“[He] is gone.” These were the first words my brain registered this morning when I woke up at 3:09. It was a text from my mother letting me know that my grandfather has passed away. We had been expecting this loss for a few weeks now, so it isn’t like it was unexpected. But, somehow, those words still made my heart sink. I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life, so maybe I should be used to navigating my way through it, but I’m not. It just isn’t something that ever feels familiar. Each new loss brings a new kind of grief.
It hurts so much when our friends, our family members have been taken from us. Death is inevitable, of course, but this inevitability doesn’t dull the pain. It bloody hurts. It feels like the loss has ripped the soul straight from the survivor’s body. Grief will render the survivor an empty vessel. A walking, talking shell of a being. Grief changes you. Grief leaves a hole that must be filled.
I have seen this grief, felt this grief, am feeling this grief now. I am no stranger to death. I have looked into the bloodshot eyes of those left behind. I have held the hands of friends as we peered over our lost loved one, taking one last look at the body that belonged to someone we once knew. I have seen the look of longing in far off gazes, the longing for just one more chance. One more opportunity to tell the person we lost how amazing they are, how much they are loved, how much they mean. I have felt that longing. I have seen the drugged and catatonic stare of the mother that has lost her precious daughter. I have seen that look of lost hope. I have felt the inexplicable longing for the child I never had a chance to make memories with. I have heard the sorrowful, anguish-filled screams of the mother that must give her teenage son’s body to the hungry, merciless flames. I have watched as body, after body has been returned to the earth. I have seen and felt pain so deep, that it would seem never to end. And it doesn’t. It never goes away, but it changes, diminishes.
In the end I know, those we love never leave us, and that is what makes the pain tolerable. In those subtle moments in the days, the weeks, the months, and the years that follow they will be there. In that moment when you catch the scent of something familiar, something all too “them.” When you hear their favorite song on the radio, and you turn it up, just to remember, just to feel them there with you. When you recall something they have said with such clarity that it feels so real, so in the present, as if they’re standing there whispering into your ear. When you begin to laugh again, and you can almost hear them laughing with you.
So, today, I’m reminded that loss often isn’t fair, it hurts, and mostly it doesn’t make sense. But it happens. And we are strong enough to go on after loss. I know that the many wonderful people I have lost over the years would want me to go on, to keep loving, living, and remembering. For now, I’ll indulge this empty feeling inside me. I’ll let myself feel my way through the pain. But, after a while, I’ll remind myself that I’m strong enough to survive whatever pain life throws at me and that includes this: the weight of loss, the longing for what might have been. Because I’ve been here before, time and time again, and even though this loss feels different from all the others… I still know, these feelings cannot consume me.