When you lose someone you live with inch by inch instead of all at once, the final goodbye is the last of a series of small goodbyes. Often you don't even know it's the last time you're going to do something, but things fall away one by one, like trips to the zoo, family dinners at the table, or even movies together in bed. And when the grief spans 16 months, there don't seem to be all that many tears left because whole oceans could have been filled by the tears you cried while begging for God's mercy. It's not that you don't grieve or that you've moved past grief, but more that for the first time you can actually start to heal.
I think of David in 2 Samuel 12 who, after a serious of sinful decisions, is punished by God in order to lead him to repentance. While the child is sick, David fasts, prays, and weeps, so much so that the people are afraid to tell him when the child dies. Yet when he hears the news, he rises, eats, and comforts Bathsheba. His subjects question his behavior, and yet David says to them: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
My conjecture is that grief is experienced differently when you do not live with the person, when you don't see him gradually slipping away, and the end comes as more of a surprise. When the shock of loss leaves a sudden, gaping hole rather than one that grows by gradual degrees. I would think it leaves you more breathless, reeling from the sudden absence, and you have to deal with the absence before the healing can come.
I think this difference is why I have found other people's grief a bit foreign. Not that one is better or more valid, but they're just so different. I still encounter people who have just heard the news or are just seeing me for the first time, and it's a strange interaction. Again, not good or bad, just strange. There is at least a perceived rush of intensity, and often I'm not at that moment in a place of deep sadness, so the reaction is incredibly awkward, although not always bad.
Strangely though I find myself thankful for the awkwardness, thankful that broken people would love each other, no matter how awkwardly.