"It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things." -Lemony Snicket
For all its ostensible simplicity, death is complicated for those of us who have yet to experience it. And while I appreciate Snicket's sentiment, coping with loss is not always this straightforward. It is not always possible to merely readjust oneself after the painful shock of losing someone we care about, simply because some relationships transcend illusory misstep; there are some people who are more to us than just the empty space through which we navigate and which confuses us and makes us feel silly when we realize that there was never really any reason to worry in the first place, and that we are going to be just fine.
In much the same way as realizing we've tripped over a non-existent stair, it is always uncomfortably surprising when we lose someone we know. It's a feeling akin to being suddenly and aggressively shaken awake from some mildly enjoyable, but generally monotonous dream. Like we couldn't have predicted as much, as if it were some exotic and unfortunate illness that only ever happens to people in newspapers. And whenever we are made to confront the painful yet obvious reality, it forces us take a step back and reevaluate things.
It makes us think of the deceased, and how we must readjust our view of the world to accommodate their absence. And yes, many times this adjustment amounts to nothing more than a brief moment of miscalculation and confusion. But there are some times when this is not the case, when the loss of a person causes an unmistakable and lasting difference in our lives. There is a rare and special closeness with certain people that some of us are lucky enough to experience, and which at some point causes us to unconsciously realize the verity and significance of these people's existence.
There comes a moment when a person ceases to be merely an imagined phenomenon, and forever becomes an integral piece of the staircase in the multi-storied building of one's life. The people who ineffably and eternally changed us; the people who inadvertently etched themselves into our framework and forced us to recognize their inextricable realness. These are the people for whom we do not become only momentarily disoriented when they leave. When they stop existing there is one less step, a permanent gap in the staircase. And no matter how much time passes, no matter how well adjusted we become, it will never feel quite right skipping a step, making the unnatural lunge over the empty space they've left behind.