Heartbreak

I Wrote The Book I Wish Someone Had Given Me In The Depths Of My Grief

Photo: kittirat roekburi / Shutterstock
sad woman at laptop

I lost my partner, Nap, when we were both in our late twenties. He was brilliant, curious, and fun-loving — always the first to hug someone hello and the last to leave the dance floor.

In our quieter moments together, he was thoughtful and earnest and never made me feel like I should be anyone different than who I was. He was flawed and complicated, and one of the most unique souls I’ve ever known. He was my friend, my refuge, and a consistent bit of goodness in my life.

Nap died unexpectedly in 2016. He was the first person I loved who died, and I was the only person my age I knew to have lost a partner. The experience of losing him and grieving his death has been harder, longer, more complicated, and lonelier than I could have imagined.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the words to fully convey what the initial period after he died was like; the best description I can come up with is that it didn’t really feel like living.

It wasn’t just that I had never felt such pain or sadness, but that it didn’t seem physically possible to sustain the depth and breadth of emotions that pummeled me relentlessly and in dizzying combinations — longing, guilt, rage, despair, numbness, and fatigue — even as the outside world continued to hum along as usual. It was surreal. It still is.

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I mercifully don’t remember large swaths of that first year without him, but I do remember that I kept thinking I just wanted to catch a glimpse of him — at the neighborhood coffee shop or on the other side of the street, anywhere — so I could know that he was still in the world, because it was inconceivable that he wasn’t.

I often talk about grief as one of the most isolating experiences, despite it being one of the most common.

As I write this, it feels like I’m straddling two parallel universes — the one in which I am a happy and well-adjusted friend, sister, romantic partner, and business owner; and the one in which I am all of those things but also still bruised and broken in countless invisible places.

This second world spills over with memories, ghosts, fears, love, and so much grief that it sometimes still feels impossible and uncontainable, even years later. I cry and laugh and forget and remember, over and over again.

I imagine all of us walking around in our own personal parallel universes with our unseen broken places, wondering if we’re the only ones. I think it’s worth opening up our worlds and wounds to one another — I suspect that they are more similar than we think.

I wrote my book Welcome To The Grief Club: Because You Don't Have To Go Through It Alone because it’s what I wish someone had given me in the depths of my grief.

I wrote it because people who had loved and lost before me did tell me some of these things, and their words were a lifeline. I wrote it because the world went maddeningly on after Nap died, and I want everyone who reads this to know he existed, and that he mattered.

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I wrote this book because I believe there is power in standing in your story — the whole story — and comfort in seeing parts of your story reflected in those of others. Writing it made me feel less lonely. I hope reading it does the same for you, and that it brings some nods of recognition, a smile and even a few laughs, and a spot of comfort in hard times.

Grief is lonely, but you are not alone.

We can’t fully experience and share in one another’s losses. No one else is living your grief or has had your loss, even if you are grieving the same person. Your relationship was unique, and so your loss is unique. What you miss about them, what you wish you had or hadn’t said, the memories you made or could have made together — these belong only to you.

The solitude of grief can quickly turn into loneliness. It can be almost impossible to explain the magnitude and experience of your loss to others. Even when you do talk about your grief, some people will become uncomfortable.

Others might avoid you altogether — you may notice your coworkers giving you a wide berth at the office or your friends leaving you out of plans. While they may be wanting to give you space, this can make you feel even more lonely.

No Grief Club member can know your loss as intimately as you do, but we do know what it’s like to lose someone we love. So when it feels like you’ve hit rock bottom (or a hundred miles below that), know that you’re not sitting in the muck alone.

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Anything (and sometimes everything) can be your grief trigger.

So many objects, places, and experiences can trigger memories or emotions associated with your loss and cause instant waves of grief.

Some of these are expected (sorting through their belongings), while others are more surprising (the smell of the shampoo they used). It feels like a pair of grief goggles are strapped to your face, and you can’t help but experience everything through the lens of fresh heartbreak.

Triggers can be relentless, especially in the beginning. As time goes on, they often become sporadic and more bittersweet than brutal. But like so many things associated with grief, triggers are unpredictable — you can be unemotional on the first anniversary of their death and then be undone three days later by a sunny patch of sidewalk.

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Grief and love last a lifetime.

We grieve because we have loved. Your love for them doesn’t disappear because they died, but you have to learn to carry that love differently now — in your memories and conversations, and through rituals or however you choose to honor them. It shapes the life you make for yourself, and how you love others.

The persistence of grief is evidence of the love that still exists. How hard and painful and lucky it is that we have experienced love that lasts for a lifetime.

Janine Kwoh is the owner and designer of Kwohtations, a Brooklyn-based stationery company, and letterpress print and design studio. 

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.