Grief is the best natural sedative everyone will inevitably one day experience. You can read as many stories about grief, trying to dissect it from every angle-from how it will affect your mental and physical health, to how to will change the way you interact with your friends and family, and yourself. But I can honestly say, as someone who did just that, there is nothing that can quite prepare you for grief and its debilitating aftermath.
Grief struck me when I was least expecting it. There was no time to mentally prepare, it just happened. About a month before my life was permanently altered by losing my first friend, life was already in a bleak place. I had just graduated college, entering your unsteady early 20s, moved to a new city, had a creepy landlord, a temporary job, and then Donald Trump as elected. To say the least, I was already going through a lot. I was in the awkward stage of change that is less talked about, because it is anything but glamorous.
Everything was overwhelming. I felt myself being hypersensitive toward my surroundings. Things that would never phase me were all of the suddenly giving me anxiety-dropping a mug made me teary eyed. When I walked outside the day after Trump was elected and instantly got cat called, it stung a lot more than it used to. The world seemed extra depressing. But little did I know, come early December it would only get worse.
On December 2nd, I got a text from a friend. In the text it simply asked me if I had seen the news. I remember kind of laughing and just said something along the lines of, “what now.” Then my friend sent me a link. The link had several dozen names on it of people that were declared missing from a massive fire that broke out at a warehouse music show in Oakland, CA. And as I scrolled through the list, there it was. A friend of mines name was there. I understood the text then.
The next few hours were odd. As several friends and I exchanged anxieties and hopes that our friend would be found okay via text, the time just passed so slow. In retrospect, grief was already creeping into my life by dulling my senses and reactions, because that day my logic seemed to have been depleted, and although all reason pointed to the fact that my friend had passed away in that fire, I still had irrational hope that she would be okay. This might be due to the fact that I watch too much SVU where miracles happen if you hope enough, or it could be that my brain didn’t even know how to begin to compute what was about to unfold.
That waiting period was gruesome. I always think about how sad and truly devastating this news was for me and my friends, but I still can’t fathom how my friend’s parents were dealing with this news. Their daughter and my friend was also an only child. Little did we all know, or maybe deep down we did know, that the next day would change our lives forever. Dramatic as that sounds, it is true, grief is brutal.
I went to bed early that night. I even took Nyquil because I wasn’t prepared to wake up to this news while being sleep deprived due to my nerves. Even though the entire day I had several conversations about how utterly horrible it would be if our friend did die in that fire, I was in no way even slightly prepared for the confirmation of her death the next morning.
When you lose a loved one in a freak accident, for months you might try to make sense of what happened. But I can say that there is no point of doing that, because it will never make sense, and the ‘what ifs’ will just drive you crazy and waste the energy you have left. Instead, you have to try to learn how to live with the loss. But I am not going to lie, that takes time. And no matter how hard you might try, you cannot cheat grief. When grief is done with you, you will know.
Grief got me, and what I could never have truly understood prior was the complete toll it takes on your body. Everything is either too numb or too sensitive. Even breathing feels harder, it’s as if a part of your heart was chipped away and for oxygen to be fully circulated, it has to go further into your chest to properly nourish your body. The dark sides of grief are well documented, but until you experience it, I don’t think you can fully empathize with it. But one thing to note is that everyone deals with it differently. Some of my friends shut off, some were angry, and some even got incredibly defensive and didn’t understand why people who didn’t know our friend that well were sad.
Grief shows even your closest friends in a completely new light. Three days after the fire was my birthday seemed like perverse timing. The last thing I wanted to do was to celebrate my life when my friend’s life was so suddenly and unfairly taken away, far too soon. But what I did notice about grief in time, is that it highlights which of your friends and family members are there for you, even in your darkest of times.
My friends made me go out and allowed me to talk about what I was going through on my own terms. I am very grateful for that. Even though some friends weren’t there for me, I am oddly glad that they weren’t. This is because they showed me their true colors that way as well, and from that moment on, I had gained a true sense of clairvoyance about who I wanted to be in my close circle.
Grief is exhausting and highly complex; there are horrible sides of it, and there will be several moments where you wonder if your worldview is forever changed. And the truth is, it might be. But what I am learning each day since that incident, is that grief is not only an inevitable experience, but there are ways in which you grow that you never can until you experience it ― but that is not to glorify the experience. Grief, for the highs and the lows, has the potential to expand your depth of character, but only if navigated in a healthy way.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.