I have written about loss a lot over the past few years, I suppose as a way to “cope” with some things I did not feel prepared to handle. Coping is a strange concept. I do not think you ever really get over it. I think you live with it, as best you can. Yes, I have gone on, I have done things; I get up and continue on every day since I refuse to just give up. You get used to it, you go on anyway, but you are different because of it. These are things I learned from losing people I love. I still say love, present tense. And how I changed, for better or worse.
1. You join the club.
When you have lost someone you love — I mean really, truly loved — you start to notice grief in other people. I know I did. Even something as simple as uttering the sentence that you lost your person, the reaction you get can tell so much. I can tell from how people respond and the look they get in their eyes if they have lost someone too. You start to recognize each other like you are part of some terrible club. If I had to put the look in their eyes into a word — even though there really isn’t one — it would be tired. Grief can make you so terribly tired. You get so sick of there being so much gravity weighing down your heart. You get tired of waking up in the morning and realizing after a second that what ever happened to you wasn’t a nightmare. Sometimes I’m still getting used to being this person who has this truth, who wishes she knew what to do to with it, who wishes she never had to join this not-so-exclusive club.
2. Sometimes bad things just happen.
Science tells us that human beings long to see patterns, to recognize and categorize all we come into contact with. We want to see these patterns so badly that we manufacture them, make up cause-effects, and assign links where none exist. There is not always a reason things happen, which is a fairly terrifying realization. Sometimes, they just do. I understand that a lot of people disagree with me on this. No one can ever convince me certain events happened for a reason. I can find meaning around the situation. How it made me stronger than I ever wanted to be. How it gave me courage. How some of my friendships were strengthened from it. Maybe those things are just my way of trying to force reason onto something unreasonable. But the actual event itself…I cannot find any meaning for it. It has just become this horrible thing I live with. And quite dreadfully, it is possible to live with horrible things. Divine or otherwise, I do not think anyone planned for things to be this way; I think sometimes things just are and you have to navigate the wreckage accordingly.
3. Life keeps happening even if you need time to grieve.
I could not think in years after I lost him. Seconds, moments, minutes I could handle. Anything beyond that I did not dare to think I could control. I could get through the moment I was in. Then that one would pass and another would come, and I would get through that moment too. For a long time my life passed in moments. Then suddenly, it was months later. It did not feel as though months had passed. I still felt the same: still ached, still could not sleep, still held back tears any time I wasn’t alone. The entire universe continued to operate on days, weeks, and months while I operated moment by moment. Time just changed for me. Now I see days and months and years again, when I am at my best. But there are still an egregious amount of days I am forced to live in moments.
I have to say I think it is cruel that the world does not stop when one needs time to grieve. No one teaches you how to lose someone. No one tells your friends and family how to help you through it. No one tells you the 5 stages of grief do not come in order, and they do not have a statue of limitations. Work still has to be done, deadlines still have to be met, and the universe does not care one bit that you are only a fraction of what you were. It is not easy, it is not fair, but it is true.
4. The 5 stages of grief do not happen chronologically.
A while back, a lady named Kubler-Ross came up with the idea that there are 5 stages of grief people experience after suffering a loss. These emotional stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Of course, how and when these stages hit is different for everyone. You may experience only one or all of those, as well as a hundred other possible feelings. I almost wish they each happened, and they happened in a specific order. That way I could wait for one to pass and check it off the list, inching ever closer to acceptance, never set back and always pushing forward. A linear timeline I could point to and say, “this is what I have to survive, this is all that is left to get through this.” As one of my favorite authors John Green has pointed out, the world is apparently not a wish-granting factory. These feelings do not happen in order and on a schedule, they wax and wane as they please. There is no time period after which you will no longer feel these things, no statue of limitations on mourning, no way to know when they’ll hit.
5. The bad days do not ever really go away, and that is okay.
There are days my lungs refuse to take in air. The alveoli protest, and the muscles refuse to expand and contract and relieve me. Days where I gasp and ache for air that only comes in short insufficient bursts. Days when breathing is no longer the autonomous, thoughtless process it should be. Days where I plead with my head and heart to stop thinking long enough for me to inhale, exhale, and repeat. Bad days happen no matter how long I have had to grieve and cope and process.
