This week is National Grief Awareness Week and I’ve sat on my feelings about it for a while. At work, as Mental Health First Aiders, we’ve been encouraged to promote it as much as possible and our colleagues have also been sharing their incredibly personal experiences, which has been beautiful. I fully subscribe to the idea of being open about our feelings as much as we feel able, to help others feel less alone.
I did feel the need to caveat this post with the admission that I often feel guilty about how little trauma I’ve suffered in life but that’s pish and I’m scrapping it. Most of us have lost someone but it’s not a competition.
We lost my dad when I was around four, and that brought us back to the UK from Toronto, where we were born. My mother naturally thought being nearer her immediate family was the thing to do. With the greatest of respect, my grandparents were not the most nurturing of characters so weren’t the comfort any of us really needed, but they did put us up until we got our own house. The one we grew up in.
Growing up without a dad had its moments, I never felt we went without emotionally and although I now recognise how hard Mum had it, a woman under forty back in a country she’d left behind long ago with two children under 5 – she was an incredible parent. And still is. Much to my regret, I once told her I didn’t miss my dad because how can you miss someone you’ve never known? – but that was a lie because I did miss him and I miss him now, all the time
Grief doesn’t have an expiry date, that’s the thing and although most humans have the capacity to pick themselves up after they’ve lost somebody, the pain is still there, waiting to sting you at any time. For me the loss comes out of the blue without warning but hits me hardest whenever I watch a film/show with a central father/daughter relationship.
It can be anything – even the Papa Don’t Preach video, in which Danny Aiello plays Madonna’s strict Italian pa, who eventually comes round when she announces her unplanned pregnancy. When he takes her hand, I fall to pieces. (See also significant milestones, like my wedding day).
For me it’s not just the ingrained sadness that a key person is missing from my life – it’s anger. I’m fucking pissed off that I lost my dad. That my best friends have lost parents – how can life be so cruel and why us? Why anybody? It’s so pointless and it’s unfair. Life is so unfair. I may be 43 now but don’t think I’m not tempted some days to smash shit up and stamp my feet at the injustice of it all.
Of course I miss him, every day he’s there, a smiling photograph on my dresser but he’s much more than that. I talk to him a lot, sometimes out loud and I wonder all the time if we’d have a good relationship, if he’d like me. If he’d get on with my husband. I like to believe we’d have a love of film in common because as far as I’ve heard he had impeccable taste. I wonder if he liked terrible shark movies too?
I guess my experience qualifies me to talk about grief then, though it’s never easy and maybe that’s it. There are experts but so much about grief is unpredictable, one way isn’t the only way – it’s a beast to be tamed but not necessarily destroyed forever. Good days, bad days, great days – we’ll have them all and that’s okay. That’s life.
And while I don’t feel this is my story, I also wanted to mention my mother-in-law who we lost a few years back. Her passing crushed me in ways I never imagined. Part of that was watching the person I love the most in such pain, I’d never been in that position as an adult and it was horrible. I now understand it when people say they’d do anything to take another’s pain away if they could.
She died suddenly and my personal worst nightmare, the midnight knock at the door came to fruition. I couldn’t get the scene out of my head and the year after she died was hard AF. My anxiety reached such heights that I couldn’t stop thinking about my loved ones every time they left the house, I had such a fear that they’d never come back. I’m still super needy in that respect, despite CBT and anti-anxiety meds. I know this reads like I made it all about me but it wasn’t like that. I just don’t want to speak for my husband on how he’s been processing it.
But while it was undoubtedly the hardest thing we’ve faced together, I look back at that period with fondness because it was also the funniest. It was full of love and it brought us even closer together. We took road trips to Bournemouth where she lived to sort out her affairs and we sang along to the radio, we told stories about her – and we laughed a lot. It’s what I remember the most about it. My mother-in-law was larger than life, a woman who lived her life to the absolute fullest – who was hit by a car and told she’d never walk again – but did because she wasn’t about to be told what she could and couldn’t do.
She hated authority, said what she thought – and she was difficult, brilliant, worrying, frustrating, inspiring – she was a million different things and we loved her. I have so many stories and tales you’d never believe – and she gave them all to me. I’ve never met a person like her before and I never will again, that’s for damn sure.
Grief is a roller-coaster, it’s stomach churning but it’s part of life and it reminds you too that you’re still alive and as Luke tells Leia in The Last Jedi, “no one’s ever really gone.” That’s what I believe.
This post has churned up a lot of emotion in me but it’s good to think about these things, I like to think about these people. They were and are massive parts of my own life story and they deserve to be remembered, every now and again.
How are you guys?
More about National Grief Awareness Week here.