I read a guest post over at Champagne Cartel earlier in the week about dealing with grief. It was a beautifully written post by Robyna from The Mummy and the Minx and it gave me a huge lightbulb moment about grief and the process of grieving.
My father’s passing has been my first major encounter with grief as an adult. Having said that, I haven’t been immune to loss throughout my life – I have grieved for friends’ parents and children, I’ve grieved for my grandparents (as a child and teenager) and I’ve grieved for old friends and acquaintances.
But I have never had to deal with the passing of someone so inextricably intertwined in my life before.
Lets’ face it, it’s something no-one really wants to think about – who wants to dwell on losing either of their parents?
Even when we knew Dad’s cancer was terminal, we still didn’t have much of a conversation about what that actually meant. To his credit, he fought to the end and we held out hope until the very end, although that hope always had shifting goalposts.
At first, we hoped he could beat the cancer. Then we hoped the cancer could be held at bay. That hope was succeeded by the hope we could have a few more months together. Which was followed by the hope that palliative care could help with his physical and mental wellbeing. And then our final hope for him to pass away in peace (which, thank God, he did).
During that period we started to grieve – you could call it pre-grieving, I guess. Although there was always a glimmer of hope in our hearts, our heads always wrestled with the reality of the worst case scenario – that Dad wouldn’t make it. So I have been grieving, in one form or another, since last December when he first received his diagnosis.
And I suppose that pre-grieving has led to me second guess myself now. You see I’m not in a storm of tears everyday. I don’t wake up and start thinking about him straight away. Talking about him doesn’t see me dissolve into tears. I’m functioning. I’m living my life. I’m trying to get on with things. But shouldn’t I be feeling it more? Displaying it more? Hibernating somewhere in grief?
Stupidly and naively, I used to see grief through the prism of popular culture. I always thought it would be like the movies or TV where you cry dramatically and bitterly and stare off solemnly into the distance, engrossed by your memories of the loved one you have lost. Or there would be uncontrollable storms of crying and raging for ages following their passing.
Yes, I have cried. But I actually cried more BEFORE we lost him. In that last month, I cried every single day. I cried for his suffering. I cried for my mum and the pressure of her role as his sole carer. I cried for my brother and his grief. I cried for my kids and the prospect of them losing a grandparent. And of course I cried for myself. But since we lost him, I have cried less.
I am not crying everyday.
Instead, I feel numb and empty. It’s as if I’m waiting for the storm to hit and throw me onto the rocks. I am functioning but I’m not happy. I am participating in life but I’m not relishing it. The best way to describe how I feel right now is to see a picture through muted, washed out colours, rather than through it’s original vibrant tones. I know I will rediscover the colour in life one day soon but for now that’s how grief is affecting me.
I suddenly understand the truth of grieving – there are no rules when it comes to grief. Grieving is not a process that follows a set timetable or formula. Of course there is the famous 5 stages of grief which give some indication of the rough process ahead but it is a universal truth that everybody’s experience dealing with grief is different and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Even David Kessler himself admits this:
The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.
Reading Robyna’s post the other day reiterated this truth for me and it helped to stop me second guess myself. The last thing I need right now is to stress about how my grieving process appears to others.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is just grief itself, in whatever form it takes for you.
And, of course, there are always the memories…