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Learning to Live Around the 'Hole'


After my daughter died, people often said to me “time heals all wounds” and I desperately wanted to believe them. Well, it has been 12 years and I am not healed. Now when I speak to the newly bereaved about death, this is what I say…

The death of a loved one creates a hole in your life. A hole that time, in fact, will never heal. But someday, in the weeks and months and years from now, you will slowly, slowly learn to live around the hole. You will even learn to love it.

Imagine a giant hole in the middle of your living room. Maybe the hole came suddenly with a traumatic ripping crash or maybe it came ever-so-slowly as you watched it grow, unable to stop it. It does not matter how it came. Imagine it there. Big and gaping in the floor of your living room.

The first day, you fall in hard. The fall bruises you badly to the point you can barely move. The only thing you can even think to do is sit at the bottom of the hole, hugging your wounds alone in the darkness while you sob. You feel certain that your house is ruined and the rest of your life will be lived here at the bottom, in the deep pain and endless solitude.

After a couple of days, you grow slightly aware, from down at the bottom, that your friends and family are moving above you, taking care of you somehow, but you can’t see. You are consumed in the quiet of the hole with how helpless it is there. The mere thought of ever getting out seems impossible to you.

As time passes, your friends and family finally lift you from the hole. It takes them days and weeks, but together they do it. Yet all you do once you are out is sit quietly and stare into the hole, your feet dangling back into the abyss. The mere sight of it seems an abomination to you, but you cannot help but look straight in. You cannot bring yourself to look around the living room at what your house used to be. It all hurts too much. Your friends and family quietly tiptoe around you, and the hole, fearful of accidentally knocking you back it.

One day you finally get the strength to stand up, and begin to move slowly through your house. Your movement hurts almost as much as your fall into the hole, but the familiar things give you some unexpected comfort. Yet, the first time time you walk back into the living room, you fall smack in the hole again, all the way to the hard, dark bottom. Why? Because for all the years of your life there was no hole and your living room was cozy and complete. You simply cannot figure out a way to move through your house without falling in. It hurts as badly as it did that very first day. You want to give up. You tried so hard to get out, but just ended up back in the darkness again. You feel as though you may never be able to crawl out of the hole again to face your house. But, once again, your friends and family help you out. More quickly this time.

Eventually, you learn to navigate around the hole. It is still there, big and ugly as ever. But soon you teeter on the edge with arms stretched wide for balance, very consciously avoiding it. Day by day, though, it becomes more natural. Soon, with a huge leap, you can skip over it. Some days, you even get a small smile as you leap and you say, “Good morning, hole. I see you.” And life returns, again, to a new normal… around the hole.

Sometimes, still, years later, you fall in when you are carrying a large load or are in a hurry in your life. It still hurts as much as it did the very first time you fell in. But you can lift yourself out of the hole now. You walk more gingerly for a couple days as the bruises heal, but life in the house continues. To your surprise, the hole has become a part of your house — a part you love — a favorite thing. You can no longer imagine your house without the hole and you can no longer imagine your life without the dance around it. The hole is not beautiful, but it is yours. It is all you have left of them…

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images