There are some people who look up at the sky and see a lost loved one. They find comfort in puffy clouds and blue skies, or all-encompassing constellations and planets, or maybe even soft pellets of rain that make steady taps against a window.
I think those are the people who have made peace with death. I have not.
I look at inky blue skies and think, “If you’re here, do something. Say something. Show me.” I feel overwhelmed by vast universes of stars, small microbes of worlds, aware that there is so much out there and yet — yet, here I am, without you, for the rest of my life.
Sunsets used to be my favorite. I went to school on Lake Ontario, where it snows more than half the year, but even on days where the wind whipped you around like harsh lashes to the face, the sky would be painted with hues of orange, pink, yellow, and purple. It felt like a sign, sometimes, that even in such ugly weather, the mid-point of winter, when everything felt so impossibly dull, there was a light to be found.
When you passed, mom picked a beautiful prayer for your memorial. I do not pray — at least not anymore. But when I read it (“I’d like to leave an echo whispered softly down the ways, of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days / I’d like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun”) I knew you would come to me in the form of dreamy oranges and muted blues and pastel pinks.
There has been a gorgeous sunset almost every summer night.
But when I watch them from my third-floor apartment, overlooking hundreds of slanted roofs, I hold my fists tight to my sides and cry. Some nights I weep loudly; others I let the tears pool at the corners of my eyes and wipe them away before they even exist, cutting their lives short.
There are evenings where I talk to you in my head and wonder if you can hear me and then I feel silly, because you’re dead, you’re not a superhero, but maybe something cool happens when you get to heaven and you can read people’s minds. Other evenings I feel braver, more courageous, and I whisper out little messages to you.
“Hi. How are you? I miss you so much. Are you watching over us? I hope you are. Thank you, if you are. I hope you’re doing well.” And then I feel stupid because it’s like I’m talking to a co-worker, and I envision your soul bouncing around the confides of my room, and how could you possibly be “doing well” when you’re not even here anymore?
I read a book from the point of view of a dead girl. She talked about how her heaven is different from other people’s heavens, so last night when I drove home from my Pilates class, I thought about what’s in your heaven.
Maybe our grandpa, who died before I got a chance to meet him. Maybe there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts that only serves your order and has it ready for you before you even walk in. Definitely your very overweight, mute cat, Charlie.
Like that book, I wonder if you ever watch us and want so deeply to press your nose up against Earth that you almost come through. I wonder if you listen to the things we say to ourselves and others to cope with your loss. Do you try to show us when we’re right?
Sometimes I feel silly and maybe a little crazy for personifying your loss. I know you’re not physically here anymore, but I envision your soul or an odd ghost version of you, and that’s what I imagine in my brain. If I think too hard, I’ll remember what you looked like on Earth, and everything feels like it’s crashing in on me too quickly.
In eight months, I have felt so much sadness. Waves of the heaviest, most awful sorrow. Grief I never even thought was possible has consumed my every being, every vessel of my brain; it’s percolated and invaded in a way that I’ll never be able to kick, not with a therapy session or a journal entry or a workout or a scream in my pillow.
When I think it’s too much—when finally, I want to wave my little white flag and admit defeat— the stupid sun shimmers and filters through the blinds in my bedroom, filling every crevice of the old brick walls, bouncing off my favorite disco ball planter, shining so brightly in my eyes that it’s impossible not to acknowledge.
And for all the sadness and the tears, the calls to my family and the hugs from my boyfriend, the flashbacks and dips of trauma, the condolence cards and messages, there is one thing I know to be true: You want me to keep going. And so I do.
Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Melissa Lee is a writer and editor. During the day, she specializes in mental and physical health and wellness content. This is her debut creative nonfiction publication.