Observations of grief, a year in
It’s a year since Nina died. And I say a ‘year in’ not a ‘year on’ for good reason.
I don’t think there is any moving on from grief, just moving through it. It shapes you and becomes part of who you are, and that might sound really depressing if you’ve never been through a grief. But not necessarily.
It can break you, scar you, leave you bitter. But it can also shape you, enhance you and deepen your perspective on life and others.
So here are some thoughts looking back at a year…
Mourning dress would actually be great…
When someone close to you dies, outside of your close friends and family, there’s no knowledge of what you’ve just experienced. You’re in this bubble of ‘my world has just been broken’, yet no one around knows. I remember quite vividly standing outside North Shore Hospital after my Dad died, a big group of us, and people were just coming and going all around us while our world stopped.
The time soon after death can be incredibly isolating. I’ve spoken before about no one saying anything to me in some areas of life – probably the most hurtful part of the journey so far. Which made me reflect on mourning dress and the sense in it… “Wearing mourning dress did offer a kind of protection for the bereaved. Other people understood at a glance that a widow [sic] was in grief. Expectations and demands were lowered, a quiet kind of sympathy offered, and even strangers could see that a person what not at their best, having suffered a terrible loss.” Simple really. It serves both sides, the griever and acquaintance.
I’ve met a couple of people recently who’ve apologised for not saying anything at the time. They were scared, they didn’t really know what had happened and didn’t want to ask questions, they didn’t want to upset me. All good. I’m sure I’d have thoughts like that too. But don’t let fear hold you back from saying a little something to someone grieving. Not saying anything hurts a heck of a lot more.
In terms of mourning dress, I’m not a huge fan of wearing black – probably why I wore bright pink to Nina’s funeral. BUT I do see that having some kind of symbol of grief would be great – a pin, a band, a something that softens your interactions and your heart for people.
There are no 7 stages…
I don’t know Kubler & Ross personally, but their renowned Stages of Grief model is a little off. What I do know though is that grief happens, there are stages of it, you might experience some or all of those stages (in any order), but once you’ve exprienced them you don’t just 'return to meaningful life' as normal, like their plan suggests.
Which also begs the question, is life not meaningful when you’re grieving? In my experience it certainly is, in fact nothing changes your perspective on life more than the very sharp learning curve of grief.
Brokeness is beautiful
Yep, grief can be a bawling mess of hot tears, puffy eyes and an aching heart. But it can also be rather beautiful.
In fact, some of the most beautiful, interesting people I know are the ones who've carried the weight of burden, been absolutely broken, and walked on through it.
There’s beauty in brokenness. That imperfection is attractive. For some reason the cracks in your armour allow people in. And I think that breaks down the walls perfection (or the illusion of it) puts up.
We’ve all got our faults and failings and a lot of us have had tough stuff thrown at us. But what’s the use in this tough stuff if it’s not put to good use? Our sharing or even just our openness about such experiences can give others resolve… ‘I can face this’ – ‘Others have done it before and got through it’ – ‘I am not alone in my feelings.’
I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t be afraid of the hardships of life, of death, of being broken, because honestly there's a raw beauty to it that shines out of people who've managed to embrace the struggle and trudge on through it with as much grace as they can muster. There’s power in that.
You know what? In a really weird way, I wish everyone could walk through something tough. I love the 'real' it brings to people. Pressure, heat, abrasion, bring out beautiful things no one would have even known were there if the pain had been avoided or masked.
Face the waves
There’s this awesome analogy about grief being like an ocean (it’s really good!). The waves just inevitably keep coming and you can either turn and be crushed by them (and sometimes that’s all you can do), or turn to face them, and while they’ll keep coming, you’ll learn how to make your way through them as safely and gracefully as you can.
I probably took this thinking a little too literally at first. I think of myself as a pretty resilient person. So I just trucked on. I didn’t opt out. I faced people. I even made meals for newborn baby girls and delivered them just 6 weeks after Nina. Rather than facing the waves though, that one was like throwing yourself into a thirty footer without a board and expecting not to come out the other side battered and bruised.
That one did bruise. Cooing over a lovely new third baby. Definitely came up gasping for air there.
Yep, facing waves is important. I do think it softens your re-entry into life. If you stay out of the water for too long, getting back in is hard.
But at the same time, do it smartly. Paddle for a while in the safe and calm. Don’t just throw yourself at the ‘real’ waves just to prove you can do it.
Writing is good
Yep, I’m a writer, so I would say that wouldn’t I! Actually, no. I’ve never really enjoyed writing. I can do it. And probably OK, some may say. But I’d much rather pour my creativity into something that looks pretty, than reads pretty, in all honesty.
In fact I really struggled with baring my soul in this, as you might recall. BUT, you know what? I’ve realised in the aftermath that the writing helped me process a lot. Like A LOT. And whether you’re a writer or not, processing your thoughts on paper is wildly therapeutic.
I think it even showed in the way Russell and I grieved. I’d processed a lot of Nina’s death before it even happened, I think, just in piecing together my experiences on the blog. Whereas for Russell, that grief hit harder on the other side of death.
I thought I was writing the blog for others, to share our story and help people understand what it was like or just keep up to date. But in hindsight, the blog did a lot more for me than I realised. The flow of words, processing of thoughts, and sharing our story was incredibly healing. (And at the same time totally emotionally draining! Hah!).
I look back at last year (rereading my blogs) and realise how stressful a time it was. When you’re in it, you’re managing to stay afloat, and it’s just the life you’re living. Looking back makes me realise the burden of anxiety we were under. It makes me think – pat on the back – you handled a pretty harrowing time well.
This year too, it’s been ok. If I weighed it up against my expectations of grief, it’s probably been easier than I imagined. But then my expectations were probably pretty textbook. And grief ain’t textbook. It’s personal. It’s circumstantial. And how you handle it is absolutely individual.
So, on to the next stage…