How we visualise grief is very individual, whether it’s a massive hole or a mountain, it’s a subject with not enough recognition or discussion. My grief is an object, I can’t say exactly what it looks like, but it feels like a wall. Some days that wall is just too high, too solid for me to get over or go around. Other days I can manage and navigate around it, and it can seem smaller but its always there.
Despite the sadness and feelings of loss that wall can bring, do I want it to go away? No, I don’t think so. Surely if I have a day without acknowledging or feeling that wall in some way, it would mean the people who died and who my grief is centred around were not in my thoughts anymore. On the days that wall makes me sad and I feel I can’t cope. I try very hard to turn this into a time to remember rather than be sad. Despite the wall, I can be happy, I can laugh I can enjoy my life and make new memories, this feels like the wall is cushioned, softer, easier and almost comfortable and I can live a happy fulfilled life alongside my grief.
As a person, my grief has enabled me to grow. I feel more grounded and able to make stronger and informed connections. I have wanted to learn and understand more about grief and death and I understand so much more about living well and how we should try to prepare for dying well. I see the enormous importance of conversations around death. It’s going to happen to us all but still it remains such a taboo subject.
When I die, I will be dead. I will not have slipped into the next room or passed away, passed or gone to sleep. I place huge importance around the terminology and using the died and dead words. I don’t fear death. I hate the thought of leaving behind family, whether there is a better place waiting or absolutely nothing beyond death, I can deal with that. I suppose the biggest fear is maybe there is something awful beyond taking our last breath.
The one thing I am determined to do whether they like it or not is prepare my children for my death. I will be starting on my death admin which I hope will not be needed for years but you never know when that number 19 bus might rip any one of us from our mortal coil. I intend to plan my funeral so there will be no uncertainty of my wishes. When a new life comes into this world, we plan for it. I remember going to a very expensive anti natal class to ensure I was ready and organised so I think as much as we prepare for a good birth, we should prepare for a good death.
My Mother died exactly two years ago and she would never talk about death, her will or anything connected with the time she wasn’t going to be here. Whilst I just accepted it, I now see how wrong she was and the severe impact of not being prepared has had on her two daughters, emotionally and practically. My Mother had a very severe stroke following chemotherapy and went from normal to unable to communicate in a matter of hours. She died eight months later. In that eight months she could not communicate anything practical to us. It was devastating to witness and although we told her how much we loved her, I doubt she understood. We will never know, and she was certainly unable to reassure us how much she loved us.
Five months ago, my Uncle, her younger brother died of an aggressive cancer that tore through him showing no mercy. He was a truly wonderful man who was like a father to me. He knew he had very limited time which meant every conversation he wanted to have was had and nothing was left unsaid. He had completed his death admin leaving his family knowing what he wanted. He even left a letter. All of this I felt was wonderful for his family, but nothing could take away the unfair tragedy of his death. I would have given a great deal to have had the chance to have known that my Mother knew how much I loved her and for her to have left nothing unsaid. When I discussed this with my sister, we concluded our mother would have been terrified of dying and possibly would not have handled knowing she had limited time as courageously as her brother.
We do not necessarily have to have someone die for us to grieve; in my work I often see clients experience a period of grief. One can grieve a loss of self-esteem, confidence, self-worth even a life that they had imagined having and life dealt them a blow and changed their path in life dramatically.
I suspect I will always live hand in hand with my grief, much of the time we work around each other. Sometimes the wall steps out hard and raw and gives me a painful breath-taking reminder of its existence. I think it is so important to talk about feelings around grief with no shame or embarrassment.
I have found the author Kathryn Mannix and her brilliant book “With the end in mind” changed the way I felt about life and death. Her aim is to shed a soft clear light on a subject that is too often avoided. It is illuminating and beautiful. When I can, I listen to a podcast called ‘Grief Cast’ which has been hugely cathartic in a time when sharing grief can be discouraged or hidden away.
This year is the first ever National Grief awareness week which is happening from 2nd-8th December 2019. Hopefully this will encourage people to bring grief out into the community and support us to learn how to grieve properly, and know how to treat people who are grieving with respect, understanding and kindness. #openuptogrief