Grief is like the sea. It ebbs and flows, lapping at your feet and sometimes washing over them. Sometimes it unexpectedly overwhelms you, other times it remains calm. Storms come, changing how it behaves. Consistently unpredictable. You never know from one day to the next, from one moment to the next, what it will do or how it will feel. And then, when you think you can walk away from it, it overwhelms you and starts all over again.
I'll never forget that night in the hospital. I stood in between my two aunts as the doctor walked into the waiting room with a grave expression. “We lost her. I'm so sorry.”
The denial, the disbelief. Surely they're mistaken. Surely there was something else that could have been done. Surely another doctor was about to walk in and tell us that she was fine.
But the moments passed, and the doctor still stood there, shaking his head and assuring us that they had done everything they could and they would answer all the questions we had. And it started to sink in.
It felt like a knife had been jabbed into my side and twisted. I could barely catch my breath. I didn't know if I should breathe, cry, or scream. Or just collapse.
The hardest part about saying goodbye was walking out of the hospital alone. Empty. Without the person we went there for. Lonely. It felt so wrong, knowing she was still inside but not really there, and knowing that this was the beginning of life after the goodbye.
Then you pick up the phone and start making calls… it happened so fast, no one knew. You call people who are pleasantly surprised to hear from you and give them some of the worst news. The knife, again, twisting. You relive it again and again. You fall asleep crying and wake up crying.
Your head hurts, your body aches, you eat too much and don't sleep enough, you plan the funeral and make arrangements. Family arrives, you laugh, eat, and share your fondest memories. And you relive the last one, again and again. Finally you want to stop reliving it but feel guilty that you want to move on.
But you do, and things go back to normal. Family goes home, you have to cook your own meals, go back to work, and pretend things like budgets and proposals and deadlines mean anything to you.
And you have a couple of good days. Things start to look up. You were able to remember some fond memories that were tucked away and they made you smile instead of cry. You're glad that you're happy and the guilt starts to fade.
Then you go do that one thing that's so normal and second nature and you almost break down in the middle of it, because it's something they'll never be able to do or see again, like buying a certain brand of stuffing at the grocery store or going for a walk in the evening. And you think you must look like a crazy person trying to hold back the tears as the knife twists again.
But you keep going. And you keep moving forward. Not forgetting but not always dwelling either. And it becomes second nature to talk about it, not for sympathy but because it's a fact of your life now. You start to remember the odd quirks and things you didn't quite understand or agree with that made her so special and unique.
Then one night, months later, you're getting ready for bed and the thought suddenly crosses your mind of her sitting in her living room chair, smiling, laughing and so full of life. You can hear it. Feel it. Experience it. Only, it will never be again.
And the wave washes over you.