How to Grieve For the Living: The Truth About How It Feels To Cut Toxic People From Your Life

Every meme about cutting people out of your life makes it sound glamorous and empowering. No longer catering to other people's toxic bullshit, and a real life version of "taking out the trash."

Everything I've read and seen paints the experience as a giant and satisfying "Fuck You," with each person riding off into the sunsets of their lives, free of the need to ever acknowledge the others existence.

My experience of this is vastly different.

Cutting a person you love, who has had great meaning and importance in your life, out of your life is not satisfying or freeing. It's horrifying.

It's like griving a live person. In some cases, a person who lives in the same town, or who you still need to interact with for the sake of other family members or situations. Imagine if you were to go to a gathering of live people and act the whole time you were there as if one person was a ghost in reverse: everyone else there could see and talk to them, but you couldn't. It would be surreal and awkward, no?

But this is what it feels like to let go of a person who was in your life. It's often incredibly necessary to do it, but the unimaginable pain and heartbreak of the situation doesn't just disappear when they do.

It lingers.

Memories come up unexpectedly, and what do you do with those? Allow yourself to relive the memory? Or push it away?

What happens when you start to tell a story to someone, only to realize in the middle that the person youre talking about doesn't exist to you anymore? It makes it hard to know how to finish the story you're telling.

Plus, if there's anything people judge, its the choice a person made to walk away from someone else, even if the decision was legit.

They say things they think are helpful:

"But they're family."

"Have you tried counseling?"

"But there must have been something more you could have done to try to save the relationship. . . ?" 

. . . and trailing off as you violently shake your head, your eyes wide with terror.

No. No, there's nothing else I could have done.


There's a point in the breakdown of a relationship when you come to this realization, and it's devastating. You finally understand, for real this time, that there's nothing you can say, no action you can take to fix anything.

Because the other person is not meeting you halfway, or respecting your wishes, or following through on what they say, or telling the truth.

And you decide you can't live with that anymore.

You're done being the one cog in the broken machine trying futilely to do your job. No matter how many times you turn correctly, the machine will still blow would you rather be in the machine when it does, or at a safe distance where you can watch the destruction with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach (but still be intact)?

So you end things and you move on -but you also don't.

One moment you're moving solidly forward, and the next after a glimpse of a photo, or a thought about the time in the apple orchard in fall when you both laughed and laughed when the toddler on the hayride made faces the whole time, and unexpectedly you're a messy puddle of sadness and shame and guilt, wondering, "Are they right? Could I have done more? Would I have done more?"

And it's then you realize you're grieving.

You're grieving a person who is no more than a 10 minute drive away.

Grieving as though they are mere vapor or just a wisp in your memory. You realize life as you knew it will never be the same again, because you're here and they're here, but at the same time, not.

And it's so strange.

You feel like the world is tilted just a little bit. Like your whole life you wore glasses that showed the world in a certain light. Then, one day discover that not only are the glasses gone, but you never even knew you were wearing them to begin with.

Photo by  MontyLov  on  Unsplash

Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash

The light hurts your eyes, and you don't know what to look at.

And you wake up and do all the normal things, but in the back of your mind, theres a voice that says, grief, grief, grief. Some days you give in to it and some days you don't, but you never know for sure which day will be which. You might end one day laying comfortably in bed laughing at a funny show on TV, and another crumpled in a heap on the floor, crying and shivering, not knowing at all how to stand up and make it better, so you just cry until finally your rational mind finds you a blanket.

It's been almost 3 years since I officially said goodbye, and it took me a long time to understand that I was grieving. I thought I was hurting and had to wait for the scars to heal. I was focused too much on the wound that was just bleeding everywhere.

Like with death, I don't know if I will ever be done grieving. The decision was made, and the events set into motion, so that part can't be changed. The reasons why were valid. The toxic and emotionally scarring bits are past.

But the healing?

I don't know about the healing. It's slow and awkward and painful, and doesn't most of the time feel like healing, just existing.

But maybe that's whatever normal grief is. Just existing as best you can.

So how do you grieve for the living?

Any way you can.

It's a mess. It's scary. It's sad.

There's good moments and bad moments.

You'll get support and criticism.

At times you'll feel like you made the best decision you've ever made. At times, you'll question your own sanity.

You'll wonder "What if?"

You'll fear the future, and wonder what will happen when death does come? Will there be a chance for redemption before that day? Will they (and you) get one more chance to make things right?

These are questions I can't answer, yet.

Have you ever said goodbye to a (living) friend, partner, family member or other important person in your life because the relationship turned sour? Was it freeing, or did you have unexpected feelings about the end of the relationship? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

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