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Life Chez Dee Episode #97: My grief

I have read, read, read and read so many pieces, articles, writings, thoughts and experiences of others’ grief. Those who are grieving parents, grandparents, distant relatives, friends, siblings, children, babies (those who were born and lived a short while, those born sleeping, or those lost before they reached term). I’ve probably focussed more on reading about those who have experience of child loss, since my experience of this has been far more overwhelming and debilitating, and like no other experience of grief for me.

I wanted knowledge and needed to read, to learn about, hear about, try and make some connection, to latch on to any similarities, to take advice even though most of which I read and heard I discounted. I hungered for more and more to read, always, endlessly searching, trying to find some sort of understanding, comparison, guidance, comfort from words.

The more I read, the more understanding I had, the more connection with others I had. Connection through words, not through knowing these people who were writing, not wanting to know these people either. Most of which I read, even if I’d found the odd sentence to be true, was dismissed by me as either complete tosh, or totally irrelevant to me. I became an expert at reading through and latching on to the one sentence, the one word, the one experience that matched my own thoughts and feelings and circumstances.

I suppose if I had to sum up grief in a word it would be unique. Totally, utterly, completely unique. Unique circumstances, unique timeframe, unique response, unique relationship, unique support. Totally, utterly, completely unique.

Being unique, and as individual as the individual themselves, grief is also a very lonely place. My grief journey is a journey that only I must take, and yet it isn’t only me that grieves the loss of Edward, there are others, with different relationships to him who grieve, but each of us grieve in our own way, each of us experiencing a unique depth of feeling, depth of loss, depth of pain. Even those suffering equally will feel something equally as unique. All of us perhaps walking a similar path, but all on a different path. My grief journey is mine, and mine alone, involving others who I need to support in their grief, as well as coping with my own grief.

I thought as I had found comfort in reading what others had to say, then maybe others may find comfort in what I have to say too. There are many aspects to my grief. Some aspects, or parts thereof, will resonate with others, some will not, and these will likely not be the same aspects for everyone.

The first thing I wish to address from my experience, is something I wish to discard as tosh, and which is spouted so often at those who grieve. Spouted and professed as absolute, by learned, respected and well qualified professionals. Well, I speak from my own experience, and from my own profound experience I say that the seven stages of grief are total and utter nonsense. So often this is said to try and offer understanding and support to the person who grieves, but in truth leaves them feeling dismissed, belittled and wrong for feeling the way they do.

Shock, disbelief, hurt, pain, anger, aggression, depression, bargaining, acceptance, reconstruction, hope, all exist, as well as so many more feelings and emotions, but may not all happen for all, and certainly not in a certain set order, not in equal intensity or for equal time, and may possibly appear from time to time one at a time, all at once or not at all. Every day, hour and minute are different, and good days can change to bad in an instant, with that hurt and pain coming at you without warning and without being prepared for its overwhelming takeover, and can then reverse itself just as quickly. So too can the days remain good or bad for long periods of time … or not.

Grief follows her own course, as individual as the person she has consumed, and therefore it is impossible to chart her, categorise her, measure her or even set her a time limit. Grief is not linear, it is not something to work through one stage at a time, moving on to the next stage after completing the one before. This is not a ladder which we climb rung by rung, until the top is reached and hey presto you’ve worked your way through and come out the other side. What a complete load of nonsense.

Grief is complicated, it moves, it changes, it morphs, it is part of you which is carried day after day after day, raw and painful, and forcing your body to accept and embrace it, as you would do with any other pain. It changes by the day, by the hour, by the minute, but it becomes part of you, and is carried within forever. It becomes such a part of you that it becomes an accepted part of you. You cope with it, learn to live with it, learn to understand it, recognise it, accept it and more often than not learn how to hide it.

The professionals nod as you speak, baring your soul, speaking and sharing your experience and emotions with someone who you ought to be able to trust, and all they offer you is the insistence that they recognise that you’re working through the “stages of grief”, informing you how far you are through them, or which stage you’re at. You are then judged on why you are still at a certain stage, why you’re still struggling, and then informed that really you ought to be moving through these stages faster than you’re going, and that somehow you’re not coping, not doing what is expected, and your feelings and emotions are indeed not right, and therefore not valid, and moreover need help, support, even fixing. Tablets may very well be offered at this stage as time, the one thing which is needed the most, is limited, rationed, forbidden.

I don’t really think many of the medical professionals I spoke with really understood that profound grief is carried forever. Taking a pill will hide the grief and the hurt, cover it up for others so they are not uncomfortable witnessing the pain of another. Taking pills won’t make things better, they numb you from feeling the way you do, invalidating your feelings, reinforcing a belief that you are wrong somehow, causing much more hurt, and even anxiety. And what happens when the pills stop, do I suddenly feel better about the fact that my child is dead? No, the grief then resurfaces as it comes out from behind the mask which the pills created for it. The truth is there is no fix for this grief. No pill can make this better. Nothing can make me feel better other than being able to have my child back with me.

For me, I thank goodness I never took pills. I’m thankful that I have had people to turn to, friends, counsellors and a charity which is there for me always. Being able to talk and write are the things which have been my saviour. Talking to those who listen, really listen … the people who listen, and actually hear what is being said.

Grief has left me time after time exhausted, shattered, anxious, paranoid, and in the most severe emotional, mental and physical pain I have ever experienced. It leaves you empty, numb, confused and frightened trying to negotiate a life which has been completed overturned and shattered to smithereens.

I hope that others who grieve, not just the loss of a child, but anyone experiencing any kind of profound loss, takes some comfort from my words, if only that a small fraction of what I write resonates with them, that although this is their journey on which they travel alone, there are others making the same journey, and so they are not alone in their feelings, experiences and responses.

I intend to write more about my grief and my journey, and share my experience of the many aspects of grief, and the many emotions and feelings which I have, and still experience.

by Elizabeth Dee

[This piece was republished by Meningitis Now for Grief Awareness Week 2020 with the focus on the bereaved parent]

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