More thoughts about grief …

Vimy Ridge 100 years on

This week we’ve been visiting a lot of First World War sites. On balance, this was probably less than smart, so soon after my father’s death. But in another way it was cathartic. Grief is a properly odd thing and sometimes it does you good to take a few quiet moments to have a snivel and let it out. You can’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend it’s not happening. That doesn’t help.

However, that said, it does tend to pop up in weird ways when you least expect it. Case in point, Dad. When Dad died it was the culmination of nearly fourteen years worrying about his mental health. He was calm, totally ready and for those few days before he left us, it was as if he’d come back to us. After his total loss of reason, and the psychotic stage he had returned to us a fair bit, in the home. He came out of the small boy stage and was a grown man again, struggling with his affliction in different ways.

In those weeks, he was calmer and seemed happier but looking back on it, perhaps it was because he’d decided this was the end of the road and resigned himself. I worried that he was fighting and losing. Looking back on it, I think it more likely that he was coming to terms with things and I was seeing the light and shade of his various moods as he worked through it. The thing about Dad’s death though, was that it was a really, really good one. People who loved him were with him, reassuring him and he was a man of faith, and while I’m sure he appreciated that reassurance, he probably didn’t need it.

It was a relief, for him and us, because it was the end of his suffering. It may look callous saying that but I remember waking up the morning after Dad had died and feeling sad that he had gone and that there really was no going back now and at the same time, also feeling as if an enormous weight of responsibility had been lifted from me and feeling happy for Dad (although as a Christian who believes there’s some kind of after life that might be easier for me than it is for some folks).

Now, I don’t know what I expected from the grieving process but it seems most sensible to accept it’s there and roll with the punches when it pops up. But I’ve noticed two things which might help other people.

Thing one: No matter how good the death, no matter if death was the only place to go and no matter if the death was a good one, you will feel incredibly sad. Not only that but if my own experience is anything to go by, you will feel way, way, sadder than expected.

‘But it’s your dad! Of course you’re sad!’ I hear you say. Well, yes, but I’ve spent the last eight or nine years, at least losing little pieces of my dad each day, and I’ve spent the last five years grieving for those pieces of his personality, facets of his sense of humour, things that gradually faded until I could no longer resurrect them. There was a horrible point where the jokes we used to have suddenly stopped working.

‘I don’t know why you think that’s so fucking funny,’ I remember him saying about what I’d thought was his absolute favourite joke between us. ‘Stop saying it.’

Various people have told me that, after an illness, you get the person back. I think I’m too brain fogged to get much back, my short term memory is completely shot, just yesterday I was chatting to McMini and he reminded me of something we did together, when he was a child, an event of which I have absolutely no memory. That is quite frightening because such a total and utter memory loss has never happened to me before. No matter that my diagnosis was hormones, I have some pretty deep set misgivings, in my own mind, that I have dementia, myself. That said, a friend (0lder) who suffered depression when her kids were growing up says there are huge tracts of their lives she simply can’t remember. She put it down to the medication, but it must have been stressful, and I’ve been pretty stressed for at least eight of McMini’s eleven years, maybe I it’s just that. Yeh, I’ll cling to that hope. If it isn’t, I just hope I can hold it together until Mum goes, or even better until McMini hits twenty one. That would be another eight years. Mmm … fingers and toes crossed.

What I was trying to say, after that considerable tangent, is that I haven’t got the memories back really, I still can’t remember anything much before the dementia (Dad’s) but I do have a much better conception of what he was like when he was firing on all cylinders; his cheekiness, his sense of fun, the things he loved and the things that made him laugh. I can remember his humanity, his compassion, his kindness – partly because his behaviour was the antithesis of many public figures today, not to mention the current behavioural ethos which seems to be that we should each be as big a cunt as we can be because it’s our right and we ‘shouldn’t take it’ from other people.

Which brings us to Thing Two: I guess the moral of this is simply that even if you are expecting it to be weird and trying to be open, not fret and accept the nature of the beast, grief still pops up when you don’t expect it and surprises you.

But after a death when it’s really a release and the person who died was clearly at peace and happy to do so, I guess I assumed I’d mourn less perhaps, or at least differently. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when you’ve been losing a person for so long while they’re alive and grieving their loss has already been going on for some years I suppose I thought that the grief of the actual death would be … easier?

