You are never prepared for losing someone you love. Never. You can console a friend or co-worker or acquaintance when they have suffered a loss but you can never truly understand their anguish. Until it happens to you.
My paternal grandparents are gone, my maternal grandfather, my step-dad, a sister-in-law, the list goes on. All of these were sad but never really devastated me in the way I would later come to feel. I suffered the loss of a baby at 21 weeks gestation. Three years later I lost my mother to cancer, and less than 6 months after that my mother-in-law passed away. These losses changed me. They were knee-buckling, gut-punching, heart-wrenching losses that rattled me to my core and at times I wasn’t sure I could go on. Or if I even wanted to. During this time I have come to know there is a process, things that would have made all the grief a little more easily understood.
1. It gets worse before it gets better. In the days following the loss there is this grief-filled haze that fills your days and nights. It’s a fog that strangely helps you get through the funeral planning and making phone calls to inform people, and all of the other business minded tasks that need to be done. After the funeral, that fog lifts and you are smacked in the face with the realization of your loss. The void is so raw and excruciating that it is nearly debilitating. It is so hard. Indescribable. And there are little moments in those days that you may feel almost normal but then there are the triggers. The blanket, or the song, or the scent, or the shirt, or the silence, that will bring you right back into that realization that yes, indeed, the most important thing in your life yesterday is not there today. This will go on for a while. And it will be harder before it’s easier.
2. Even though your world has stopped, no one else’s has. You will see people walking their dogs, driving to work, playing with their kids at the park. You will see them going to football games, going to the grocery store, and heaven forbid… laughing. It’s true. You just want to curl up in a ball, begging the universe for just one more day and your friends or family have soccer games to go to and will drive through Starbucks for a pumpkin latte and go shopping for new boots for the fall. It’s not fair! It’s. Just. Not. Fair. You’ll want to scream in the middle of the mall, “Don’t you know that this spectacular person has left my world? Don’t you understand that this life was special and meaningful and deserving of even a tiny moment of silence?” But please don’t blame them. Their lives must go on and as hard as it is to comprehend, yours will too. It will be very different but it will go on.
3. No one knows the right thing to say. This is the hardest part. It is hard for you and it is hard for your friends and family. No one knows the right words, no one knows when to say what words, no one. Even if they have suffered a similar loss, it’s not the same. My loss is no better or worse, harder or easier than yours. It is just different. The way you loved them is different, the way they loved you, the bond you shared, the way they died is different, the way you react to death is different. People want so desperately to help in these times, they want to be able to hug you and speak kind words to you and lift you up from your deepest despair, but the words just don’t come out right. Either they aren’t prepared to share them or you aren’t prepared to receive them, either way it comes out wrong. Be patient with these people. Know that hearts are breaking for you and the love you lost. Allow people to say the wrong things and then bitch about them when they leave. They are only wanting to help when help is direly needed.
4. Everything you do is right for you at the time. You may spend days in your pj’s with all of the lights turned off, and that’s ok. You may spend hours sitting in their chair crying, and that’s ok. You may want to get out of the house to see a movie, or go to dinner, or on a walk, and that’s ok. You can be angry at God and the world and yourself, and that’s ok too. It is all part of your process and what you need to experience to be able to come out on the other side. Someone who loves you will probably try to tell you not to be angry or feel guilty or feel hopeless, but it is part of it. You will feel and do things that most people wouldn’t understand to help you cope for that day. And let there be no mistake about it, that is what you are doing, trying to cope.
5. Support groups and counselors help. This goes back to my #3. Your friends and family are not trained in the science (or art) of grief counseling. They have not suffered a loss like you have and come out on the other side. Support groups offer an outlet to just get it all out. They are full of people with similar stories and familiar heartache. They know the things to say to make you feel like you are not alone, this is not a hopeless situation, and that there is a small chance that you will be able to wake up tomorrow a little less burdened by my grief because you have shared your grief with someone else. They don’t judge you, they hold you up, they give you a time and a place to let your guard down and break apart. They give you ideas and lessons for healing, they give you a shoulder to cry on, and they give you just a tiny glimmer of hope.
I hate that death is part of this life here. I hate that parents must say goodbye to their children and children must say goodbye to their parents. I hate that the emotion of missing someone is so intensely debilitating. Even though I hate these things so passionately, as many people do, there is nothing that can be done to change the fact that good people die. I only hope that people are gentle to each other when they have lost a part of themselves. Just reach out, talk about the person they have lost, remember them, honor them. Don’t forget that after the funeral, after the daily tasks return, after there are no more prayers being said, these people are hurting the most. They are their pain, they wear their grief as their skin, they are in need.