall, we were supportive, appreciative and loving. I will forever be grateful for our marriage, and hope to use it as a model for future relationships in my life.
After Jamie died, my admiration for him went through the roof. Thinking about all the ways I missed Jamie was one thing; seeing the far-reaching effect his death had on friends, family and acquaintances was another. The man was beloved. It’s a platitude, but he really did leave an incredible impact in a short amount of time.
Jamie had a zest for life that was infectious and near-impossible to match. It was so fun to watch him taste an expertly crafted espresso or describe a masterfully directed film. He was warm and friendly, and had a knack for making anyone feel comfortable in social situations. He had a booming laugh, a giant smile, and eyes that radiated kindness.
In the two years since he died, friends have composed songs, hosted improv shows, painted murals, gotten tattoos, and written countless words in honor of Jamie. We’ve done these things in a sort of frenzy: an effort to make sense of a senseless death, to uncover lessons from someone who still had so much to teach us.
It recently struck me that, as much as I learned from Jamie while he was alive, I’ve learned even more from his death. I think the same is true for many of the people who miss him.
As Jeff Foster writes, “To allow our hearts to break, to soften them, to sink deeply into the knowing that everything will fall, everything will pass, everything will crumble, can be the great portal to awakening. We simply stop taking everything for granted.” Jamie’s death, as awful and unfair and untimely as it was, gave me that gift. By losing Jamie, I gained a new appreciation for life.
There’s a very sweet but clichéd piece of advice that people often offer me: Jamie would want you to be happy. I don’t doubt it — Jamie hated to see me sad, and the memories I cherish the most are of us laughing uncontrollably. Whenever Jamie made me laugh out loud, he’d celebrate the moment like a prized personal achievement.
Yet, I also believe that Jamie would want, or at least expect, me to be sad — devastated, even. I’ve spent a lot of the past two years navigating soul-crushing sadness. I’ve cried for hours on end, felt like a burden, and convinced myself I was all alone. I’ve been mean to people I love, and even meaner to myself. I’ve asked questions without answers and desperately searched for meaning in music, books and nature. I’ve tried — and often failed — to find comfort in solitude. I’ve had to say goodbye not just to Jamie, but to his belongings, our marriage, the family we were planning, the friendships we were building, the dreams we were chasing, and the life we lived. Sometimes I think about the day I’ll have to say goodbye to our dog Henry, but the sadness is so heavy that I can’t bear the idea for long.
In the past two years, I’ve experienced incredible moments of happiness, too: the kind of happiness everyone says Jamie would want for me. I’ve been writing more and walking more and managing my stress better. I quit a job that frustrated me, and am finding work that challenges me. I’ve fallen in love, which I still feel guilty about sometimes, but I’m cheered knowing that Jamie would have been fast friends with my new partner. Most of all, I have greater gratitude for life and the relationships within it.
Jamie wanted to be a film director. He loved movies more than anyone I’ve ever met. Sometimes I think about the cinematic way that his life ended: running a race, aiming for an elusive goal, and dying within a mile of the finish line. It’s cruel and fitting all at once. Jamie wanted to tell stories that inspired others, to create scenes with lasting impact. In the end, he did just that. His life, and the way he lived it, has inspired untold people. His influence continues on, and it doesn’t show signs of lessening anytime soon.
My friend Eli Banks was one of several people who wrote about Jamie on the anniversary of his death. “If you knew Jamie, he made an impact on you,” he shared. “It's been said a thousand times in the last two years, and should be said a million more. He leaves an impression that's baked into your form. I don't know if he understood what a force he was.”
I don’t think we fully understood what a force he was, either. Like so often happens in life, we didn’t recognize it until he was gone.
When Jamie died, he left behind many unfinished projects and unrealized dreams. That’s heartbreaking, of course, but it also brings me comfort. Research has proven that we’re often at our happiest when we’re working towards goals. Jamie was aiming to get across that finish line in under two hours. The days before, he performed in improv shows, making notes afterwards on ways he could have been better. We were planning to adopt, and Jamie was amassing an impressive list of books to learn how to be a good dad. He carried a pocket journal everywhere, and his last notebook was filled with house projects to finish, recipes to try, jokes to tell, and ideas to implement at work.
All of those unfinished projects and unrealized dreams remind me that Jamie was fully living life. It’s a model I aspire to follow. My friend Manav Tanneeru has written some of my favorite words about Jamie, and he put it best: “You were always two steps ahead of me despite my being years older. And, now you’re a compass, a true north for a set of choices to come.”
Jamie taught us how how to live a life that’s worth remembering — and that requires fully living. More than wanting us to be happy, I think Jamie would want us to feel alive.
p.s. I was featured in the latest Sunday Soother newsletter with some “Trying & Buying” suggestions. I’m not sure I’m cut out for the influencer lifestyle, but it was fun to pretend!
p.p.s. Know someone who would like My Sweet Dumb Brain? Encourage them to subscribe. You can also share this issue on social media. And if you’d like advice related to this month’s theme of “love and loss,” ask me! We’re going to get through this month together, friends.
Good job, brain
I'm currently reading: The Way of Rest: Finding the Courage to Hold Everything in Love, by Jeff Foster. Moving in with my partner has meant exploring his book collection. He suggested this might be a helpful read to navigate the grief wave I’m experiencing, and he’s 100% right.
I’m currently inspired by: Jamie, duh. I miss that amazing man more than a newsletter essay can properly express.
I'm currently aiming to: Make, and stick to, social plans. I isolated a bit around the two-year anniversary of Jamie’s death, and it’s now time to crawl back out of my shell.
Whether you’re grieving or know someone who is grieving, Megan Devine offers tons of valuable resources to help.
Ben Loehnen wrote a beautiful and relatable essay about love and loss: “Time doesn’t necessarily dull grief’s anguish, but it does provide the tools and the space for its control. In the early days, it only clobbers you.”
And Ann Bauer shared how her son’s death has made her less quick to respond with anger: “Grief, in my case at least, is a strange advantage. I’m slow now ... slow to think, slow to speak, slow to anger. I don’t have the energy for fury, my own or anyone’s.”
For your sweet dumb brain
One of the cruelest truths of life is that we will ultimately leave or be left by the people we love most. The good news is that impermanence can teach us some of life’s most important lessons. What has death taught you? How has it changed your views on life and what’s important? Think back to a significant death in your life, and write down three lessons you learned from that loss.