If you’ve known grief and heartbreak — this is for you.
I thought I would be fine when it happened—it was about as mutual as a breakup could be, and dating this person had been a really positive, even healing, experience. I called my mom, telling her, despite some tears, that I was going to be okay.
It took maybe 24 hours for the loss to actually sink in and for me to be very not okay.
The next day, I kept the blinds in my room shut from morning to night, only coming out for meals and wearing sunglasses so that people wouldn’t see my eyes, puffy and red from crying off and on, taking my food back to the safety of my solitude. I didn’t shower or bother to wear my normally put-together clothes. A dear friend of mine sent me the name of a comedian to watch on Netflix, and I spent most of the day alternating between ugly crying and laughing to give myself breaks.
After a few days of this, it lightened. I could be around people in small doses, and it took my mind off things. I went on a few fun trips and made memories that I still hold on to today.
And the hurt came in waves, starting with mere ripples, little bits of sadness, and then slowly building into a crescendo of a pain that was gnawing and biting and building and getting heavier and heavier, until it came crashing down, crushing me so that I couldn’t move. There was no escape.
When he started to reappear in circles of friends, started to come back into view, it was like I couldn’t breathe; I was choked with tears. His presence around me was like a shadow I couldn’t outrun, and every sighting of him was like daggers inside me, taunting me with memory of the goodness I had lost and would never get back.
I never got him back.
I loved him and had left pieces of my heart in his. And when he walked away, it tore those pieces out and left me with a gaping hole.
I couldn’t stand the weight.
But there were eyes that looked into mine and saw the tears that I tried to hold back with a fake smile, too weak to hold myself together with real laughter.
This dear friend who had given me a new inventory of inside jokes through a Netflix comedian—she saw me. She sat with me when I told her everything that happened, everything I was feeling. She sat with me when I didn’t have anything to say. She listened to the ridiculously sad Spotify playlist I made, which started out with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” She remembered her own grief, and shared hers with me.
She didn’t say trite things like, “You’ll find someone better,” or, “I’m sorry, this really sucks.” I heard plenty of that when people happened to ask about the person who was now my ex.
She just listened. She let me cry and didn’t run away from my sadness. I was free to be sad with her, and she was sad with me.
One night after running into my ex, she watched our pained but externally gracious interaction. When we were finally alone, she looked deep into my eyes, her eyes already mirroring to me the sadness I felt but was hiding from both her and myself.
She said, “It’s okay that you still love him.”
And I fell apart in front of her.
And it was okay.
She was simply with me.
The presence of this friend in my grief was everything I needed. I didn’t need to be told it was all going to be okay—in this moment, it wasn’t. And I needed the space to not be okay.
That breakup was the first time I had ever really let myself grieve, and let someone sit with me in my pain. And it changed me. Not because it made it all better, but because I was given permission to grieve.
I just wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to be reminded of him every time I saw people holding hands, or for a memory of something we shared to invade my brain during the work day. It didn’t get better for months. Even a year later, a piece of me was still sad, the waves having turned into eddies that would surface unbeckoned.
Grief doesn’t ever completely leave you; it just changes. You grieve, and then little by little, you let go. And it is something to let go.
Because when you let go, you acknowledge that the loss was something that was worth it to your heart.