"The thing that sucks the most is that now I have to stay alive," my sister-in-law, now an only child, says as she smokes a cigarette on the porch. Her eyes are tired and spent.
Her brother, my husband, is dead.
It is hot in New Mexico this August 3rd, 2010. The sun is merciless. The smoke does not help the dryness in our throats, but we light another cigarette anyway. What else is there to do when he is dead? We cry and we smoke. Later, we drink. I drink for hours, nights, years. This hurt is bottomless. I read about a translucent snailfish that lives on the ocean floor and I wonder if I could drink myself that deep.
Friends and colleagues give me flowers, cards, alcohol, weed. My grief is too much for them to bear. It is too much for me to bear. I cannot breathe, I cannot think, I cannot speak about him without my breath catching, as if my voice has gotten trapped in the snag of a sweater.
He was smart. Brilliant, actually. We talked through many nights about our love, about life. His jawline was sharp and his eyes changed from green to brown to gray.
He was here just a moment ago.
There are events so crushing that they fundamentally change you. We split into two, our lives become defined by what happened before the event, and after.
What we have in the middle is choice. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor, said, "when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."
Being shaken to your core means re-learning what is at your core. Tragedy has a way of clearing away the unnecessary rubble.
The platitude of finding silver linings is ridiculous, but what can emerge from the rubble is what you hold dear and what is superfluous. Finding answers to these questions can be indicators of what saps your energy, what fuels you, and who you can count on.
When you were hurting:
What no longer mattered? These can be trivial things, like finding the right outfit, or substantial, like where you live.
What mattered a lot? Again, the answer to this can be mundane, like having a cup of good coffee in the morning, or significant, like having a means of supporting yourself.
Who was there? The people who show up can surprise you. So can the people who don’t. Hold on to the ones who do.
We can use the fuel to keep waking up, keep living despite uncertainty, loss and defeat.
Now, my grief occasionally passes through in waves, but my "after" is full of joy. The ocean is still.