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What to Expect When You Lose a Loved One

If I could give a letter to the girl who stood dripping with fear and sorrow on on the outset of the next two years of grief, I believe it would look something like this.
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Two years ago my husband died suddenly in an accident, leaving me alone and terrified of the journey ahead.

If I could give a letter to the girl who stood dripping with fear and sorrow on on the outset of the next two years of grief, I believe it would look something like this.

Lovely Melissa,

I know your body is convulsing with fear of the unknown, and I wish with all of your future heart that I could save you from the torture of the journey that is yet to come. For even now, two years later, my heart still has moments of pure agony and times when my hands still shake with anger.

So, I do not pretend to write you a letter that will convince you that this is going to be an easy journey, for that is not the truth.

The truth is that it is going to be the hardest journey you have ever walked down. Before he died I used to be convinced that the human mind can conjure up such fear and anxiety around the unknown that often times when something happens it's not as bad as the time when you imagined it.

Sadly that is not the case. I believe that walking through that first year after he died was so much worse than I ever envisioned it would be if it ever were to happen.

Perhaps back then I never really let myself fully conceptualize what that reality would actually look like because I truly believed that if he were to die, I would die also... and my mind kept my heart safely protected from that realm of imagination.

But, I have found, the thought of losing the one person who completed not only your heart, but also your sentences, is not harder than actually walking through that loss.

That first year taught me the depths of unseen torture that exist on this earth through emotional pain. It taught me that both our bodies and our minds are able to discern every flicker of unsteady emotional and corporeal suffering even when there is no tangible evidence to be seen.

There is a very palpable sense of loss surrounding you. It is okay to live into it until you are ready to release the reins.

I tell you all of this not to scare you, because I promise you, my darling, that it will get easier. I tell you this in hopes to help you understand that there is a normalcy to what you are feeling.

You are not alone.

I wish I could softly kiss your tears away and brush back your hair when you are laying there in fits of sorrow and sweat.

For those nights are yet to come, but I promise you, so are nights of rest and hope.

During the first few weeks you will stare off with nothing behind your eyes. A frail replica of your former existence will smile at others around you but there will be no exclamation points behind any of your words.

You will eat, but only just fast enough to get some nutrients in before your heart rejects it. You will talk, but none of what you or anyone around you is saying will matter in the slightest.

As you walk through plans and life, be gentle with your reactions to the absurdity that others may say or do. Gently remind yourself that your pain is truly unfathomable to many, and they do not understand the complete and utter confusion that is going on inside of your brain.

They are there to help, they love you with their whole heart, and they are desperate to take away your pain.

But, that pain that I speak of, is going to be a new constant in your life. It will not rack you every moment of every day, as you may now believe to be so, but it is because of this pain that you are being made stronger than you ever knew you would be in this life.

You are becoming a warrior that will not recognize the girl that is currently standing paralyzed with fear.

There will be days that you start to believe in the hope that is just out of reach. You will see a light, and slowly, day by day, it will become brighter, this I promise you.

But then, like an old fashion roller coaster on an ocean front view, once you go up, you then must go back down...

As you do, as the wheels turn and your brain goes back down the path of despair, each time you will slowly be expecting it. The flutter in your stomach and the tension of your body slowly computing what is about to happen, and it will become easier.

Literally minute by minute.

So, my darling, what I want to leave you with is this...

The aftermath that took my breath away most, the part that has changed me to the core through this process of anguish, is that I am thankful for the woman I have become.

No, I am not thankful to have lost my husband.

But I am thankful for the beautiful knowledge that I now know. The clarity in which I now see the world and what matters most in what surrounds me.

Through the process of grief I now know what I never knew I needed to know until I finally knew it and then it all made sense...

And I get to live the rest of my life with this precious awareness seeping out of my heart and out of my decision making.

So, my love, although it is terrifying and full of unimaginable suffering, stay brave. You are more capable than you will ever know. You are strong and beautiful and your heart will make it through, very slowly, to the other side. And remember, he is with you, just out of reach, but he is there for you to call on when needed.

You are not alone.

This post is part of CommonGrief, 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