It has the power to blindside you even when you expect it. That initial shock which sucks all of the oxygen from the room and leaves you feeling weak in the knees. Things slow down as reality starts to fragment; your mind attempts to perform some impossible gymnastics to reconcile the facts. The news is simple; they have died, and yet you can’t make that fit. Instead you flip back-and-forth in disbelief. At times you find yourself cycling through absurd alternative realities; where you’d intervened, where this was a dream, where you can wind back the clock, where things were different. Sometimes you wish it, sometimes, for a minute, you truly believe it.
This is interspersed with moments of distress. Overwhelmed, there’s little more than pure anguish. Somewhere underneath you may be longing for them or angry at yourself or angry at the injustice of reality. For now this is all drowned out by misery. It will repeat.
Then, perhaps after a day or so things start to feel like they settle back to earth. And just when it feels like you’re regaining your balance it returns and knocks the wind out of you. The warmup is over. While before you felt overwhelmed now there is no rhyme or reason to what is taking place. It often stops as abruptly as it starts. You cry like you’re fitting – a spasm of violent sadness. Exhausted, your body stops and comes up for oxygen. In this scramble of thoughts nothing is coherent, your thrashing body a pitiful expression of the anger. I’ve seen it written that “it’s only possible to grieve with 100% of one’s being” and after a bit you need a break. Soon enough there’ll be another bout. Tomorrow you’ll wonder why your ribs feel bruised.
Once your body is exhausted it will yield for a moment. Your mind becomes numbed as the same thoughts continue their assault. Maybe you can distract yourself for a period, but you know it’ll return. Eventually these distractions improve in effectiveness. The thoughts recirculate but less regularly or dominantly. Then, once it’s calmed down you might wake during the early hours of the morning to find that they’re back, running through your head at full volume. It feels like it’ll be this way forever. It’s possible that those unanswerable questions will not be answered but eventually the intensity driving them will dim.
For now, you just slouch back into the ropes and roll with the punches. This is how it gets better.