Three days ago marked the third anniversary of Jack’s death. It passed quietly, which in an odd way reminds me of a phrase often used in obituaries: “he passed quietly in his sleep…” I wasn’t sad nor particularly wistful—helped, probably, by a lot of work on my plate and a flight back to NYC that night—and it felt odd to be mostly unaffected.
When Jack first died, I couldn’t see how the universe would ever again make sense. I didn’t believe I’d ever again feel joy—or content or silly or loved or, god forbid, lustful. In the early days—followed by months, and then years—of grieving, I consistently felt as though I were drowning in sorrow, breathing but only barely, capable of feeling nothing but lost and alone and Jack-less.
Those feelings haven’t disappeared and, if what I’ve read about the grieving process is true, it’s likely they never will, at least not completely. But they are far from constant, and I am no longer drowning in grief nor weighed down by the heaviness of deep, deep loss.
When I first noticed that there were entire days that would pass when I didn’t think about Jack, I felt sad and a little guilty. For a very long time “being Jack-less” defined me. In some ways, such as in my reluctance to date, it probably still does. But for the most part, I’ve become a quite different person with a noticeably different life than I was and had when Jack was alive. I’ve “moved on” to a place and state of mind that I never even knew existed in the early days after he died, when I cried so much that I burst blood vessels in my face.
I am not writing this because Tuesday was the anniversary of Jack’s death. Not am I writing this to say that grieving ends (it does not) or to say I’m “over” Jack (I don’t know I’ll ever be, but not in the ways you think).
Why I am writing this: because I want to tell people that things really do get better. And not better in a way in which on a Friday you’re crying all day but something snaps on a Saturday morning and by Sunday afternoon you’re back to “normal.”
When someone you deeply loved dies, “normal” disappears, then becomes irrelevant. When I say “things get better,” I mean that you begin at a point at which you can’t see how you’ll ever feel like yourself again—happy, sociable, interested in life, but gradually you do get back to being “you.” It’s a different “you” in a multitude of ways, a you filled with the cracks that Leonard Cohen says let the light in (and he’s right), but it’s there. It happens. I promise. And I 100% guarantee that you will not notice it happening; you’ll be walking down the street or waiting for the train or searching for the perfect plums at the grocery store or simply wake up one day and it will click: you’re back, enough so.
This doesn’t mean you’ll never cry again nor feel regret nor wish things were different. It just means you’ll do all of those things as you in the real world as opposed to trying to be “normal” in a grieving bubble. Grieving can and does take over your life. But time gives it back. I promise. Your time may be shorter or longer than my time, but it happens, as long as you talk about things when you’re sad and let yourself feel what you feel without apology nor self-consciousness (this is not the time to worry about being too big or too loud or too anything; this is the time to save your sanity, even if it means leaving a trail of snot-filled tissues everywhere you go)—and get professional help if it gets too difficult to bear. I promise.
If you’re grieving now, I know this sounds absurd. If I’d heard any of these things three years ago I (a) wouldn’t have believed them and (b) told you that you didn’t understand.
But I’ve walked through this fire. I do understand.
And you don’t have to believe me, but here’s a trick my first sponsor taught me: all you have to do is believe that I believe what I’m saying. And I do. I promise.