I’m now nearing the six month mark of losing the love of my life, and this has been a big milestone looming over me for awhile now. When we learn about grief in medical school, we’re taught is that six months is when people are supposed to stop feeling the extreme emotions surrounding grief. Symptoms and signs that otherwise could merit a diagnosis of depression are supposed to be normal in the first six months of the grieving process, but they’re supposed to fade away after six months. So, at six months, how do I feel?
First, in my opinion, the six months mark seems somewhat arbitrary, but nonetheless, I’ve felt a significant amount of self-imposed pressure to feel better after the six month mark. I’ve been looking towards this six month mark with a lot of trepidation and dread. What if I don’t feel better? What if I’m still crying myself to sleep every night? What if I still feel like I’m faking it every day when I’m smiling and conversing with people but still feel the opposite of normal inside? What if I still have moments of overwhelming grief that strike out of nowhere, making me feel like my heart is exploding in my chest and that I can’t – or don’t want to – breathe?
The truth is, I still do have these moments, more frequently than I’d thought or hoped for. I still cry — a lot, and more than I’ve ever cried in my life, since I’ve never been a very emotional person. I miss him so much that I can’t even put into words how I feel when I’m in the depths of my sorrow and longing. It’s still day to day, most of the time. I still don’t know how I’ll live the rest of my life without him, the love of my life, my soul mate, my heart, my everything.
So, no, I don’t really think that six months after my loss, or any number of years down the line, these feelings will go away. I’ll always miss him and love him and feel unbearable pain when I think about what I lost forever and what will never be. But what has gradually changed over time is my ability to have moments of positivity. The first few months, I felt incapable of thinking about the future at all, or having any hope of the future. This was hard because I was studying for Step 1, which has so many implications for the future, that I had such a difficult time feeling motivated to study when I didn’t even know how my life could ever be okay without him. I felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness all the time. I didn’t know how to live without him. I felt resigned to a lifetime of misery and pain.
But what has changed is this — it’s not that I don’t still feel like that from time to time, but the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness are less frequent. I know life will always be hard. I’ll never stop grieving the loss of the love of my life, and I’ll never stop loving him and missing him. I’ll always feel like a part of me is lost forever. I’ll never be the same again. But now, I feel like maybe I can work on filling the void left by him with something meaningful that he would have been proud of me for. A big part of the perspective shift was that I realized just what a big part of me he is. He made me who I am today. So now that he’s gone, I feel like I need to do everything I can to keep his legacy alive, and I’m a part of that that legacy. I think of this when I feel overwhelmed and that everything is impossible, and I feel like I can breathe again and survive the moment. Because what he would have wanted was for me to live life to the fullest and continue to pursue my dreams, since I owe so much to him for making it this far. We met when I was a junior, when I knew I wanted to be a doctor but was still uncertain about the path forward and considering a MPH. He saw me graduate from college, then get my masters, and then begin medical school — and he told me every day how proud he was of me and how he couldn’t wait to see me achieve my lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Even when he was sick, he wanted to make sure I was staying in school, and he joked about how I owed him tuition because being in the hospital for his illness made me learn a lot. Even when he was sick, he wanted desperately for me to continue living my dreams. So, even though every day is still hard, tears still come daily, and some days I still feel like I can’t get out of bed, I do, because I’m doing it for him, not in spite of him being gone. It’s still hard to be around friends and be in “normal” situations, but I still make myself go see friends, study every day, and give my all in this rotation. Because it’s easy to sit and cry and think about how hard the future will be without him and wallow in the depths of my despair and loneliness, but he always told me one of the things he loved about about me was my toughness and willingness to take on challenges. This is my biggest challenge yet, and every time I go visit him by his grave, one of the first things I can’t help but say is “I don’t think I’m strong enough to get through this without you.” But I have been strong enough to make it to six months without him. Six very long, impossibly hard months of so much pain, but I made it because every day I thought of him and of how he would’ve wanted me to live. I think of the last smile he gave me, his beautifully clear eyes looking into the depths of my soul like he always did, and think of how I felt so much like it was a smile of love, peace, and encouragement — like he was saying goodbye but was telling me I’ll be okay. So I think of him and keep going, and I feel like maybe I can survive this.
When tragedy strikes, it seems impossible to try to find any sense of positivity through such senselessness and pain. That’s definitely how I felt in the wake of the diagnosis and in the first months after his death. Maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch to call it a silver lining, because I don’t necessarily feel hopeful or happy quite yet about what lies ahead for me, but I do feel like I’m on my way to finding my silver lining — that one glimmer of hope. My gray – not quite yet silver – lining now is my belief that I’m a part of his legacy, and that’s why I’ve been able to continue on living this impossible life without him. The love we had for each other and the dreams we shared live on through me, and I’ll find the strength through his love that’ll stay in my heart forever to keep living my life to the fullest. So that one day, I’ll be able to feel the playful zest for life that he had, and maybe everything won’t feel as impossible anymore — and maybe then my gray clouds will reveal their silver lining.