Never tell a newly grieving person that “life goes on.” Don’t.
The first time I heard that after my husband’s death, my breath whooshed away like when a fifth-grade bully punched me in the stomach. If my lungs hadn’t been empty I’d have screamed, “That’s not true!”
It wasn’t — not for my husband. His life did NOT go on.
It wasn’t true for our family, either. Death ended the life we had together. His/Our/My life did NOT “go on” physically, emotionally, financially, legally, socially. It screeched down a slope, plunged over a cliff, and shattered into flying shards.
“Life goes on?” Straightforward, everyday chores nearly undid me! When I entered the grocery store as a new widow, Halloween decorations mocked from everywhere. My heart pounded faster than my thoughts raced. “How can there still be holidays? How can people put up decorations? How dare they depict death and decay and graveyards as fun?”
I took as much offense at the onslaught of every season throughout that year of “first” annual events. Each birthday, anniversary, and holiday that “went on” without my husband scratched nails across the now excruciating chalkboard of occasions by which we had once marked our shared passage through each calendar page.
That life could “go on” normally — for everyone else — seemed cruel.
During those first shocked, raw months, I felt bruised and fettered by day-to-day evidence that — for others — “life went on” around me.
Gradually, as I worked through the motions of “going on,” I felt a brief loosening of those fetters. Sometimes they tightened again, protesting my returns toward living my own life as I faced “new firsts” without him. When I opened my first “Congratulations! Your story has been selected …” notice, I squealed and waved my arms and shouted (just a bit excited, you understand!) and then — and then I wanted to tell my husband … and my mom.
But each time I stepped forward, those fetters stretched a little more, and with each new “first” I found their restrictions looser, briefer. Eventually they began resembling bracelets more than manacles, accessories to my life story more than markings of “The End.”
I’ve learned that life does, indeed, go on, that it can be beautiful again. I, however, like every other grieving soul, had to discover it for myself — when I was ready.
[…] The long-term answer is more complex. The reality is that when their loved ones died, so did the “old” life they knew. Almost as soon as the funerals end, friends of the bereaved settle back into “normal” routines. For them, “life goes on,” but for the bereaved it does not. (Please see my earlier post: Do NOT Tell the Bereaved “Life Goes On”.) […]