Grief is a real thing

So grief, grief is a real thing let me tell you. I’m not sure I really understood the whole process of grief and grieving until we had roughly 18 months of onslaught. I’d been sad before, obviously, you hear about death, you lose a beloved pet (and I howled like a banshee for days after that), contemporaries of your parentals pass away etc etc but it’s only (in my opinion) when it comes knocking at your front door that you really get it.

So first of all my mother in law died, we weren’t close but she died ugly (rampant alzheimers and all the accompanying stuff that goes with that) and I needed to be support for my husband while he dealt with her passing and his father and siblings and all their stuff. I need a new word for stuff but you know – emotion and baggage and arguments and discussions and stuff! Then 6 months later my feisty, never ill, full of life 86 year old mothers appendix burst and she dies two weeks later in hospital. My father literally fell apart and I put up my hand and said it’s ok, I’ll sort it out. You see, I told my comatose mother on the day she died that it was ok to say goodbye and I would look after my father and well that’s a promise you can’t exactly break. She, in her infinite wisdom, had always done everything from cooking, cleaning, finances, shopping for groceries etc etc My father was just, I can’t, I don’t know how, I don’t know what to do. So in the next 6 months we sold his house (at his request), moved him into a retirement village (best decision ever) and tried to find solid ground to stand on. The phone calls were endless and I can remember one night going into a room in our home, switching off the lights and curling up on the floor with my arms wrapped around my head and thinking I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do everything for everybody, when do I get a chance to grieve? Did I tell my husband the depths of my despair? No I didn’t (rightly or wrongly) I’m also the “strong” one, always the one who picks up the pieces so I did, I picked myself up and got back to getting on with life. I think the first time I really cried, well other than at the funeral because who doesn’t cry at funerals (I hate funerals with a passion let me reiterate but we did it because my father thought it was the right thing to do) was driving home from work on my birthday roughly 10 months after she died. It was in the winter and cold and dark and I wept for my mother for 8 kilometres and then I packed it away.

I’m jumping around here but about 4 months into project Save Father, one of our dearest friends also died from colon cancer. He was in his 40’s and once of the loveliest people you could wish to know – his parents have now buried both their sons (the first one in a car accident) so you can imagine walking that road of pain. On the day of his memorial, we got a call to say that my father had been involved in a car accident and was being rushed to hospital. You seriously cannot make this shit up – the photographs from the memorial are something, I look like a ghost. My father was lucky with relatively minor injuries but the psychological impact was massive combined with everything else.

Grief and grieving is an individual process – I don’t believe there is a guaranteed or recommended formula for everyone to follow. I do believe time is critical and that there has to be a line drawn in the sand and when you get to that line its time to start living your life again. You don’t forget, ever, but you remember how to live and why you need to live.

Its now three years later – I’ve had some health issues, nothing major but enough to give me a wakeup call. I’m quite convinced the utter overwhelmingness of the stress and grief was a contributing factor. What has grief taught me? I’ll tell you one thing its taught me –  to take care of myself and make myself the first priority in my life. I consciously avoid people and situations that are stressful and I have redrawn my boundaries – I put up with a lot less than I used to. You’ll probably find that there are people that think I’m selfish but that’s ok because I know my truth and the people that matter know me.

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