I recently spent time with a woman in the new hours of her worst tragedy. Her heart is still raw, the tears still flow freely, and the brain cannot yet absorb just what has happened. She asked me, knowing that my heart had once been torn, too, "How did you make it through?"
Oh, how I wish there were an easy formula, a 12 step plan for the life class of Grief 101. 'I didn't make it through', I wanted to tell her. 'I'm still trying. There is no finish line.'
Grief is not a stage of life that you go through and get over. The emotional suffering you experience through loss will never fully disappear, though in its midst, that's what you desire more than anything. You want the hurt to stop, but it won't. It will never go away, although with time it will lessen in intensity.
Experts say there are stages to grief, a logical and almost scientific explanation for what you will experience. Different models vary slightly, but the basics are the same. You begin with a disbelief and denial that the event, whatever it is, can really be happening. You think and sometimes verbalize, "This can't be my life. This cannot be happening." Eventually, experts say, you will find yourself in the acceptance stage. This is where you learn that life goes on and you will, too.
For anyone who is grieving today, regardless of the reason, I want to give you my own advice. I want to tell you what the experts might not, and I want you to know that you will make it.
Stop trying to be so strong. What you experienced was horrific, and you don't need to pretend otherwise. If you don't allow yourself to fully express your pain now, it will come out later. (And even if you do deal with it now, it will still resurface in the future. This is normal, and although you will hate it, it is necessary for full healing. Feel it, allow it, and face it. Running from it will mean running from healing.) Allow yourself to cry, and when people ask how you are, be honest. Say you're struggling, say you're not sleeping, say you can't eat. Your honesty will give them permission to step in and help. Isolating yourself by denying the pain will begin a cycle of self-destruction that you never intended and cannot handle alone.
Next, and this is a hard one:
Stop expecting and wishing for life to be what it once was. It never will be again. Everything will look different forever, and there is nothing you can do to recreate the old. It will seem as if you are viewing life through a new pair of glasses, and at first, those lenses will be uncomfortable. You will want to throw them as far away as possible and hunt for your old, broken-in, comfortable pair. Friend, they are irreparably broken and irretrievable. You must wear the new. I promise that over time, they too will be wearable. Perhaps they will never be as comfortable or familiar as your originals, but they will eventually be a part of your life so normal that you forget they are there. The new lenses you see through will be different, of course, but they will also give you sight in areas you were blinded to before. This new sight will transform you in ways that your old lenses never would have allowed.
More (and I am writing this for myself, truthfully):
Do not, under any circumstances, compare your life to anyone else's. I know, I know. It's impossible not to do, especially in pain. You naturally look at others who are oblivious to the hurt that is your constant, and you begin the comparisons. You want their life, and you resent yours. Believe me when I tell you that the famous saying "Comparison is the thief of joy" is 100% true. Whatever joy is intended for you will disappear like morning fog when you compare your story to others'. It will be impossible to experience any contentment or happiness if you are looking around. Avoid this temptation.
A hard truth?
Anger is normal, anger is natural, and anger will engulf you in ways that shock you. It may come out of nowhere, and it may sneak up on you in the most unexpected ways. It may also be highly irrational. I remember one day, in the immediacy of my own grief, becoming irate that the trash bag would not come easily out of the trash can. I wrestled with it, became furious, and collapsed, crying, in a heap on the kitchen floor. Obviously, feelings of anger had been building, and in that moment they overflowed. The same may happen to you, and you may express yours to the environment around you, people who have not hurt you, or even the person who died and left you alone. Again, this is normal. Look for the root of the anger and find healthy ways of expressing the very physical side of your rage. Go for a run, beat a punching bag, yell into an empty house. Write out your feelings, vent to someone you can trust. Feel the feelings - don't suppress them.
Once you make your way through a stage, don't expect to be finished with it. You will cycle back through many of the stages over and over, and in many ways, this is healthy and makes sense. If you really loved someone or were emotionally attached to whatever you lost, you should grieve it. You should need time to come to terms with the loss, and you should not be able to easily forge through.
Life can be good again. No, life will never be the same; that expectation is unrealistic. However, in time, you will begin to enjoy activities and people again. You will feel permission to smile, and you will go through longer and longer stretches of time where your grief isn't in the forefront of your mind. You will learn how to exist in your new world, and you will discover how to go through your days purposefully. You will be happy again, I promise. You will love, and you will change. Your grief will change you for the good, if you allow it, and your life will be good again. It will. You have to believe it.