Nonfiction Essay: Strength to Stay

Strength to Stay

Each day passes in a similar fashion, the typical schedule of sleep, work, eat, and sleep some more. You keep busy to chase away the terrifying memories. You wake up to the sound of the same alarm every early morning and nearly jump out of bed from the fear you might be running late. You slip cleverly around the thoughts as you rush a usually enjoyable warm shower and wrestle with the thin contact lens uneager to stick to your irises. Then, it is time to rush to work. Driving from point A to point B, you have little time to think of anything else but maneuvering the vehicle surrounding you and staying cautious of the other drivers in your path. At your job, you see the faces of others while conversation and busy work take precedent over moments of self-mediation. Your shift comes to a close and you head home no longer aware of the haunting memory.

Then, at the moment when you least expect it, during a silly car insurance commercial between shows or while the ground beef darkens in the skillet, the memory finds you. The catalyst remains unknown and the recollection grows from a passing thought to a mental playback of events. You catch it and try to redirect your frightening thoughts towards more pleasant ones. You attempt to think about the chores yet to be completed or continue building upon your mental grocery list. You notice the empty milk carton in the plastic trash bin and recall the last two eggs were consumed for breakfast a few days before. But nothing proves successful against the oncoming recollection and accompanying misery. Even the most peaceful memories fail to overcome the tragic ones.

Then, you remember it all.

The kitchen disappears- the scent of the hamburger meat nearing completion fades from your nostrils. The noise of the television program in the other room diminishes. You close your eyes and reality distorts.

You find yourself back in that moment not yet a year ago, except now you watch the scene as if it plays on a screen in a theater. You see yourself a year younger, a somber young woman lying across her bed with headphones plugged into her ears and laptop. You hear a mainstream track popular at that time blaring in her ears. You see her eyes and how they remain closed tight. Reality sits on the other side of her eye lids, behind the music deafening her temporarily. As she listens to the sad song that reminds her of her situation, the cellphone at her side becomes an important piece of the scene. The screen lights up as the device begins to vibrate against the bed and her leg. She feels the rumble and sees the letters that spell a name. Her mother is calling her. You watch the young woman and how she glances from the phone to her laptop, deciding whether to give into her mind’s plea of ignoring the call, and how she unwillingly reaches for the device and answers.

The truth of her situation catches back up with her. The news comes crashing down on her.

Her father has passed.

You know this as you continue to watch her, but even if you were oblivious to the fact, you can see her chest lose its usual rhythm of movement. Her mouth stays closed, no breath of air entering or escaping her lips. She feels like the world has come to a complete halt. Silence replaces the monotonous ticking of the clock on the wall. The words choke her as she feels them get caught in her dry throat. Her usual restless mind remains at a standstill, unable to construct a complete thought. The tears produce within the back of her eyeballs, ready to seep through her eye lids and down her face.

A life ends without a bang and the world keeps turning.

The sizzle of the meat catches your ear. The steam rising from the skillet reaches your face, warming your cheeks. You open your eyes and reality returns. The memory in your mind concludes like the end of the credits roll.

Although many days have passed since that day, the memory still remains strong in your mind. The sorrow in your soul continues to ache like a hole has been punctured through your chest. You keep breathing, you keep hurting. Sometimes the pain will cause your stomach to churn with discomfort and sometimes it will exist within you unnoticed. You sometimes wish you could contradict the laws of time and space to go back before the incident and tell that younger version of yourself what she needs to hear. You wish you could comfort her and convince her to be strong, like her father would want her to be.

But even a year later, you still have not discovered that strength or that peace of accepting the truth and letting go of what cannot be changed. You go about your daily routine again and again trying to avoid your pain rather than dealing with the coal grey rain cloud constantly following you around. You want to overcome and move on, but you still have not figured out how to. No one makes a guide to surviving death and mourning specific to your situation. No one knows exactly how you will react to tragedy or what will help you feel a hundred times better. No one can hand-craft a cure meant only for you.

Because the real truth about your tragedy is as simple as what makes the common cold so tedious. There is no absolute cure to overcoming loss. There are no medications to take or physical therapy to undergo to help ease the tension.

So, what do you do?

The first step is to accept the truth- not just to acknowledge it, but to understand exactly what it means to have lost and to know what will never be again. Never will your family gatherings between parents and children be complete again. Never will you have a long intellectual conversation with your father.

When you have accepted the entirety of this truth, you can try for the second.

The second step is to take every day as they come. Some will hurt, some won’t. Sometimes the truth will stay far from your mind and sometimes it will trail every step you make. You learn to live with the pain because you know as long as you feel that ache you’ll remember your loss and the person you are now without.

You live with the pain. You live and you breathe. And you try to figure out the rest of the steps.


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