Death brings with it its own terrible confusion. Life is just wrong somehow. Nothing is in its proper place. The world is back to front and upside down and nothing makes sense. That’s why I am giving you this plan, to help you make sense of the un-sensible. Don’t rush it. Living after death takes time.
1) Don’t be afraid of dead.
Don’t let raw hurt be buried beneath gentle phrases. Give grief its proper due as the right feeling, the only feeling. I have not passed away or fallen asleep; I am dead. For me this is a step on my journey; for you it is the end of the world. It feels like the end of the world.
It isn’t. But you are allowed, you have my permission if you need it, to believe for a while that life has lost its meaning. And don’t be afraid that this will be too much. This is what death does. It hurts almost unbearably. But you will bear it.
2) And don’t be afraid to cry.
Don’t think that if you start you’ll never stop. In the history of the world that has never happened. Crying is good. Cry with others, others who loved me and love you. You’ll say crying won’t solve anything, won’t bring me back and it won’t. But if the tears don’t flow where will they go? Will you store them up until the dam bursts and you’re left dry and bitter? Crying is good.
But crying has a season and on the day you realise you forgot me for all of five minutes you’ll know the season is changing. Don’t feel bad. Don’t be sad. Be grateful for the change. Look around and see the things that you’ve neglected in your sorrow. They need you.
3) Now is the time to remember.
You’ll say that’s what I’ve been doing all this time but I say, yes, but you’ve been remembering through a mist of gloom. Even when you’ve laughed at stories well-meaning friends have told of me the laughter hasn’t touched your heart, softened it. Your laughter has been on the outside, for their benefit not yours.
So take time to think, to remember the girl I was, the woman I became. Remember the time when … and that time that … and let me speak to you. See my face not through the blur of tears but in the sunshine. Remember the feel of my body, the touch of my hands, moments of intimacy, moments of joy. Remember how I drove you mad with all the stupid things I did.
4) Then talk about me.
To those who loved me best. Those who are familiar with the stories and can finish them when the words stick in your throat. And cry some more together as you realise that the pain isn’t as unbearable as it once was. That the heavy ache that has become so much part of your being that you hardly notice it any more is less. It’s still there but seems lighter somehow.
5) Now the hardest bit: learn to laugh again.
Real laughter, not forced. Today you’ll say I have nothing to laugh about but you will have. Life will go on. Life will continue for you and the children. You will get up each morning, do what has to be done and go to bed at night and one day you’ll find yourself laughing, maybe at a memory of me, or maybe at something unconnected with me altogether. Don’t feel guilty when that happens. Be glad. You’re becoming human again.
6) I almost forgot.
There will come a time when you’ll be concentrating hard on doing something and a sound will register vaguely in the background. You’ll think, without really thinking, there she is now back from shopping. And suddenly the awful realisation will hit you. She’s not back from shopping; she’ll never be back again. And the future will loom ahead of you like an infinite monster and you’ll wonder how you can be expected to get through those years without me. That will hurt so much. Almost as badly as the first searing pain but now you’re prepared; you know how to deal with this. Go back to the beginning. Start again. Cry, remember, talk and laugh. Repeat as necessary.
7) And then there's anger.
Anger isn't helpful but it is inevitable. You may not feel it now or you may be unable to feel anything other. That's okay. Be angry with me for going first and leaving you. Be angry with God. For his wasted omnipotence. Be angry with strangers for living when I'm dead. It's not fair. But don't be angry with yourself. Unless you pushed me off a cliff it's not your fault. There's nothing you could have done. Death is like that. Uncaring and inopportune. So no what ifs, no I wish I'd done this or hadn't said that. Regrets are as pointless as wanting to turn back time. The present is all there is; today is all you have to get through.
8) But remember this most of all.
I love you with all of my heart, with all of my being. You are the part of me that I was missing before we met; now I am the part of you that seems to be missing. But I’m not. I never can be. I’ll always be with you. In your heart, in our children, in our home, in your daily breath. I’m there. Talk to me sometimes. People will say you’re crazy but what do they know? Crazy is good. Trust me. I should know.