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. 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