Some days like that are marked on the calendar — anniversaries, birthdays, holidays. Sometimes I can even plan around them. I have learned it is okay to make time to miss someone on those days. It is perfectly reasonable to take a step back and be sad, because it IS sad. Even if it happened a long time ago it still matters. If it did not matter it would not hurt in such an almighty manner. It is a blessing to know this pain, to have had someone who made saying good-bye so impossibly hard. As the Doctor once said, “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
6. People do not always know how to act around you.
The first time I lost someone who was truly important to me, people just looked at me with sad eyes. No one really said anything to me. A teacher might pat me on the shoulder in what I am sure was an attempt to be consoling, but just as no one teaches you how to get through it, no one teaches your friends and family how to help you through it, either. It is incredibly sucky to understand and accept that, but even the best-intentioned people may not know what to say to you.
7. The universe is not messing with you personally.
I know the world can treat you badly. It is hard and cold and it does not care about you personally. It is hard not to take it personally when bad things happen around you. I lost a few good friends in a short time span and I could not understand how one person could be expected to cope. In fact, I did not know how I could be expected to not become a basket case under the circumstances. I wanted to blame the universe for putting me in an impossible situation, but I realized the universe was not doing this to me personally. I do not believe the grand ever-expanding universe is concerned with the temporary speck of dust that is my life. If you are alive then live, and take solace in the fact that everyone has moments where it feels like the universe has a personal vendetta against him or her. The universe may be screwing you, but I do not think it is personal.
8. You are never ready for big changes, even if you think you are.
You may think you are ready for a big change but I do not think things hit you the exact way you expect — even if you have had time to prepare for it. When the big moments come, I do not think it is possible to prepare. In fact, I believe a lot of times the big moments are not planned; they happen in a second that was supposed to be normal. There is no big flash of light or warning sign to make it distinct from every other ordinary moment. Then the moment that should have been ordinary goes wrong, and you adapt as best you can.
9. You do not ever get to be the same again.
When we mourn, we often forget that we did not just lose them, we lost part of ourselves too. The person we could have been with them, and the future that we now don’t get the chance to have are gone. It is hard to be left behind, a part of you buried with them. Everything changes in an instant you cannot control, and you are left to deal with the aftermath. You change and you long to keep them alive. It is why I write about them, because it helps keep them alive and with me. Which I know may sound crazy, but I do not think it actually is.
I want to remember the people I love and I want to keep talking about them because staying silent about their lives seems worse than death. I know staying silent is how some people choose to deal with loss, and that is okay. Everyone deals with it differently, and there is no wrong way to do it. I could not stand to let death take away the good memories I have of someone or make the time I spent with them seem less important. Even too-short lives can be good lives. I choose to remember them because I know that when I grieve it is because I got to love someone, and nothing can make that weightless. I learned it is okay that you do not get to be the same, because I am forever grateful, blessed, and honored to have been part of their life. I would not change being someone who got to know that love to be someone who does not know grief — even though there are days where the pain was so great I thought it would kill me, and a few where I hoped it would.
10. You become thankful for the days you can think of them and smile.
When you first lose someone, it is hard to imagine that it will ever stop hurting or that you will ever survive it. Mostly what I have learned is it does not get better necessarily, it just gets….less. But it will hurt less, and it can survive be survived. As irreparably broken, gutted, hollow as one may feel, it does not kill you. Which is actually almost cruel. While it may feel as though a dementor has sucked every last hint of happiness from your chest, you will have days where you think of them and you do not cry. There will even be days you smile while you remember them. I have learned to be thankful for those days, which fend off despair like my personal little patronus charm. I know that is what they would want for me, and how they would want to be remembered — with love and joy instead of pain and tears. I do my best to honor their life and remember them, and while it has weathered me I am stronger for withstanding the storm.
To Eric, who taught me so much more than the things in this list. I love you, present tense. “I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”-John Green
And to my Dad, who always encouraged me to write in the best and worst of times. I hope you’d be proud of who I have become.
And to everyone I have lost, and to those who will understand this. I pray for you to have days where you think of them and smile.