I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking shortly after my father passed away in December of 2016. I was fairly new (but not-so-new) to Didion’s writing. In short, she was someone whose work I would claim I’d read but hadn’t actually. We’ve all fibbed a little in this way I’ve been told, but I digress. I finally for real read her for the first time; it was required reading given the circumstances at the time. It was the first time someone was able to put into words the exact feelings I was experiencing. Nothing else resonated — no religious lecture made enough sense, no podcast engaged me, none of my friends’ stories hit the bullseye. How she did it, I will never quite understand. I devoured this book. And then I devoured it again. I could sit here and pull quote after quote that I’ve bookmarked. But I’ll just leave the one I find to be the most powerful illustration of words.
“We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be ‘healing.’”
Grief is one of those things that has been over-examined; books have been written, songs have been sung, and movies have been made. Yet it seems to be one of the most difficult topics to tackle — for me, at least. I wonder about the ways I’ve chosen to cope with my dad’s passing. I still have these conversations that bring me to tears with a tight feeling in my chest and I think, “Wow, it appears I have not coped at all.” I spend hours searching for new photographs and wallow in the fact that I’ve lost the ability to make out the sound of his voice. People speak about grief as if it is a fleeting moment in time and that you’ll one day wake up and this feeling will escape your life… until, well, you have to deal with it all over again. People love to spit the “time heals all wounds” saying at people who are grieving. And hey, I get and I even appreciate the sentiment. But time… it doesn’t heal. I grieved my father when he died, I grieved him again when my ex-boyfriend broke up with me and I felt that he took away a large part of my life where my dad was full of life, I consistently grieve my dad when I’m going through a tough time that has absolutely nothing to do with him, with death at all. I grieve on holidays and birthdays. Sometimes I think that time has only reversed the pain. Benjamin Button’ed the pain, if you will. I get direct messages from time to time from folks who know I’ve lost my dad asking for advice on how they can cope with their own loss.
And well, here’s what I’d say:
I still find it extremely hard to fully comprehend the feeling of hollow emptiness I feel in those moments. It’s even harder to speak out loud about it. My sister loves to remind me that “life can have such sad gut-wrenching moments and then really amazing moments. And it’ll always happen. Until we die.” Grief happens to be the most gut-wrenching of moments. And so, if you’re grieving, know this: No, time does not fully heal. But you do learn to get up and live your life. There will be times—years and years after someone’s death—where it’ll hurt worse than it ever has. And there will be days where you don’t even think of the person at all. And there will be days where you’re angry at yourself for not thinking of the person. You’ll find comfort in knowing that so many people have gone and are going through it. Talk to them. You’ll find that one book, one song, one movie that mirrors your exact feelings and you’ll throw yourself at it.
Remember that this is life… Extreme highs and extreme lows. Waves. Until we die.