The empty space left by someone you love after they transition is the space that grief fills. The bigger the space, the bigger the amount of grief that will fill it.
Everyone you love takes up some sort of space in your life. Some more than others. Some may only have a space in your history and so the grief you experience might just be a moment held in silence and then you go on. Others, hold space in your present and (thus by default your future) so the grief will be proportionately larger.
While the moment of death is the last breath, the moment of grief is less precise. Grief begins before death, in cases of illness. Its called anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief lies in the empty space in the future. The future plans, conscious and subconscious, you had with this loved one, just vanish. The space where they were held, an empty void. Grief fills that void before the person has even taken his last breath.
At the moment of death grief expands to include not only the future, but the present. There will be no more ‘last’ moments. No more ‘one more time’. No more ‘ever again’. This grief is loud and overwhelming. Quickly there is preparation for the loved one’s last wishes ceremonies and cultural mourning practices. This person, though no longer sharing physical space, still occupies space in your life as several days are dedicated to the loss.
It is the day after the services end that always hits me the hardest. The first day with nothing to do for my loved one. The first day without a purpose that involves them. In cases of illness your life may have been filled with caregiving tasks and anticipatory grief for months…maybe even years, but at least days. Then the days of the ceremonies are filled with loved ones comforting you and sharing their own grief. There are preparations and decisions to be made. It is loud and overwhelming.
The day after is silent.
Ok, maybe not exactly the day after if there are out of town mourners, or left over duties. But there is one day, some one day, after the services are all done and family has left that the empty space looms large and the silence deafening.
It is here the grief really hits you. Because there is no channel now for your grief energy. No task to focus on that seems purposeful and directed. Now, there is just the empty space that once held your love and your love seems like it has no where to go now. There’s no direction to focus your grief, its just sort of all around you like a wind tunnel. Directionless, unfocused, disorienting, numbing, overwhelming and opaque.
Oh, yes, others will tell you that love never dies, he’s in a better place, she has returned to being pure love, etc…and while that may or may not be true in your eyes, it isn’t what anyone grieving that empty space needs to hear.
The fact is that grief is a book mark.
It marks the place where your loved one lived with you. Not in your home, but in your life. And every time you come across that empty space, grief touches you. Days go by and the grief is everywhere. Its even in the air you breathe. It seems as though it gets worse, not better. It gets worse because you are rediscovering all the corners of your life this person occupied.
Grief, like a lot of processes, is not linear.
Weeks go by and you might have half a day go by that you don’t touch that empty space. While it seems like forever, it also seems like yesterday and a kind of guilt at ‘going on’ tries to creep in. Don’t let it. This is your healing. You aren’t meant to live in the empty space. You are meant to live in spite of it. You are meant to honor your loved one by taking the love they gave you and creating a beautiful life including it. Its true, they do still love you and your love for them never dies. (I always twitch a little when people say “I loved him so much”. I’ve never stopped loving anyone when they died.) But the loss of their physical presence is real and in its place the bookmark of grief holds space for us to remember; to touch that love and that loss in ways that bring a new depth to our lives.
Like it or not, sometimes it takes losing a loved one to remember that life isn’t infinite here on the planet and gets us to up our appreciation for those in our lives. What better way to honor those who have passed on, than for us to love deeper, wider and more out loud!
Before you know it, months have passed and a new normal begins to bud. Every time you embark on something new, or you have something to celebrate there will be that grief that your loved one is not here to share it with you. A day or two will pass without that grief being forefront. You aren’t forgetting them. You are beginning to forget the pain of the loss, that’s all. While you will always miss them, you won’t always remember them with grief. Someday, down the road – maybe years, maybe a decade – you will be able to remember them without the pain. There will just be gratitude for the space they held in your life, when they held it.
The space in your heart they held? Well, that never decreases. Never. Ever. But the beautiful thing about the heart is that while it feels like it is breaking, it never really does. (I know, there is no more descriptive phrase for that feeling though.) Perhaps it is not breaking, but breaking open? Perhaps this pain is our heart opening up and showing us our full capacity to love another? Perhaps this also makes room in our lives for others to show up?
I know this is so very true in my life.
Some of the most amazing and loving people have come into my life because of a loss I suffered. And while at the time I might have said “I’d rather keep my old love with me, rather than gain a new.” Now, I could not make that choice. I received twice the love I otherwise would’ve experienced. Maybe more than that, even, because knowing how fragile life is I had far more appreciation for the new relationships and thus I love better and more out loud.
I think the Winnie The Pooh inspired quote says it best, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
My life is filled with amazing people that I love oh so very much and with each loss I suffer I make sure to love the remaining ones even harder. Yes, there are those who might say that only opens me up for more hurt. What it does is open me up for more experiences of loving and being loved. If grief is the price I pay for a life filled with love then for me its worth it!
I’ve survived worse…like not feeling loved or lovable.
I love you. Really big and really out loud.
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