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I’ve said it many times before: December 2020 was a cataclysmic month for me.
Over a year later I still find it hard to reveal all of the details of what happened. Suffice to say, I went through loss that just about took the wind out of my sails.
I wouldn’t wish tragedy of that magnitude on the worst of my enemies.
As I look back, the months between January 2021 to June 2021 are a complete blur to me. I genuinely have little to no memory of these six months even though I worked full-time and took care of the many practical and trite minutiae that you need to get through in the aftermath of loss. But I do remember the few friends who stood by me like a mountain. They held me, let me weep, and understood my wildly fluctuating mood swings that would go anywhere from me wanting to talk to them five times a day to ghosting them for the next four weeks.
The months between July 2021 to now have been some of the most productive for me in terms of creativity. I’ve written more during these months than maybe my entire life. I’ve been writing stories; short and long fiction; flash fiction; opinion pieces on love, loss, and grief; humor pieces and essays; and I’ve been getting published as well across multiple platforms.
I think of my post-grief life in two phases:
Phase 1: I just blanked out completely because my grief overwhelmed me.
Phase 2: I tried (and continue to try) to blank out my grief by writing as much as I can.
And the biggest truth I can say is that it was hard then. And it continues to be hard now.
When people say things like, “It will get easier” or “Their suffering is over” or “Life goes on,” I know they mean well but it really doesn’t soothe my broken heart. If anything, these platitudes make it harder to cope.
But when someone who has been through loss tells me, “Don’t worry, Roopa. Things will get easier,” I trust and believe them. I get a sense of peace from them. Because they’ve been through the same journey as I am going through, and I know they get it. They understand. From them, it’s not a platitude. They’ve been through the journey of loss and come out on the other side—not victorious, but still standing.
And right now, I’ll take still standing over wanting to curl up on my bed under my blanket and never ever wake up.
Leaning into those who’ve been through what you have has helped me a lot. So has reading and re-reading certain life experiences from people who’ve been through loss as well. Last year, I came across the following 10 quotes on grief. These quotes shook me, broke me, and then started to heal me. I derived so much strength from these words that I actually printed them out and stuck them all over my house.
Everywhere I turn—bam!—there’s one of these posters for me to read from, to gain strength from.
The following quotes have been a succor to my broken heart and have been cathartic for my pain. They’ve helped me a lot, and I hope they can help you too.
1. I’m starting with the sublime Elizabeth Gilbert, who says:
“Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.”
This was such a balm to my ravaged heart. Knowing that Gilbert had been through multiple losses herself (her most recent being the loss of her beloved partner), it made me believe that, at some point, I too will move on from that place I’ve been standing so still. It gives me hope and peace.
2. Anne Lamott gets to the core of grief:
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
Not that I would want to walk with a limp but this, again, makes me feel hopeful about the future. Yes. I will never, ever get over who I’ve lost. But I don’t have to. I’ll learn to live with that hole in my heart, and for now, that’s good enough.
3. Mariska Hargitay losing her mom so early in life was a message to me to feel grateful that I had so many more years with the person I lost. And that I should count my blessings, which I do:
“Losing my mother at such an early age is the scar of my soul. But I feel like it ultimately made me into the person I am today. I understand the journey of life. I had to go through what I did to be here.”
4. The incredible Joan Didion gets to grief and loss as only she could:
“We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves, as we were, as we are no longer, as we will one day not be at all.”
This is so incredibly true. As much as I grieve the loss of my person, I also grieve for who I was when they were around. This is something very few people talk about. One day you’re a daughter, son, mother, father—and then suddenly, the person who made you a daughter, son, mother, father is gone, and you have no idea who you are anymore. Your core identity was lost once that person went away. And that takes a lot of coming to terms with.
5. Jeanette Winterson says what we all want to say:
“‘You’ll get over it…’ It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life forever. You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”
Nothing has hurt me more than when people have either said to me, “You’ll get over it” or “It’s time. You need to get over it and move on.” Like Winterson says, the worst part is the cliches that those who wish to help inundate you with. And I agree: why on earth would any of us who’ve suffered from loss ever get over that person? How can we? Why would we? That hole they left behind cannot be filled by anyone else. And it shouldn’t. Phew!
6. Colette explains something that happens to me all the time:
“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer…and everything collapses.”
Oh, God. The number of times these past few months when I thought I was doing better, that I was getting over my grief somewhat, and then I hear some gossip about an actor my loved one was a fan of or smell something that reminded me of the dish they made, and I fall into pieces. Over the past few months, I’ve started to notice something new as well. I go about my day as normal and suddenly I find tears overflowing and I have no idea why. I guess it’s because, subliminally, there’s something that has reminded me of them and my body automatically reacts to the pain and grief.
These six quotes have been my best friends over the past few months. The following quotes have helped me as well:
7. J.K. Rowling said:
“You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”
I used to feel this way all the time. With time, the pain has lessened from 100 to 99, but it’s still very much there.
8. Faraaz Kazi says:
“No matter how bad your heart is broken, the world doesn’t stop for your grief.”
This is the biggest truth I’ve learned. No matter how much your heart is broken, and it feels like your life will never make sense or be whole again, the world around you? It will move on. That’s just how it is.
9. Helen Keller said:
“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world—the company of those who have known suffering.”
This is so true. And it’s being part of the bereaved family—whether it’s by way of friends who’ve seen loss or therapy groups where you get together and talk about your respective losses or connecting with people by way of the words they’ve spoken—that has saved me more than anyone or anything.
10. Finally, I want to end by quoting an anonymous person who nailed it:
“I’ll be okay…just not today.”
I’m still waiting for the tomorrow when I will be okay.