My relationship with Katie recently came to an end. We met online New Year’s Eve 2006 and had been together for about 7 years until we recently went our separate ways. The cause of death is still under investigation, and probably will continue to be over the next few months in therapy.
There is a certain paradoxical quality to still caring very much for a person’s well-being, yet feeling that the relationship should end. I suppose it’s much more common than television, movies, and literature make it out to be. It certainly does lead to some extremely bittersweet feelings and a whole wash of different emotions. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the cause of the breakup, partially because it’s not relevant, but mostly out of respect for Katie’s privacy.
During our final therapy session together, the therapist turned to me and said, “Dan, even though you initiated this breakup, you’re certainly experiencing the loss created by it.” In the sad state I was in, I knew it was true, and yet I didn’t really know what it entailed. Of course when someone is a fixture in your life for so long there will be a loss when they leave. I felt ready to deal with that.
After we said our goodbyes, I started picking up the pieces of my life, analyzing what was necessary to keep in this new open future before me. The sadness began to slip away and be replaced by excitement about all the avenues open to me. There were new people I could meet and vast amounts of free time open to me. I began to immerse myself in performing music, gaming, and socializing. I dedicated larger amounts of time to swimming at the local YMCA. And naturally I lost about 10 pounds on the “breakup diet” (which consists of wondering why you should bother eating).
Just as things were really starting to look bright, I began noticing certain stressors in my life causing an inordinate amount of angst. I was starting to feel panic and emotional exhaustion. After an exhaustive analysis of the situations causing me stress and finding no clear solution, I decided to revisit the idea of loss that the therapist had suggested to me.
DING DING DING DING DING!
In my excitement to move forward in my life, I had neglected to take the necessary time to grieve over the loss of my relationship. Even though the reasons I had for ending it were wholly valid, it doesn’t change the fact that a huge chunk of my life over the past 7 years had gone away. I began to notice strong emotional stimuli, such as certain songs or locations, would overwhelm me with sadness. Despite my encounters with the stimuli, I still couldn’t figure out how to bring my feelings to the surface and address them. It was seemingly random and it greatly affected my mood at any given moment of the day.
I am so fortunate to have a strong network of amazing friends to talk to during this time. In one conversation when I brought up the question of how one grieves the loss of a relationship, my friend suggested I hold a memorial. One one hand, the concept of it was absolutely ridiculous. Who holds a funeral for a person who is still alive? As I thought about it, though, it began to make more sense.
The cultural institution of a ceremony to mark the passage of a life is ubiquitous. Most people wouldn’t dream of deciding not to have a funeral after a loved one died. Despite the pain and the sadness, we need to mark the importance of that person in our lives. We need to share the pain of the loss with our close friends, and we need to have our community come together and be a part of the commemoration of that person’s influence in our lives. We need to know that our living loved ones stand with us in our greatest moments of despair.
I began to picture what that would look like in my situation. I imagined my closest friends sitting with me as I talked about what I had lost when the relationship ended. I could visualize their comforting me as I said my last goodbyes to this huge part of my life. I felt intense pangs of grief, but I knew that when it was over I could start to rebuild from a more peaceful and resolved place.
Perhaps it’s good I could imagine it, because I couldn’t bear to make it actually happen. Between the grief, the intense emotions, and the rawness, it felt too masochistic, even though I could recognize the catharsis that would follow. So I did the next best thing: I started pulling up all the songs about death and loss.
Maybe it’s a bit odd that I actually have a few to choose from. I decided to start with one from my past: Maggi, Pierce, and E.J.’s For (Blue). The album is a tribute to the late Jeff Buckley and is filled with songs about loss. And sure enough, by the time I reached track 3, Space, I found myself able to expose and come to terms with some my own sensation of loss.
I continue to be surprised by how this process parallels grieving the death of a person in your life. There was the language of “loss” the therapist offer to me. In looking for solace from my other therapist, Google, I found a site that cited the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of loss and grief as common reactions to the end of a long relationship. I dismissed it at the time, but I was clearly not willing to face the truth of the matter.
I know I’m far from done my healing process. As the brilliant Carmaig De Forest says in another song about death, “I know that life goes on / I know that time heals all wounds / I know that this one isn’t healing anytime too soon.” However, understanding what it is I’m actually grieving is the first step. Understanding how I can go about grieving it is an important next step. Day by day, moment by moment, I’m coming closer to a point where I can integrate this chapter into the rest of my life and be at peace.