I haven’t blogged for ages. My brain hasn’t had the blue sky space to breathe. Give me a week or so and my mercurial flow will resume. For now, I wanted to share this with you. It was the anniversary of my mum’s death last Saturday (15 years) and with so many sad stories of loss pervading timelines and heart strings, I hope this brings comfort to some… I wrote it back in 2005, after my dad died.
No-one likes to talk about death yet it is the only part of life that is guaranteed (apart from Rich Tea biscuits falling into your tea and your phone running out of juice just when you need it). I have had loads of therapy during my lifetime. As a teenager who had seen more of life than any 14 year old should, I sat in The Tavistock Clinic four lunchtimes out of five for five years during senior school. It was hellish. And then Freud, Jung, CBT et al all got mashed up in my brain for the following 20 years or so via more transference from therapists and psychologists than you could possibly imagine.
The ONLY counselling or therapy that I genuinely benefitted from in all these years was bereavement counselling. And I would recommend it to anyone grieving right now. I went to see someone from Jewish Care (they offer Bereavement Counselling). My Counsellor, Helen, (I have changed her name) was a very Frum (religious) Jewish lady who wore a Sheitl (wig) and lived in a very nice part of NW London. To this day, I have so much respect for what this lady shared with me and how much she helped me move forward after I lost my parents. Had I met her in the street I would never have imagined the wisdom she might have shared or inspired.
Grief IS a process. It has phases and stages. For those hurling themselves through the high seas after loss it CAN help to acknowledge this. It doesn’t change or minimise the pain but it may help you realise that what you are feeling and experiencing is quite normal. You are not going mad. And talking about death is not morbid. It is both human and humane.
Miranda Leslau considers the topic of grief and how you can help mourners with the recovery process…
As children we rarely envisage that life will change as we get older, that our parents will get wrinkles and that humans of any age get sick and die, unless of course you experience loss at a young age.
However old or young you are when you lose someone close to you, you, the mourner, feels different to the rest of the world, that sound somehow increases to stereo while life carries on in slow motion. You feel that nothing will ever be the same again, that eating your breakfast will always taste slightly different and that no-one will ever understand what you are going through.
I don’t just say this from my own personal experience of having lost both my parents at the age of 30 (my mum, of pneumonia of all things) and 34 respectively (my dad, of a violent and short-lived secondary cancer) but also based on the experiences of my nearest and dearest who have lost parents, children and partners. All of whom have lost people they truly loved.
Whilst not all of us will be parents in our lifetime, every one of us is or has been someone’s child, regardless of the calibre of the parent-child relationship, whether you have been adopted or abandoned. And losing those close to you can take you back to being a vulnerable child, standing at the school gates on the first day of nursery school with no friends. Regardless of whether you are eight or 80 at the time of your loss, you may feel utterly alone.
When my parents died I allowed myself to accept their passing. I wasn’t angry and didn’t ask “Why?” which is what is often asked to many a bereavement counsellor and/or therapist. I accepted that their death granted me a new lease of life – one that was short and of my own making. I chose to accept less nonsense, to experience what I wanted to experience and to live life to the full.
The last thing my late mother said to me was “Don’t do anything stupid”. She meant kill myself I think and that I did not do although at times I did want the earth to swallow me whole. But it didn’t and time passed and I am getting on with my life. For their sakes if nothing else. However much we earn, however much beauty the gods have bestowed upon us, if it is our time, it is our time. No questions asked and no forgiveness.
When I saw my parents bodies after they had stopped breathing, they were both smiling, which was a comfort to me. I don’t know if all corpses smile but the strangest part for me was that when I touched their arm they didn’t react. I spoke their name while the tears rolled down my exhausted cheeks and they didn’t respond. My dad didn’t call me “Bubelah” and comment on what I was wearing and my mum didn’t share one of her loving glances. And then I never saw them again outside of a wooden box and, later on, a designated space in a graveyard.
Generally speaking, mourners remain in a state of shock for some time after the initial death, will rarely remember a funeral clearly and only come to terms with the harsh reality of loss some months later, when those around them who may not have experienced loss think that they may be well on the way to recovery. Not the case.
It is then and only then that the grieving process begins, the heart-wrenching trauma of being on a roller coaster ride at any time of day or night, the hysteria and desperation that constitutes a healthy bereavement process.
As some retreat into their shells, for others, keeping busy is a lifeline. But for the people around the bereaved, it is imperative that you just let mourners just ‘be’. Unless you have experienced the loss of a loved one it is very hard to appreciate a mourner’s fragility. You may think your grieving friend or relative is rude not returning phone calls. Don’t take it personally, they are trying to come to terms with the difficulty of getting up in the morning, let alone how to engage in social rituals.
And there are no hard or fast rules with grief. It is very personal and individually life-changing. Undoubtedly, we all change through loss. Some of us for the better and some become hard and emotionally disengaged. I have known people at both ends of the spectrum and am finding myself drawn to both ends from time to time.
Your loss manifests itself into every new and existing relationship. For me, I am still trying to manage myself having met a man I care about and how I deal with those feelings. Whether that derives parental loss and fear of losing again or life experiences from way back, these feelings stay with me. Hopefully, they will dissipate over time, with support and understanding.
For those of us who bring new life into the world where other lives have passed on, this unearths a whole series of issues and questions. But none of what I am talking about has not been experienced before, by others all over the world and by generations past, present and future.
It is important to talk to other people that have experienced loss, whether they are loved ones, Counsellors, online help groups or similar. Whatever helps, go with it, regardless of how strange and diverse your choice of tool might be. You never get over a loss but you do learn to manage and re-build your life again. The sadness will always be there, it will just become less raw and overwhelming in nature. I miss my parents more than I can explain in words – who do you go and talk to when things go right or wrong? And who can comfort you more than a parent?
Sadly I can’t really remember what my mum looked like, in spite of her glorious photographic representation. Knowing her seems like a very long time ago even thought she was my bestest friend for 30 years. I still imagine my father shuffling down my Highgate hallway calling for me: “Pidulka” (strange but true!) “How are you my baby?” expecting him to give me a great big “knuffle” (hug, in Yiddish) and almost squeeze me, dare I say it, to death. My dad would have made a great Jewish ‘Bubba’ (Grandmother). Before my eyes well up I should stop typing. In my personal book of grief “…til death do us part” is not the end. It is the only the beginning as I carry them everywhere I go… and for me personally, that is what gets me through the day.