Hello darkness, my new friend
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
A couple of years ago, in a Facebook group for people without children, someone posted a copy of the poem 'Grief' and I took a screenshot because it spoke to me in a way I wasn't expecting.
Then when chatting to Sue Brayne, on Episode 1 of The Silent Why, she said something that reminded me of it again and today I looked it up to find the author. Turns out it was written by Gwen Flowers (what a wonderful surname!):
Grief I had my own notion of grief. I thought it was the sad time That followed the death of someone you love. And you had to push through it To get to the other side. But I'm learning there is no other side. There is no pushing through. But rather, There is absorption. Adjustment. Acceptance. And grief is not something you complete, But rather, you endure. Grief is not a task to finish And move on, But an element of yourself- An alteration of your being. A new way of seeing. A new definition of self. — Gwen Flowers
The concept that struck me when I first read it, was that we don't 'get to the other side' of grief, we absorb it, adjust to it, and finally accept it.
It just so happened I was at this point in my journey with childlessness (among other losses), but no one had really explained the situation quite like this to me - it was a revelation.
It was okay to not 'be over it', but it was also ok to be trying to move on - they weren't mutually exclusive. I realised that my definition of self had changed, I wasn't ever going back to who I had been before, because life was different now. It was literally impossible to return to 'normal' one day. My if's and when's had changed, parts of our imagined future had been erased, I wouldn't view family life in the same way again and people's words had new meanings, and new unexpected sadnesses attached to them. Like most grief, being childless was different to how people imagined it was for us, and we had to make our peace with knowing there would never fully be a way of explaining it to others.
But don't read this and feel sad about it, because through all the processing and the pain and complications of coming to terms with something you lost, but never had in the first place (I'll save the messy processing of that for another blog), there was a peace settling in. An acceptance of life not being what we hoped for, but equally, realising that 'different' didn't have to mean worse.
In our chat with Sue Brayne she said this:
Grief is life long, this isn't going to stop tomorrow. It'll come back at every stage of life because that's what grief does...it's an ongoing thing you learn to live with. I look at the grief I've had in my life - it walks beside my shoulder, it is my life companion, and I want it to be, because I want it to remind me of who I am, and the life that I lead... — Sue Brayne
Some might think the lesson that 'grief is life long' must be very depressing, but actually, when you're in the messy, confusing middle of it all, there's a weird sort of comfort in this new dark friend you've acquired. I definitely feel like it's a 'he', and I imagine he's in a dark bromance with the Grim Reaper. So, yes, he's not exactly the ideal afternoon tea companion, but at the same time, he understands where I'm at, and when you accept his presence rather than trying to fight him away, there's a sort of peace in the new relationship. Sue's right, he's not going anywhere, he's part of life and at times will be bigger than I'd like him to be, sucking the joy out of moments that might otherwise have been fun in another dimension, but then occasionally, and maybe even more and more, you'll look over at him and think - 'if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be doing this right now' and you'll feel a sense of gratefulness, and share a precious moment you didn't expect. For those of you that have seen the Pixar Disney film Inside Out - I see him like the character of Sadness, who turned out to be a valuable link between the emotions, and of course, not fully complete without Joy there too.
I'm going to share with you some quotes from our podcast, that show how others view their grief:
This is MY life story, this makes a bloody big chunk in the chapter and I'm really happy with that, I'm very happy to have it in my life story now... The wounds I carry (and I'm really proud of my wounds now), I like having these wounds, they enable me to become an elder, and I take that role really seriously, because there's not enough of us out there. — Sue Brayne, Episode #001 - Loss of a marriage
How many of us have got used to the idea that we should suppress things? Like we should suppress anger, we should suppress our sadness... All this squashing down of things. But emotions don't just disappear because you squash them down, and even though it's counter intuitive, actually allowing yourself to feel what you're feeling, naming what you're feeling, and being compassionate for that, it's incredibly powerful. But it's kind of the opposite of what most of us grow up learning to do. — Katie Elliott, Episode #002 - Loss of parents to Dementia
Looking back on it now, jumping forwards to today, I suppose it was meant to happen, that's the best way of looking at it... I'm not defined by my injury, I'm not defined by having one arm, I'm defined by how I choose to live my life, and how I live in spite of what's happened to me. And actually losing the arm and shoulder was a gift, I look at it as a gift, the best thing that happened to me. — Dan Richards, Episode #004 - Loss of an arm & shoulder
...Feel that emotion. But how long are you gonna stay in it? There's so many quotes of like, be positive, be whatever, and yeah, for sure, but also feel. Feelings are natural, feelings are normal, they're meant to be felt, that's why they're called feelings. I think it's so important to feel those, but I do think it is important to take control over your situation. There are few things that we have control over in life, but we do have the control over how we react and respond to something. And then in particular, how we respond to ourselves. — Emily Rodger, Episode #005 - Loss of a front tooth
There is hope, there is something really beautiful underneath the ugliness of life, underneath the trauma there is healing. Trevor Griffiths, Episode #006 - Coming soon
I'm a lot more grateful for who I have in my life, and I try and be a lot more positive, and try and see the positive in each situation... As cliché as it sounds, we could literally die any day, we are not guaranteed to wake up tomorrow. Why wait to do anything? Hannah Moger, Episode #007 - Coming soon
It doesn't matter where your sadness stems from, whether you're alone, whether the future you hoped for has collapsed around you, whether the family you pictured hasn't panned out like you hoped, whether you never found the career or job that fulfilled you or paid what you wanted, whether a family member died, or a best friend was lost, or physically you're not what you hoped, or you lost something precious, or you miss your home, or you long to hear your first language around you, or you miss who you once were... the list is endless, but ultimately we all share one thing in common - loss. And yes, it varies and your losses and hurts will not be exactly the same as the person next to you - but I will go as far as to say that everyone on this planet has a loss in them that hurts when it's pressed. Everyone has an answer to the question, what's your biggest loss? (even though many people don't associate what they go through as a loss). But there's something else we all have - choice. We have a choice as to how to act, it might not feel like it, but it's there. We might not want to face it, but it's there. We might fear it, but it's there. We might break down at the idea of the responsibility being in our hands - but it's there.
Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do. ― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
You have a choice to change your situation. All the best stories on this planet are about people who made hard choices, who chose to do something brave, vulnerable, scary and counterintuitive to their heart or mind. Name a great film, book, story, myth, fairy tale, I bet there's loss there and I bet it was a hard choice that turned it around. Easy choices aren't inspiring - because any of us can do that. That's not how hero's are made.
So, what are you going to choose to do today that will turn your story around?