“Everyone’s tired and traumatized. Normal life is coming back slow and strange, like plant life after a nuclear blast, and we won’t know the scale of the damage until something like safety feels possible. It’s okay to feel numb right now.”
I am suffering bereavement and feel cut off from normal life. Can you give me perspective?
Grief hurts so badly because it is about something permanent, writes advice columnist Eleanor Gordon-Smith, but you won’t float forever
I am suffering. Though it has been several months now, most days it still feels like more than I can bear.
I feel cut off from the rest of normal life, as though I am floating, and I don’t know how to come back to normality without the person who I have lost. Please can you give some perspective?
Eleanor says: For finite creatures – who will without doubt experience loss and then in turn be lost – we do a very good job of isolating ourselves in that experience. We do a very good job of leaving each other alone in the one thing that actually unites us.
I know the strangely unplugged feeling you describe very well. The muffling of every sound; the sense of walking through an anaesthetised dream; the disobedience of the fact that garbage trucks are still beeping and dogs are still being walked in parks, as though you could possibly be expected to perceive – let alone return to – a world that has not stopped. It’s especially acute at your current moment, after a few months, when people stop asking how you’re doing and you might feel some pressure to “move on”.
But you already know there’s no place unmarred by grief for you to move on to. I think that’s why the pain is so bad when it hits; we know it’s about something permanent. There’s no future where our loved one is alive. So we get hit by one wave of pain for the fact that they’re gone, and another for the fact that they will never not be.
Why do friends discard me when I am no longer of use?
It’s enough to make you drown.
When I am drowning I get some comfort from knowing that almost every other person has been underwater too. Some are underwater with us right now, double-taking in the street when they think they see their person, suddenly needing to turn off music they’ve never before thought of as moving.
The pain never quite goes away. Since so much of ordinary life is built on the promise of painlessness, you may never quite feel fully part of it again.
But you won’t float forever. The acuteness of this pain can be its own kind of reality – a way of relating to the dogs in the park and the sounds of the street and the people still around you as gifts that are here for a moment and then wink away. It’s all here only for a moment. How astonishing that we would get to be here with it too.
Everybody from CS Lewis to the Queen has said that grief is the price we pay for love. It is a cosmic tragedy that we cannot have that love forever, but there is another, more fragile, more vivid kind of joy inside people who know that it will all one day be gone. The tragedy will never really leave you. But that joy will move in beside it. Some days the loss will be as fresh as if it happened yesterday, but some days you will catch yourself laughing.
Your terrible pain is not the opposite of life, or a sign that you are done living. It is what happens when you see life for what it is: it’s a gift, and then it ends.
I wish you luck through your days. I – and millions of us – are with you, being tossed back and forth on the tragedy and the luck that we get to have days at all.