Good Grief; My Frank Account of Coping with Loss
It’s now been just over a year since Mum passed. Full disclosure, the purpose of this piece isn’t for the sympathy vote or condolences, it’s an act of cathartic expression and an outlet for my feelings as I gather my thoughts a year on.
No one can prepare you for grief. Literally no one. You cannot be prepared for the omniscient, all-encompassing, invisible entity that sticks to you like a shadow in the aftermath of a loss. Nothing can ready you for the tirade of emotions that come hand in hand with the death of a loved one. The thing with grief is that it never stays still for very long. It’s constantly shifting, changing, disappearing, and reappearing when you least expect it. The ability to know when to soldier on, and when to admit defeat is a skill in itself. Some days you’ll get up and go to work without a hitch, other days you’ll be completely immobilised, glued to your bed, unable to see the light. The worst thing about it is nothing can prepare you for which version will befall you on any given day.
A year ago, before Mother’s Day, I got to thinking, “what’s in a Mother?” A poignant statement that I figured deserved exploring and so I did just that in the form of a poem, that I shared with Mum in person, and then later again at her funeral. In it I equated a mother’s love to homely things that i experienced throughout adolescence, such as “a delicious scent of a hot Sunday roast“, "the morning cup of tea and freshly buttered toast,” and “in the tuna sandwiches cut into perfect little triangles, and in the loving brushing of the unruly hair, complete with “no tears” tangles."
These were tender, tangible acts representing what the term “Mother” meant to me personally. Although now, these acts have been committed to memory, and the focus has shifted. In the direct aftermath, I sought solace in profoundly-sad-but-still-tangible things: her forlorn-looking coat hung up on the back of the door, never to be worn again, and her glasses, set aside on her bedside table ready for her morning read, that had also been rendered redundant by her absence. It’s a lonely and vulnerable place to be, when the woman who brought you into this world is no longer in it herself. But as time has passed, I've started to see things differently.
Feelings and hereditary instinctive tendencies have replaced material measures of love. Unequivocally, with my mother, I am her, and she is me. In a contrast to my angsty teenage self, I now take comfort in people commenting on our similarities, and revel in hearing her “nagging” words coming naturally out of my mouth. I’ve realised that the “one day, you’ll understand” she’d forewarned me about has crept up on me, because why wouldn’t you do the dishes straight after eating, and, why would you put off the chores until tomorrow, when you could get them done today? It all suddenly makes sense. “Tidy house, tidy mind”. I am my mother’s daughter.
“Sometimes people leave, and we don’t know why". I’ve battled with the “why” part of this statement for some time, as I continue to endure the accompanying bitterness that comes with losing a parent at a younger age. Ultimately, there is no answer. Sometimes people die, and there's no rhyme nor reason, and it fucking sucks. And then you’re left to ‘do life’ on your own. Of course, I’m not really alone by definition of the term, and I know that. I have the most amazing support network of friends and family that a gal could ask for. I mean it in the sense of the absence left by my nurturer, my best friend and my guidance in life. I am acutely aware and constantly reminded that I have all her life teachings thus far, and they are all I will ever have. There would be no more “life lessons” or “wisdom from the mothership”. A bleak realisation, and something else to learn to live with.
The funny thing with grief is, you think you have a handle on it, then something seemingly-innocuous happens, such as hearing a certain song or smelling a certain scent, and it can completely unbalance you all over again. The analogy that grief is like a ball in a box really resonated with me. In the early stages, the ball is very big. You cannot move the box without it frequently hitting the pain button. It rattles around on its own in there and hits the button over and over again, sometimes so much that it feels like you can’t stop it – you can’t control it – it just keeps hurting. Life around the box seems very small.
But as time goes on, the ball gets smaller. It doesn’t disappear completely and when it hits the pain button, it’s just as intense, but generally, it is easier to get through each day. Life around the box gets bigger. I am told that one day, although grief never fully goes away of course, I’ll learn to walk beside it. One day, the memories will bring a smile, not a pain in the gut. And hopefully, one day, we will be reunited, in some form. “I'll love you forever, I'll like you, for always. As long as I’m living, my baby, you’ll be.”
“Grief is the price we pay for love, and it’s worth it a million times over”. - Matt Haig, A Boy Called Christmas