Approaching any milestone event such as Christmas or a birthday can be incredibly poignant when you have lost a loved one.
In the first of our three part series asking, “What is grief?”, one brave Celebrant shares an intensely moving account of her own personal experience of grief twenty years on.
This is my grief?
Grief is described in the dictionary as intense sorrow especially caused by someone’s death. That it may be but until it is your grief you have no idea of the intensity of grief, what it is or why it is happening.
Life is a blur. Grief is an emotion – an emotion no one wants to choose. Grief is a place – it is a place no one wants to go to and when you get there you have no idea how to run away from it. Grief is also personal and don’t let anyone tell you different.
The five stages of grief
The experts will tell you that there are five stages to grief and to a lesser or greater extent you may experience them all. There is the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression and finally the acceptance.
“Grief is like that ocean with waves crashing over you when you least expect it, knocking the feet from under you and you come up spluttering but over time the waves will not be as fierce, they will not knock you over, you will stumble but you will not fall and that is how grief works.”
Does time help grief?
It is twenty years since I lost my second husband though that in itself is a phrase you may come to resent.
I didn’t lose him. I know where he is. He is buried on a hillside in a cemetery outside Aberdeen.
He died after living with cancer, a brain tumour that did not respond to the chemotherapy or the radiotherapy and I was told there was nothing more could be done. I walked along that hospital corridor with no return appointment accepting he would die. Two months later he died. I had been expecting it, I was strong, I was prepared, I was sad, and reluctantly I accepted his death and I had no need to grieve. I got on with life and went back to work.
And then it struck – without warning one day as I stood in my flower shop with a bouquet of yellow roses in my hand. Waves swept over me, knocked me down and try as I could not rise. Grief had captured me and surrounded me.
Friends and family try to help with grief
- “Time is a great healer” I hear from one well meaning friend. “
“No it’s not”.” I haven’t broken a bone and in time it will mend. After the plaster comes off. I have lost a loved one, a very special part of me. Half my heart has been ripped out of me.
- “He is in a better place now “says my very elderly mother.
“No he’s not”. In the real world he should be comforting me as we lay you to rest in the grave. We were a happy couple looking forward to the rest of our lives with plans to go to China next year when he was better.
- “I know how you feel” says my next-door neighbour as she and her husband hand me a card of condolence over the fence.
“No you don’t “Unless you have experienced exactly what I am going through you don’t know how I feel.
- “You’ll learn to love again”. Now that is the classic one!
“No I won’t.” I haven’t forgotten how to love. I still love him even though he is not here.
How friends and family respond to bereavement
I still love my friends, my family although after a while their patience did grow thin. He was not the father of my children and understandably they stopped talking of him. They felt they had done their bit supporting me and they had and back they went to their own lives.
Close friends avoided talking about him too.. I would walk into a room and the conversation would stop. They didn’t want to talk about him one in case they upset me and brought back my grief. I wanted to scream “I want to talk about him. I want to remember all the good times and maybe even the bad times – when life was normal.”
The phone stopped ringing, people walked to the other side of the road so they would not have to speak to me.
Does grief change you?
In twenty years not a day goes by when I don’t think about my husband. There will be times when I well-up if I hear a song, I still grieve for him.
I appear happy and well-adjusted. There have been others in my life, I have not been lonely but none have stayed and that has been my decision.
I still grieve and that to me is my normality. There will always be the time in my life for that grief. It is part of me and it is what has made me stronger in so many other ways. So, if you are reading this – don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve. It is not a mountain to be climbed with the strongest getting to the peak first, it is a walkway through pain and sorrow and of memories and acceptance and is all done in your own time and in your own way. And those tears – they are love with nowhere to go.
As you remember you will reminisce, you will laugh, you will cry sometimes – eventually the times you cry will become further apart and not last so long but that is you working through your grief but it is always there especially at times like Christmas.
When I remember the little things, the things no one else remembers… then grief visits me again.
For more information about dealing with grief and bereavement go to the Dying Matters organisation