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When Grief Changes the World as You Know it

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As you wake up, for just one split second, your mind jumbles your dreams with reality, leaving you unable to distinguish between what is “real” and what occurred only in dreamland. For just a moment, you’re back in an alternate universe, a universe in which your loved one was still alive. They were eating cereal with you at the kitchen table. They were wearing the familiar yellow dress that you remember with such clarity. They hugged you and kissed you on the cheek as you got up from your chair.

Then you wake up, and in those few dazed seconds, you slowly feel your heart break again. Because you realize it was a dream and that it was all in your head. The dress, the hug and the way life used to be only exist in the past and in your memories. And you are faced once again with the stark realization that your loved one is still gone.

Grief shows up in unexpected places, when you least anticipate it. It emerges from the shadows even in the moments in which you thought you were “doing OK.” You’ll be watching a movie and suddenly notice the silent tears sliding down your cheeks. Or someone will tell you a story, or do something that reminds you of the person you lost, and all of a sudden the weight of the world will be back on your shoulders. At other times, grief’s heaviness will drown you. You’ll wave your arms over your head, praying that someone will send you a lifeboat to get you out of these tumultuous seas.

Other people will certainly be there to hold your hand, and to love and support you. But the truth is, grief is a very lonely feeling. A feeling which no one can really save you from. And there are no “right words” that will truly suffice in a time of such pain and heartbreak. There are no words that can honor or  recognize the immensity of the loss you are experiencing. Perhaps the inconsolable nature of grief is what makes it so difficult.

Grief shakes up our world so much that we shatter into broken pieces, like fragmented slivers of mosaic glass. The world as we once knew it now appears strikingly different, its pieces broken and rearranged in an unfamiliar pattern. We are faced with the daunting truth that it would be impossible to put the broken shards of glass back together, as some are missing and some are simply too small to find. Some are lost, gone for good.

Slanted photo of the horizon with beautiful clouds over a body of water

This is what loss does to us. It shifts our reality. It doesn’t allow us to return to “normal,” because our ‘“old normal” no longer exists. Our world has changed, as it now lacks someone who was irreplaceable, someone who was extraordinarily special. Our world has suffered a great loss. So have we, which makes changing inevitable. We have lost someone who meant the universe to us.

As much as we wish we could heal and move on, we are confronted with an unavoidable darkness, a darkness that will not be easily resolved. Rather than trying to rush healing, we must face the sobering truth that sometimes tragedies happen and we can’t make them better, at least not immediately.

In these times of grief, it helps to understand that this enormous world is full of both good and bad. Indeed, it is full of joy and light, but it is also full of suffering and of hardships. Sometimes before we can begin to heal, we have to feel the pain. We have to understand that our lives have been changed, and not necessarily for the better. Sometimes we have to stand in the dark, with the knowledge that there may not be a light for us to turn on. In these moments, we will realize that this darkness and this pain will change us, and somehow we have to be OK with this.

Perhaps not every tragedy or every loss has a silver lining.  Perhaps some people are taken from this world way too soon, and sometimes their story ends before anyone was ready. Perhaps we can’t always find light in the face of death or loss. Perhaps sometimes, death is just an ending. A fragile, heart-wrenching ending.

But we can be grateful. We can be grateful we were so deeply loved by this person. We can be grateful for how this person shaped our life. We can be grateful we had the opportunity to know them. We can be grateful we were able to share this precious time together.

But we don’t have to be “OK” with our loss. We are not obligated to search for a silver lining when we are grieving. We are not obligated to find light in this darkness. Sometimes all we can do is just let things be and cry when we need to cry.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply continue forward through the tunnel and face whatever comes our way. When we do come out of this on the other side, we will face a different world. A lonelier world, a world in which the days may be overcast for a long time. But we will get by. Eventually, we will adjust. We will learn how to live with the loss. We will learn how to live with the hole in our chest. And we will smile again. We will laugh again. We will acknowledge when we see something beautiful again.

By no means does this negate the pain or erase the loss. It simply means that even though we may grieve forever, and even though this hurt may stay with us long after they are gone, we can still find magic in the world.

In time, when our loved one shows up in our dream once again, maybe we won’t feel quite so devastated when we wake up. Instead, maybe their presence will bring us comfort. Maybe their presence will bring us the sensation of creating a new memory with them. Maybe for those few seconds, even if it was just a dream, we will be reminded of how special they were to us and of how lucky we were to have been loved by them. And maybe, just maybe, over time our grief will be translated into love.

Images courtesy of the contributor

Originally published: April 17, 2020
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