When the World Just Won’t Stop

by Gigi Griffis

There is a strange and terrible thing that happens when you are in the middle of a personal tragedy.

It could be something as publicly world-shattering as a death near and dear to your heart. Something as invisible to others as a severe depression. Something as simple (and complicated) as coming out of denial and facing, head-on, a terrible reality like a drinking problem or a family estrangement.

And in that tragedy your life feels forever changed. The scope of it knocks you over like a punch in the gut every time it crosses your mind. And, of course, you can’t make it stop crossing your mind. So you end each day feeling bloodied and bruised from so many mental gut punches and start each day feeling barely able to soldier on.

Which is when you realize that while your life has come to a full stop, while your breath is still caught in your chest, the rest of the world is speeding along as if nothing happened. The snow is melting into spring. The church bells still ring every hour, waking anyone within a five-mile radius. The trains are running. The government is knocking on the door to collect an outstanding tax. Eventually, even your own body betrays you and gives into its needs for sleep and food, which haven’t stopped either.

It feels so wrong.

Because the scope of the tragedy feels like it should shake the earth to its core. Doesn’t such a powerful loss deserve at least a moment of silence, a breathless pause in the earth’s orbit?

And yet it spins on, with just a handful of people—or maybe even just one—taking moment after moment of silence, trying to find a way to build up our tolerance for gut-punching realities.

A few weeks ago, my dearest friend here in Switzerland lost the love of her life. A good man. A man with whom she’d been looking at charming country houses, talking about settling in, thinking about the future.

It was a beautiful, blue-sky day full of sunshine and crisp winter air when he speed-flew off the cliffs and through the air. It was a freak accident, a failure of equipment, that collapsed his parachute and changed her life forever.

And so the world ended and began. Stopped. Broke. Changed.

Yet, still it went on. Friends went into work. Arrangements were made for tributes and funerals and heartbreaking goodbyes. The days grew longer. The pub still filled with rowdy sportsmen. Sometimes we cried. Sometimes we laughed, shaking our heads at our own audacity.

At first, the movement feels so wrong, so unnatural. But eventually you recognize it for what it is:

A gift.

The momentum to push you forward when you can barely take another step, when your breath is ever caught in your chest. Life saying to you that it is still present, still for the taking, still demanding that you live it, still short, still offering you the beautiful and difficult.

Still moving you forward.

And as you move forward, in tiny measures, it becomes, little by little, easier to breathe.

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Rob April 10, 2014 - 5:03 am

I’m sorry for your friend. Personal tragedies are the worst both for the person involved and the friends who can’t really help.

One thing that other people’s personal tragedies (sometimes) do is make those of us unaffected take stock of our lives. In the course of a month around my world one neighbor’s mother died, another had an almost-heart attack and had some surgery and a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor and given a death sentence more immediate than the rest of us.

I’ve been feeling a little “blah” about life the last while, but hearing about all these tragedies has rekindled a bit of “carpe diem” attitude. Life *is* short and there’s no excuse to waste a single moment.

gigigriffis April 11, 2014 - 4:46 am

Agreed. This place is full of reminders that life is short and should be lived fully and well.

Andrew April 10, 2014 - 6:43 am

Time is a great healer. It’s like perspective. The further you are away from something the smaller it becomes, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t important. The impact of that moment does change the course of ones future, whether that be good or bad is up to the individual.

gigigriffis April 11, 2014 - 4:47 am


Rebecca April 10, 2014 - 7:42 am

Personal tragedies are the worst no matter what they are or who is affected. I am sorry for your friends loss. I know it doesnt really help. Just help her by being a good friend, giving her a shoulder to cry on, helping her laugh when she is ready to laugh again.

gigigriffis April 11, 2014 - 4:47 am

Thank you.

Janet April 10, 2014 - 9:42 am

That was very moving and so perceptive. Thank you.

gigigriffis April 11, 2014 - 4:47 am


Kathryn April 10, 2014 - 2:30 pm

You may be talking about Dan, whom I read about in, and wondered if you knew and was impacted.

I’m truly sorry for your friend and for you. I know how much tragedy hurts and how life seems so unfair as it marches on.

I’m so sorry.

And I’m sorry too that I didn’t touch base with you earlier, because I wanted to, and I don’t know why I didn’t.

gigigriffis April 11, 2014 - 4:49 am

This was actually written before Dan’s tragedy, though he was also a friend and his wife is also someone I love dearly. I was sitting on this post for a while, but after the recent tragedy, it felt right to post it.

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