Or to put it another way, for all my trying to be open minded and take it as it comes, it seems I’d assumed that there’s a finite amount of grief and that I’d used up a good half of it while Dad was still alive.

I was wrong.

That’s probably worth remembering. Meanwhile, for now, for me, it’s head down, give it space whenever I can and wait. I’ll get used to it eventually.

24 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

24 responses to “More thoughts about grief …

  1. Grief seems to be always different and keeps changing,hitting everybody differently at different times
    Funny old world isn’t it 🙂

    But yes, what you’ve said needs saying

    • What I didn’t say, and probably should have mentioned, is that I’ll be a lot more circumspect about glibly saying, ‘I can imagine that in some ways it was a relief.’ to the recently bereaved.

      • A phrase I’ve always been wary of to be honest

      • Yeh, I’ve mentioned it in the context of ‘what was it like?’ when I was talking to other people whose loved ones had already died of Alzheimer’s, but even then I was treading extremely carefully and feeling a bit out of my depth.

        Cheers

        MTM

  2. Carol Powney

    Your comment about grief pops up when least expect it…can and probably will happen weeks, months and years ahead, sometimes from a memory that returns…often from dreams, including that all is well with loved ones, to then wake up and find it not so…
    Secondly, would you be less stressed to find out if there’s dementia heading your way, with knowledge that caught early, stage one, there’s some pretty effective medication staging off worst for goodly lengths of time…or not? Needs thought then decision.
    I am also getting forgetful…so hot on quizzes, now struggle with some answers, yet others shoot out. Multitasking is more difficult too. We have dementia as opposed to Alzheimer’s in our family…so i am also thinking along the lines of see someone or wait awhile. xx

    • Yeh, I’ve been invited for a NHS check up so I’ll definitely be bringing that up when the time comes. Trouble is, from what they told my Dad the drugs halt it for six to eighteen months, after which you end up taking a massive dive and arrive at the point you’d have been at then, anyway, without the drugs. This was in 2017 when someone bothered to tell us about the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s he’d been given in 2012.

      I think you can have a brain scan and if it comes up mostly blue and green, you know you’re likely to be getting dementia but if it’s still red orange and yellow, it means the blood flow is normal.

      I think I would want to know as there are a lot of things I’d want to plan and I’d want to throw a lot of money at my books and get them edited and done, rather than waiting until I earn the money. (I’ve four ready to go but still saving up for the editing).

      Cheers

      MTM

  3. Think about this carefully before you say no.

    Learning keeps the brain active. Hard learning is something worth pursuing.

    And self-editing is eminently learnable – for some people. I don’t think I’d put that burden on a dyslexic, for example, and I don’t remember if that is a concern.

    More that it is easy, as I get older, to NOT tackle some of the harder things, and then I kick myself for having missed an opportunity to stretch.

    I didn’t get to spend much time with my parents in their last years because I have so little energy that can be used for traveling. I had my dad on the phone a bit, but they ended up being conversations about his engineering business (he worked until he was 90) because my sisters and their husbands aren’t, um, technically minded. And he needed that. Mother was mute – I hope she realized part of the time when I saw her by Facetime that it was me. I haven’t been able to make myself open the two boxes my sisters gathered for me of my share of mementos – I know the flood will be coming in tsunami waves.

    Fact: Most of the people here are older than we are. Most people wait too long (or can’t afford) to move into a place like this, and miss some of the fun stuff. I now know a bunch of people with dementia, or chronic illnesses, or physical impairments. The good part is seeing us all cope. The bad part is losing friends you are just making – but being able to be here for the surviving spouse is a plus.

    I will toil these fields here – because all I have to do is go downstairs – when I couldn’t go to Mexico. Had good laughs with a friend last night in Skilled Nursing; her husband is in the Memory Support unit. She will come back upstairs (like the Eloi?); he will not.

    • I have definitely learned a lot more about editing. But sadly I do have a dyslexia issue. 🙂 My old editor said my stuff was getting cleaner and cleaner so I hope it will need less and less editing.

      I hear what you say about moving while you could make friends and have fun. Grim where I’m standing it was definitely a sensible option.

