A thing they don’t tell you before your child dies, because nobody who knows this would go around proclaiming it unprompted (except, apparently, me) and nobody who doesn’t face this situation would ever think to ask and probably nobody who does face this situation has the meta-awareness to go asking after the truth that they will all too soon have to inhabit, is that the pain of it does not consume you like nuclear fire and leave you a hollow, broken, still-burning shell of ash.
Not continuously, anyway.
It does do that sometimes, much more often in the beginning after the end, but that begins after a while to subside and the moments of overwhelming anguish slowly grow farther and farther apart.
After a while, you don’t even hurt continuously, let alone feel what seems like an endless torment. There are periods of waking time, seconds or minutes or maybe even an hour or two, where you don’t actively remember your child is gone forever, when you aren’t focused on that ungraspable fact. The intervals grow slowly, over time. Because humans can get used to pretty much anything.
The grief remains indescribable, but the nature of its indescribability changes. At first, it is so vast and deep and overwhelming that trying to grasp it is like trying to understand the true size of a galaxy. Those are the moments of fire and ash, when an unexpected, vivid memory or sharp regret brings you to a sudden, blinded stop.
You try not to have them while driving.
Between those moments, the grief is still there, but different. It’s not there in strength every microsecond of every day; it comes and goes. There are times you can put it aside for a while, to concentrate on a demanding task or play with your surviving children or watch a brainless movie. When you become aware of the grief again, it’s surreal and confusing. It’s like trying to understand the true shape and texture of a six-dimensional whale. Even if you could, there’s no way to describe it in words so that someone else can understand.
In those moments of greater awareness, the surreal nature of the grief makes the entire world, your entire being, feel wrong. It warps you and everything you perceive. A previously energetic and focused person can become listless and disoriented, or a fidgety, easily-distracted person can become still and quiet. Anger comes flaring out in strange directions, over stranger reasons.
Recognizing this is difficult, and counteracting it is doubly so. Recovering from it is a long process, the end of which I have not even glimpsed. I can imagine it in some detail, I know which general direction to go to get there, but I cannot yet see it. It is either too far away, or too obscured by the warping effects of the grief. I don’t know which. It could well be both.
But this is why I seem to check out, from time to time. I’m not actually going through an internal hell of pain and torment when I do, which is what I suspect other people suspect. Instead, I’m trying to come to some understanding of the extradimensional horror that always hovers nearby, sometimes right in front of me and other times just out of sight, hoping that if I can somehow comprehend it in its entirety, it will finally go away and allow me to be happy that she lived instead of sad that she died.