How to Survive the Loss of Someone we Can’t Live Without.


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Answer the phone or the door, then wish you hadn’t.

The news, even if you expected it, will stun you. You will feel as if you’ve left your own body behind too, and are hovering slightly above yourself, watching the scene unfold like some terrible TV movie.

Gag. Vomit. Shout No to the person who tells you.

Refuse to believe it.

Tell them this happens to other people, to other families.

Not you. Not yours.

Stumble, somehow through the raw first days. Shower. Press small pieces of bread to your lips. Sip water. Realize the desperate animal sounds you hear are coming from your own body. Wonder how it is that your lungs keep filling with air, over and over again. Be amazed at how the rest of the world keeps hurtling forward: humans rush to work, traffic lights roll from red to green to yellow, the earth continues to circle the hot shriek of the sun, ceaselessly, irreverently.

Sit through his memorial service. Thank the cottony cloud of shock that makes this all feel unreal. Cling to it. It will be worse when it, too, leaves you.

Listen as people fling their well-meaning words your way. They’re in a better place now. It was God’s will. Be strong. They are dribbling these words because they don’t know what else to say. Because it hurts too much to say the truth: this is so terrible. I don’t know how you will survive this. How could God allow this to happen?

Hear the words pound through your head over and over again: He is dead. Or: she is dead. These words are nudging you across the bridge from your old life, where your dear one was alive, to your new life, where they’re not. It is not a bridge you wanted to cross—you hate this bastard bridge. But you can’t turn back.

This is the bridge you are on.

Fall completely and utterly apart. Imagine the entire rest of your life, all the love and loss, the weddings and births, the sick days and vacations, and how damned bittersweet every single event of your life will be because she will not be there. Ask why me? over and over again, and wait for the answer that never comes.

Go for long, tentative walks. Refuse to step on wriggling worms or the small black bodies of ants. Because maybe there is someone back home waiting for them, some worm sister or ant husband, and you can’t bear the thought of sending more grief in the world, even invertebrate grief.

Be afraid to go to sleep. Not because of the nightmares. But because you might dream them alive again, and for just a sliver of a second, when you awake in the sweet smudge between sleep and consciousness, you will think their death was a mistake. And the news will come thundering down. Again.

Notice, despite yourself, small scraps of beauty: a star-patched sky. The singing face of a stranger at a stoplight. Moving water. Let the thought wash over you, for just a moment: you will be okay.

Scream at your dead loved one. For leaving you behind. For ruining everything. For causing this terrible pit of pain.

Apologize for your rage. Forgive her.

Forgive yourself. For being alive. For not saving him. Forgive yourself, over and over and over again.

Go to a grief group. Sit in a circle with other people who have lost someone they couldn’t live without. Discover there is a silent army stretching all across the earth made of people walking across the same bridge as you. Feel, for the first time in a long while, like you are understood. Like you are not alone.

Approach the anniversary of her death. Be wary. It looms like a portal, making you think, for a sick second, that you can bend back time, that you can stop it from happening. Meet the day anyway. Let loose a bouquet of balloons. Write her a letter. Go to the ocean. Order his favorite pizza. Go to sleep and awaken the next day, surprised that it still hurts this much, surprised you have survived a whole year without him.

Wish time away. Let it pour over you and do what nothing else can—soften the throb of the place your loved one occupied. Let it push you across that shitty bridge. Let it show you what is still here—your sharp mind, your sinewy heart, a future that is not the one you wanted, but the one that is, nonetheless, waiting for you.

Notice that you haven’t cried in a day, a week, two weeks. Feel grateful for the terrible strength of the human spirit, for the press on and on and on.

Live your sweet, hard, singular life. Build something strong and beautiful. Whisper, I miss you into the flesh of your pillow.

Stand back and stare at the bridge you’ve somehow crossed. You were there, and there, and there. You are mostly accustomed to it now, except on anniversaries and Tuesdays and cold days. Your loss has seasoned you, sharpened you, sweetened you. It has carved you into someone who is more wary but also more awake. More essential.

Realize that each of us is stumbling across our own bridge. That this world is not for the faint-hearted, and it might not be the one we’d choose, but it is the world we are in. Say I love you. Say I’m sorry. Say I survived.


