We each ride the crashing waves of grief differently, so by no means do I claim to understand the depths of grief.
I merely want to share my experience; I have felt varying degrees of loss but this was my first full meeting with grief and it rocked my world.
I managed to reach 27 without feeling the full grasp of grief and for that, I am grateful. I lost my auntie at five; I cannot remember her or the funeral, I only remember my mother lovingly tying a black ribbon around my rebellious curls.
Throughout my life, my mum has danced with death, and from having to say “goodbye” more times than a daughter should, I have ventured to dark places of indescribable loss. However, each time my mother lay there on life support, she stuck a middle finger up at death and danced back into our lives, stronger than before. Even when my beautiful Granny Gray died at the age of 99, I was able to ease my sorrow with reassurance that she had lived a full and incredible life of a strong and fearless Irish woman.
Riding the Waves
The heart-stopping grief hit when my brother unexpectedly died.
I had never met with grief like this, and it weaved its way in like I had not experienced before. When I first heard, I cried in a heap on the floor. I cried hard, as if my heart was being squeezed but, after five minutes, I just stopped. I needed to get out of the house; I went to my friend’s place and drank copious amounts of wine.
In his arms I allowed myself to forget.
We played music and ignored the reality that I’d need to face tomorrow. I hid on the couch like a child as he rearranged my flight home and filled up my glass. Being in Australia, I couldn’t get home for a few days, so for those few hours I gave myself to the music, to the arms of my friend, lost in thoughts of him.
I didn’t sleep that night. I didn’t want to. It comforted me to lay with the feeling of loss. I could lose myself in the sorrow, in the silence, surrounded by the safety of a man I had learnt to trust with my life.
The next day greeted me with emptiness. As I walked toward my door, my feet moved as if sand had filled between my toes, filling my socks and shoes. The house was empty and I had never heard silence so profound. I methodically got undressed and climbed into the shower. As the water flowed over me, I felt the overwhelming need to sit—I didn’t want to stand; I felt different standing up. I sat on the floor of the shower, mindlessly collecting water into my cupped hands. I felt numb.
I sat there until my bum no longer felt part of my body. Reluctantly I knew I needed to get up. As I sat on my bed, I knew I needed to pack, but couldn’t. Every time I stood up, I forgot why and sat down before I’d registered I had stood up. I played music, the silence felt cold. I had never known the meaning behind “the silence was deafening,” until now.
The day weaved between empty stares, tears and laughter. With company, everything was manageable. As people came to say goodbye, I felt as if they expected a crying girl to answer the door and fall into their arms. But there I stood, laughing and chatting as usual, just with a slightly flatter voice and fewer expressions.
The flight was long; 24 gruelling hours alone. My friend met me at the airport and I cried in her arms. These tears were quickly nullified and I continued wearing the face of strength. I was unaware this was a face; my response to grief when I couldn’t afford to be weak.
The next days were difficult. My mum would weep a harrowing sorrowful, weep only conjured by the body with deep loss. I remained detached. I played music and spent hours cleaning every surface until it gleamed. During this time, I questioned—was I really this strong and brave, or just cold, detached and bordering on insanity? Why was I not suffering like Mum, how could I be so detached about it?
Slowly, Mum became stronger and the crying reduced. This is when my body decided to crash.
On the ninth day, nightmares tormented me; I woke with overwhelming sadness, as if it was a fresh wound, and cried for hours. These feelings had hidden underneath my cloak of strength until my mind knew my mother was strong enough for me to fall. It wasn’t until I fell like this that I could really face the grief. It needed to become real to enable me to deal with it.
Moving through this, I learnt a lot. I wanted to briefly share this to hopefully help someone one day, to show people, who are experiencing grief for the first time, that varying levels of sorrow and different periods of strength and vulnerability are to be expected.
Be prepared—there will be unexpected ups and downs. Overwhelming lethargy will surface and motivation to even stand at times will be lacking. Listen to your body and ride these waves. For some, being surrounded by others will only enable them to ignore feelings of loss; if you feel strong enough to be alone, give yourself space to acknowledge the loss and feel the silence.
Listen to music, not too sad, not too upbeat; tunes that fill the mind but sit gently on the peripheral of thoughts, allowing others to softly flow in and out.
The body and mind will be strong without consciously deciding to be strong. It will be strong until it is safe to let go. Don’t worry that you’re cold if you’re being strong when others are falling apart—when that sadness does come, allow it to flow through you; be assured this is temporary, and that strength and bravery will resurface once ready.
Be reassured that everyone has and will feel these emotions during their life; life is impermanent.
Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t forget to continue embracing the precious moments of those still around. You’re not alone in this, do not push away the grief but do not become stagnant in the loss—the world continues moving, so must you.
Author: Rebecca Cheetham
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Alex Birkett/Flickr