I’ve always associated grief with those who have died—a kind of sickening permanence knowing you will never see a person again, share a laugh, or breathe the same air. But I never considered the different kind of heartache that comes with mourning the loss of a living person. Like someone very close to you who moved across the country and “got too busy” to stay in touch. Or a best friend for years who changed so much you didn’t recognize her anymore. Or a romantic significant other with broken hearts on either side, or the worse fate of breaking up while still in love, out of necessity (perhaps the one downside of college).
How can this kind of grief hurt in just as real a way as a literal death? It’s the scent of lingering possibility hovering in the air. Possibility that you might see each other again, that things might be different, that you might be able to work everything out. You never experience that permanence, which in many ways allows you to move on. And instead? Your healing scabs are constantly picked open every time you run into the person at your favorite coffee shop, they post something on social media, or you hear their name. There’s nothing more torturous than the thought of someone you love[d] moving on in life without you. They say Karma is a bitch, but have you met her friend FOMO?
While starting a new school year or college is an exciting time, nobody speaks much of the subtle pain that inevitably accompanies it—going off to school is a season of break-ups. Calling it off with romantic interests, growing apart from old friends, leaving behind a whole way of life. As appealing as the promise of independence and meeting new people sounds, it’s not without its subtle cost.
So how does one deal with the heartache of impermanent loss? Unfortunately, the cliché is right—time heals. But that doesn’t do anything to mask the pain of the present. As some of you may know, I consider myself an artist, and two years ago I explored the seven stages of grief through a series of 12 drawings. While then I viewed grief through the eyes of death, now I am reevaluating the stages in a different light in the hopes of finding some advice or relief from this foreign kind of pain.
First you experience the initial shock of whatever kind of relationship you lost. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising—you could feel the numbing pain of it approaching for a long time—or maybe it hit you aggressively, completely without warning. The natural next response is denial. While running from the heartache seems like a good idea, you’ll never be fast enough to fully escape…unless you turn around and face it. I’ve found that allotting a set amount of time to feel sad—whether that be a single day or a week—allows you the necessary setting to mourn properly. Personally, I like to spend that period in pajamas, binge watching a mindless guilty-pleasure TV show and listening to my sad song playlist. I avoid the massive tub of Ben & Jerry’s though—junk food only exasperates my feelings.
However, at some point you have to choose to escape that state of moping—you can’t let it last forever. Now is when *healthy* distractions are appropriate. After acknowledging the initial strife, you can finally begin the slow (and perhaps) difficult process of re-inviting happiness back into your life. Doing your favorite activities with other people who you still love, feeling productive, or spending time outside in the sun can all help clear some of the fog of numbness lingering in your periphery. Sometimes guilt might creep into the back of your mind, and you’ll begin to wonder what you could have, or should have, done to save the relationship. But what good does feeling crappy about yourself do for anyone? As we know, hating yourself isn’t fashionable.
And sometimes a sudden anger overwhelms you, attacking whatever remnant of love you felt for the person. Allowing yourself to feel hate can be easier than dealing with the pain, and it gives you a sense of power by taking the broken relationship into your own hands while laying the blame on the other person. But that anger and hate also takes a lot—it strips you of all the wonderful memories you shared together. Just because a relationship ends poorly, or just because it ends at all, doesn’t mean you have to sabotage the happiness you did share. Those girly magazines that talk about revenge and making your ex jealous don’t get it. Anger might be a quick fix to the initial pain, but it creates a lasting impression of sorrow on all your memories. And you can never recover from that.
You might deal with bargaining as well, or the severity of depression can hit you throughout your grieving process. But eventually, acceptance will be in sight. Avoiding those dark feelings of guilt and anger can help you move on sooner, and giving yourself a strict time limit for sulking forces you to take the next step in eventually moving forward.
I wish there were some way to speed up time past the pain of initial heartache. Or some sort of healing magic potion you can drink that tastes suspiciously like a chocolate milkshake. But alas, we have to suck it up and live with the hurt, at least for a little bit. And it really sucks.
Although…thank goodness a killer, confident outfit can always be worn to brighten your day. 😉
If you have been struggling with the loss of a friendship, please feel free to reach out to me! I can’t say I have any useful advice to give, but sometimes ranting and letting all your feelings out is the best form of therapy. My biggest hope is that you learn to resist the temptation of anger and instead cherish all the moments worthy of reminiscing. Cheers to the weekend, and try to have a great Friday!
Miles of smiles,