i. Grief will come ravaging into your bones, eclipsing pockets of your heart you didn’t know existed. And much like an unexpected guest—a distant family member overstaying her welcome, grief will cause destruction in every crevice of your life. She won’t care about your plans. She’ll nag you, haunt you, and anchor you to her own. You will try to run from her; you will try to slam the door on her when she comes running down your halls. You’ll hand out eviction notices and she will rip them up in a rage of fury. The truth exists in the way she comes in and wraps herself around you—you can’t out run her. You can’t out hide her. You can fill your days with work, with people, with sleep, with whiskey—but even all of that, even your red eyes, the you-shaped-dent in your bed, the hint of liquor on your breath won’t push her away. She is here. She has arrived. And you will never be the same without her.
ii. Loneliness will set up camp in the walls of your soul and give new meaning to a feeling you thought you’d known before. But this loneliness is different. This loneliness is colder. You will go through your days in a fog, tunnel vision clouding your sight. You’ll walk down a chilly street in a little beach town in November on your way to lunch with an old friend only an hour after getting the news of yet another loss and see Christmas decorations being put up. You’ll feel a tinge of joy, a sprinkle of excitement over the magic of the holidays, quickly followed by guttural pain that will stop you dead in your tracks. You’ll be brought back to all of those times—blood coursing through your veins, when grief forces you to see the world around you unaffected by the loss that only you feel. You will want strangers on the street to see—to feel an ounce of your pain. To remember the person you lost that you loved so dearly. Moments you want to wipe the smile off the faces of people who don’t know. Who never knew. Who were never lucky enough to know how important that person was to you. You’ll seek comfort in people you know—people who know your grief. And they’ll promise you that you will make it out on the other side, you have before. But every new death sheds another layer of your skin and you don’t believe it. Because this loneliness is excruciating and frigid and you can’t imagine finding the kind of strength to push the iceberg off your body quickly enough to let yourself defrost.
iii. You will feel grief extending her arms and making her presence known far beyond the initial moments after someone you love dies. It’s not nearly as gut-wrenching in the time that follows the death. Grief makes herself known far beyond the days where family and friends cling to each other and plead to God, let this all be a dream. It’s in the moments where their presence is missing. In the way their text messages and phone calls that you were so accustomed to stop coming. In the way their scent fades from your memory. Or the way their voice sounds so far away. It’s in the mornings you wake up to Facebook reminders of “On This Day” three years ago when you made a promise to get together. A promise that was genuine, but never followed through. It’s in driving down roads, passing their childhood homes and cursing the moment that he left this earth and left you with now nearly ten years of questions about that night. It’s in walking through the mall into a store where you last saw them. Where they were happy and healthy and you couldn’t even fathom their illness would steal them from you less than a year later. It’s in watching reruns of 90s TV shows that you bonded over. Like Dawson’s Creek, or 90210, or Melrose Place. It’s in big moments like anniversaries, and birthdays, and holidays with an empty chair at the table. It’s in the subtle moments too—in the way that what were once sweet melodies turn into jagged stabs to your heart. In ordering your morning coffee and realizing that they will never taste another holiday drink. In the days you look in the mirror and see the changes in your face—you are growing older, but time for them will always stand still. It’s in the way that you learn to acclimate to life without them, and the guilt that follows in those moments—like you have any right at all to move on.
iv. Grief will make herself known in every inch of your body. It will make you anxious – like you can’t possibly attach yourself to anyone else for fear of losing them too. It’ll make you afraid to answer your phone. Afraid that this is another call, another loss, another funeral you have to attend. Your bones will ache in every movement you make. You will feel bursts of air leaving your chest and you will forget what it’s like to breathe without needing a second to recover from being winded. You will feel your muscles growing weak and you will convince yourself that you will fall – that you will never be able to get back up. But you will not collapse. In the moments between the agonizing realization that life has to move on without the people that you love so deeply, you will hear grief whisper to you. She’ll tell you, “Please do not grow angry with me. Sit down with me, lean into me, get to know me in the really uncomfortable way you get to know long-distance relatives. Ok, maybe you can get angry, but let the anger move through you. Be sad, but don’t let the tears keep you stagnant. It may feel like I am stealing moments from you, but I can never take away the moments you had. Like the years of childhood pool parties, and teenage sleepovers, or all the time spent working together at your high school job, or the years spent working alongside each other at your first real job outside of graduate school, or the weekends spent in college downing cheap beer. So, put away the broom and dustpan, put back the tape, and the hammer, and the nails. Let go of the incessant need to clean this up somehow. Th=is mess is part of life. You will move through it. You will be different, but why would you want to be the same?
v. Grief will stretch you. She will force you to grow in ways you never thought you could. It is important to note that grief is not something to complete, like another task on your to-do list. It’s a shift in perspective, a new set of eyes, a new way of seeing things, a heart that learns how to live differently. Grief puts things into perspective. The absence of your loved one gives you a new found purpose. It awakens you every time you become reacquainted with it. It makes you look around at your life and take stock. Who do you keep saying you’ll make plans with? Who do you need to call just to say hi? Who are you grateful for? Do they know it? Where can you change? What is important to you? Grief will propel you into learning how to live better, love harder, and lean into the moments with the people you cherish the most. Your heart will be callused, and bruised, and broken from the fight, but if death is the only constant in life, loving bigger, and bolder, and harder is the only thing we can ever do. And we have to do it.