A Facebook post that struck a chord with me recently was one written by a friend that began “Today, I outlived my Dad at the age of 42”. Given that this is a ‘milestone’ I will also reach in the next couple of years, his words made me reflect on the nature of grief and the grieving that we go through – or perhaps more specifically that I have gone through.
Some Stuff I’ve Learned About Grief
- It can smash you across the face and leave you struggling for breath
- It can fill you with an energy that will enable you to perform feats of superhuman strength. Anyone who has seen a man act as pallbearer to his wife or a child follow the coffin of their parent will know what that strength looks like
- It will cause you to run from town centres in tears with nothing but sobs to offer the strangers who stop to ask you what has happened
- It can also cause you to take incredibly large risks that will make you look back at those times and want to protect the person that you were
- You end up finding milestones or markers that you hadn’t expected – for me this includes when my son reached the age of my youngest brother when our dad died. Or when I reached the age of my mother when she was widowed. It has helped me to empathise more with how things must have been for her and thank my lucky stars for all I currently have.
- The person who has died will crop up in all sorts of places. I thought the registrar at our wedding was going to insist on a seance, so adamant was she that I needed to recall precisely the job my dead father had before he became terminally ill despite the fact that I had a living, breathing mother in the very next room. Hopefully that kind of ‘awkward’ moment will become a thing of the past soon with #mothersonmarriagecerts (read here for more).
- It can send shock waves through families that ripple on for decades and for some the waves never recede
- The people who put up with all of the tears, snot, puffy-eyes, irrational fears, panicking and maudlin moments are keepers
- We know it happens to us all in the end, but it doesn’t make it any easier
But it is not all bad. It can’t be all bad.
The experience of loved ones dying and the continual process of grief reminds us that our life can be short. It helps us to try to remember the things that are important, to put things in perspective or to notice moments of beauty and joy and remember them.
And so I sit here; 26 years almost to the day that my dad died and whilst I am sad, I am happy for the life that he and my mum gave me, and the life that I now have. If grief has taught me one thing, it is that life is good.
If you want a more scientific view on grief, you might like to take a look at the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle. I’ve come across it twice in my life – once when studying for a psychology A-level (when it came in very bloody handy for helping me understand what the hell was going on) and secondly during an exercise discussing change in teams in a corporate setting (less useful). You can read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model
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