Does it ever feel like the world we live in is just a filtered down version?
You scroll and see people’s highlights. The holidays, the kids, the anniversaries, marriages, births, deaths, night outs, autumn walks, the coffees with swan swirls, the six-packs, the bikinis, the wine, the gin, the festival, the charity event achievements…
It’s all wonderful. Of course it is. Why wouldn’t you want to share it?
But it is a filtered existence. People filter out the low-lights and share mostly or only their highlights.
With such a huge – and much needed – campaign about mental health out there at the moment, particularly this having been #MentalAwareness Week, one of the triggers of mental health issues that is arguably one of the least spoken of is grief. As a society, we seem to be making great strides in discussing stress and depression and emotional well-being and the impacts these have upon us, but these are the outcomes borne as a result of something happening; even happening for sustained periods of time.
Humans are multi-dimensional. We are born and raised to see the world through a set of filters, depending upon the environment we were born into. As we grow and our environment expands those filters change, adapt, grow, lessen, fluctuate or are completely refocused or even shattered, we allow new filters to take their place. There are a great many filters that we use, misuse or discard when defining ourselves. Kindness, Selfless, Selfish, Stubborn, Prejudiced, Empathetic, Caring, Religious, conservative, liberal – and I don’t mean those politically for the sake of this post, but you could add a capital C and L, if you so wished. And we use these filters when looking at others.
One filter that is now part of me is grief. And once bereaved, the filter is a permanent fixture. There will always be that loss. It cannot be undone. Now matter how much we wish it. It’s arguable that bloodline loss is the worst, a parent, a child, a grandparent, but still, loss is loss and its all hard.
The Queen, in her wisdom once said: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” It is so true.
After losing my beloved mum there were times I didn’t think I had the strength to even breathe. It took effort. In the darkness, it would feel like my chest was caving in, buckling under the weight of the pressure, which every day threatened to take me down. I will never get over losing her. I am saying it, here in these words, in black and white type for all to see.
Anyone who knows me well, knows just what my beloved Mum meant to me. She was my rock. My best friend. My pure joy.
With grief, you have to adjust to a “new normal” Julia Samuel once said. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to focus your grief filter – and remember, these will all be personal to you – to be able to see with more clarity once more. Some days the grief filter is as close to your irises as your glasses are sitting on the bridge of your nose. Sometimes, closer. Other days the filters work at arms length and aren’t so invasive, allowing room for other filters to function.
I got to a point – perhaps because I was running away from my grief all too often – that my grief for my mum was at arm’s length. I could pull it close and find comfort in it like the filter had a rosy hue every time memories of mum gardening, reading her endless pile of historical novels, our girlie holidays to Stratford feeding the ducks or enjoying shows at the RSC or her giggling after she’d told my Dad off for something, popped up.
And, I thought I knew grief.
Then my Dad died.
And it felt like grief had picked up a cricket bat and batted my entire body and soul for six. In fact, out of the damn stadium would be more precise.
I was now back at the beginning of grief, but this time it was different.
Mum’s loss was unexpected. A total shock. She smiled and waved goodbye to me from her bed on the Saturday evening. Sunday morning my brother rang…
Dad’s, we had known was coming as dementia, diabetes and endless bouts of pneumonia took their toll on his once athletic body. Even at 70 years of age, he could beat me on a bike such was his level of fitness as a long life sportsman. So to see him bed-bound and silent in the last year of his life was emotionally draining, in particular for me and my brother. Together, we held him in our arms, kissed him goodnight, told him we loved him and let him go. And he waited for me. Earlier that day I graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Leeds, then rushed back to his bedside. Two hours later, he left us. I am so, so fortunate to have the relationship I have with my brother. It was just us. And that’s how he would have wanted it.
I miss my Dad. I miss our bike rides together. I miss all his crazy antics. I miss doing Riverdance around the living room with him. He had a heart of gold.
One loss unexpected. One we saw coming.
But nothing, no amount of time to face the inevitable, could have prepared me for this.
This new level of grief has often left me listless. My anchors have gone. I am adrift in darkness and cannot see anything. When a glimmer of light on the horizon pervades the darkness, it is through a reinforced grief filter. I can smile and put on a brave front which means I am probably feeling nothing on the inside. There’s a stage within grief where you literally feel nothing. Numb. That is a functional stage where you go about your business and try to adapt to the new normal.
People ask me how I am, which is kind and thoughtful and appreciated. Always.
Most people who have experienced this level of loss will do the societal norm and say, “Yeah, okay, thanks. One day at a time. It’ll be okay.”
Sometimes that can be true.
But if I could offer one piece of advice to those who haven’t yet experienced this level of loss, is when you ask someone grieving how they are, let them be honest. Feel okay to ask the question and accept that its good and it’s right that the answer might well be:
“I am not good today. The loss is too much to bear. I miss them. I need a hug. I need space. Please let me walk away. I can’t talk today because I just need to grieve. I’m okay today, thanks for asking. It’s a good day actually because I did this or saw that or went here or remembered this. I’m calm today. I’m anxious and need a moment. I can’t talk I’m struggling to keep my composure. Everyone else can celebrate Mother’s or Father’s Day, but please allow me to avoid the subjects completely because I can’t. I just can’t do this.”
I would also, respectfully, advise that the phrases, “Oh, I understand.” Or, “Yes, I can imagine.” – should be avoided. Because unless you have experienced that level of grief you will never understand. Never. Sorry if that’s harsh, but you’ll, thankfully, have no damn clue.
Time is a great healer. It’s true.
It allows the grief filter to move and be flexible. Sometimes I try to tune the filter and I am now learning how to not only accept the grief, but invite it in and engage with it as a coping mechanism.
I loved Mum and Dad more than anything I’ve ever loved before. (Certainly until I met my husband who reminds me what that level of love is and means.)
And I think I’ve realised that the depth of the love we have is directly correlated to the depth of the grief we have.
Yes, life will always now be lived through a grief filter. But I have to remember that I can take control of the filter. I don’t have to accept that grief will forever be my guide. And that’s what I’m trying to do because the world is too beautiful to look at through a grief filter sitting on the bridge of my nose for the rest of my days.
Mum and Dad wouldn’t want that for me. And neither do I.
Time passes, but love stays.
Remember that. Love stays.
If you’re struggling with grief, there is a lot of support out there that you can access via Cruse Bereavement, Samaritans or even your workplace as they have a duty of care to ensure your well-being, something I have been very grateful for.
Speak to friends, family and your GP.
Get out and see people. Walk. Exercise – this one is probably the most important because it can help address the chemical imbalances in your body. Write – this has been particularly cathartic for me. Visit new places. Start a new hobby. Set a Life Goal. Plan a holiday or trip. Learn a new language…you get the picture…
Don’t ever face grief alone. You should never be alone in grief.
There’s always, always someone who can help.