The beginning of grief is overwhelming. Everything must stop as you attempt to absorb what has happened, which is impossible. You cannot fathom the magnitude of your loss. There is little to no comprehension at first.
You will know tears. Tears of grief fall along a wide-ranging spectrum—droplets sliding slowly over cheeks to blinding waterworks accompanied by inhuman cries, breathlessness, convulsive breathing, even spasms. There are long periods when you cannot stop weeping, not to save your life. In the tumultuous first throes of grief, if you are not actually producing tears, you are struggling valiantly to hold them back. Chances are that you will come to know the full range of grief’s tearful upheaval.
During this period, you might find yourself googling, Can crying cause dehydration? The answer is yes. You wake from sleep to find your pillow wet, that you are crying as you sleep. You take to wearing sun glasses at all times.
You soon stumble upon firsts, which trigger more crying: the first night alone; the first morning without your loved one; the first Sunday; the first holiday, birthday, anniversary. Firsts will keep presenting themselves for years to come. Some brush you gently against your loved one’s absence, others knock you to your knees in renewed mourning.
Like a wounded bird, you are vulnerable. This defenselessness serves an important purpose. You become at once more sensitive. This heightened awareness alters your perceptions. Everything seems different—it is different. You have awakened to a changed world.
At times your sorrow feels unbearable. Then grief has you alternating between the dramatic bouts of crying and a pervasive numbness that consumes mind, body and soul. The numbness provides a brief respite, and gives you a temporary rest. As soon as your strength recovers, you start crying again.
After the initial cataclysm, you retreat to a bedroom or familiar chair where you sink into a stupor of unfamiliar lethargy. You stare blankly out windows or at walls. A cognitive fog engulfs you. You don’t remember things. It is impossible to concentrate. The smallest action is out of the question; it is asking entirely too much.
You are a house that has locked all the doors and barricaded the windows. You simply cannot begin to imagine life without your loved one; you do not try. Your grief is too big to know right now.
You are certain it will break you.
The idea (often without conscious awareness) is that as long as you hold yourself still and unresponsive, no feeling will penetrate your shattered consciousness. Sometimes this numbness arrives less as immobility and more as an absence of feeling, as if your heart made a bargain with your head: If I don’t feel anything, I won’t have to experience my loss.
Wear this shell like the protective armor it is.
Ignore demands for as long as you need, as long as you can.
At some point, the world will beckon and you will find yourself responding. You must make your way into the shower, get dressed, drink or eat something. Even though you feel—so strangely!—as if you are maneuvering through water in slow motion, you adopt the advice given to all people suffering from trauma: simply place one foot in front of the other. This is how you move forward.
Take comfort in realizing the familiar chair will always be there.
Great Changes are Upon Us
Your grief has arrived in a time of great uncertainty and social upheaval. This even seems like an understatement, the chaos of life on this planet has reached such a feverish pitch. Losing a loved one during this time adds a much deeper layer of insecurity to the feeling that the world is spinning out of control.
This is less an illusion than a given. The sense of being carried along a swift moving river of history has been true throughout our human existence. The world has been in constant motion from the beginning. Everything you see is moving—from the molecules in iron to the air in your next breath, all things are a swirling collection of fast-moving particles. Like the cosmos itself, nothing is ever static and your grief least of all.
A supreme shapeshifter, grief will continue to change you in the days, months, years and decades ahead, regardless of how the world changes. These shifts can be cataclysmic, an explosive force propelling you into an unforeseen landscape; it can be like a heavy silk robe, a burden of sadness you carry with grace; it can be anything in between.
Your grief showed up during a time of great upheaval; it could be no other way.