Your life is split into a before and an after and the only way to get past it is to live through it. And live through it again. And again. And again. At least, that’s what you tell yourself.
You live through it, recounting every single detail, trying to make sense of it, even though you know for damn sure it never will make sense. You live through it, telling yourself that you have to take steps back in order to take any forward.
You live through it again because that’s the first place your brain takes you when you think of it, so you obey. You run through the events of That Day again. And again. And again.
But, does it really help? You’re not sure. All you know is that it makes your stomach tighten and close up and then you’re not hungry for the rest of the day. You know that once you live through it privately, you invite yourself to live through it everywhere else.
In class. On the bus. In front of friends. In the middle of a run. Everywhere. And with the invitation, you also welcome the shock, the horror, the gasping-for-air-panic-tears. And, you welcome them because you know that you shouldn’t stifle them.
You need a release every now and again. If you hold it in, bad things will happen. You know that. And you also know that living through it in your head won't change anything. But, you do it anyway.
You don’t talk about it. There’s no need to talk about it, right? It’s done, it’s over with. He’s gone and not coming back. You’ll talk about it if prompted but really, what’s the point?
It is a thing of the past now. Just another event in your timeline. You then become angry that you get to live out your timeline while his was cut short. But fairness doesn’t come in to play here in this life on earth.
So, you start to write. You begin with a journal; one that you found in your basement. People are always telling you to write things down. That writing down your thoughts helps a lot and that you could really benefit from writing in a journal.
But, what do you write? How do you start? You think your mind moves faster than your hand can produce written words, but you do it anyway. And, it helps a little bit.
You picture yourself sitting in therapy, thinking that if the therapist had any solace to offer you — which, of course, she couldn’t possibly — it would be, “Go back there. Go back to that day. Think about it. Talk about it.”
Wouldn’t that be step one in the denial stage? You know the stages. You know what is expected of you. You want to be a willing participant in this “journey,” as they call it.
How nauseating is it that life-altering grief is comparable to a vacation? Nonetheless, you convince yourself that delving into the Deep Dark Place must be beneficial in some small way.
So, you do it.
And it hurts. Worse than anything has ever hurt before.
It doesn't hurt like a broken leg hurts or your girlfriend breaking up with your hurts or even losing your job hurts. No, no — those feelings of pain and despair and desperation are moderate forms of pain. They are peaceful in comparison.
It is difficult to use metaphors and “imagine if’s” to explain the pain to someone. You cannot limit it to purely physical, emotional, mental or even spiritual pain. You decide that the pain of grief deserves its own bodily category.
You come home to your mom and dad, who pretend their lives have meaning. You convince yourself that someday, they will find meaning again, and don’t take to heart that they disregard the fact that you and your other brother are still alive and need them. It’s okay.
They’ll come around, you think. You’ll grow up and get married and your dad walking you down the aisle will give his life more meaning. And then, your first child will give your mom’s life more meaning. You just have to get there.
But for now, you watch them move robotically about the house, tidying up, passing time, waiting for something. Why does it seem like they’re waiting for something?
Your dad watches television to distract himself. That’s good, right? As long as he’s not crying, that’s good. People ask you how he’s doing; they ask if he’s doing any better yet, because he’s obviously worse off than mom.
You want to look at them and say, He’s still here. He’s still alive. He’s still my dad, continuing on with his life. That’s more than I could have ever hoped for. Because, you see, when something this unimaginable happens, you are thankful for the little things.
Little things, like your dad still being there the next day when you wake up. You think, why don’t more people appreciate just being here? That takes a lot. Especially after losing a child.
It hits you that the one you lost will not age. If you lost him at 21 years old, he will stay 21 years old forever. He’s always been older than you, but not anymore. You’ll turn 21, then 22 and then suddenly, you’re older than him. How does that make sense?
It doesn’t. It doesn’t and it never will and you have to take that fact, nestle it deep inside of you, and accept it. Accept the not knowing and the unanswered questions and the anti-aging process of the deceased. Dislike it, but accept it. You can at least do that, you think.
Looking at pictures of him starts to get weird. At first, it was fine. It was like looking at any old picture of him.
But as the days and weeks dragged on, you realized he should look a little different now; his hair should be longer and he should look older. At least a few months older? You’re not sure if you can get used to this. But then again, you don’t have a choice.
Your anxiety skyrockets. If this can happen to anyone — if it can happen to my brother — on an ordinary day, what else can happen? Why isn’t Mom answering her phone? You call her seven more times until she picks up.
“I can’t imagine such a thing…” you hear them say. They even say it to you. The people in town talk, you know. You think to yourself, You’re right. You can’t imagine such a thing.
You physically and mentally cannot imagine this because imagining isn’t real. Imagining is imagining, and I don’t care if you’re Dr. Seuss, you can’t imagine this. You can’t produce the feelings that I’m feeling, just by sitting there and thinking really, really hard.
And you are so lucky for that.
I hope that you never hear those words. I hope that, for the sake of your continued life, you go on living with your whole family right there, next to you for every birthday and every holiday. I hope that you appreciate them.
I hope they appreciate you. Because that same instant during which you think you’re invincible or that the world cares about you at all is the exact same instant that can split a life into a before and after.