A Letter to People in Pain: The Early Days of Grief Are a World of Their Own

I remember those early days.

When the life you expected to unfold disappears: vaporized.

When the world has split open and nothing makes sense.

When people talk at you and for you and around you, and not only do you no longer understand what they’re saying, you no longer care.

Your life was normal, and then, suddenly, it was not.

When out-of-order death enters your life, everything changes.

It’s like being in a crowded movie theater. Everyone starts out watching the same picture, exactly the one they bought tickets for, exactly the same one as advertised.

At some point, the screen rips in two, it shatters, and a whole new film begins. This one is surreal and strange, a horror show where there wasn’t one before. The characters have changed, the stage set is wrong. There are three moons in the sky, and this wasn’t science fiction when it started.

But the worst thing — the worst thing — is not that the movie has changed, but that no one else has noticed that it’s changed. They are all still watching as though nothing has happened. No one seems to notice that the screen has split and morphed, that everything is different now.

If you make a sound, if you say “Wait. WAIT — this is all wrong now!” They pat your arm and whisper, “Shh. It’s totally fine. It’s just a movie. It’ll work out fine. What a great story, and pass the popcorn please.”

You know that what they’re watching isn’t real. It’s a play of light and shadow that can stop at any time, mid-story, mid-sentence, mid-life. But until they see the screen you see, they will never understand.

If out-of-order death has shown up in your life, here is what you should know: Early grief is largely this — crashing again and again into a reality that can’t be real. Seeing the movie of your life shift reels with no warning; being forced to watch a story play out against a screen that cannot hold it in.

It’s an impossibility without release.

There is no neat-and-tidy road map. There are no answers. There is no way to right a universe that is so tilted, so completely wrong.

This is not the time for future plans. This is not the time for discussions about whether you will “be better later.” Later is irrelevant.

Now is all there is.

If you’re here, in the early days, and the universe has just split open and everything has changed, I’m sorry you’re here. Others have come before you, but that doesn’t really matter now. What matters is that the sky is wrong, and life is wrong, and you need someone to see it, to acknowledge it. To say — this is fucked up shit that just happened here.

You need someone to hold your hands while you stand there in blinking horror, staring at the hole that was your life.

Acknowledgement in everything.

Let’s call it as it is.

This sucks. It’s all wrong. There is nothing to do but to hold that horror, to send love down into that abyss.

This is all so horribly, horribly wrong. And I’m so sorry that you’re here.


flame-heart-100Wishing for some company inside your grief? Now, as always, the very best place I know to connect YOU with other grieving folks is inside the Writing Your Grief community. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there is always someone there: when you feel invisible inside your grief, these folks see you. Follow this link to join us. We’ve got room for you.