Author: Lynn Shattuck

Image: Sydney Sims/Unsplash 

Editor: Catherine Monkman


Letting go of a Loved One.


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moonoverwater01 Mar 23, 2019 8:21am

Tomorrow will be the 7th anniversary of my husbands passing and for me it hasn’t gotten any easier.

I felt every emotion in each word of this post. Today, I am still as raw and vulnerable as I was 7 years ago; the moment I received the call.

To each of you, may your grieving some day take it easier on your heart ♥️

Elsa Puig Mar 16, 2019 8:25am

Thank you for writing this . You go through life learning to hide the pain and sadness . The world continues as if nothing has happened but your grief changes that world you knew and things will never be the same . It doesn’t get easier . You go through the motions and become a master of hiding that grief . No one wants to hear it and everyone tells you to move forward . What does that mean ??? thank you for reminding me of the bridge of people just like me . We have no choice but to be in this world until it’s our time to pass . Then we will
Have the answers . Much love and strength to those reading this . I am one of the ones who understands the pain ❤️

lululayne69 Feb 16, 2019 10:31am

Any resources you can suggest for a 13 year old girl who just lost her father and four sisters in a house fire? He told her to go get help while he went upstairs to try to save his other children. I am not close to them, but I am consumed with worry for this child.

goring.becky Feb 10, 2019 12:28pm

Beautiful xx thank you for being able to write so eloquently and with such powerful words. You described how I feel with perfection. Amazing talent.

shawnrjackson1973 Feb 10, 2019 4:26am

I feel every word, I know all the pain I lost my only son and my oldest daughter SUICIDE took them both Nathan forever 18 1/23/99? 12/11/17 Parris forever 26 12/7/91 ? 5/21/17????

Jackie.cuciak Jan 28, 2019 11:18am

My son, Daniel.

Michelle Howland Jan 28, 2019 7:38am

It was a 2nd marriage for both of us. We had found our soul mates and deeply loved the very essence of each other. 8 months after we were married he was diagnosed with cancer. We fought the battle every day for 2 1/2 years. We experienced joy and love as much as possible knowing how precious our time together was. This April will be the 1st anniversary of his last breath here on this earth. I don’t know how I have lived this long without him. However he is always with me in my heart and thoughts – the deep ache in my heart is less and I believe meditation and yoga have been essential to my journey. I will love him forever in this life and the next. Thank you for your very descriptive article of such a tremendous loss in anyone’s life.

marytallen Jan 26, 2019 10:17am

I lost my husband six months ago. At first I can in the hours then the days and now the weeks and months since he’s been gone. I miss him with every fiber of my heart and soul. I don’t think I’m very far on that bridge. Everyone tells me it gets easier but I sure can’t tell.
I feel every single emotion that it wrote .
Thank you.

mtycay-wellbeing Jan 25, 2019 10:16pm

i have lived on both sides of this coin, worked with others in advocacy and support for many years… too many?… there is no story that is like another… they each have their own teachings, there own realities to make known to the world… we all grieve for those we love, for ourselves… we all cannot escape it.. one way i am working with it, is to share from my own story and learning… our stories are the most powerful way to share and enlighten others about the realities of suicide… the broader the awareness / accurate knowledge the greater is the opportunity to help someone choose a different path and help others choose an empathetic response to one of the true enigmas in life, one that is devastatingly confounding of any true answers… for the one with the answers is no longer with us to help us understand and ease / heal the pain… perhaps seeing and contemplating our own pain may help us to know a bit more about the pain required to end a person’s own life… all in life is a two edged sword… one may cut deeper than another, both leave their mark … blessings, M

from personal learning:

sistermoonherbal Jan 21, 2019 3:48am

Every word of this. I lost my soul mate 7 1/2 years ago.

life.w.purpose Jan 20, 2019 8:13pm

I feel this so much… 5 months ago today I lost my 18 year old son Zuka to suicide. I have felt every word of this. (Btw I am originally from the same area) This is beautiful. Thank you. Love and blessings to you.

