I have been so touched by so many people who are grieving since I started sharing my writing. And in the last few weeks I have been touched by many people who have not shared this same type of deep grief but who know someone who has, or was simply touched by the reminder to be grateful. I am grateful for the stories, I am grateful to have touched the lives of people who need that connection.
There are no words that can encompass what it feels like to lose someone who plays a defining role in your life. My husband and I had plans. We were building our lives, we were growing our family. It didn’t make sense that he could die when we had so much left undone. The empty future it left me with, the blank pages of the story we were writing, I never knew exactly where life would take us, but I knew who I would be writing my story with. And then one day, the blank pages of that story we were writing burned, and I was left holding the ashes.
I always believed that life is what you make of it. We all make decisions, some good, some bad. They direct the path we walk on and they create our future. For good or bad, the life we live is the life we have chosen. But I didn’t choose this. How can my life have shattered in the middle of my story when I did nothing to create this mess?
I can give words to the emotions that I have felt through my struggles, but there are no words that will ever help a person to understand what it feels like when the thing that should never happen… happens. When your heart shatters and all you can do is watch the life you almost had burn to the ground. There are no words that can describe the pain that fills your heart and your body when all you have left is the memories. We treasure our memories, but we don’t live for our memories. So how do you live when what you were living for only lives in the past? There are no words that can describe this, because the pain doesn’t live in the body or the mind, and it doesn’t live in a time or place. The pain lives in every breath, in every memory, in every corner of every room, and in the this idea of the future itself.
I spent a lot of time feeling lost and alone. Alone because I lost my husband, and alone because it seemed no one understood. Everywhere I turned, it seemed that someone wanted me to patch up my wounds and put on a smile and tell them I’m doing alright, that it’s hard but I’m moving on. It seemed as though they wanted me to be this pillar of strength that I didn’t feel I could be. The truth is, I did often use lines that I knew people wanted to hear. I’d tell them I’m ok. I’d tell them about the parts of my day or my life that suited the picture they wanted me to paint and I’d get on with my day.
I don’t know why, but we live in a world where we don’t talk about pain or suffering. We don’t talk about our deep personal truths, the difficult ones. I think we have collectively forgotten how. We have forgotten to look outside of ourselves to acknowledge someone else’s pain. We want to get on with our day, get back to our lives, so we do our due diligence and ask, but we aren’t prepared to listen, and we aren’t prepared to feel their pain with them. Instead, we pass along tips, and talk about staying strong and moving forward.
Move forward. Move on. Don’t live in the past. Think about the future. Take in those words. Read them carefully, and then read them once more. Now throw them in the trash. Put them away forever. When a person is grieving the death of someone they love, it is the future that hurts so much. Moving forward is what paralyzes us. Holding onto the past is survival… for a while. It won’t always be like this. No one will stay paralyzed forever. These words, however, can make it feel more lonely. You have the best of intentions, but to one who is surviving a loss so deep, it can feel like you are telling that person to leave their loved one behind.
We grieve because we love. We experience pain that we can’t escape from. The pain doesn’t stop when we are strong, we just learn to endure it. It takes time. My grief is my love for my husband. I wouldn’t choose for this to hurt less if I could. I would choose this pain. He is worth this pain. His life has ended. My daughter, our daughter, and the lives we lead are his legacy. So I let it hurt. I make the choice to feel this pain completely, to let it cut me until I bleed.
It is hard to read those words. It is hard to be there for the grieving, to watch them do exactly that – bleed. But you can’t fix it. I know you would if you could. I know you would take their pain away if only there was a way. You can’t fix the un-fixable. There are some things you can never understand until you’ve walked the road yourself. It seems as though you could do more to help if you just understood, so you try. Stop trying. There is no need for that. So instead of telling them to be strong, let them bleed. There is no running away from the pain. Looking to the future is necessary and unavoidable, but it hurts so much and it’s scary. Let them know you are there through the fear. Sit with them. Be there for them. Strength comes in time, but not in your time. In theirs.
It will not always be like this, the bleeding will stop. So take out their trash, walk their dog, take the kids for a few hours here and there… and listen. Just listen. And if you are ever concerned that someone may be at risk, listen to that voice, not mine. I speak only from my personal experience.
If you are concerned about the health or safety of yourself or someone else, please contact a medical or mental health professional.