Hello to the newly bereaved. I’m sorry to meet you here in the place where loved ones leave you — a place where no one wants to be.
If this is your first time here, you may find it darker, foggier, and more frightening than you expected. If you’ve been here before, you’ll probably notice that things look different than you remember. That’s the nature of this place. It’s always changing, depending on who you’re saying goodbye to.
You may feel incredibly alone right now, so the first thing I want you to know is that there are people who want to help you find your way out of this place. Most people can only join you for parts of your journey, and those who you do and do not see along the way will probably surprise you. But they are out there.
There may be times when you feel let down by your support system, but try and remember, they aren’t trained for this. Most likely, your friends and family have the same good intentions, but varying levels of tact and execution.
Though providing honest feedback sometimes feels awkward, you’ll get more of what you need if you can tell people what is and is not helpful. Also, try and lean on your loved one’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses at least once. And when all else fails, look for the grief safe havens in your community – the counselors, support groups, and grief centers.
The next thing you should know is, there’s no trail of bread crumbs to lead you back to your old life. After someone you love dies, life changes. Joan Didion put it well when she said, “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”
That’s not to say everything familiar is lost. Some things about your old life are already gone, and some will necessarily change, but some parts will stay the same – you don’t need to know which is which right now. Uncertainty is scary, but it’s normal for things to be hazy. There are a lot of things you can’t know right now, but they will become more evident over time.
Also, there’s a lot that probably hasn’t sunk in just yet. Many people say the days following their loved one’s death were a blur. You won’t always feel this way. Actually, for many of you, what you’re experiencing is probably more akin to a temporary acute stress response than grief.
It’s okay to be in shock.
It’s okay to feel numb.
It’s okay to feel all the things you’re feeling.
Grief is a lot of overwhelming things, but it isn’t dangerous. Grief, in and of itself, won’t harm you – though it does mean experiencing some pretty painful things.
As you become more familiar with grief, throw away any preconceived notions about it following a set of stages. Or about grief having a timeline with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s so tempting to believe in something that makes grief seem manageable. But how could anything unique to you and your relationship with your loved one possibly be so uniform?
I’m sorry to say; grief can be unruly and unpredictable. Sometimes you hear the rumble of thunder before the grief storms hit, and sometimes they bubble up out of nowhere, but they do always subside. And it’s through weathering these storms time and again that they incrementally become more bearable. Until eventually, you learn it’s safe to go outside even though there’s always the chance grief could cloud your day.
Your grief will forever be a part of you because your loved one is forever a part of you – and this is the last thing I want to tell you (for now). Your loved one is never really gone from this world. No, they aren’t physically “here” to look at, talk to, or hold, and that hurts like hell. But in mind, heart, and spirit – as a part of the past, present, and future – they are here.
They are here as long as you are here to remember them. Hold onto this truth as you stand in this place where your loved one has left you and fight for it if you have to. It’s the guiding light that will help you out of this place, and chances are it will be part of the foundation on which you build whatever comes next.
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