Karen Walters Jan 16, 2019 9:55am

So, so perfectly descriptive and so beautifully written!! Thank you <3

legaleaseconsult Jan 14, 2019 1:22pm

I lost my 16 year old son, my youngest, to suicide with no warning 3 years ago. No threats. No previous attempts. No warning signs. This is so very accurate. There are some differences such as I have yet to go 2 weeks without crying and I don’t believe I ever will. But as it says we are all on our own bridge. I was dumbfounded that the world continued on after his death. It was like my air was stale and my world wasn’t rotating for the first 14 months. I spent the first 4 and a half months in the bed crying, frequently screaming a guttural scream. I felt hollow. I don’t know how my heart continued to beat. I don’t want my heart to eat. I didn’t want to see the sun without him…it felt selfish.

    radwa rabie Jan 28, 2019 12:26pm

    I send you lots of hugs! I cry with u

Judy Anderson Dec 20, 2018 1:07pm

This is soooo perfect for the occasion; I can relate 100% to many of the things you’ve said! If you haven’t experienced the loss of someone who was more important to you than ANYTHING, I’m happy for you. Unfortunately, I’ve lost 2 husbands to early deaths. Thank you so much for your words and wisdom very much!

live360pg Dec 2, 2018 4:36pm

Hi, the first anniversary of my husband passing away is fast approaching…I’ve read and have been told many things about grief and loss. Nothing covers the magnitude of being left behind as you have in your article. Thank you for sharing your insight and timeless wisdom! ??

Brenda Fredericks Nov 24, 2018 2:01pm

This really moved me, thank you

Willow Kai Nov 22, 2018 4:25am

Beautiful words, but perhaps an update for 2018, removing the suggestion of letting a bouquet of balloons go to remember a loved one? …we know better now.

    Jennifer Gordon Feb 10, 2019 2:16pm

    Thank you. I had the same thoughts about the balloons. I personally have written letters and burned them. Also have done some of her favorite activities in her honor.

Lisa Pszonak May 24, 2018 11:02pm

The writer of this article deserves an award. Heartfelt and so true. Describing so many emotions. Putting deep sadness, pain into words.

Amber Vaughn May 24, 2018 12:10am

Thank you for this. This is how I feel.

Koko M Kalu Apr 2, 2018 11:45am

I feel like it is my dirty little secret that I didn’t LIKE my now ex-husband any more, let alone love him. What I regret is that I couldn’t find away to address my unhappiness. I couldn’t express it and he would give me the same biblical lecture over and over again that shut me down completely. I regret not having the courage to end it at once when it was burning me serously. And that at most times, I feel not to have ever had a relationship with him, not to talk of marrying him. It’s ironic that he now found someone new in his church. But I thank Mother Sunlight for helping loosing away a marriage which is more like a sorrowful rope, that was tied on my neck. After I contact her for help. I saw jai mata Sunlight details on internet in a testimony just as you are reading mine now. and I don’t bother him too much that they were both still married at the time. His hypocrisy was one of the things I liked the least about him. But I thank jai mata sunlight who came to my rescue and helped me put a stop to the misery I was going through that he pretend not knowing about. And my advice to those people out there sorrowfully burning in a relationship of which there is no life, pls wakeup and come out of it. Contact jai mata for help and counselling. To get in touch with her. And I say to you anything you want shall be done. via [email protected] and I tell you, if you let her lead you and follow her instructions, your testimony will be next. Thanks to you mother I thank so much. Thanks for helping me. Thanks for everything.

Jessica Egbert Feb 13, 2018 2:50pm

This. It's everything I've felt. I was hanging on every word. Thank you so much for sharing this with the world.

Jacqueline Stinson Fontanills Mar 13, 2017 11:29pm

As the one year anniversary of the loss of my do approaches, I am dreading the day, the week. This truly touched my heart. Thank you .

Alice Lundy Mar 13, 2017 12:19pm

You nailed it again, Lynn. I've fallen in love with your voice and words, even as I cry through them. We are on similar paths--loss and writing. Thank you for holding the light steady and bright.

