E&M‘s Sarah Gerwens’ tries to develop a manual for loss, grief, and recovery.

  1. It’s okay. Everything. Unpack the broken parts form the box and lay them out in front of you. Consult the manual.
  2. Breathe. It really is okay.
  3. And, of course, it’s not.
  4. Nothing. There is nothing to say or to do or to promise that has not been said and done and promised before (and then broken). In the end, it won’t make this easier. We might as well get that out of the way now: grief can’t be cured like an illness or heal like a wound.
  5. Eat, sleep, get up in the morning (or early afternoon), do the things you like (except you kind of hate everything right now), surround yourself with positive people (except positive people make you want to throw up).
  6. At some point, there will probably be a funeral. Go. Don’t go. Prepare to shake the hands of people you have met only once before. Maybe this isn’t even your first funeral. Maybe you’re becoming good at this. You can make a career out of it, professional mourner – think of that when you are sitting in the first pew and can’t breathe.
  7. People will have a hard time texting you; and seeing you; and talking to you; and hugging you. Most of all, people will be very sorry. You’re sorry, too. You will all be terribly sorry together. And after having been very sorry, someone will tell you about their dead aunt (or cat) and become your co-conspirator in grieving – except sometimes you’d rather do this alone. Someone else will probably ask if you’ve tried meditating; or herbal tea; or Jesus. And that one friend will tell you “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” while patting you on the back a little too hard and, maybe, you will kill them.
  8. There is no copyright on memories, but you could swear that during your last movie night, you all watched Star Wars not Spiderman. Suddenly, this is very important, how they told stories a little too long-winded, how they once got lost on the drive home, their favorite song and least favorite McDonald’s dish. Someone should have written it all down. Probably you, but you didn’t. Instead, you find yourself crying over how much garlic to put on the pizza you always made together.
  9. You buy a shitty camera and vow that, from now on, you will take more pictures of the things that matter. And everything matters now, because everything could be lost.
  10. It is not your fault.
  11. It is not your fault.
  12. There is nothing you could have done.
  13. (Having been kinder last Christmas/not fighting about which Netflix show to watch/turning the lights off after you leave a room/not putting the empty milk carton back in the fridge also wouldn’t have saved them) ((that said, your roommate really wants you to not put the empty milk carton back in the fridge))
  14. Sometimes, you will get sad in the middle of the supermarket, reminded by something you see in the candy aisle, of an easier time, of summer, of Sundays, of reading the paper together or, maybe, learning to write their name. Memories will wait where you will least expect them: a book buried under the couch cushion, a song on the radio, a joke you no longer find funny. Maybe, you will start going to a different supermarket, a new bar, the bus stop two streets over. You will wash your sheets. Wash your sheets. Wash your sheets. Throw your sheets away. Until your home no longer smells like their scent.
  15. Did you know that you can cut off any part of an axolotl and it will grow back? Me neither. But I’m jealous; we never grow back the way we used to be. But we also aren’t critically endangered. So maybe there is something adaptive to our pain, to our insufficient healing: it tells us that we are still alive.
  16. Truth: You aren’t over it.
  17. Dare: Move on anyway.
  18. Out there is the world and as much as you want it to: it won’t wait. Somebody else will land on Mars and soon marry your first girlfriend, cure cancer and win the lottery. Be part of it.
  19. This is all bullshit. You will prove every single thing I wrote wrong, because there is no right way to do this – sometimes, there barely is a way to do it at all.
  20. Throw away the manual.

Cover Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

  • retro

    Sarah Gerwens lives in London, but grew up in Dortmund, Germany. Currently a PhD student, she holds BAs in Global Studies and Psychology from Hofstra University and an MSc from the London School of Economics. In the past, Sarah has interned in the European Parliament, the Bundestag, an anti-torture NGO, and the GIZ.

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