Before and After

There are moments that crack your whole life into two segments: the Before and the After. This is not always bad, of course. My life has been cracked open by marriage to a man who deeply loves the Lord and I can assure you the After has been unimaginably better than the Before. However, in my experience, the opposite is true most often, something terrible happens and the Before is an idyllic masterpiece of a thing that has been ruined never to be put back together again.

I used to think these moments were few and far between, with enough time and space in the middle to allow a person to process and work through the moment itself and its aftermath. Now, I wish I was so naive again. Sometimes we do not get the luxury of time to heal before the wound is ripped open anew.

Now the Befores and the Afters are so muddied together that it’s as if time itself has fractured. Days feel stretched out, longer than they should be, and then suddenly a week has passed by without my noticing. I feel like I am floating in time, unhinged from it completely. There is cancer and death and heart attacks and children left without parents and the world just keeps spinning on and I feel like I am stuck on an endless ride ready to vomit. C.S. Lewis writes, “How often — will it be for always? — how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, "I never realized my loss till this moment"?”

I was listening to a playlist the other day, one created for Holy Week. I should have been more cautious about my listening choices. Worship music is a minefield these days, each repeated chorus of praise a reminder that I will never hear her sing again in this life. But I was not cautious, and I heard a song that she would love, a song she would have loved.

Language, a constant companion throughout all my life, has also changed in the After. Perhaps it was an honest mistake and not so personal. Perhaps language just got caught in the crossfire, crawled its way into enemy territory, and wrapped itself in the protective covering of betrayal. Who can blame it for choosing self-preservation? Still, my ally has turned on me, making me question my verb tenses. Would she like this song or would she have liked this song? A subtle change, a quiet and brutal betrayal. All language does now is draw attention to its own past tenses. All language does is remind me of all that I’ve lost.

I wanted to share the song she would [have] like[d] with my mom. The pastor told us it was important for us to talk to each other about them to keep their memories alive. One of the most upsetting things about the After is how easy it is to forget the Before. The memories turn fuzzy too quickly. They cover themselves in a thick haze so it is almost impossible to see. I panic in the fog. Without the person who has died acting as your co-rememberer, it is so easy for memories to be forgotten and lost forever. This new song was not a memory, I suppose; it was released after she had died so she had never heard it. It still felt good and right to want to share it with someone though, in honor of her I guess.

I spent nearly five full minutes typing and retyping a short text to my mom, but the phrasing kept getting in the way. If I said she would like this song, would it sound like I was refusing to mourn? Would it be too obvious that sometimes I keep her alive in my mind because the pain of her death is too much to bear? And if I put it in the past tense, would it just be a cruel reminder to us both? Would it sound like I was moving on too quickly, like she was dead and I have just accepted it?

After multiple iterations and drafts and discarded text messages, I decided not to send anything at all. Another casualty of the After. How can you say something about someone who has died without drawing attention to death? And so I decided to keep the song locked up in my mind where switching between the Before and After is less painful because I can convince myself it’s not real. I listened to the song while I made dinner, took a shower, drove to work. I think I will listen to it every day for the rest of my life. I think I will never stop listening to it.