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The last living memory I have of my best friend before she died was centered around a Scrabble board. One letter at a time, we searched for those seven letters that would bring us victory. Placing our last words to each other, tallying up points we didn’t know the meaning of at the time. Sharing laughter we didn’t know we’d never share again.

Back in those days, we didn’t have Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat or whatever other things teenagers sneak onto their phones to capture the moments. So the memory is a bit hazy. Not because it was way back in the olden days of the 1990s but because it was followed by trauma. That sneaky thief that seems to push away the golden memories built up over years of time. The one that sets you into a tailspin of incomprehensible grief, loneliness, anger, confusion, and disbelief that the person you love most in the world is no longer by your side.

Every year, on certain days, that pain caves down on me, shattering the millions of moments of beauty and magic I shared with my friend, into just shards of broken glass that somehow can’t ever be put back together the way it was. Every year, on certain days, I hole up into a cavern of emptiness, screaming as loud as I can, and feeling like no one can hear the cries.

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But the thing about grief is at some point it shifts. The storm weakens and the tiny streaks of those golden moments begin to appear again. And even though it is 20-something years after the car accident that changed my world forever, this time, I woke up to something different: the memory of a Scrabble board. And laughter. Like a match lighting a tiny path of clarity, the scale of brokenness tipped more into balance with the memories of the beautiful.

I remembered talking late into the night about how nervous she was to board a plane the next morning to Namibia where she would spend the next few years teaching in the Peace Corps. I remembered lying side by side on her bed, her ginormous stuffed gorilla Louie sandwiched between us, staring at the ceiling and feeling the ache of how much I would miss hernot even knowing at that moment that I would have to miss her for a lifetime.

I remembered her asking me to take care of her mom and dad, to make sure they knew she was following her dreams and forging her own path. I remembered her encouraging words to live my own life for myself. Not for anyone else. Reminding me that I didn’t need to get stuck in the things that didn’t matter, to let the tide wash away the sandcastles of materialism and negative emotion that we construct over and over again.

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I remembered feeling like I wanted to bottle up that moment with my dearest friend in the world and hang onto that magic forever. I remembered waving goodbye to her early the next morning, feeling like a piece of my heart was already missing, but knowing the big wide world would be a better place because she was going to share her light in places most of us only get to dream of. And then she was gone. For all the days to come.

But, today I remembered the beautiful. And that is the hope. That is the gift. The truth that comes down the long and winding road of grief that feels like it will never lead anywhere. One day, we wake up, years later, and beside the broken pieces of our hearts, maybe there is a 7-letter word in that bag of Scrabble letters waiting to be dug out of the rubble. A word like healing. Or hopeful. Or insight. One that doesn’t come easily, but does come eventually. Placed on the board at just the right moment to remind us that the beautiful is still there.

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Amy Keyes

Amy Keyes is a middle school teacher and freelance writer in St. Paul. When she's not cheering too loudly while spectating at her teenagers' sports, she's running, working out, binge watching recommended series on tv, or hanging out with her dog.

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