I had a conversation recently, one of many, rooted in pain and with no purpose other than empathetic venting. We know that grief comes from many places and for many reasons, but grieving someone or something that still exists has a unique set of challenges. Loss is something that can change who you are, how you live, your future actions and how you see yourself. Grief from death is tragic, and bears the same consequences, but there is one defining difference. When someone you love passes away- they didn’t chose to leave you.
The platitudes are shared among the living and the dead in grief- “give it time”, “they are in a better place” , “you are better off without them”, “it wasn’t meant to be”, “god has a plan”, etc. They have the same effect. When someone dies though, the pain comes from never seeing their face, their smile, their smell fades as does the sound of their voice. With the living it is the thought of seeing their face, hearing their voice or their laughter as they share a joke with someone else that brings the pain. How do you grieve someone that is very much living?
Stage 1: Fuck you and Me. The break up, the last fight, that final door slam that ends in an angry eruption of tears and breaking photo frames of couple selfies. I know that anger is a common grief stage but this is not the kind of anger that causes you to doubt your religion. Its anger that turns you into someone you are not. This alter ego comes out and turns into a combination of the Hulk/Rocky/Columbo. You stalk facebook, search the internet, interrogate neighbors, friends and family and then you think about how to be destructive in a way that will cause your ex the same pain you are in. Living grief anger is cold, calculated and revenge based. So different from being angry at God for taking away a loved one. And the revenge usually has a name, or several depending on how attractive you are and how active. Because unlike with death, mourning a breakup is a sign of weakness, a sign that you are the victim. But moving on and under/over someone new- that shows you never really cared at all. Fuck them and you.
Stage 2: The Jokes on You. The anger slows down and the breathing begins. This stage has a part A and a part B. In Part A you focus on blaming everyone and everything. The ex’s new partner is the worst human being alive- they sell children and eat puppies for dinner- that kind of horrible. They took your ex away because they are really a sex demon with mind control drugs. Not truly but you get the point and then part B hits-and you realize that someone you loved for so long would rather be with a puppy eating demon than with you. And suddenly all the giggles you had at making fun of that other person and posting meme’s about broke ho’s on facebook lose their comedic appeal. Because in the eyes of someone you loved- thats a better choice than being with you. And you aren’t laughing anymore because you just realized that the joke is on you.
Stage 3: The 3 am memory loss. TV, radio, text messages, facebook video reminders- suddenly they are everywhere you look. No one ever thinks “thats the song that was playing when he/she was being an asshole”. But when enough time has passed with the activities of the first 2 stages- the memory loss occurs. You forget all the anger and pain that happened during the relationship. Instead you see an Omaha Steak ad or a new episode of Bobs Burgers and you think of the good moments. And the worst, the absolute worst is when you wake up from a dream about a good moment and its 3 am and you have hours to cry and think about what is wrong with you. Because what the fuck else can you do at 3 am? That is when you think about who they are laying in bed with at that time and why its not you. It doesn’t matter how many people say you are better off, you would give anything to be the you before , with them, than the broken mess of you now. Because at 3 am you forget it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
Stage 4: Biomechanical Emotions. You move, you laugh, you operate the buttons controlling emotion with the efficiency of a Japanese condo. You navigate through avoiding anything that could trigger a memory and try to be normal. You take pictures of your eyes in the rearview mirror to see if its obvious that there is a tiny naked person in there driving the shell thats you. Then that little naked survivor starts finding a few fig leaves and eats an apple and becomes faced with choices. You start noticing that there is a you that didn’t exist until now. That could be good and it could be bad, but its something, its someone new. This is when you start shutting down the machine and seeing who the new you could be. More human, less mechanical, living in grief but living.
Stage 5: Swimming with the fishes. So many fishes in the sea, plenty of them. The first time you go fishing you assume they are all b(ass)es. You search intently for a stripe or marking that tells you they are the same as the last fish that gave you food poisoning. You convince yourself that its there like a woman trying to conceive staring at her 5th pregnancy test of the night. Its not all about finding that fish, you can eat other food. Its about testing who you are now, its about not letting the past define you. Its about embracing the suck, and god does it suck at first. You fell in love before, you will again but not the same because its never the same. When you see them, hear them, it will still hurt, just less. You stop wasting time on being angry and sad and letting someone else drive your emotions. Because in the end, its not about the fish- its about the swimming.
My stages may not be yours, they may not be anyone else’s but mine. Grieving the living is a unique pain that no one can navigate for you. The hardest thing to accept is that someone else made a choice for themselves that profoundly affects you. That choice is theirs, how you move on from it- is yours. I choose to swim and fish and at 3 am I know who Im laying awake with and for me, that has made all the difference.