Friday, 15 January 2016

Grief #2

It became very clear very fast that my last piece touched many in a very powerful way and many people have said that I somehow managed to out their thoughts into words. And it has lead to so conversations about grief and how we manage, or often don't manage it.
What is vital, in my opinion, is that we have to allow people to grieve. It's a process and a really powerful one, much like birth for women, that changes you in a completely unfathomable way, and that some go through and manage well and some do not. And when my Mum died I did not.....
It wasn't that I went off the rails or drank or hit out. It wasn't anything ovbious to anyone other than probably poor Andy. But I know I retreated into myself, refusing to stop, refusing to take time off and pretending that everything was fine.
That I was fine.
But in reality I was far from fine. I would go to bed and cry because I didn't want to cry in front of anyone. I couldn't sleep. I didn't eat. It would hit me in crashing waves that quite literally took my breath away. I had chest pains that I have never told anyone about until writing it down this minute. Physically I had the most horrific stress related rosacea and was constantly battling yeast infections (sorry!). I was so busy worrying about how everyone else was coping, that I took no notice of me.
Actually that isn't true-I knew I wouldn't have to consider how I was coping if I concentrated on everyone else. There-I said it.
And then something happened. I read Alan Titchmarsh's autobiography and he speaks of losing his father. And through streaming eyes I read that the man who I have adored for more years than I can remember say that you never get used to someone being gone, you just learn to live with it, slowly over time.
I read that sentence and sobbed. Sobbed because someone understood. Sobbed because suddenly I knew I wasn't the only one. Sobbed because there appeared to be someone else who understood that black hole of grief.
Now I am not going to pretend it was all sweetness and light from there in. This year mum will have been gone for 14 years and I can still be knocked off my feet by it. Every year I fall apart on various anniversaries, with her birthday being, usually, the worst. Every new year I feel I am further and further from her, and in all honesty have given up celebrating and just go to bed and sleep through it.
And I also know in all sincerity that I will always be  achingly angry that the evil bastard that is cancer took her away from us when she was only 61 and she had a life yet to live. The fact that she never got to really finish her garden is one of the saddest things.
I miss her every day. Everytime I achieve something I go to the phone and realise she isn't there to call. And yet she is there. There's this little voice in my head telling me to push myself further, that I can do it, that I shouldn't be afraid and I know that little voice is her. People may leave us in body, but their legacy is what they leave in your soul, how they have infiltrated your person with their beliefs, their ideals. That person will always be with you, whispering in your ear as long as you allow that voice to be heard through the noise.
Why am I telling you all this I hear you ask? Many of you will be expected a gardening blog, or something about land rights or food activism. Some of you will be deeply uncomfortable reading this. Part of me wants to apologise but actually the realities of our everyday lives are just as important as those things and I hope this is helping some. Various people, in various stages of grief, have contacted me this week saying just thank you, and I want everyone to think about one thing, and this is hard, but how would you want your nearest to be treated when and if you are suddenly not here?
My experience was that no one from work contacted me, I went back the following day and only had 4 days off and not one person commented or thought I shouldn't be there even though it was obvious I was disappearing regularly to cry and was being completely unproductive. I had to ask for my compassionate leave pay as to begin with I wasn't even paid for those 4 days. My daughter was at primary school and, in all honesty, although her teacher was wonderful and coped with both me and her in different stages of collapse, including holding Em's hand as she sat her Year 4 SATS "because Grandma would be so cross with me if I didn't Mum", most people just avoided us, or said crazy and unhelpful things like "oh aren't you coping well". I cannot tell you how I wanted to scream 'NO" everytime!!
Now I have to admit that whenever anyone dies now, be they famous or next doors cat, I am catapulted straight back to that hideous moment when the phone rang and I knew that was our lives changed forever. Tell me someone has gone and even if I manage not to cry I will be obviously moved.
This is ok.
It is compassion.
It is understanding what they are going through, empathising with them, feeling and understanding their pain.
But I know you don't need to say anything. What they need is a hug. Possibly a sit down and a blanket.
They also need tea. Not because it is the British thing to do but because your body reacts to deep shock by sucking up all the moisture in it and causing constant thirst. Make them tea. Give them a piece of cake or a sandwich. Don't ask them if they need anything because invariably they will say no, just pop it in front of them.
Make them a casserole.
Take their dog for a walk.
Offer to look after their children if they are young enough not to be affected themselves.
Just do everything you would do for a friend who had just had a baby in fact. Let them be whilst making sure they are physically looked after.
And in the same way as post birth after the first couple of weeks everyone disappears just at the point you could really use their support, don't disappear!! Let them talk, let them cry, let them shout and get angry. Don't try to fix it or rationalise anything, just let them do what is needed.
All this sounds so obvious and yet over and again I hear of people really struggling because their employer doesn't understand or their friends have disappeared. And it reminds me that perhaps I am really the lucky one. Being a part of a movement of kindness makes you consider that before most other thoughts occur and grounds you in a way that is comforting and mindful and that immediately makes me remember the love I am surrounded by as a part of the Incredible Edible movement.
So what is your point Sara I hear you cry!! And I guess it is just that-be kind. Look after people as you would wish yours to be looked after. Look out for people who might be trying to reach out and most of all, if you are coping with loss, even if it's just saying no when you're asked if you are ok, try to reach out. You are not alone.

1 comment:

  1. I often think there is no such thing as grief! Grief is not "a single thing" but many things. Each of us reacts differently. Some bottle it up or (as you have said) run away to hide it from others, perhaps because we are embarrassed to grieve. Some say grief is selfish - we are thinking of ourselves, our loss, rather than of the person who is no longer there to physically touch, talk to, phone for a chat. Maybe the person who has left us is in a better place; having a faith in the hereafter helps. I guess I'm the worst person around when it comes to offering comfort as I always come back to the fact that someone is no longer suffering. Though this doesn't help if their death is the result of an sudden event.

    But whatever grieving is, it is a process that we must all go through, from time to time, in our own way. It is a process that we must recognise others, with differing approaches to us, will go through from time to time, in their own way.

    But rarely do we talk about the process of grieving as it affects us. We simply lay our heads on the shoulders of those who are offering comfort and drink those cups of tea.

    What you have done, in these two posts, is talk, and make us think, about the process of grieving. A process that may never actually end. Thank you for having the courage to do that. To help us to understand.