There is this defining moment in grief… which separates the past from the future. It is this bizarre collision of who you were and who you will become. It is memories and dreams that literally shatter head-on and transform your world forever. And it is where many people get stuck. The place where you cling to memories because it is all you have left. The place where you are afraid to release those dreams because there is such finality in that. I listened to all the advice. I read the books. And I searched and waited for this overwhelming peace. For life to somehow pick up where I left off in the middle of grief. But it didn’t. I was not comforted by photos or remembering the past. There was just this huge and empty void. And this hole in my heart that was impossible to fill.
I spent days numb… simply going through the motions. Everything was falling apart around me because there was no way to go back, yet it was inconceivable to move forward. The ache in my body reminded me every day that my arms were empty. The notion of being a mother on this earth without her child is abstract. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t happen.
In the early stages of grief, I wasn’t sure how I could navigate this life after loss. Nothing can prepare your heart for death. The blow of reality that hits when the waves of shock settle is insufferable. Your old life has vanished and this disorienting new existence is a sub par comparison. It is irrevocable. And that is the only certainty in this new uncertain world.
Death became this vast and infinite hole in my life. Danger was everywhere and fear was engulfing. There was no escape. Was death a cruel punishment or simply a careless happenstance? I found myself living a life of bondage. Trapped in the throes of grief. Exactly where I had intentionally set out not to land. And for all my purposeful efforts, I could not budge. It was a daily battle. And while the struggle internally was taking place… outwardly, I was determined to hold it together. I had children who deserved it. I wanted to teach them resilience. Their life had to remain as normal as possible so that the devastation of death did not consume their future. The evolution of grief is fascinating. And in time, my self-defense mechanism became a desperate search to block out emotion. It was how I coped. If we can’t feel pain, we won’t hurt. And it worked.
They say “time heals”. It doesn’t. No one tells you that the pain of death revisits on a whim. Death knows no boundaries. It is an imposing presence that strikes without warning in spite of any healing that has taken place. At any given moment it threatens to uproot your life and spiral you into a deep and unending abyss.
There is a great illusion in grief. A lie that tells us if we just walk through, it will be better on the other side. But the truth is…there is no other side. There is only before and after. There is only with and without. And for the remainder of your life, you will consistently view it like this. You will have to learn to exist in whatever means of survival you can. My marriage fell apart in grief. There were no warning signs. There were no red flags. It just ceased. Ended. Because you can’t go back. I could feel life laughing at me. Mocking me. For all the judgments I had once cast. For the deception that I had it all.
Grief brings shame. Brokenness. Despair. You will learn to recognize the face of pity. And you will become aware of the game of avoidance that most people play. You will want to run from the silent stares and the downcast eyes that deflect from meeting yours.
There is a balance in grief. A slow dance between letting the pain wash over you and pretending it doesn’t hurt. It is a constant back and forth. A one step forward, two steps back process. Keep going. When the pain threatens to bring you to your knees and it hurts to even take one more breath…keep going. Because you cannot get stuck in this plateau. And sometimes it is easier to stay where you are than move where you need to go. There can be no victory in death if you do not allow it. One more day. You live in the moment because if you just get through today…maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will not hurt so much. It is here, in this valley, where your bones are weary and your body is bearing the weight of your suffering, where you can be transformed.
I don’t have all the answers but what I do know is this…life is not worth existing in without hope.
Today, when I look back, I can’t believe it was me. I can’t believe we walked through that. And that we resurfaced. I also can’t believe that grief remains. That the pain continues to be an integral part of who you are no matter how long the span of time.
But so does love.
And love wins.
Love always wins.
Shannon Shpak is a writer and social media manager who is rebuilding life after loss with her 5 children. She believes in hope, perseverance and being strong… all legacies her son left behind.