Tricky subject, grief.
When I started this blog my intention was to shine some light and levity onto the everyday, common grind. You know, those universal things like bad haircuts, phones dropped down the loo, generation gaps and people with capsule wardrobes.
Grief, I thought, was way too heavy for me to talk about here.
You know that saying, “there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes”?
Since I’m not writing anything about tax anytime soon (GST return banter, it turns out, is dry AF), let’s look at the former. Because that is universal. Pretty much everyone walking around on this earth has experienced it in some form. The older you are, the more likely it is.
When it comes to grief, my credentials are pretty strong, but there have been three standouts so far: my parents, and my sister. All three were completely different experiences and all three are with me still, just below the surface, carried around like a heavy weight produced by some kind of beautiful stone. The only thing I would swap out that weight for is having them back again which, at the time of writing, is highly unlikely.
I take these beautiful stones, each a different shade of the same colour, out every now and then to polish and tuck away again; sometimes they fall out without warning and I trip over them just when I think I have this whole grief thing sorted. I certainly don’t pretend to know a lot about this thing that affects us all in some way, at some point. But there are a few things I do know for sure:
Analogy No. 1: The Ball and the Box
I take no credit for this but it’s a good one. Imagine a box with a lid, and a button inside. Every time the button is pushed you’re administered a hit of pain. Now, place a ball in there. At first the ball is huge: it rolls around in the box, smashing into the button all the time and the pain hits A LOT. Gradually, the ball gets smaller. Every day it shrinks an infitesimal amount, still rolling around and arbitrarily hitting that button, which produces the same pain, just less often. The ball never disappears, though. Which simultaneously pisses you off and pleases you. Grief is confusing.
The Arbitrary Whack to the Back of the Knees
Minding your own business, whistling a tune, sun shining, tracking nicely. Look up, spot someone with the same haircut / smile / way of walking / voice as that person you’re missing, and BAM! An invisible force has taken a cricket bat to the back of your knees. If they’re especially similar, there may be a second or two where you inhabit a parallel universe – is that person really gone? Or was it all a dream and here they are, in the middle of your local supermarket? You buckle – sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, and sometimes both. People around you wonder if you have allergies, or are having a stroke, or (depending on your demographic) experiencing a hot flush. #awkwardpain
If In Doubt, Do.
I love talking about the people I’ve lost. Not in a maudlin, woe-is-me kind of way, but in a celebratory, wasn’t-she-a-boss kind of way. I know not everyone is like me; some people prefer to hold their memories close and personal. But if someone you love has lost someone they love, I suggest you test the water. No need to go in too heavy, just bring that person up in conversation; provide the opportunity to tell some stories. You’ll soon know if it’s not a welcome invitation. And, if they end up crying and telling you how they’re really doing, you’ll feel a little worse and they’ll feel a little better, which is part of the deal when you love someone. Symmetrical, right?
I’m definitely one for talking about the people we’ve lost but people tend to think it will be a mistake to bring them up in the conversation. Ironically thinking it will suddenly make you think about them making you feel sad, when the reality is you’re thinking about them all the time anyway and craving happy memories.A very wise friend of mine; also a talker.
Sometimes It’s Good to Poke the Bear
Occasionally exposing yourself to something that puts you right in the middle of your grief can be a good thing to do. For example, I was once in a traffic jam on my way home from work when I decided to play a song that put me right back in my sister’s house some two years earlier. Admittedly, doing this in the car was not the best idea (I had to pull over) but it was cathartic and I felt strangely calm afterwards (although I haven’t played that song since and may not ever again). Doing this on the way home from work and not on my way in was a good idea as I looked like the lovechild of Alice Cooper and The Bride of Frankenstein by the time I got home. Hey, no-one ever said grief was pretty.
Analogy No. 2: The Beach
Imagine your grief is the ocean, and you’re standing on a beach. Initially, the waves are huge and frequent, and every time they hit you, you’re pulled out into a churning, disorienting sea. After a time, the ocean spits you back out onto the beach, gasping for air, clinging to life and wondering what just happened. And repeat. Only thing is, every time you’re deposited back onto the shore, you’re a little further up the beach. Eventually only the biggest waves can get to you. They still do, but you’re more prepared once you’re further up the beach. And less soggy.
Death Fuelling Life
Everyone who leaves us passes on this message: we only have so long. Every death serves as a reminder to the living that it’s one life, not a rehearsal, only so many days, and all the other clichés. Everyone who has left me has in some unknowing way encouraged me to cherish my life. And yes, I just used the word CHERISH with no apology.
So go on, tell the stories, share the memories, play the song (maybe just not in the car), watch the ball shrink and brace yourself for the cricket bat to the back of the knees.
And when you’ve done all that, live.