The Hole in the Living Room: An Illustration of the Way We Adapt to Death.
My dad died four days before my twenty-second birthday.
That was 12 years ago, and I still miss him. I think about him often. I wish he were here to share in the exciting times, or to offer comfort when I’m troubled and upset. He gave the best hugs, and his laugh was infectious and pure. Thankfully, his absence no longer hurts quite like it used to, but the empty space he left behind will never go away.
Over time, as I navigated the grief and adapted to my life without him, I developed an analogy for the process. In the hopes that it might help you understand your own loss a little better, it is this analogy I wish to share with you now.
When your loved one first passes away, it’s as though there is suddenly an enormous gaping hole in the middle of your living room floor. Where once there was plenty of space with cushy carpet that felt good between your toes, now there is just a massive void. What once was a familiar and comfortable area is now ripped wide open, utterly decimated.
As glaringly obvious as this hole is, however, it’s easy to forget that it’s there because you have lived all of your life without it. The same way that you habitually flip a light switch during a power outage, you go to walk straight through the living room… and fall in. A lot.
It hurts to get swallowed up by the void; nevertheless you wish you could stay there. Your personal world feels as though it’s been put on pause, but life doesn’t stop for your grief even though you wish it would. It’s still and quiet in the darkness of the hole, but you keep coming back and you keep moving forward.
After a while, you start getting used to the fact that there is a gaping hole. You learn how to navigate the edges of the living room to get from the kitchen to the bathroom and back again, slowly adapting to its existence. There is plenty of floor left against the walls, but you can’t simply walk across the room anymore. It’s no longer that easy.
You still fall in. You still forget. Sometimes you trip. Sometimes you might even jump in, because you feel guilty that you’re beginning to get used to it. The void becomes a sort of comfort in its pain, because the more it hurts, the closer you feel to the one you lost.
It’s nearly second nature now. The hole is becoming a part of your everyday life. You walk around it the way you walk around the kitchen table or step over the dog, and don’t think too much about it anymore.
You seldom fall in, except maybe when you’re in a hurry or you’re lost in your thoughts. Holidays and special occasions still cause you to stumble in too. But you’ve gotten accustomed to working around it and, when you do fall, you quickly and easily pull yourself back out.
The hole has fully integrated itself into your awareness. You’ve practically forgotten that it’s there, moving around it with grace and ease. You no longer fall in, except maybe on a rare occasion here and there. And sometimes — on particularly meaningful days — you stop for a moment and stare deliberately into the darkness.
There’s no way to know how long each stage will last.
It’s common knowledge that grief has no predictable timeframe. The process is unique to every individual, so be gentle with yourself. Understand that there’s no way to know just when you will fall into the sense of overwhelming loss, or what will trip you up.
A familiar song may come on the radio, or a random memory will rise up in your consciousness, and suddenly you’ve found yourself back in the void. And that’s okay. It’s normal, it’s healthy, and it’s a tribute to the person you’ve lost. You hurt because you loved them.
It’s been 12 long years for me.
I’ve been at Stage Four for some time now. Still, when I think about getting married or having children, I miss him dreadfully. I wish he were here to share in such joyful life events. I wish he could have met my boyfriend because I know he’d have liked him. When I started my editing business and when I’ve had articles published, I’ve wished he were here so he could tell me that he was proud of me.
And on days like Christmas, and his birthday, and my birthday, and the anniversary of his death, I sit at the edge of that gaping hole and I swing my feet, honoring his memory with that bittersweet blend of pain and love.
Justin Haley Phillips is a free spirit, an adventurer, a nerd, a people-loving introvert and, above all, a writer. Her purpose with words has always been to express herself with the intention of letting others know they are not alone. She has loved and lost, fought and failed, but always gets back up again, fiercer than ever! Her alter ego is the superhero Bounce-Back Girl. Haley can be found in libraries, on road trips, staring at the sky, leaving behind sticky notes with positive affirmations on them, or curled up with a cuppa and a good book. If you’d like to connect with Haley on Facebook, click here to join her free writers’ group for learning, laughs, and inspiration.