I visited my sister Saturday. It was a great day. My brother and sister-in-law and parents had all decided to visit the same weekend. That night, we were sitting around having a couple drinks after the kids went to bed when my aunt called and told us a tragic story. Her daughter’s roommate had drowned in Lake Superior and a young man that had tried to save her had drowned, too.
The mood turned very, very somber. After we got off the phone with my aunt, we sat, quietly at first. And then we talked about how we felt for both of the victims’ families. And then we talked about my brother and what we went through after we lost him.
We woke up the next morning to the devastating news from Orlando. It was too much. I avoided the news and stayed mostly off Facebook for a day and half before I could bring myself to read their stories and feel their pain.
This morning, I woke early to run, as usual. And I quickly scrolled through my Facebook feed to see if anyone had a baby or got engaged while I was sleeping. The obituary of the young man that drowned showed up in my feed. I clicked on it. I do not know why, I just felt compelled to read about him and his outstanding past, his bright future, his fiancé, his family. And I realized quickly that I could not separate myself from this loss. I could not put a wall between me and him. He could be my youngest brother, or my kids one day. That tragedy could happen to anyone that I love.
I left the house feeling somber, but thankful for a quiet run on dark, empty streets. I saw my nun friend and remembered how Mark told me she probably thinks I need spiritual guidance. And then the tears came, and then they became a sob. I do not cry often, but when I do, it is never that cry where the girl is sitting on a bench looking out a window, with a single tear rolling down a perfectly made-up face. I ugly-cry; whole body convulsing-gasping for breath-puffy face and puffy eye-cry. So if the nun did not think I needed spiritual guidance before, I am pretty sure she does now!
Sudden losses have a way of knocking the wind right out of you. And though not everyone deals with grief in the same way, I think the basics are about the same for almost everyone.
At first, shock. Utter disbelief. And then slowly the dread sets in and it comes in waves. You will be carrying on quite normally one minute, and the next you are ugly-crying. Nothing gives you comfort; not words, not people, not hugs, not food, not alcohol, not any other distraction. You live for that millisecond upon waking when it has not entered your consciousness yet. And then after a few days, even that millisecond is taken away and it is the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing at night. Everyone who grieved with you at the funeral home goes back to their normal life, but you are still trying to come to terms with this gaping hole in your life. You momentarily forget and start to dial their number. And then you remember, like a punch in the stomach. And then you dial it anyway because you want to hear their voice on their voicemail message.
And in time, there comes a day when you actually enjoy something again for an hour. And then you feel guilty for feeling joy. And in more time, bigger parts of your day are devoted to work, family, happy things, and less time is devoted to grief. And then you have a day when you have only a fleeting thought about the loss. And then you feel guilty that you are moving on, just like everyone else.
The days turn into weeks, months, years. But still, the full gravity of the loss will hit you at the oddest times and you ugly-cry again. And you never know when it is coming, like maybe you wake up to run, and then you see a nun, and something inside of you just lets loose.
The thing about experiencing a sudden loss like that is it changes you forever. It is an odd sort of a gift, in a way. Please do not misunderstand me, I would give it all back to have my brother back. It gives you perspective. It teaches you to focus on the very big important things in life. (Spoiler alert: it is not money or things.) It tells you to be grateful for every single day, even the tough ones. It makes you book a 10 year anniversary trip to Vegas, even when it is not the most prudent thing to do. It allows you to empathize with a mother that you do not know, over the loss of her son that you will never know. It permits you to post a slow-mo video of you doing a(n) (amazing) cannon ball into your sister’s pool on your Facebook page. It reminds you to take pictures, videos, and write down funny things that your kids say.
It teaches you to live.