Cookies on a plate

What Happens After Everyone Leaves

Why the loneliest days come after you bury the dead.

When death comes, the support is almost immediate, overwhelming even. Messages of condolences—what does that even mean, really?—start pouring in as soon as they hear about the unfortunate news. People come in droves right before you’re left to deal with your grief by yourself at the end of the day.

And you’re fine when you’re surrounded by people. People who have known your loved one and share stories from a happier time, one where your loved one was still alive. They share your grief, they hold your hand, they offer prayers for the deceased and the bereaved. And that’s all well and good, and of course, very much appreciated. But what happens after the leave?

My brothers and I lost our mom to liver cirrhosis almost 11 years ago in 2008. We were twenty-somethings suddenly left with the responsibility of raising ourselves. Our father had suffered a stroke due to an aneurysm on the left side of his brain a decade before our mother passed away. All of a sudden, we had to learn to take care not just of ourselves, but also our dad.

I’d like to think that we’ve handled the situation we’ve been dealt with as much grace as we could possibly muster. You would think that death would be easier the second time around. It isn’t.

Here are 3 things I’ve learned about grief.

We all deal with grief differently.
Some people like to keep themselves busy to distract them from the loneliness. Some people like to wallow in the pain, let the tears flow endlessly until their eyes run dry. Some people like to talk about it, tell the story over and over until it becomes almost systematic and devoid of feelings. And there’s no wrong or right way to do it. It’s been a week of waking up and crying in bed for me and I just let myself. But I also allow myself to talk about silly, trivial things like how there are two documentaries chronicling the disaster that is Fyre Fest or omg Chris Pratt is engaged?

It’s okay not to say anything when people message you.
The easiest way to commiserate for most people is to send a message of sympathy. I cannot count the times I’ve read the word “Condolences” in the past 2 weeks. I know it’s supposed to comfort you, but even after losing both my parents, this word certainly doesn’t do anything to the immense sadness in my heart. And even if that’s the case, I appreciate the messages all the same. I’ve learned that I can be grateful without having to reply to every single person who sends me “Condolences.”

The loneliest days come after you bury the dead.
If anything, the days when you’re at the wake are actually bearable. You see people you haven’t seen in months, years. They bring you mass cards and money and food. They share stories about the person you’ve just lost, and it feels comforting to reminisce about the better days. Often, there’s more laughter than tears at the burial. But when you lie in bed and wake up the next morning, you realize that the person is no longer there. That’s when it hits you. When you wake up for breakfast and your dad who is usually the first one at the dining table is no longer here. That’s when you feel your heart breaking over and over again. It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with death in my family and it’s most likely not the last. I’m trying to deal with grief better by allowing myself to cope the best way I know how. These days, it’s giving myself room to cry, to laugh, to live through this. I’m taking it one day at a time and I know one morning, I’ll wake up and my tears won’t fall anymore. But for now, pass the tissue please.

I wrote this a little over a week after my dad’s burial. Happy to report that the tears have been few and far in between. Today’s plans included opening up the lone biscuit box left over from his wake. I’m sure there’s some sort of poetic meaning to eating the cookies on Valentine’s Day of all days. And if there’s none, well, I’m pretty sure my dad would’ve loved sharing a few pieces with me if he were still here.

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