  4. Grief is a strange and highly variable beast. That is the most I’ve learned about it.
    The wisest thing a priest said to us when my dad went was along the lines of, ‘ people will think you’re lucky that he had such a long life and you knew him for so long. Therein lies the problem, He’s been there so long, that the hole left behind is correspondingly larger.’
    That’s how it’s been for me re my dad, who did not have dementia. My mum did, and I’ve had enormous trouble trying to remember who she was beforehand. The best help has been finding photographs of us together, a rare thing anyway, but it helps me remember her on that day, and other snippets come back to me. But it also turns out that my brother was much closer to her, and I was much closer to my dad. Maybe that’s part of it.
    But I too wonder if I’ve got dementia. And I think most people of a certain age nowadays think the same. We can’t tell the difference between normal memory loss (not just buried under the pile of dross on top of the memory you’re looking for) and dementia.
    Case in point: I have appalling difficulty remembering the names of the plants in my garden these days. I used to be able to reel them off. But then, I don’t talk to other people about them so often, so that’s probably why I have to really think of what the name of this one is, and after about five seconds, I let it go. But I’ll probably remember it before bedtime 😉

    • Yeh that makes sense. I was a complete daddy’s girl although I get on really well with my mum too.

      I agree that as we get older we forget stuff but I think we also dump stuff we aren’t using much more quickly. Maybe that’s what’s happening with your names of plants. Maybe that’s where the names of everyone in my classes at school went. The whole spectre of dementia is grim isn’t it.?

      Cheers

      Mary.

  5. I also felt relief when my dad passed in 1997. He was in his early 80s and having been tied to a wheelchair or electric scooter for twelve years, he was ready to go. I felt grateful that he was freed from his failing body, even though I cried at losing him and still miss him. The same goes for my mom, who died years before my dad. She had pancreatic cancer (her second bout with the Big C) and lived with us at the time. Watching her wither away from the disease and chemo was horrible. I would not wish that on anyone. As with my dad, it came as a relief when she was no longer suffering. Even so, i struggle with guilt for feeling that sense of relief to this day. It’s part of life, losing loved ones and accepting our feelings.

    • Thanks. I haven’t reached the guilt stage yet although we talked about it, mostly Mum and I but I also I talked about death generally with Dad, mainly when a couple of my friends died but I also discussed what to do about taking my for year old son to his uncles funeral when McOther’s younger brother died. It helped that I had an idea of Dad’s own viewpoint from that. I can really sympathise with your feelings about your parents. It was pretty grim watching Dad go down at the end but nothing like pancreatic cancer. I think the worst bit for me is that modern life doesn’t really give you the space to stay with someone while they’re dying. And there are some times when a little boy just shouldn’t see his grandfather. Dad, of all people would have understood that and the way it panned out, everyone who loved Dad got a chance to show it.

      I’m guessing the big losses are things we get used to rather than get over.

      As you say, it’s all part of life.

  6. Each grief is unique to the individual lost and the person left behind. Why we expect one-size sorrow to fit everybody, is just nonsensical!
    Grieving will take more time, energy, and effort than you generally want or have to give. But it is a force over which you have very little control. I consider it the sadness tax I pay for the beautiful thing (person) I brought into my life. The brighter and better the person, the higher the tax. (This analogy is getting weird) but that’s how it felt to me. And still does whenever a good memory strikes me or I revisit a place we shared, I pay a small toll before moving on. All beautiful places are worth the value added tax of grief when they are gone.

    • That is just the best description ever! I’ll be paying a lot of tax for Dad but somehow putting it like that makes the whole thing seem so much more logical. I love it. Thank you. xxx

      • You are welcome. Share it with anyone else who is feeling a pain that is hard to put into words. Language and its ways of speaking for the heart can make the indescribable and incomprehensible more bearable. Or, at least, explain to others why we struggle to put on pants on a given day.

  7. Diana

    Grief is one of the strangest things ever — and hits at odd times. I think it is a kind of gift to the ones left behind; a reminder of how much they loved and were loved.
    May joy run at least as deep as grief whenever you are reminded of your father.And may dementia NOT be your heritage.

    • Yes, I think it definitely serves an important purpose it’s just write discombobulating. And thanks. Yes I think the overriding feeling is happiness, gratitude and love when I think of him. It’s just there’s lots of sadness too.

  8. Though I found that grief has a rhythm and mind of its own, and therefore cannot really be ‘managed’ — it sounds to me like you’ve got a pretty good perspective on it.

  9. Grief is a good Way to leave after loss of loved ones.

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