On dealing with loss

One of the things I hear most frequently about dealing with the loss of a loved one is “getting over it.” People wonder when it will get better, when it will get easier.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on grief, I do have (maybe more than) my fair share of experience, and here’s what I think about getting over losing someone you love: You don’t.

I’m closing in on 11 years without my dad, and I’m still not over it. And I don’t think that’s abnormal. In fact, I think it’s perfectly normal.

You don’t get over losing someone who was important to you. Things don’t get better. Life doesn’t go back to the way it was.

You deal with losing a loved one. Continuously. Forever. I’m still dealing with the fact that my dad is gone and will never meet his grandchildren. I started dealing with it on August 3, 2002, and I’ve continued dealing with it to this very day. In fact, this morning I was dealing with it, while I stared at the ceiling from my bed feeling sorry for myself because I couldn’t celebrate Father’s Day with my father.

Last week I was dealing with it when I was mulling new tattoo ideas and I realized I didn’t actually know and couldn’t remember if my dad had any tattoos. Or how he felt about tattoos. Or how he would feel if I got a tattoo in memory of him. And I couldn’t just pick up the phone and ask him.

Things don’t get better after you lose someone you love. Things get different. Life gets different. You go about your days a little differently. Or, perhaps a lot differently, depending on how close and how much day-to-day interaction you had with the person you lost.

And things certainly don’t get easier after a loved one dies, either. I don’t think so, anyway. Today was no easier than yesterday for me, and yesterday was definitely not any easier than two years ago. I think you just become accustomed to the pain. You get used to that hole in your heart, and you work around it. Some days, you work around the hole rather successfully. Other days you fall right in that hole. And sometimes you get stuck in that hole for a long, long time.

And that’s okay. You know why? Because your dad is fucking dead. It’s okay to be sad about it. It’s okay to sit and cry to yourself about it from time to time, especially on Father’s Day or his birthday or the day he died or Christmas or your son’s birthday or when you think about the fact that your son is never going to get to meet this amazing man you called Dad.

Because grief is a process. A never-ending, ongoing, in-your-face-every-fucking-day process. I’ve had people ask me how I handled it. How I got through it. They can’t believe I came out on the other end so well, that I must be so strong and so mature. My answer is always, whether it’s silent and to myself or out loud: I didn’t handle it, I’m still handling it; I’m still going through it, and you definitely wouldn’t think I’m strong or mature if you saw me curled up in a ball on my bathroom floor, gasping for air between sobs.

So if you recently lost someone you love, know this: in 10 or 15 or 20 years when you’re still all fucked up about it: It’s okay. I am too.