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Why Your Old Life Can Feel Just Out of Reach

Apple TV's "Dark Matter," quantum physics, and grief.

Key points

  • The disorienting nature of grief can create a sense of duality in our reality.
  • Adapting to a new life without our loved one isn't easy, but it is possible.
  • Many grievers report feeling as though they are in a parallel life with their loved one just out of reach.
El Gringo by Pexels
Loved ones may feel close but just out of reach
Source: El Gringo by Pexels

The onset of grief is often described as disorienting, and suitably so. Whether expected or sudden, experiencing the death of a loved one—or of an important relationship—is much like a vehicle launching us into a deep, dark abyss. Reeling, its reluctant passengers are transported into a new world, and though it looks and sounds the same, it isn’t.

Intuitively, we know it never will be.

In this confounding space, we exist in a duality: Our old life is gone forever yet remains within reach.

So close, some say, they can feel its presence, even years later.

Maybe grief and quantum physics aren’t strange bedfellows

This otherworldly experience isn’t unique to grievers. At least not in the world we inhabit. The Apple TV series Dark Matter depicts a similar dual-life experience. It tells the story of a man named Jason who is abducted into an alternate version of his own life. Confused, he embarks on a desperate journey to escape his parallel universe and return to the family he loves.

Similarly, when separated from a beloved person or relationship, grievers experience their world much as it once was sans the most important people. Like Jason in Dark Matter, grievers struggle to make sense of new surroundings and, like grievers, Jason’s duality exists with his old life cognitively ever-present, but not reflected in his new world.

Straddling two worlds isn’t easy, but it is normal

Whether you’re grieving a loved one who has died a physical death, or your loved one is still living and you’re experiencing ambiguous grief, learning to navigate life’s new terrain is imperative to your well-being. What’s important, says Lisa Keefauver, author and podcast host of “Grief Is a Sneaky Bitch," is that grievers lean into, and not avoid, their new world. In her new book, by the same name, Keefauver elaborates: “In grief, you’re facing obstacles you could have never imagined (nor would have wanted to). Even if you’ve grieved before, you’ve never been this version of yourself, while grieving this loss.”

This isn’t to say that grief doesn’t exist in this new world or that it didn’t in your old world. Both can be true. But to move forward with our grief, we have to learn to loosen our grip on the life we once lived and, Keefauver says, “learn to breathe” in the new world. Using her love of scuba diving as a metaphor, she champions deep breathing as a vital tool both underwater and in life. Especially, she says, when you don’t dive in willingly, but are “shoved."

In a parallel life, milestones are minefields

By working to adapt to this “new” life, grievers can be better ready for the inevitable assaults activated by the calendar. Whether blissfully unaware or dreading the day, specific dates and special events can be downright debilitating. Depending on the nature of the milestone or event, this may (thankfully) occur just once or (sigh) repeat annually. For example, the graduation ceremony your child should be celebrating this month, but isn’t, or the would-have-been-silver wedding anniversary you quietly recognized alone.

Whether aware of the calendar or not, the body keeps the score, which makes us all susceptible to unannounced grief attacks. In this way, any number of things may unleash a tsunami of grief: a song, a scent, a memory, or the awareness of a missing milestone. When this happens, we’re much like our TV friend Jason: Stuck living in our parallel universe, we are tantalizing close to our old life, but unable to get back to it.

Cue the feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and overwhelm.

When this happens, connecting to someone safe is crucial. Be it a trusted friend, a compassionate family member, a grief-informed therapist, or a member of your healthcare team, processing your grief (or not) impacts your overall well-being. Keefauver likens it to “buddy-breathing," a technique scuba divers use where one shares their equipment with another in need. “These moments challenge the capacity of [our] life rules to sustain us…that’s why when we’re running out of air, it’s vital to buddy-breathe.”

But keep in mind, that while it’s normal to need time to adjust to a new world without your loved one, focusing too much on what was can inhibit the brain from healthfully processing what is. Such an inability to adapt may be a sign of prolonged grief disorder, for which professional help is needed.

When living in reality duality, feel for energy that can't be seen

Iryna Nazarova/Getty Images
Source: Iryna Nazarova/Getty Images

In the series, living a parallel life was possible by harnessing dark matter—the unseen, yet proven phenomenon that holds galaxies together. Coined in 1933 by Astronomer Fritz Zwicky, dark matter doesn’t interact with light or electromagnetic fields but is detected by gravitational attraction. Similarly, though death or estrangement precludes us from visually seeing our loved ones, that doesn’t mean that they no longer exist – at least not as they once did.

But that doesn't mean they aren't there.

Because, after all, we humans are made up of energy, and science has proven that energy doesn't "end," but merely changes shape.

By that rationale, perhaps we often feel our loved ones close by because they are.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Sarazin, Stephanie. Soulbroken, A Guidebook for Your Journey Through Ambiguous Grief. GCP/Balance, 2022.

Keefauver, Lisa. Grief Is A Sneaky Bitch: An Uncensored Guide to Navigating Loss. University of Texas Press, 2024.

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