Nobody can prepare you for the vacuous chasm you will feel in your chest. They will tell you how hallow and empty – but simultaneously full of intense sadness – that you will feel, but it will not accurately describe the actual feeling when you discover someone you love is gone.
They are dead. Whoever they were, whatever they were to you, is no longer in their body. Whatever your beliefs are may govern what happens to them after that, but eventually you will have to recognize their body is now a shell.
The smiling face that once greeted you, perhaps lit up your entire day, is now slack. It is dead. The hands the once warmed yours are cold and stiff. Maybe these are the thoughts that will keep you up at night for a while. Maybe it will just be the confusion and utter desperation when you walk into your home and remember they are gone, or pick up your phone and realize you could text them, but they won’t text back. You might agonize over your last words, or lack thereof, wishing you had known what was going to happen, hoping they knew you loved them.
Today we are at a further and far more painful disadvantage. Thank you, Facebook. The social media of the dead linger after they are gone and while it is soothing for some, for others it is just an excruciating reminder of what has come to pass.
You may find yourself feeling nothing, and this is normal. You may find yourself wailing incoherently on the bathroom floor at 2 am. This is also normal. The chasm within you will swell and widen, and shrink so small you will feel as though you have nearly forgotten about the pain. These too, are normal feelings.
One day, after the pain has subsided and you can see clearly, no matter how well your life is going and how well adjusted you are, maybe you will find yourself in a familiar part of town that will remind you of this departed person. You may not even be in the same town; maybe you will be on the other side of the country but smell something that triggers a memory. It will be intense and vivid. A moment will flood every sensory receptor in your brain. You will be with them and they will be with you, if only for a moment.
Maybe you will laugh or cry, but you will finally understand that regardless of how painful it is, those we love never really leave us. They will sneak up on us at a state fair, an old video store, in our attic, a woodshed where the light hits the dust through the slats just right…it doesn’t matter. They’re there in memory, waiting for you to notice, waiting to be enjoyed after the unbearable agony that is grief gives way to the strange, sometimes equally upsetting, bittersweet happiness that is loving somebody who is dead.