I’ve never been a stranger to grief. My mother and stepbrother were killed in a car accident when I was very young, and of course, almost every child experiences the loss of at least one grandparent. By the time I was twenty-one, I figured I could handle anything grief could throw my way. I felt incredibly strong, confident, and optimistic about the future. I had a great family, awesome friends, and an amazing boyfriend. I felt unstoppable.
It’s almost cliché, but what happened next was so unexpected it still feels almost unreal. At work, I noticed a voicemail from my boyfriend’s mother. “Christina, it’s Lisa. Miguel died. He was in an accident; he died. Tell me it’s not true.”
The next days and weeks were confusing and horrible. His mother kept introducing me as “the girl Miguel was supposed to spend the long haul with.” We had only been together four months. Going through his room, I found a box where he collected mementos from our short relationship – ticket stubs, packets of hot sauce, straw paper, and small flowers. I missed him desperately, and I felt horribly guilty about the relationship doubts I had while he was alive.
A huge part of grief is wrapped up in identity: who that person was to you, who you were to that person, the roles you played in each other’s lives, and how to adjust your reality to include their absence. When your identity is flexible – as that of a girlfriend- this whole process becomes even more unclear and difficult. You weren’t his family, but you weren’t his friend. You can’t grieve him as a widow. You didn’t earn that title. Yet, though vows were never spoken, he still spent the rest of his life with you. The enormity of that fact strongly collides with the undecided future your past relationship held. You were just enjoying each other’s company – having fun, laughing, and trying not to be too serious. Instead, you end up holding his brother’s hand as he’s lowered into the ground.
I suppose most people would tell you to just accept what can’t be answered or reconciled and move on. All grief journeys include some measure of unanswered questions, but with these deaths, there are more questions than certainty. Sometimes you may even feel as if you’re going mad, missing someone so much when you’re not sure how strongly they ever really felt about you. After all, no formal commitment had been made. There were no blood bonds to secure you to each other. He could have been planning to break up with you that night. You’ll never know.
And just like that, a four month relationship turns into a lifelong grief. A lifelong scar that scabs but doesn’t vanish. I still miss Miguel. I still cry sometimes, and I still long for answers. If he had survived, I have no idea if we would still be together. Odds are – probably not. By now, we’d both have moved on to more appropriate partners. But the way it is, the way it ended, we’re forever bound. I’ll forever be the last person to see him alive. He’ll never be my ex-boyfriend, because we never broke up. But I’ll never get to grieve him as a widow would, or even as a friend. I’ll grieve him in my own unique and lonely way, because I don’t know anyone who understands. But you know something? I don’t feel sorry for myself. I also have something more beautiful and lasting than most people ever will. For I know that just as my heart has a Miguel shaped hole, his has a Christina shaped one. Someday, we’ll be reunited, and we’ll answer all those questions. For now, I’m just satisfied with the present.