I know you’ve received your share of condolences. There have been enough letters, calls, texts, hugs and little cards on flower arrangements to last you a lifetime. I know those messages will keep appearing every time another person recognizes the hole in your life that this loss has left you with. I know you’ll continue to accept their sympathies graciously, time and time again. I also know no words will ever be enough.
Death is unfathomable, especially when it strikes someone with an unfinished life. Unexpected grief is horrid and immeasurable. Experiencing it makes you feel like you did as a child first standing in front of the ocean. You couldn’t possibly comprehend the magnitude of its size or depth. You just stood there wondering if it ever really ended, and knowing it would always have the power to consume you.
I don’t believe the human mind is ever truly capable of understanding the sudden loss of a loved one. Never being able to speak to, see or hold another person is an unrecognizable thought. We spend our whole lives ignoring the potential of that reality until it confronts us. And when it does it’s so shocking that it doesn’t feel real. How could it? You know these things happen, but they happen to other people, right? They don’t happen to you, until they do.
You then put on a black outfit, and go through the motions on autopilot like you’re watching someone play you in a movie on TV. You watch the actor plan funeral arrangements, go through old photos and hug your teary-eyed friends and family. You really hate the movie, but you can’t figure out how to turn it off, no matter how many times you try.
Death is a thief in the night. It steals from us without warning or explanation. It takes treasures we’ll never replace.
It steals memories, moments and expectations we spend our entire lives compiling neatly in our minds for safe keeping, only to find out they were never really safe at all. It steals wedding dances, graduation seats, much-needed advice, perfectly timed laughter, warm hugs and arms wrapped around new babies who deserve to meet their whole families. It can steal everything.
Death can take an unfinished life and make it finished. It’s unfair. It’s brutally, painfully and sinfully unfair. There are so many unanswered questions about why bad things happen to good people. There are a plethora of feelings and emotions to work through, and often the scars of those battles never really go away. I want you to know I understand that. Everyone who loves you understands that. Everyone who has been through this understands even more. And no matter how much time passes, any way you feel is justified and meaningful.
It’s okay to be absolutely livid. You can be mad. It’s okay to feel cheated and betrayed. It’s okay to let your blood boil and feel authentic rage from the injustice your loved one was served, and from the injustice everyone was served by losing a person they were supposed to have for a long time.
It’s okay to be devastated too. It’s okay to be broken. It’s okay to take to your time. It’s okay to question everything. It’s okay to cry and yell and lock yourself in your room when you need to. It’s okay to never stop feeling that sadness in many ways.
What’s most difficult to realize is that it’s also okay to find joy again. It’s normal to feel guilty as you move on through life when someone else does not, but they wouldn’t want you to hold back. You’ll inevitably feel pressure to act or respond a certain way, but you don’t have to do anything. There’s no right or wrong way to handle something so perplexing and earth shattering as the loss of a life.
Everyone grieves differently. Pain is as unique and intricate as the people who bear its weight on their souls.
I want you to know that you deserve no guilt or regrets. You did everything you were supposed to do, and the unthinkable happened. The impossible became possible. It’s no one’s fault. There is no blame to be dealt. There is no war to be won. Peace is the only medicine, and it comes in waves.
There will always be good days and bad days. There will be moments where you’ll feel strong and accepting, and others where you simply won’t. I want you to know I’m here for them now, and I’ll be there for all of them.
By I, I mean your friends, family and every person who cares about you. If you’re reading this and feeling alone, confused or unwarranted, I want to remind you that you aren’t.
I’m every one of those sympathy letters from people who don’t ever really know what to say, but try to say something anyway. Others suffer with you, for you and beside you. It doesn’t matter if it’s been seven days or seven years, I’m here. I’m here for the funny stories, the moments that feel empty and the days that feel endless. I’m here for every version of yourself that arises on this journey, the strong you, angry you, broken you and accepting you.
When you stand in front of that vast, endless ocean of grief and think about its ability to consume you, know that the only way it can do so is if you’re out there without a lifeguard. I’m your lifeguard. I’m here to watch over you from a distance when you need me to, and run to your rescue when you call out. I’m here to keep you afloat and bring you back to shore when you drift too far.
I’m here to dive in with you, and never, ever let you feel alone.
To everyone who’s lost someone too soon, know that you are not alone in your struggle in this life. Loss happens more often than you may realize, and you’re surrounded by lifeguards who are ready to jump in when you need them to. There is no ocean of grief vast enough to combat the power of love. The love around you, the love in your heart and the love of the people watching over you from above—will always be strong enough to bring you back to shore.
A Lifeguard and a Child in the Water
Because each of us is both in one way or another.