Step 1: Deny
Don’t believe it. Your stubborn rejection of reality will give your body enough time to adjust accordingly. You just talked to them, remember? No more than 12 hours ago. There is no way they are no longer breathing the same air your stinging lungs are grasping for. You just saw them last week, don’t you recall? No one dies within seven days of you seeing them. That just doesn’t happen. The painful goodbyes etched into Facebook walls. The text messages exchanged between friends. The tear-soaked phone calls, of which sobs and hyperventilation create a language only the heartbroken can understand. They are all jokes. Cruel. Cruel. Jokes. Don’t believe it for a second. Your mind won’t be able to handle it if you do.
Step 2: Drink
When reality grips your third and fourth ribs, separates them, and seeps into your gut you’re going to need a drink. Pain sits gleefully on the coattails of denial, and when that bitch slides into home she packs one hell of a punch. You’ll need something stronger than salt water to ease you into her homecoming. Ignore the fact that you are attempting to extinguish a flame with gasoline. Tactfully duck your head when words like “depressant” and “numbing agent” and “unhealthy reaction” are thrown your way. Those labels are about as truthful as the news you received no more than a few days ago. So drinkthefuckup. Buy their favorite booze and buy it in fifths. Buy it with tears caressing the lines of your bleeding mascara and buy it more than once. Order their favorite drink at any and all restaurants, bars, and/or alcohol-serving establishments. Choke back sickness as you make toasts and sit with your remaining friends, reminiscing over hardy swigs and sour faces. You will all need to come together and nothing bonds you like booze.
Step 3: Lose Your Shit
Break. The. Fuck. Down. I am talking can’t-utter-a-single-syllable, barely-abe-to-gasp-for-breath, legs-incapable-of-supporting-you, hands-trembling, stomach-aching, eyes-swelling, stage five level of loss. Feel it. Feel every.single.solitary fiber of inconceivable misery. Focus on the fact that you will never see them again. Ever. Stare at the reality that their voice will never fill the space between your ears. Attempt to remember their eyes. Their smile. Their mannerisms. Their presence. Emotionally cut yourself until you can see the bone of your soul. Don’t save yourself from the anguish. Instead, sink into a sea of longing and refuse all flotation devices. You have to feel their absence. There is no other way.
Step 4: Disconnect
Go numb as the world spins madly on. Become detached from the mundane routine you once enjoyed. Glaze your eyes with the inability to care. Go about work. School. A run-of-the-mill Friday night with friends, as if you were a lifeless member of the zombie apocalypse. Nod when you should. Reply when necessary. Shrug your shoulders when neither work. Answer every, “How are you?” with an, “I’m ok.” Become incapable of savoring an ounce of joy and become jealous of all those who can.
Step 5: Feel Guilty
Begin to believe every breath you reluctantly take is a slap in their face. Replay the night they died and consider all the possibilities where you could have intervened. Hate yourself. Hate yourself for not saving them. Hate yourself for leaving. Hate yourself for not knowing. Hate yourself for not telling them you loved them just one more fucking time. Hate yourself for all the things you didn’t do and, now, that you cannot do. Feel guilty when you do find yourself smiling. Feel disrespectful when life begins to carry you along with it.
Step 6: Remember
Turn up the radio when their favorite song comes on. Remember when they made you laugh or cry or frustrated or happy. Laugh about their shortcomings with those who knew them well. Share sentences like, “God, he would always…” or, “Seriously, he was so crazy,” or “I couldn’t believe he…”. Realize that hidden between the syllables, is him. And him. And him. And her. And him. They are there with you. On a sunny day with the windows rolled down, the music turned up, and hair slithering across your sun-kissed face. Or on a rain-covered evening with a warm blanket, a glass of wine, and a mirrored episode of that one TV show. They’re there.
Step 7: Realize
Realize things will never be the same. Realize you are forever changed by their early departure. Realize you aren’t the only one hurting. Realize you can help those who are, as they can (and will) help you. Realize you will always miss them. Realize it will never get easy, just easier. Realize so much of this is beyond your control. Realize you’re doing the best you can. Realize you have to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Realize others depend on you. Realize the palpable loneliness. Realize your life moving forward. Realize it will happen again with another friend at another time. Realize you won’t be ready for it. Realize that this manual will help.
Then realize that there is no manual for this at all.