For me, it was my brother's death. February 5, 1989. There have been others. A dear friend's death in 1992. Another brother died in 1997. My dad died in 2011. But February 5, that was the one for me.
I started to think of and look at things in terms of before Chris died and after.
Before Chris died, I believed in magic. In God. In miracles. After, I believed that you should never let yourself get too comfortable or trust happiness because it would be ripped away from you.
Before Chris died, I often felt special and love and cherished. For too long after, I felt pretty worthless.
Before Chris died, I believed that I was brave and strong. After he died, I felt weak and afraid when I needed to be brave and strong.
Before Chris died, I saw people as good or bad. After he died, I understood we all have good and bad in us.
Death affects people in some very predictable and also profoundly different ways. My dad started to say I love you. A lot. Before Chris died he never said it. After Chris died, he wore it out like some sort of twisted penance. I wonder if he thought telling enough people would make up for never telling his son. I can tell you that when my dad died in 2011, we all knew he loved us.
Some families draw together after a tragedy, but I felt ours splintered...almost like we each grieved as if he or she was the only one who lost someone. Before Chris died, we hung out together and played games and laughed. After Chris died, everyone went their separate ways.
For the last 29 years, I have dreaded this day. I relive it every year. Waking up. The tone in my mom's voice that immediately made my stomach liquefy. Seeing my sister crying on the church bench in our dining room. Pinching my arm til it was bruised trying to wake up from what seemed to be the longest nightmare ever. I write about it. Every. Year. so it doesn't swirl around in my head all day.
Before Chris died, I believed in answers. After he died, I realized that sometimes there are only more questions.
People say you get over it. Before Chris died, I might have believed that. After Chris died, I know that isn't true for me. My brother's death changed me to my core, scrambled up my chromosomes and rearranged them.
When we're faced with a tragedy, a loss, a pivotal event that will divide our life into before and after, we are also handed an amazing opportunity. I didn't understand that at 16 ... life already seemed pretty hard without losing the person I thought was invincible. I get it now.
Glennon Doyle wrote one of the best things I ever read about how to deal with pain--whether that pain comes from a loss or something else:
Pain is not a sign that you’ve taken a wrong turn or that you’re doing life wrong. It’s not a signal that you need a different life or partner or body or home or personality. Pain is not a hot potato to pass on to the next person or generation. Pain is not a mistake to fix. Pain is just a sign that a lesson is coming. Discomfort is purposeful: it is there to teach you what you need to know so you can become who you were meant to be. Pain is just a traveling professor. When pain knocks on the door—wise ones breathe deep and say: “Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”I spent many years running from pain, trying to talk or reason or pray my way out of it. Trying to drink or eat or clean or control things enough so that I wouldn't feel it. In doing those things, I learned that there is no prescribed time that you can or should feel sad. Unlike giving birth, when your body starts to feel normal again after a few weeks or months, when someone dies, it could be years before you feel normal again. And even then, it's a new and different normal.
Before Chris died, I had no idea how much pain my heart could withstand. After Chris died, I learned my heart was capable of withstanding all that and still overflowing with love.