A lifetime’s work

This has been a year of grief for many people and it has cast a light on what a central role it plays in our lives.

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Grief takes a long, long time. Maybe a lifetime…or more. And this year has brought more of it to more people and has exacerbated the essential loneliness of the process.

Everyone has to work through it in their own way. Even in a family where everyone is close, different people have different coping mechanisms that sometimes clash. One person may want to talk about the person who has died to keep them close; another may find it too painful to acknowledge the person’s death in any way. Another may be too young to fully articulate what they feel. It’s not only that, but different people go through different phases of grief at different times. One day you may be numb and supposedly functioning; another you may struggle to get out of bed. How you are feeling on any given day may not align with those near you.

I’ve been occasionally attending an online group for bereaved parents. I hadn’t been for a while because the last time it was too hard to see other parents who looked visibly destroyed by their child’s loss. It was not what I needed at the time. It was not, I felt at the time, what my beautiful, funny, compassionate daughter would want.

This week I found it easier, even though I personally was more upset. People spoke about the child they had lost and how. I listened. Listening is what I am used to in my job. I don’t like being the person speaking so much. It’s not that I don’t talk…a lot, according to my kids, but it’s not so much about how I feel, but about things that are happening or ideas. I find counselling hard for that reason. It seems wrong for me to speak all the time and not ask the counsellor about their life.

Yet I need to speak. My counselling is weekly and on the phone and often a lot has happened in a week. I need to get it all out. This last session was difficult, for instance. A friend of my daughter’s died and I went to their funeral in her place. He was 22. The coroner wrote – brusquely – to say the inquest had been closed. My daughter is facing a difficult situation at school and our next door neighbour – a wonderful man – is very ill.

But I also want to talk about ordinary things. I feel I am always dragging everyone down. Some friends came round the other day and I talked a lot about the ins and outs of everything. I feel it is all too much and that I should just not say anything or, at least, say less.

Yet I’m so glad they came. Many people don’t call at all. I’ve been surprised by the people who haven’t called. I know they’ve had their own stuff, but just one call would have been good.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t make any essential difference. Your relationships are what they are and grief just throws more light on them. It enhances all the feelings that you had before. The love for the person lost – and for their siblings – becomes all-encompassing and that gets you through each day.

There are lots of battles when someone dies unexpectedly, particularly with the justice system. It feels like you are constantly battling. I’m not sure if this is because of the grief – that battling is some sort of channel for the grief. What does it all matter in the end? We are here for a short time. Life can be taken at any point. What matters is that the people who are left are the repositories of all the memories. They keep the dead alive.

I’m much more aware of grieving people now and of grief generally.  I see it everywhere because grief is essentially a central part of life, not a small interim period. It never stops. It is part of what living means.

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