When Eirinie Carson 's charismatic, whip-smart best friend Larissa died suddenly of an overdose at age 32, Eirinie was utterly devastated. The two were soulmates who had conquered London's music scene side-by-side as young artists, emboldened by their sisterly bond. But privately, Larissa had long struggled with the demons of addiction that would ultimately claim her life.
In our raw conversation on this week’s episode of the Peaceful Exit podcast, Eirinie shared insights on her arduous journey through grief and memorializing this dazzling, complicated friend. She revealed how writing helped process her profound, complex grief over losing Larissa so abruptly, resulting in her acclaimed memoir "The Dead Are Gods." Eirinie's thoughtful approach provides lessons in courageously honoring lost loved ones.
1. Remembering the complex, real person
Eirinie paints a full, unvarnished portrait of Larissa’s creativity, intellect, and style along with her struggles with addiction. She is careful not to flatten or deify her vibrant friend in memoriam. “The notion of not speaking ill of the dead is something we carry along. But that just seems so flattening,” Eirinie noted.
Her approach shows the power of remembering lost loved ones truthfully, in their complete humanity without judgment. Eirinie compellingly captures Larissa’s dazzling charisma and talents as well as her painful addiction, refusing to gloss over any part of her dear friend’s story. She pushes us to reject the temptation to oversimplify or idealize those we’ve lost. Rather, we must recall their full spirit - light and dark, strengths and flaws alike.
2. A loved one's story includes their death
Eirinie admits avoiding Larissa’s cause of death at first, wary of stereotyping her. But excluding Larissa’s heroin use erased part of her friend's story. “I couldn’t tell Larissa's story without including that, because that is a part of her life. It’s how it ended,” she says.
Eirinie compels us to see a loved one’s whole story with clear eyes, even difficult parts that may feel uncomfortable. Though heroin cut Larissa’s promising life short, it was intertwined with her experience and thus her narrative. Eirinie shows we cannot separate someone’s death, however tragic, from the totality of their life. Grappling honestly with how a loved one died is key to honoring the full arc of their story.
3. Sitting with survivor’s guilt
Eirinie still feels the cruel guilt of living fully while Larissa’s bright future was stolen. “I wonder what she would have been like...that’s the cruelty of grief, the robbing of possibility.” Her honesty models acknowledging such tough emotions are part of the grieving process after untimely loss.
She bravely opens up about the guilt that haunts survivors of loved ones taken too soon. Though painful, she urges us not to shy away from this difficult piece of the bereavement journey.
Grappling with the injustice of loss is key to integrating the reality of their absence into our own lives. Eirinie shows we honor those we’ve lost by sitting with the uncomfortable emotions their passing stirs up.
4. Ask their name
When people share losing someone, Eirinie asks their name, cementing them in memory. “That’s a way of continuing,” she says. After my own mother’s death from cancer, I now aim to adopt this small but powerful act of comfort for the bereaved.
In this simple practice, Eirinie teaches us the power of bearing witness to others’ grief. She reminds us that even small gestures can provide great comfort and open the door for grievers’ healing stories. In being present as people remember those they’ve lost, we keep their spirits alive.
Eirinie inspires us to honor our own lost loved ones through daily rituals that keep their complicated stories present. By courageously translating grief into words, she ensures Larissa’s extraordinary spirit endures.