Surviving the shipwreck – Advice on grieving the loss of a loved one
Passed out and sleeping hard from the long night of drinking before, I woke up to my phone ringing. It was early so it was strange that I was getting a call (everyone knows I am not an early riser). I didn’t recognize the phone number, which usually means I don’t answer.
But in my hungover, half asleep haze, I picked up. I had no idea the life-altering news this phone call would bring.
My friend’s dad was on the other line. He called to tell me my friend was found dead that morning and asked me if I could tell our friends.
The world stopped.
My stomach dropped to my feet and my heart jumped up my throat. It couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be happening. He was going to come bounding in my front door at any moment like he had nearly every day for the last two years.
But it was happening and he wasn’t coming.
The grief was overwhelming.
After some time, people’s lives resumed, but mine was still on hold. I couldn’t just go back to life as it was. Everything was turned upside down. I was drowning in grief.
This was January 2008. He was 20 years old.
Today would be his 30th birthday.
Ten years. It’s been nearly a decade since I last laughed with him and stayed up late watching movies. He was by a landslide the smartest person I’ve ever known but he never got to graduate college. He wasn’t at my wedding and he never got to have a wedding of his own.
I miss him. God I miss him. Time passes and it gets easier to compartmentalize, but I will always miss him.
Living with the grief
About two years ago I was really struggling with losing him. I was dealing with a lot of self-blame and overwhelming grief so I read nearly a million articles online trying to find comfort in someone else’s words. Nothing helped.
The Reddit thread
My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.
Many people responded offering consolation and words of advice. One man’s response changed my life. It helped me pick myself up and put myself back on my feet. I’ve never heard the grief of losing a loved one so succinctly described. He nails it.
Surviving the shipwreck
Today, I sit here with a glass of champagne to celebrate my friend. I have finished reading this stranger’s words again for the millionth time. As I wipe away the tears that stream down my cheeks, I’m sharing this with you in the hopes it can do for anyone what it has done for me.
And to the “old” guy, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
“Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”