February can be a difficult month for a lot of people. The days are cold and still dark; we’re still suffering from the expense of Christmas; we’re still catching infections left, right and centre. Some of us lose family members. Winter is always going to be a time when elderly pass away due to dropping temperatures and rising sickness throughout the country. Reading this post about grief by Sugisayz, who lost her great-grandfather on Valentine’s day, inspired me to write this rather personal response.
I lost my grandfather on Saturday 25th February 2017, so today is the two year anniversary. He was 74 years old and battled asbestosis and cancer for at least two years prior to his death. He touched the hearts of hundreds of people through music, generosity and good will, and is one of the greatest men I ever had the honour of knowing. The 25th February 2017 isn’t just important because it was the day he died – it was my little brother’s 21st birthday: life can be so cruel.
Sugisayz wrote about three key points: ‘1 – OUR CULTURE ENCOURAGES THE DISPARAGE OF GRIEF, 2 – THE “GET OVER IT” MINDSET, and 3 – IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY.’ These points really resonated with me from my own experience of grief. But I want to focus on the fact that grief comes in five stages that we all experience: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Even though we all react to a death with different actions, psychologically, grief manifests in the same way for pretty much everyone.
Therefore, despite the debilitating loneliness grief can cause, we’re never truly alone. In the nature of sharing, and to prove my point, I thought I’d write about my own experience of the five stages.
While a few of my family members took time off work to grieve, I went back to work on the Monday. I couldn’t bear to sit at home while such a heavy, black cloud coated my family, so I had to go to work to preoccupy my mind. I know that had I stayed home, I would have spent the day in tears and I didn’t want to let myself grieve for more than the half hour drive to work in the morning. Now, I know this was the denial stage – I wanted to pretend it had never happened.
I don’t remember crying at the funeral. My great-grandmother, his mother, died a matter of months before, and I absolutely sobbed my heart out at hers. I ended up sitting on my own behind my family and spent the whole of her funeral looking at my grandfather, knowing it would be his next. Perhaps it undermined my great-grandmother’s day, but perhaps it meant that by the time my grandfather’s funeral came around, I’d already lived it and cried it out. Whether we cry at the funeral or not doesn’t signify the love we had for that person, only we truly know our feelings.
The evening of the funeral was the same day as the leaving do of a work colleague. She’d battled cancer too, and decided to resign from her job on discovering that she was clear. So I went. Why? Again, to take my mind off it. To not allow myself to grieve. But as she made a speech about how lucky she was to have beaten cancer, and that she has a brand new start in life, I couldn’t help but feel complete fury that she would say those things in front of me. How dare she get a second chance but my granddad has to die?
I don’t think she knew that I’d just been to a funeral. It’s unfair that I felt so furious, but this single moment was where the second stage of grief, the anger, had hit.
Two years on…
…I hate that Dan and I couldn’t have moved out of my parents’ house earlier, that he never got to see our home. I bought a house not far from where my grandparents live and prior to his death, we talked for hours about living nearby to each other. I guess this is the bargaining stage, the ‘if only’.
…Christmas time is not the same. We don’t have the enthusiasm for it the way we used to. It’s less a holiday and now more a yearly dinner and board games. Here’s the depression, the fact that despite trying, there’s a void we just haven’t been able to fill at Christmas.
…In all this, there’s still my little brother, who lost his grandfather on his 21st birthday, and although it’s awkward to talk about, I think about this a lot. I grieve for my grandfather, but I grieve for my brother too. Even though I never know what to say, I always hope he knows I’m there for him.
…Here’s the acceptance. My grandfather may be gone, but other members of my family are still here. Time has passed, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel crippling pangs of (sometimes physical) pain. Once you accept that it never really goes away, it’s much easier to deal with when it hits.
Sugisayz concludes with ‘Healing is a continuous process. Let’s stop removing ourselves from these conversations. Instead, let us allow grief to wash over us when it presents itself, and relish in the love we have for what we have lost. One wave at a time.’ She is so right!
Grief is a part of life that we can never escape. Today it’s my grandfather. In the future it will be our parents, our siblings, our partners, or God forbid, our children. I have friends who have lost their grandparents, and some who have lost parents, and gone through exactly the same feelings, the same five stages of grief. We must remember that at some stage, everyone’s lives are underpinned by grief, and as such, remember that our words and actions can be a support mechanism to others, even if all we do is touch their shoulder and ask if they’re okay.
So, if you’re feeling the impact of a loss like I am, try to remember, you’re not alone. We are all in this life together.