Honestly… I don’t know very much about beginning again amid grief – I’ve taken to pretty much making it up as I go along. Making it up as I settle back to my desk on the first day back to work, the curser blinking, waiting for some words of wisdom.
Someone needs to inform that cursor that it might be in for a bit of a long wait.
I debated long and hard about making the first post of the year one that reflects on how I might attempt to move forward whilst dealing with the grief of losing my mum. The first post of January is supposed to be motivational. Inspiring and packed full of insights as to how we might make the year count isn’t it? A bit like last years positive mantras post – something to assist with the gentle coaxing out of hibernation from our festive slumber, out in search of that tantalising chance for a reset and fresh start.
But I’m sure you don’t need me to break the news to you that life is more complicated and messy than that and generally requires more than a few positive mantras here and there. Don’t get me wrong, positivity occupies a big space in my life – I’m that annoyingly optimistic, glass half full person at the best of times. And how I feel currently won’t change any of that in the longer term.
But in the spirit of reality and honesty, here’s what I know to be true in the here and now. Grief is all kinds of shit – the like of which I’ve never had the displeasure to meet and deal with before. In hindsight feel lucky that I’ve come to my almost fifty years old juncture before needing to face it down. I lost my Nan and Grandad within a week of each other when I was eighteen but that didn’t in any way prepare me for losing Mum.
Nor did it prepare me for the detail and diligence required to organise a funeral that eventually took place between Christmas and New Year. But we reached that hurdle, we climbed over it and we’re pushing onwards, recognising those days that feel like wading though treacle for what they are – tough times that will eventually pass.
I’m learning that just like our relationships with the living, grief takes on many forms, is generally complex and rarely falls into a mould that we could call anything like normal.
In recent years I’ve spent way more time than I care to admit wondering how I would deal with losing a parent and wondering which one it would be that would put me to the unwelcome test first. It would have been a different post I’d be writing now if it was my father as he decided to opt out of our lives once and for all some years ago. In many ways, it feels like I’ve already said goodbye to him a long time ago.
But here’s the thing. You can wonder all you like but you won’t know how you’ll feel until you’re faced with the situation. That realisation was a healthy slap in the face to my tendencies to try and plan for every eventuality.
What I think is worth sharing is the thing that I learnt pretty quickly in the process – we all grieve differently. There’s no wrong or right way… just your way. And it changes from day to day, moment to moment. Scant tears and plenty of distractions will easily turn into torrents of crying and attempts at trying to reconcile what happened. On repeat.
Here’s a few things that have helped me so far…
Acceptance is key but in all honesty, not always achievable. When I am able to find it, I know that acceptance of both how I grieve and of the relationship as it was, will be the two things that get me back on the road to longer term peace of mind.
Looking back without regret. Definitely easier to type the words onto the screen than to put into practice but it’s something I’m consciously aiming for nonetheless. Regret serves no purpose when you can’t go back and change the past – be it events that took place years ago or even how those precious last moments played out.
Practice self-kindness – in whatever form that may take. Throughout December whilst organising the funeral and Christmas in tandem, whenever I felt too tired or emotional to do anything else other than stare mindlessly at a movie, I did just that. I took myself off the beach for solitary moments that enabled tears to flow and I endlessly cuddled the dog, the daughter and the husband. I plan on more of the same for as long as it takes and beyond.
Take up the offers of support from friends and loved ones. When you want company or just to cry down the phone to someone, reach out to those you trust implicitly and do it. There are no medals for tucking away your emotion and soldiering on bravely with a stiff upper lip. I have a few friends who I know I can call and say “Please come over” and they’d be there in a heartbeat.
Ride out the stormy days and try to remember that there are lighter times ahead. On the days that I feel I’m well and truly immersed in a void of sorrow, I try and remember that it won’t always be this way and that gradually, the intense pain will lessen and morph into something not quite so acute. So many people have told me this and I cling on to it with all my might when needed.
I think of these days, not as moving on but more beginning again under a new set of circumstances. Out of the sadness come small moments of clarity and peace and I relish them, however brief they might feel at the time.
If you’d asked me about getting back to work again when I wrote my update post over a month ago, I wouldn’t have contemplated that I’d either want or be able to. But slowly, the need to carry on with the things that we love begins to prevail and a desire for some sort of normality takes over.
I’ve been carefully supported both by those I hold close to my heart and overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. I feel ready to pick up and carry on… albeit with a few tweaks here and there that will enable me to focus on what’s truly important in life.
Because if there’s one thing that loss teaches us it’s just that. Don’t sweat the small stuff and let it fool you into thinking it’s more significant than it actually is.
Because it really isn’t.
On a personal note I wanted to say the biggest heartfelt thank you for all the messages, emails and words of support since I published my updates here and on Instagram. And thanks for their understanding also goes to the brands I was mid-project with when my world up-ended. Proving once more that this thing I do is more a matter of creativity from the heart than just work.
Photo Credit: These images were beautifully captured by Charlotte Bryer-Ash back in September on Branksome Beach here in Dorset and I’d planned on using them for a whole other post. But then I remembered that Mum loved to drive down regularly and spend time at Branksome so I thought they’d make a fitting accompaniment to this post. They depict the clear skies and calming light that I always feel whenever I spend time at the beach and for me they represent better times ahead.