In October of 2016 I experienced loss. In the course of 18 months I watched a vibrant woman so full of life, fight tooth and nail against the vicious disease that is cancer. The day she was diagnosed I felt this crippling sense of loss, because for the first time in my life an hour glass appeared; with me clamoring to hold each moment with her before it slipped away. Some days the hour glass seemed to have more time and I could breathe, but then other days the pace quickened — — and I was with her when it finally ran out.
You’re never truly prepared to lose someone. You can tell yourself in the days leading up to (if you have the luxury of knowing the inevitable) that you’re ready, that it will be okay, that you’ll face the adversity of loss, and you’ll be alright. You may be in the first hours, days, or even weeks because there is some certainty and distraction in what follows a death — everyone responds to this part differently. You do not have to feel a certain way, do not let anyone tell you how to feel.
I received so much advice over the course of the days that followed her death, and her funeral, “This is for the best”, “She’s not in pain anymore”, “Keep living for her”, “It’s gonna be hard but you’ll come through this okay”, all sentiments that I appreciated and held with me, but what was missing was the answer to “how do I do this?”. No one told me how to deal with life after death — -the vacuous space and feelings that would manifest in weeks or months.
The sun still rose and set, Halloween, one of her favorite holidays, came and went without her. My birthday, a day always marked by her calling to tell me she held me first and there was a rainbow the day I was born, passed without that phone call. My friends and family had babies, and I couldn’t call or text her to tell her about any of it. Thanksgiving without her cooking and baking. Christmas, the literal embodiment of her, came and went. The New Year was a significant one, because it was the first year without her in it.
The hardest part is that life still goes on, and it does not wait for you or your grief. Grieving is right at the edge of where things are and where they ought to be. People will forget that you just experienced great loss, or that you’re going through emotional hell. There will be joys that you may not feel immediately, excitement all around when you feel exhaustion, or on days when you’re supposed to feel sadness, you may feel nothing. I am navigating a new life right now, one that I was not given a map for. There have been road blocks, there have been setbacks, but there have also been new paths discovered, a small strength drawn from each day that I conquer. If you’ve experienced loss, you may have felt all of these things, or none of them.
I’m here to tell you that’s okay.