My friend is hurting.
Her mother has just passed away and there is a huge, matriarch-shaped hole in her family’s life that aches and bleeds. The epicentre of a happy, loving family has left this world and those in orbit around her are struggling to keep on course now that their sun is gone. My heart goes out to her and to them.
There is nothing in this world like the pain of losing a loved one. It physically grips you and takes your breathe away. You can feel it burning in your chest, your eyes, your head. Even for those who knew is was coming, it is still a shock because suddenly they’re just not here.
When the funeral ends, the hoards of mourners leave the house with the empty tubberware and lasagne dishes, and silence descends, it is only then that the earth-shattering, momentuousness of the reality of their death wallops you like a blow to the chest. Nothing will ever be the same again. You think it’ll be the silent moments that will catch you off-guard but its the unexpected things like that song on the radio when you’re stuck in traffic or when a letter addressed to them arrives many months later. That’s when the tears spill out and the body-wracking sobs catch you by surprise.
The finality of it all is crushing. Death is the only thing in life that has such a permanence to it. Even though your head turns every time the door opens, they’ll never walk through it. You’ll never bump into them by chance on the other side of the world in decades time. No one will shake you from your sleep to say “wake up, it was just a terrible dream”, no matter how much you wish they would.
You just want someone to come and save you, to wrap their arms around you and tell you everything is going to be alright. The heartbreaking part of it is of course, the person you think you want to do this the most, is the one who can’t be with you any more. And it hurts.
You want time to stand still, because every minute that passes means one more minute they’re left behind as time drags you forward into the future, even though you dig your heels in. Every day that passes means that others think it’s getting easier and soon they won’t have to ask you how you’re doing any more and we can all just get on with our lives. But it doesn’t get easier, or better, or less painful. It’s just different.
You’re afraid you’ll forget things. How they smell. What a hug felt like in their arms. Those little snatches of special moments that seemed so ordinary at the time but now you cling to them, trying to hold on, like grains of sand slipping through your fingers.
Those first few months are an altered state. It’s like you’re on the inside looking out, watching the world carry on and trying to figure out why it hasn’t stopped and fallen to its knees like you have. You wonder how you haven’t died yourself because the pain is just unbearable, but somehow you keep going. Because you have no choice. One foot in front of the other. And that’s how it goes. People tell you you’re so strong, you’re so brave, they don’t know how they’d cope. But they would, because they have to.
No matter how many people you think understand – because they’ve been through something similar before, or they’re experiencing the same loss as you right now this very minute – no one understands your loss. No one else had the unique relationship that you had. No one else was privy to your true feelings for that person. No one else has your memories, your feelings, those special moments you hold close in your heart.
Grief is a lonely, long road. When it’s all so fresh and raw and you feel like you’re shivering and wet, it’s hard to imagine that road widening and flattening out but it does. You’ll get there. You mightn’t want to. But you’ll get there in the end.