First, find out. Find out while you’re at work or driving or talking to your neighbor—some compromising situation in which you can’t show the proper emotion in that moment. Fight tears and feign normalcy. It did not happen.
Refuse to believe. This is the denial part of the five stages, and you’re doing it right. It could not have happened. It did not happen. They were so young. Too good. No way did this happen. It must be a joke.
But it’s not a joke. So, cry. Cry a lot. Don’t cry cute, movie star tears. Cry huge, snotty nosed, red faced, chest heaving tears. Do not stop for anything. Because you owe this to them. You owe them your tears. So keep crying until you feel like a sponge squeezed dry. Then cry more, even though there’s nothing left to squeeze.
Cry in front of your family. They’ll all stare blankly, alternating between saying, “It’s okay; it’ll be okay” and giving each other worried glances. Because they didn’t know them, so they aren’t experiencing their heart being wrenched out their chests like you are. They’re bystanders.
Cry in the shower because it’s easier than letting your family see you cry. Let the scalding water run down your face, mixing with your tears, as you hyperventilate in the steam. Stand there until the water gets cold. It doesn’t matter—you’ve been cold this whole time. Stare up as though you can see into heaven, as though you can see them up there, staring down at you. Decide to stop because all you can really see is the peeling paint on the ceiling.
Stop crying. Wish you could start again. Because now you’re numb. You’re numb and alone and you want to be alone. Your hair is cold and dripping. This is the isolation and the depression stages. Decide these go better together than isolation and denial. Forget, briefly, what really happened, only remembering that you’ve never felt so empty and alone and sad.
Then, remember. Remember in brief moments with such crystal clarity: that they’re never coming back, you’ll never hear their laugh, never hug them, never soak in their essence ever again. Gasp for air. Paint your face with tears again.
Light candles for them. Stare as the wax drips slowly and the wick dwindles. Stare blankly while people around you cry. Because you can’t. Try to console their parents. End up sobbing and turning away from them, because their sadness makes it all too real. Stare at their empty shell as tears threaten to drown you.
Remember them randomly. See things you’ve never noticed before on your daily commute. See things and wish, suddenly, that you could show them it. You’ve never done this before. Think of all the jokes you wish you’d told them. Think of all the stories you wish you’d shared. Think of all you didn’t know about them.
Get angry at time. Because they didn’t have enough of it. Because you didn’t have enough with them. Get mad at people who knew them longer than you did. They’re the lucky ones. They had more time with them. And you, you’ll never have that. Not anymore.
Deny. Denial is supposed to be the first stage, but you’re back at it. Deny it. They’re not really gone. You expect them to text you. You expect to see them at the next party. You expect, you expect, you expect.
They aren’t there.
Where the hell are they? You’ll begin to drive yourself crazy with this question. You’ll begin to read into philosophy. What comes after death? Because you have to know. You have to know they’re okay, that they’re somewhere safe, somewhere better.
You have to know you’ll see them again someday.
Live. You’ll live on. You don’t know how, but you are. Think of them. Often. Still find yourself crying randomly, like in the public bathroom of a Starbucks or while you’re babysitting for family friends. They say acceptance is the final stage, but you haven’t accepted it.
Dream about them. Dream of them coming back for just one more day. Wake up before you get the chance to touch them.
Don’t move on.
You can’t move on.
You have to remember. And never, ever accept it.