On Writing Grief (Part 6) Time Doesn't Heal, it Changes
Updated: Jan 31, 2021
Nearly one week from that horrible day (the day of Tron's passing), I took out my journal late at night. I needed to write down what had happened to me so I wouldn’t forget later. And I did, but not with my heart, with my mind.
However, as I wrote, doing my best to separate my heart from it, I began to break. The flood I had been holding back was leaking through and I wrote everything I wish I could have said, if someone had just asked to hear it …
“Wednesday, January 1, 2020
“Tomorrow will be one week. One week from the beginning of the end. Tron’s condition from the cancer had only been getting worse. He started having diarrhea and then he started smelling really bad. I was crying and I asked Mom if we would have to put him down the next day. She said I had to make that choice. I didn’t want to decide. God I didn’t wanted to made that choice. We didn’t have to do it the next day. He could still walk and guard, eat and drink fine, but he had just been getting worse and more rapidly than before. I think I knew it had to be the next day, on Friday.
“Mom called Friday morning. They wouldn't be able to get him in for the euthanasia until Tuesday unless someone canceled on Friday.
“3:45 we went in.
“I feel so sick. The tears won’t fall down my face. My heart hurts but I feel so dead. I haven’t cried since Saturday morning. I’ve felt like a robot, just going through everything—falsely okay.
“The (family friends’ last name) came over Saturday morning and I was doing horribly, but no one asked if I wanted to talk about it so I didn’t and I’ve felt ill and numb ever since.
“When you have to decide whether to put an animal down or not, it just feels so wrong. It makes me so sick. Like a part of me knows it’s so they don’t suffer, but also at the same time, I can’t help but think, Life is life, right? I mean, there’s something beautiful and solemn about the last few moments of life and it’s wrong to steal that from something.
“It tore me apart having to walk with Tron around our property before we took him in. Everything is a last. The last time he’ll chase a squirrel, the last time to roll in the grass, the last time to play with the other dogs, the last time to brush him, the last car ride, the last breath.
“Did I let him sniff the grass around the vet’s office enough? Did I walk with him enough? Pet him enough?
“When the vet injects the sedative, its such an awful moment. You can feel the dog dying. I was holding his head, sitting by him, and then, suddenly, he started to go limp and you realize can’t take it back. EVER. He’s gone. It was the last time I’ll see him.
“Did I do the right thing? I thought maybe so when I took him in, and I was sure of it when I held him as he took his last breath, but now I don’t know. It all went so fast. It’s hard to remember it all. Hard to believe it happened.
“I want to cry, but I can’t. I want to scream but I won’t. I don’t know what I want anymore.
“Except that I want to feel again, I want to miss him, and I want him back here with me.
“I feel so awful. I don’t feel like I miss him, as if I have already gotten over it, but something tells me that’s not true. I WILL miss him, and I WILL be able to cry, but for some reason, not now. No. Right now is for feeling like I’m rotting inside and crying tears of dust.
“I need to talk about it. Mom and Dad are asleep. It’s 11:33p.m. I couldn’t go to sleep because I feel sick. I won’t see the (family friends’ last name) until Sunday and it’s so hard to talk to them because it’s never a good time and everyone seems happy and I can’t bring myself to ruin that. I don’t want (redacted for privacy) sympathy. She’s not safe to me and her sympathy feels dirty, wrong, tainted. I will not be vulnerable around her. Mom and Dad want me to wake them up if I need them, but I can’t tell if I really need them that much.
“I feel like I’m going to throw up.
“I dread sleep because sleep brings tomorrow and I don’t want to do tomorrow.
“I think it’s time to rewrite (redacted due to spoilers)’s death.”
At around those months (September-December 2019) I had been rewriting my second novel ‘Heir of Two Kingdoms.’ In that book a main character who is very close and important to my heroine, Stephania, dies. I had balked at rewriting that death for a few months because I wasn’t in the emotional state to do any amount of writing. But it would seem even that had always been in God’s plan.
The night of the week’s anniversary of Tron’s death, I stayed up until one in the morning listening to my Spotify playlist ‘Everything Dies Eventually,’ and pouring every bit of my broken soul and experience into that character’s death. It was the only time I had ever consciously and directly used my own pain and experience from real life in my writing.
When I finished, I had not only lost my best friend, but a very near and dear character. But, for once, I wasn’t alone.
That night I cried for the first time in a week, and that night I cried with Stephania, the only other person who could truly mourn with me.
I found solace in that writing. I found validation for my loss. I realized that if I could cry for a character I wrote into a book, I could most definitely cry for the death of my best friend.
I learned what true grief was that night. And I realized that time only heals if you let it. My personality dictates that all of my life be determined by logic, including my emotions. I would spend the next few long months struggling with that—struggling to let myself feel—struggling to let myself heal.
I was not healed in that one night. I still am not fully healed today.
Though I learned many things about grief and healing that night, there were still many things I did to myself after then which hurt me more than I realized at the time.
