I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the concept of getting over the loss of someone you love. I think that a lot of people believe that’s a thing that’s possible, that we can – and SHOULD (my new least favorite word) – get over it. I’m very lucky, because nobody in my life has asked me if I’m over it; but I know from talking to people in the online support group I belong to that lots of people coping with a loss get that insensitive question. I know someone whose boyfriend took his own life four months ago, and someone asked her that question. Four months, to get over the loss of her love of eighteen years.
Monday I started reading Elizabeth Edwards’ book Resilience. She lost her son Wade in a car accident in 1996, when he was 16 years old. She has a very effective response to questions of that sort:
I will never be over it. If I had lost a leg, I would tell them, instead of a boy, no one would ever ask me if I was “over” it. They would ask how I was doing learning to walk without my leg. I was learning to walk and to breathe and to live without Wade. And what I was learning is that it was never ever going to be the life I had before.
What she said opened something up inside of me, freed me from feeling as if I had to get over losing Tony. It’s okay not to get over it. Getting over it is an impossible goal. Learning to live without him often feels impossible, too, but learning is a verb I understand. Learning is something I can do, it’s something I’m good at. I’m learning about myself through therapy, learning how to be more compassionate to myself and others; learning critical awareness and many other things.
Ronnie Walker, who founded the Alliance of Hope, uses the term “Forever Altered” to describe what it’s like to lose someone to suicide; but I think it can be applied to any grief. I have been forever altered by Tony’s death. I will never be the same person that I was before he took his life. How could I be? He was my husband, my friend, my writing partner. So much was taken from me that day that I think comparing it to loss of a limb – or two – is fair.
I am learning to live and breathe and walk and sleep and write and BE, without Tony. Every single moment is a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to learn. Every day is a test I didn’t study for, in a subject I have no interest in learning. My life feels fraught with danger, a minefield of unexpected sorrows and fears and emptiness. Step by step, I am learning my way through the obstacle course. I will never get to the end of it, but I can learn how to navigate it. Step by step by step.