I know we’ve all heard the saying, “Time heals all wounds.” I also know that at this point, I have to sound like a broken record… but I do not believe that to be true. The passing of time cannot make hurt go away; the fresh wound heals, but there is still a nasty scar there. Scars remain on your body forever--why would that not be true for your heart?
I lost the man I love most, my Pap, a year and a half ago. Right after you lose a person, it seems like everyone bombards you with the same go-to lines: “He was in a lot of pain, but now he is with God and so much better!” “You wouldn’t have wanted to see him suffer.” “I know that it hurts a lot right now, and things like his birthday and holidays will always be sad. But it will get better!”
What those people did not prepare me for was that those pat little sayings are not true of everyone for every loss suffered.
I expected to be sad at Christmas because that is my favorite family holiday. I expected to be sad at Easter because that is the last holiday we spent together. I expect to be sad when I watch the one video of him I have saved on my phone, dancing around with my sister and me. What I will never be prepared for are the random moments that bring me pangs of unexpected sadness, sometimes for no reason at all.
People told me that I would occasionally get sad; they made it seem like there was a switch in my brain. Most of the time, the switch would be off, and it would be as if I could live life as if Pap was just never in it. On special occasions, when it was socially acceptable (like on Pap’s birthday or Christmas,) the switch could turn back on and we would take a moment to feel sad and remember that he is no longer here to experience that time with us.
Folks, that is just not how grief works. There is no invisible switch. You should not ever continue your life as though your loved one was never a part of it. NO ONE can dictate the “socially acceptable” times when you can miss someone who is no longer with you. It’s not just the major holidays that never feel the same when you’ve lost someone you love. Stupid, little parts of a normal day just don’t feel right anymore.
You might hear a song playing that reminds you of that person, and the feelings will all come crashing down on you. You might drive past one of your favorite places to go with that person, and even that little snippet of a reminder is enough.
Sometimes, I can’t even determine what brings my waves of pain. I could just be reading Harry Potter, and five minutes into it I’m bawling for no reason. It’s just such a final thing, death. That person is gone from this Earth forever, and it is going to be a very long time until you are with them again (if you are a believer, with a life with them in Heaven to look forward to.)
I avoid being by myself as best I can because that’s when these episodes of grief tend to hit me. Being left with my own thoughts tends to do a lot of damage. Sometimes, I just randomly get glimpses back to my Pap’s funeral, or I hear the drum beats that the soldiers played at his burial.
Long-winded, drawn-out story short: nobody is prepared for what grief truly is. Grief doesn’t come and go after the funeral, or within a few months, or even within a few years. Grief is not neat and predictable. It is ugly, all-consuming, and it never really leaves you alone. Instead of thinking that you’ll go back to normal and have a sad reminder here or there, think of grief as constantly living with that sad reminder and going back to “normal” here and there.
I have a ton of major life events ahead of me that my Pap is not here to see, and I always pictured that he would be. Every time I think about that, it hurts. I will not ever wake up and think, “Oh, Pap isn’t going to see my wedding. But he’s been gone for so long, I won’t really miss having him there.” If I don’t get married until 50 years from now, it still wouldn’t be the same without him there.
Maybe I am diving into this feeling right now because I just graduated college. I am devastated that as I celebrated this huge accomplishment that I really didn’t think possible with my loved ones, I didn’t get to celebrate with the man who has wanted the biggest of things for me from the time I was born. When I walked down the aisle way with my graduating class as the music started playing, I felt close to tears. It wasn’t for the reasons that I told my friends: the emotions of the day, the fear of missing this chapter of my life, etc. No; for a split second, I looked down the rows and rows of seats and thought that Pap’s face would jump out among them. A year and a half in absence of him, and I still expect to see him sometimes.
If you take one thing with you from this article, let it be this: you’re never ready to lose someone. You can’t prepare to experience the total absence of a person you love from your life forever.