The Space In Between: an Essay on Loss

For those who don’t know me personally, I need to start with who died.  Not because you know her, but because you should have.  Laura deserved to be known and loved by everyone.  She was a prosecutor.  While admirable in any circumstance, Laura was the fiercest “protector of the realm” in that she put child abusers in jail.  Laura advocated for children and women her whole career and she was the best at it.  

The more important thing you probably don’t know is that she was that one friend, sister, mother, mentor who pushed you to live without fear.  To be brave and celebrate.  She had the loudest laugh and the biggest hug.  Holidays brought her great joy. She made everyone feel loved.  Her spirit filled every space she occupied and now that space is empty.

Beyond the obituary

Laura died suddenly and unexpectedly and entirely too young.  Her family is left processing logistics that simply don’t exist when someone lives a long and full life.  On a positive note, this provides an extensive “to-do” list, that which keeps us busy in the void. That list is a crutch and often a welcome distraction. I like “things to do.” 

Every grief guide warns you of the FIRSTS: First holidays, birthdays, milestones.Within weeks of Laura’s passing, we faced Thanksgiving—a holiday that she OWNED.  Bracing ourselves, we had a plan.  We gave ourselves so much TO DO. My husband (her brother) and I are good at holidays and he is an epic planner.  We gathered together through the holidays, we decorated our homes in celebration, we found ways to laugh, and we remembered.  During this time, everyone checked in—”how are you holding up? We know the firsts are so hard.” We adapted to this new normal with a huge community in tow (Laura’s friends have become our family and we are forever grateful).

What NOBODY cautions is the day AFTER, the space in between.  It is so painfully QUIET in that place–taking down the Christmas tree, the day AFTER her birthday (where you gathered with friends for a beautiful tribute),  whatever. While I also believe this champion of women and children deserves every award and honor she receives posthumously, coming home after to stare at a crystal statue in the silence is painful when you want to celebrate these achievements WITH someone.

The space in between is extraordinarily lonely.  Each loss journey is so personal that connecting is a challenge.  Someone lost a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Each feels it so profoundly that we hesitate to share it.  I, for one, feel almost guilty on my saddest days—that I don’t DESERVE the feelings I have because she was ONLY my sister-in-law.  We wade through this place with our own quiet tears so that we don’t make someone else’s day sadder if they’ve found a day’s peace.

Survivor’s Guilt

Perhaps the greatest challenge I face is that I am here.  The questions are constant and my inner critic is relentless:  am I doing enough?  Did I help her mother, her daughter today?  Did I acknowledge the pain of my husband or her friends sufficiently? And the harshest: did I think about her today?

Monday was six months from the day we lost her.  I actually planned to honor this FIRST, even if just for a moment.  Again, the firsts are welcome tasks.  Yet as my day progressed, it never happened.  While my mood was extremely and inexplicably (I thought) low, I plowed through other items with seemingly higher priority.  I put out the necessary fires that arise daily in motherhood, I rolled laundry, I nursed a kid with the flu.  I didn’t call anyone or reach out.  And no one called me. Before I knew it, I was picking up my new car and zipping around town, exploring the new toys and gadgets.

Joy.  Life.  Survival. Until I realized a day, a most important FIRST had passed.  The guilt weighs heavily on my heart in this quiet day after.  Is this the “new normal,”  the harrowing shame of not doing enough in the quiet times? 

I do not have powerful answers.  I am new to this place and muddling through. I guess we will find out as we travel and attempt to fill those spaces.  And I can put “finding answers” on my to-do list.