It started with shock. I sat down on the ground staring into a blank wall and listening to the voice on the phone saying, “Hello? Are you there? Are you okay?” But my mind was no longer in the room. It was busy calculating every possible reason for why this had happened, for how it had happened.
Then came the denial. They called the wrong person. Someone with the same name passed and they had falsely assumed it was my friend. This was all an elaborate joke. How could I have spoken to him on the phone hours before, yet now someone was claiming he was no longer here?
As I continued denying the fact that this was happening to me, I grew numb, I no longer felt anything. I built myself a cocoon of blankets, huddled up into a ball, and just existed. The only word I could use to describe my state of mind is simply “being.” I breathed, I ate, I slept, but I no longer knew what it was like to live—to feel. I felt like a machine. I kept asking myself, “Why can’t I cry?” “How am I such a horrible human that I can’t even express sadness for such a devastating event?”
I see dozens of these situations on TV or in movies, where friends mourn the loss of their loved ones. Where everyone sheds tear after tear for the life that once was. I sat there and thought to myself, how could I have possibly cried at the end of Marley and Me, yet my eyes cannot even create tears when I actually need them? I had been told that it’s okay to cry, but no one ever told me that it was okay not to cry.
I continued like this for weeks, assuming that I was fine, assuming I was unaffected by the tragedy. Then, one day, when I least expected it, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was looking through my jewelry box for some earrings, and I found a little black box. I opened the box only to find a necklace he had given me for my birthday, along with a hand-written letter. That’s when it hit me. That’s when I realized that this was real and there was no escaping it. All those emotions I had been searching for came rushing in all at once. I held the necklace in my hands and cried more than I thought was humanly possible. After hours, I wondered how I had any water left in my body. No one ever told me that I was going to feel so utterly hopeless. No one ever told me I was going to feel like I would never get better.
I read countless articles about how to cope with loss, the five stages of grief—yada, yada, yada. They helped, but none of them could accurately describe what I was feeling. None of them explained why I saw him everywhere. I would see him in everyone that walked by me with a plaid shirt on. I would hear his laugh among groups of people. I would smell his cologne whenever I walked through a crowd.
None of them explained why I expected to see him everywhere. I would go to his locker and hope to see him there and yell surprise! I would see a car like his and hope to see him behind the wheel. I would go to hotels and hope to see him in one of the rooms, hiding like a fugitive. I kept making up excuses for why he would disappear. Maybe he wanted to go across the country and he didn’t want anyone to know. Maybe he wanted to start a new life. I didn’t care whether I would ever see him again, I just wanted him to be alive, to be well.
I kept looking for answers to all of my questions, and the one question I could never find a good answer for was, “How do I get better?” I wanted a step-by-step tutorial, a YouTube video, an eHow guide—anything that would teach me how to grieve. But, of course, I couldn’t find that anywhere.
What I learned is that everyone mourns in their own way. Losing a loved one is incredibly devastating, and everyone has their own way to cope. I don’t know how others deal with their emotions, but what I can say is that in the end, everyone just needs time: to cry, to laugh, to think, to remember, to improve. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to remember happy times you have been through with your loved one. But it’s also okay to cry until you feel like you’ve run dry. It’s okay to scream until you feel like your lungs are going to give out. It’s okay to feel too much and it’s okay to not feel at all. It’s okay. It’ll all be okay.