See, grief is stealthy. That’s what no one tells you.
The first time you suffer a real loss—a deep, significant loss—you really have no idea what it is going to do to you. I was 25 years old when one of my best friends died suddenly. What the hell did I know about loss? Then three others—family and friends—were lost in that same year.
I had no idea what to even do. Except cry all the time. And generally feel like shit. There was no reason any of them should be gone. No one could tell me otherwise.
So eventually, you get through all the other stages. You make it through all the denial and anger and suddenly, you can think about the ones you’ve lost and the memory of them makes you smile instead of cry.
Then you remember how to breathe.
You remember how to live and laugh, even with a great gaping hole in your chest. You recognize that it is still there, but it’s not so tender anymore.
And you think, yes. This is it. This is what healing feels like. Relieved, you feel like the weight of the universe is lifting off of your shoulders.
You go along—for days or weeks. Even months. Going along all normal and feeling like you’ve overcome something. The hole gets a little smaller.
Out of nowhere.
You start crying into your coffee.
And you think, what the fuck is this? I’m done with this bit. I made it all the way to acceptance—gold star, achievement unlocked. I’m supposed to be past it.
The truth is that acceptance probably lasts the longest of all the stages of grief because you realize that you have to make acceptance a habit. Every day, you have to accept the piece of you that’s missing. And most days, that happens without your even knowing it. Your brain just supplies that for you in the background, like a system program on your computer. Then every so often that mechanism takes a holiday, or something reminds you of the person you lost or whatever, and suddenly you find yourself dumped back into anger or depression or denial again.
There’s guilt, too, because when you do start crying into your coffee, you wonder how you could have ever done such a disservice to the memory of the person you lost by going on with living.
Recently, I lost two of my cats (they were people to me, anyway) in the space of about two weeks. I have never felt grief quite so crushing. It took months for me to feel more or less like myself again. I officially reached the point where I could talk about losing them without crying like a baby somewhere around six months after losing them. I adopted a cat during that time and then a few weeks ago, I adopted a kitten.
Sammy is an absolute delight, everything a human could want in a kitten. But every now and again he does something that reminds me so powerfully of one of the cats I lost, and then I’m completely undone. I feel like I’ve betrayed them by giving a little piece of me to Sammy.
I miss the cats I lost very much. And I very much love the cats I have. The two are not mutually exclusive.
But sometimes, I will still cry into my coffee. Maybe acceptance, real acceptance, is learning to accept that, too.