I understood the loss of their touch, the sound of their voice and that deep connection reflected in a smile or a quick glance. But what I did not understand was how death changed every relationship. Death changed me. Death irrevocably changed my world. However, the tragedy of loss did not stop there. Death changed my relationship with the living in ways I was not prepared for.

Benjamin May 4 AloneMy sorrow needed solitude, but when I looked up from my aloneness I realized how alone I was. Everyone had gone back to their lives. I had so little of life to go back to and what was lost in my loss was my ability to connect with those that could carry on. I was lost in their world and they couldn’t find me in mine.

I didn’t know what to expect from the people around me. All I knew was when I would sit with others in cafes or coffee shops we weren’t sitting together. They were kind enough to include me, but the weight of my sorrow clouded the conversation. I felt I was an imposition. I felt more alone in cafés sitting with friends than when I would walk the woods in my solitude. Being with people reminded me more of just how alone I was.

I came to realize my world had become a burden on the world around me. The world needed to go on and I needed to go in.

Loss has taken me on an inward journey. The Afterloss is an interior terrain that initially deconstructs all that was and ultimately constructs all that is. I had to unfold the layers of loss before I could open again to the layers of life that live in loss.

No one, I thought, could understand. And that is true to some extent. Even if there was another man whose baby died at eight months old, wife died six years later and their thirteen year old child died three years after that all from the same terminal disease, it still wouldn’t be the same. We would have the same path, but different, no matter what the similarities would be.

The Afterloss is not a solitary path, but it required a tremendous amount of solitude. We intersect at certain points and find solace from the aloneness, but after a moment of respite, I found our paths divided once again. We still had to navigate to our own inner compass of loss.

The sweet nectar of knowing we drank together sustained me. My aloneness became bearable when I would find another who knew the unbearable emptiness of loss. We would share stories that were far more than just tales from another time. They were accounts of another life, a past life that were no longer our lives today.

Benjamin May 4 LiesWe would laugh and cry from very deep places in our Afterloss. I could sit by the fire for hours with someone who knew and find warmth in the knowing. But I would become restless in a matter of minutes in a café with one who did not speak from such a place, did not know that behind my eyes I was in a distance land or see that I didn’t give a damn about who was in the Super Bowl.

The ones that didn’t know were trying to fill an uncomfortable space; the space I had become. The ones that know know that space. They are comfortable with my sorrow for they, too, know such sorrow. Our words are like sonar that find that place deep within each other and return with a location, a bearing that says, “Come this way. This is what I have found.”

Those of us who know loss return, layer after layer, into each other’s aloneness and know that when we meet we will never meet completely. We meet in our pieces and piece together an understanding that we meet alone, share our aloneness, and part in different directions knowing aloneness like no other. Yet, I could not heal alone. I needed to meet others who know both solitude and solidarity.

I wanted to spread the ashes of my children on the anniversary of my wife’s death alone. I did not want family or friend to go from harbor to open sea with me. All I wanted was to hurt in solitude, to reach into the bag and pull out the rest of me and offer our ashes to a vast ocean.

Only an ocean could begin to hold the expanse of my emptiness. I simply felt I could not be in the space of another. There was no room left in me. It had been filled with such pain and if there was the beat of another heart I thought I would implode from the weight.

It was a selfish desire. I wanted to push the world away. My world had been destroyed. I just wanted to be left alone in the wake of its demolition.

Fortunately, I came to my senses. I was not the only one hurting. There were so many people that loved and cared for Matt and Bryan. I only saw my pain. I did not see theirs.

No one asked me to come and spread their ashes. Their love respected me far more than I deserved.

Benjamin May 4 SolitudeIt was in the depths of my aloneness, deep within the Afterloss, that I saw them in their own aloneness, in their own Afterloss. I looked into my brother’s eyes and at the intersection of our sorrow and I knew. I knew this final act was not for me alone.

It has always been difficult for me to let another into my sorrow. Skip, my brother, is the only one that can unlock me. There are others who have open the door to my solitary confinement and I am deeply grateful they remained present in my life when I could not.

I believe every life has the capacity to reach beyond itself and find its reflection in another. We yearn for each other, to break the barrier of aloneness.

Life, by its very nature, abhors isolation. That is why my loss hurt so much. I felt so isolated from the world. There was no comfort left in a world that didn’t lose what I had lost. It pushed me further away from the world around me. And it was there I found the difference between solitude and aloneness.

Grief took more than the ones I love. Grief took me. Grief took how I relate to the world. Grief took all my other relationships, disassembling and reassembling each one. Grief has brought me both closer and further apart from the world around me.

The Afterloss is a paradoxical state of being. I hurt, but I heal. I laugh, still I cry. I desperately want to love, but fear love and fear more its potential loss. I live in the dark that is filled with light. I am alone, but not alone.

I am grateful that I have no expectation of those that do not know this decimating path of loss. I am grateful they have not had to experience such pain. But I am more grateful for those that know such pain. For they know me. And in my aloneness, I need to be known.



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