Growing Through Grief

By Caroline Balick

Art by Sophie Williams

My life now consists of two parts: before and after he passed. I had never experienced grief. I believed losing someone unexpectedly was simply something that happened to others, but not to me. But then it did. His passing imprinted a permanent mark; now I am bruised, hurting, and discouraged — but I am not broken or damaged. Grief has shifted my perspective, for better and for worse.

Ironically, death woke me up. I view my experiences differently, but pessimism and I are still well acquainted. At times, I have the urge to scream into the sky and ask the universe, “How could you be so cruel? Why do you make bad things happen to the best people?” These questions will never be answered. His death will always feel unfair. But grief has also brought me clarity, and now I am able to see what truly matters.

While my everyday problems are valid, I frequently overthink and place unnecessary stress on myself. Before, I often left conversations with new acquaintances wondering if I said anything off-putting. I worried that I walked awkwardly. I never felt my grades were good enough. Now, in these situations, I ask myself: does this really matter? When I reflect, I identify what truly does and always will: the health and well-being of myself and those I love. Grief has shown me how defenseless I feel when these crucial values are not intact.

My grief has paved the way for self-love. The days directly after his passing were intense battles. I could not avoid the difficulty of processing his death; I just had to do it. I found that being self-complementary helped to fight my pain. I would say to myself: You found the strength to get out of bed today. You’re eating. You’re prioritizing your time by spending it with those you love. I still celebrate these small but meaningful victories. If I don’t, my grief will consume me.

While my grief has pushed me to understand these valuable concepts, it has also heightened some harmful ways of thinking. It feels like for every two steps forward, I take one step backward. My paranoia is worse than it has ever been. When someone says goodbye, I wonder if it’s the last time I’ll ever see them. Whenever I hear sirens, I assume they blare for someone I love. Sometimes, I go to bed wondering if I’ll wake up to find out that someone I love has died. It is exhausting to feel that death is always imminent.

I have trouble enjoying life’s special moments because I know he cannot. When I hear children laughing, I’m reminded that he will never be a parent. He will never have another birthday or experience another sunset. When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve of 2020, I realized he would never see 2021. Occasionally, I feel driven to appreciate these moments on his behalf, but most of the time my heart aches from his absence.

I try to focus on the bigger picture to help push forward. Not only am I grieving, but I am experiencing a global pandemic while studying at a rigorous college. At the same time, I have to be social and maintain my wellbeing. One could understandably feel paralyzed due to these intense circumstances. Yet, these difficulties give me strength. I am proud of how I have managed them all at once. This combination of challenges has made this year the worst one of my life, but it has also equipped me to overcome future adversity.

Everyone is grieving, whether in the literal sense of losing loved ones, or losing a previous lifestyle. Thousands of Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions have lost their jobs. I am not the only one in pain; I am not alone in my grief. While no one understands my specific pain, everyone is currently confronting pain itself. These incredible hardships we are facing give our future no choice but to be better.

While keeping all this in mind, I try not to get ahead of myself. By taking it one day at a time, my grief feels less overwhelming. It ranges in severity, similar to rain. Sometimes it comes down hard, washing away any sense of certainty. Other times it takes form as a delicate mist. Maybe it’s a sunshower; a memory might surface that provides both comfort and heartache. It is horrifying and heartbreaking that the tragedy of losing him will always stay with me. But, like using an umbrella in a rainstorm, I have learned how to adapt. Rather than drown in the pain of his death, I reflect on my incredible memories with him and how thankful I am to have known him. He would hate to see me unable to cope. For him, I find a way to move forward. But I will never move on.