There’s nothing straightforward about grief. There’s no set rule for you to follow. Past experiences are useless, because each loss is different. Pain is unique, and it is a million times worse when you don’t understand why you have to experience it.
Grief is a many-feathered thing.
Remember the first time you smile after a life-changing event. Remember it; remember the way your mouth moves, corners moving up, ever so slightly, almost as if you’re remembering how to do something that you’ve done your entire life. As your lower lip stays almost where it is, because that smile, that first beautiful smile is wistful, and sad, and doesn’t want to appear, but it does anyway.
You don’t want to go on, but you do anyway. I didn’t want to go on, but I did anyway.
As the days hurtled forward, night crashing into day, paper dates peeling off the calendar of my life, I hurtled forward into a world without J; I went, reluctant at first, into the life that seemed so unthinkable to me still. I longed to hear his voice again, or to read his words, or to ask him how he was, but I was no longer allowed so intimate a glimpse into his life, and he was no longer allowed into mine. I tried to deal with every moment as it happened because planning for tomorrow was too tedious, too fraught with worry. I would complain to friends that my body was doing the ‘shutting down thing’ again, which was bizarre to me, but apparently it was the way I was dealing with my grief at a very visceral level. A heavy sleepiness would come upon me, even if I had managed to rest the night before, and I would curl up in bed and pass out. Stace explained that emotional trauma takes a very physical toll on our bodies and that it was a reaction that made sense, but as I’d never experienced anything like it before, I was puzzled at it. I gave in to it every single time, however, because I didn’t really have a choice.
And then it was two weeks later, and I remarked to Stace that it was mind-boggling to me. “I was so sure I’d never survive a day.” “You can and you do and you will continue to”, she replied, firmly.
Even as J continued to occupy almost my every thought during the day, it turned out that I couldn’t escape him in my dreams either. I dreamed of him every single night; sometimes it was past J, who adored me. Sometimes it was the future J I had dreamt of, and our life together. Sometimes it was cruel J, who had thrown me away, and I would wake up shaking.
I still continue to dream of him every single night, but one morning, about ten days ago, I woke up with wet eyes, and tears on my cheeks. I remembered the dream as the morning slipped into my bedroom to caress me; I remembered how I was crying for a lost J in my dreams, and apparently crying in my sleep. I sat up in bed, hair tousled, and looked about my quiet room, at my slumbering cats who were starting to stir as I stirred, and I sobbed.
“I cry for you in my dreams”, I whispered.
In a ‘phone conversation with my godmother recently, I lamented my heartbreak. “You love hard”, she said. “The way this has affected you shows how hard you love, and there’s nothing to ever be ashamed about that. There isn’t a thing wrong with it.” I stayed silent as she continued. “In fact, it’s wonderful. It will always be wonderful. Next time you’ll love the right one.”
Complete strangers reached out to me unexpectedly; readers who have read this blog for years messaged me out of the blue. I’ve had emails from people commiserating with me, Facebook message requests from people who have followed me and this blog, but who have never spoken to me before, and messages from completely random people who happened to stumble upon my posts. I have accepted, read, and treasured every single one.
“You were capable of sustaining a long-distance relationship — real love”, said my friend Elatia to me recently. “Not everyone can do it. At the end of ‘The Great Fire’, Shirley Hazzard’s last novel, the two lovers are separated by the girth of the world. The man would not accept it — despite all, he travelled to get the girl, and bring her away. It was a complicated relationship with nothing going for it but great love. Sometimes you have to step up to what that means, what that requires of you. Not everyone can. It was a test — he failed.”
“That was a beautiful quote you posted today”, said my friend Leigh to me the following day, referring to a Lang Leav quote I had posted about meaning everything to someone, or nothing. “But I don’t think that it’s true that you mean nothing or everything. All it means is that he wasn’t able to be there.”
“I can’t begin to know what’s going on in his head”, she continued gently. “But I do know that when someone acts that way it means that there is something they have to address in their own lives and in their own heads. It’s only unfortunate that you have had to suffer because of it.”
“You know, your love didn’t just change you, it changed him”, said my friend Angelica to me a few days ago, as I struggled in the throes of my grief. “You are a part of him now and that part will always stay with him. You can’t remove a memory and undo what that memory meant for you. It changes you forever.”
“This was never about you”, said countless people to me, their voices echoing around me. “This was always about him.”
“You are amazing and wonderful, and you did nothing wrong. This was all him.”
“Stop questioning your self-worth. How can you fix something you don’t even understand?”
“Stay strong and feel how loved you are.”
“Next time. Your next love will say yes.”
“Keep moving, even if it hurts to take the next step. You must keep moving. Moving forward is the only way past this, even if it feels like you are leaving him behind.”
As I write this, as I count the many feathers of my grief, I want to note a milestone. I recently had 48 hours of peace; two days where my eyes never stormed. It didn’t last, but it was still two days, and it happened, ironically enough, on the 6th, one month to the day that J ended us. I was dreading that date, but it came and went, and my heart was at peace. A few days prior to that I had sat by the road, weeping, and I didn’t think I would ever get to experience that milestone. But I did.
I continue to count feathers, as I move towards the rest of my life. But I also continue to heal, and I continue – to continue.