Losing someone you love is an experience that every single person will experience. Loss is universal, and the sudden shredding of an interwoven life and love and relationship is often more jarring and powerful than that of having someone in your life. This is why they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone."
I want to give you a roadmap for what you are about to experience, to offer you hope and encouragement that this terrible thing does not have to be the thing that destroys you.
At first, it is like fire. The burning runs through every part of your body. The news, like an insect, crawls into your ear and suddenly before anyone can stop it, FIRE. Eyes burn, so they pour out water to calm the fire but even their salty stream burns down as they splash on check and chest. Dizzy, like the room is spinning, or maybe the whole world is spinning and nothing makes sense anymore. Can’t think, only scream. Like a roller coaster from Hell, the terror pulls your stomach up into your throat. Choking, you can’t breathe. Then nauseous as everything falls, fall to your knees, and scream again.
This will last a while and will happen from time to time. For some, it's an hour, for others, days. It may happen often, or only when memories are triggered. What is happening inside the heart and the mind is an accounting of, and adaptation to, a new hole. You must adapt to this vacuum where once rested a guarantee, a promise, an assumed confidence in life that never was questioned; “I’ll never lose that person."
This experience should not be resisted or hindered. After an amputation, the part that remains has exposed nerves that never were exposed before. For example, if part of a finger is taken for whatever reason, the part that remains must become strong to help the person live a normal life. The muscles are all there, what is missing is a callus. The frayed and exposed nerve endings can only be made calm, and useful, by exposing them to stimulation. In the case of rehab, a person may be asked to move their hand in a jar of dry beans. Though not very difficult for you and me, it is terribly painful for a new amputee. Those nerves have never felt this before, and they are sending loud signals of discomfort to the brain. The brain must learn to interpret this information correctly in order for the pain to become a normal feeling of beans. This is how nerves work.
Recall how when you first walk into your house and you notice the smell. Then soon after being in the house, you can’t smell it anymore. The same works in your memory. When you try very hard to remember something, you can’t. Then as your mind drifts to something else the memory comes back. Nerves are designed to function less when over stimulated. The brain learns to ignore incoming information that is no longer useful or overpowering. The opposite of this is a condition like Autism where the brain is unable to filter out the unnecessary or extraneous information. The pain in the amputated finger is actually a choice the brain makes, and so too is the missing smell. Even in memory, when the nerve is overstimulated, it works less. The first rule of grief is to give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling for the moment, and the years to come. If you hide from the experience and avoid revisiting those frayed nerves, they will never heal. This should never be some sort of penance of self-castigation. This is therapy. It is taken in small steps, in a safe space, with people you trust, with encouragement to learn a new normal.
The experience is different for everyone, but the reality is the same. What was, no longer is. The only way to come to functional terms with that is to reorient yourself to the new reality, the new normal. It is terribly painful. It feels impossible. It seems that there is no way to move past such a devastating loss. These fears will become true if you do not keep a light on in the hallway of your mind. The darkness waits to pull you into an abyss of doubt and fear and hollowness. Surround yourself with people who love you. Push into that which makes you uncomfortable. Accept the new normal, or risk losing yourself along with your loved one. Give up on yourself, and all those who love you will have to grieve you too.
When I lost my mom, there were lots of very strange and unexpected expressions of that grief. In my journey, I found expressing and sharing the life lesson to be my new purpose. I was 12 years old. Ten years later, I still felt the hole in my life, which inspired my poem Little Glory. I started working in a busy Emergency Department and saw my experience for a new perspective. Through this process of pushing into my fears and feelings, sharing and seeking the healthy support group I needed, my scar became my super power. My energy, my drive, my reason to make a difference in the world is because of my loss.
It is the worst thing ever, to loose someone.
Then it gets better, a little at a time.