Ashley Jennifer Oct 16, 2016 1:47am

Ashleigh Jai Hitchcock Thank you, there is something comforting about other's words. I'm trying... some moments are more painful than others. I'm so glad I was able to come accross this article in the last "wave," and have you cite the one above. At least my feelings aren't unique in everything that has been lose. <3

Ashleigh Jai Hitchcock Oct 16, 2016 1:32am

Big hugs. Be gentle with yourself and take it moment by moment while you're in the thick of it and in waves the rest of your life:

Ashley Jennifer Oct 16, 2016 1:02am

I just lost my brother last month. I feel all of this. And then some Sometimes I wish he could take me with him. This aching feels impossible to bear. I just want him back.

Elephant Journal Oct 5, 2016 9:25am

Keri, I'm sending so much love on your way. <3 ~ Sara

Keri Reilly Harpel Oct 5, 2016 6:03am

Moon alchemie, I just had the first anniversary of my daughter's death. For months I did not dream. Now nearly every night I dream of her and as you said, either don't want to sleep or afraid to wake up because when I do I know she will be gone again. I hate this pain and miss her so much. I am sure you know what I am saying. I am so sorry for your loss. It sucks that words pale to adequately express my feelings.

Keri Reilly Harpel Oct 5, 2016 5:54am

So spot on. Voiced so many familiar sentiments. I lost my dear sweet daughter age 23 last June 19, 2015. So utterly life altering, life shattering. I fake through many days, "fake it til you make it?" Not sure that I am making it, feel likei am slowly dying from the inside out. I am a strong person but now I just feel empty, nothing fills my void, or takes away the pain of my loss. It's a shitty club to belong to. Age is creeping up on me, I am travelling this road of pain without the emotional support or shared burden of a loved one or spouse. Pretty sure it is a good thing I am single because not sure any one would want to ride this pain train with me. I realize with time I may feel less often the raw sting I feel so often now. But not sure I will ever be truly happy inside again.

Ellen Kellem Sep 20, 2016 1:25pm

Beautiful. It seems you have read my mind, my heart, my soul. I lost my only daughter six years ago and this is comforting. Thank you so much.

Monette Bouvier Aug 31, 2016 9:21pm

Beautifully written ...and so well expressed. I am over > there ... In my journey. Just past the 2 yr mark of losing my beautiful daughter Cleo, to suicide. Aug 20th. Her birthday is this month Sept 20th ...she would have been 26 this yr. I was notably struck when I read "Be afraid to go to sleep, not for fear of nightmares, but because you might dream them alive again......" It's the first time in 2 yrs that anyone has made that click for me or said it out loud! I havent slept, or dreamed since the day she died...when I do hit the pillow its because Im medicated and exhausted... Hense , makes sense I dont dream... Yr 2 is the worst so far...but I am clawing my way up..too over > there. Thank you for articulating this so well.. There were many paralleles for me..

Lynn Shattuck Aug 23, 2016 10:50pm

Oh Sophie, I'm so sorry. You are in the thick of it. <3 to you.

Sophie Robé Aug 23, 2016 9:01pm

Thanks Lynn , 5 weeks already and feels like an eternity .. Beautiful written

Lynn Shattuck Aug 23, 2016 6:15pm

Thanks, Jenny!

Jenny Hegarty Freeman Aug 23, 2016 1:41am

Thank you for this.

Lynn Shattuck Aug 23, 2016 12:15am

Carmelene Melanie Siani, that means a lot to me. I love your work.

Carmelene Melanie Siani Aug 22, 2016 7:48pm

Lynn Shattuck I could tell what you were really sharing -- your own journey. It comes through so clearly. That is the kind of journey that we learn from the most. All I could think to say was thank you....

Lynn Shattuck Aug 22, 2016 7:34pm

Carmelene! Thank you.

Lynn Shattuck Aug 22, 2016 7:33pm

Thank you, Allison.

Lynn Shattuck Aug 22, 2016 7:33pm

Allison Hesketh Klunk I am so very sorry for your loss. <3 <3 <3

Lynn Shattuck Aug 22, 2016 7:33pm

I'm so sorry, Jen. <3 to you.

Zen Jen Aug 22, 2016 3:21pm

Allison Hesketh Klunk <3

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Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit, and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.