January was spent in a vicious cycle of "physical pleasure seeking," so to speak. I played tons of video games (especially ones that simulated life like Star-Dew Valley), I ate more food in a matter of hours than I would normally eat in a few days, and I stopped thinking about my books, not working on them until months later. I stopped thinking about the future and instead of being excited about life, I was in constant anxiety. I spent that month trying to be strong for my mom, my brother, my father, and my cousin before she left Arkansas after a particularly hard time with her own mental health. Everything I had gone through at the end of 2019 was swallowed up in a logical execution of duties in January.
Then, everything stopped.
February came and suddenly nothing was expected of me. My house was empty. We had survived a few of the most trying months of my life (our lives really), and suddenly, just like that, it was all over. Except, it wasn’t.
Emotions from Tron’s death, the lack of my best human friend’s presence in my life, the loss of my oldest brother after he moved away, and the lack of my struggling cousin finally crashed over me.
After a month of denial, the damn had broken.
It wasn't until the beginning of March that I began to feel like a normal human. I had begun to feel again, to remember Tron, to remember everything I had lost, but I was still trapped, and a new wave of questions rose within me.
Here are some snippets of my journal that do better to explain my emotions than I can even remember after time has erased them …
"Should people know how I feel? Should I tell them and let them bear my burdens? Is it okay? They're my only friends, God. I think You want us to have friends but if I can't confide in them, what are they for? … How much pain should I pour out? Is it worth it? Is that okay? … Please help me to stop covering my feelings. Show me what and how to feel … I feel so lost. So stuck. I am neither all in nor all out. I feel like I'm being pulled apart, but I don't know which is the right way."
"I'm so tired today. I feel like I can barely move my body and nothing is coherent. I'm really behind in school and I have to study for the SAT tomorrow."
"Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." John 16:22
Time does heal, but only if you don’t break yourself first.
It’s been a year since all these things happened but I’m not done grieving. I’m no longer depressed. I no longer look to the future with anxiety. I no longer have to search for a reason to drag myself out of bed. But, even so, I will never be the same.
I was broken, shattered, scattered across a dark abyss, and, when I finished stapling myself back together, a few pieces were missing—including a people and creatures I loved. I was weaker. I cried more than I ever had. I was sadder. I felt more emotion than I used to. I had lost that part of me that was perpetually bright. Shadows lingered where only light had once been. I had changed—a lot. I became darker and more introverted than ever, but, mostly, I felt more vulnerable than I had ever thought possible.
And I still do.
Time doesn’t really heal, it just changes. It erases most of the pain and shapes you in a way so that the pain is no longer an intrusion—it just becomes a part of you. But time does give you new sight on the past. After long enough, you’re able to look back and see some good times where once you could only see bad.
For the first time in years, I'm finally at a good place emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. After being broken, I was able, with prayer and God’s guidance, to build myself back up in a way that I wasn’t before. And, in some ways, I’m a better person than I was.
I’m not the same, I am changed, but I have learned a great many things. I have grown, and, most importantly, I have survived.
Grief is different for everyone. Its pattern is as unique to each person as fingerprints. There are some colors that are the same, but the hues and brushstrokes vary from one canvas to another.
Some get over their grief quickly and easily and aren’t left very changed by it. Some people are changed forever and never stop grieving until the day they die. Our responses to pain and loss aren’t just shaped by the specific event we are grieving over—it’s influenced, molded, and shaped by our everyday experiences, the way we process life, whether we have a religion or not, the people that surround us, and our previous experiences with loss.
But there is one thing that binds us all together—losing something, the realization that you will never get it back, and that, eventually, time will change you.
Grief is ugly. It causes you to hate things you once loved, it breaks you, haunts you, forces you to hide in dark places, tears you from the people you love and who love you, it breeds resentment, regret and fear.
There's so much more that goes into grief than I could've ever thought—more than I realized when I first wrote about the beloved character's death in 'Heir of Two Kingdoms.' After coming to terms with my grief I was able to pour the soul of depression and loss into the death and into Stephania's grief afterwards by reliving my own hell after Tron died.
After I rewrote that death, I didn't touch 'Heir of Two Kingdoms' against until August when I was healed enough to sit down in front of my computer and relive the pain I had gone through. I had always thought I should've written the post-death scenes a long time ago so they'd be more real, but it turns out these feelings, this loss, this grief, never really leaves.
Time doesn’t heal, it only changes us until we can remember the pain no longer.
It's always there, hiding behind a door only a key's turn away.
Thank you so much for reading the sixth installment of my writing advice series "On Writing Grief!" I hope it helps you, whether its for research purposes or for healing in your own life.
This post is the last in the saga of my own grief. The next (and hopefully final) post will be a comprehensible guide to writing grief and depression.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to fill out a contact form on my website, leave a comment or DM me on Instagram.
If you're new to this series, make sure you read parts 1-5 to get the full story!
May the suns smile upon your presence.