When the Last Petal Falls (and a new norm starts)

I’m going to start off by politely calling bullshit that “time heals all wounds”. In particular, it is almost impossible for time alone to act as a bandaid after death. I do believe, instead, you adapt to what life becomes after reality sets in and the quick realization smacks you in the face that they aren’t coming back. How do you move forward when you weren’t even given a chance to mentally prepare for a life without the one you lost? How does a woman stand before all of those close to her as she marries the man of her dreams with a smile on her face, as she does everything in her power to push back the immense heartache of knowing that her sister was supposed to be standing next to her as she does so? How does a mother and father watch their grandson reach milestone after milestone with pure joy, but have to physically stop themselves from grabbing their phone to send their daughter a video of it, as she is no longer there to send it to? How does a husband even begin to think about moving forward when he was never given the same time to grieve while he was caring for their son because while everyone else has their person to confide in about such loss, his is the one they all lost? How does a young woman convince herself that there will ever be someone else to love her as much as the boy who was taken from her?

It has been almost two years since my cousin was tragically killed in an automobile accident. An 18 wheeler plummeted down highway 280 in Birmingham, Alabama after break failure, leaving her eight month old son in the back seat with only a few bruises on his little body. It was the worst day of our lives.

Less than three months later, my cousin on the other side of my family lost his decade long battle with addiction. A pivotal member of our family was gone, and he left behind a daughter and the excruciating task of telling her where her daddy is.

Five months later I found myself on the phone with my baby sister, as she struggled to get out the words that her boyfriend, too, had been killed in a car accident on his way to go camping with his friends. He was only eighteen.

I watched as the closest people to my heart suffered in ways I can’t put into words. I did everything in my power to be strong, to be their person when they needed me, and to carry the emotional burdens they couldn’t share with others. It was my own way of coping with it all, but it was killing me on the inside. Because no matter how hard I tried, how available I made myself, nothing I could do would prepare them for what was to come next. As the weeks progressed, the pre cooked meals stopped coming, and the last petal from a gifted bouquet had fallen, they would be left with the inevitable task of creating a new life and new “normal” without their loved one. Eventually, everyone else moves on with their lives. After the funeral is over and friends and family find themselves back in their daily routine, those closest to the one lost find themselves stuck in a limbo not knowing what move to make next.

Everyone “handles” grief in their own way. Some turn to faith, some turn to vices, and some turn off their emotions all together just to get by. No matter what the coping mechanism may be, it is all done in hopes to just keep up with how fast life seems to keep progressing when all you want is for it to slow down, just for a second, to breath and think of your next move. No parent should have to burry their child, so how is one expected to painfully hold their grandchild in their arms when they are the spitting image of their own? No spouse should have the love of their life gone in an instant, so how can they even begin to be content in the future with someone else? No sibling should have only past memories of growing up to hold onto, so how do they happily make new ones with the knowledge that their lifelong best friend isn’t there to share it with? Most of all, no child should ever have to only know their parent through photographs and stories, so where do I even begin on how they are supposed to be raised without someone so pivotal. I could sit back and ask myself “how” any of this can be done, but then again I have bared witness to many I know do all of this and more with grace and strength.

None of these things “should” happen, yet loved ones are taken from us every day. The explanation for it all is far beyond my comprehension or control. So, instead of attempting to even come close to comprehending or controlling, I stick with what I do know. What I know is what I have seen, heard, and most importantly felt in the aftermath of tragedy. I have seen my sister place a roadside memorial for the boy she thought she would one day marry, but I have also seen good civilians become family after being the first to pull my cousins son out of the back seat of the car after the accident. I have heard my other cousins daughter ask her grandma why daddy had to go live in heaven, but I have also heard story after story of all the amazing memories our loved ones had in their lifetime. I have felt some of the strongest of men sobbing as they collapsed in my arms because they just couldn’t hold it together any longer, but I have also felt the hand squeeze of a tiny human holding onto my arm as I think of how his mommy must be looking down on us both with a smile on her face.

We find ourselves doing what we need to in hopes to move forward for ourselves, the ones we love, and the ones that left us behind. It’s an ongoing battle, and although many will attempt to comprehend and control what and how you handle this battle, only you can continue onward in the way you think seems fit. Everyone has their journey after grief, so don’t put a timeline or label on how one should continue on their own journey. Because when that last petal falls, and their new normal is just beginning, I can assure you no one has any idea what that will look like, not even them.

I hope to never have to experience such grief that my loved ones have endured, and with that I will never truly understand what they have had to go through, but I do know this: we must continue to love a little harder, hug a little longer , laugh a little louder, and live more purposely for the ones who no longer can.

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