On loss, grief, change and…


Just a quick lunchtime write, but perhaps this will resonate and comfort. I don’t pretend to know any answers, but I do know what I found to be true. I entirely expect to be wrong about this or to have to adapt my thinking. That ought to be the natural way of things.

I had a great deal of loss, raw and confounding in my childhood and early years; there was a period between 16 and 20 when I lost my grandparents, my godmother – to whom I was so very close; I write about her in some of my books – and both my parents, followed by the decision made by my sibling to separate from me without explanation. It was his right but I did not know why it happened. So it was that I launched into the world in a different way from any number of my peers. I felt so odd; a weirdo. I was in pain, confused and, with a complex and very damaging background, I had any number of things to deal with – not least having to decide how best to provide for myself going forward, where to live and how in the hell to heal. I wish that none of this had happened, but I want to say something encouraging, too – while I hope that you have had not similar, yet know that some reading this have had much worse – let me say that first.

I realised that grief did not go. I used to push it down and try not to feel it until I learned that you had to live alongside it because grief is not possible without love. I suppose that this grounded me, which is not the same as saying it stopped hurting. It didn’t; it still hurts. But I let waves wash over me and feel that even the worst paroxysms do not last. I have learned to feel them and not be afraid for them and, also, that grief is not possible without love. I think it can feed into creative energy, too. I think your experience of it fits you to help others, unfurl a tiny story in the darkest experience, and to be less afraid of the world and all the people in it.

There is another type of grief and I often wonder whether this kind of grief is at the root of many ills around us; there is pain in the aggressive voice and stance; in the person who hits out because to hurt another or deride them insistently seems to assuage pain. It does not of course. This type of grief (I think) comes from a sense that you are excluded, looked down on, that your dreams were trampled on or, perhaps, that you did not dare to dream at all because to do so would have been too painful, watching it all come to nothing. Obviously there are many people who do suffer those awful feelings and go on to challenge them and needle rightful targets who truly negate possibility for other, but there are others whose hurt and vulnerability may turn to malice. Have you seen it?

Both the grief born of loss and the grief of what you could not have or be are intense and can be eviscerating. In my experience, for both, it is our contacts with other people and our sharing with them, plus our relationship with art, music and the natural world, which make a difference. Also, the humour that blunts loneliness and enlivens possibility; which refreshes perspective.

I am writing this today because I am reflecting on how I feel and how I want to live my life. We have had a number of bereavements during the past year and then, last night, our beloved tabby became ill, deteriorated quickly and the vet advised that there was no effective palliative care and so he was put to sleep. My boys are devastated; our animals are so much part of our family and this one has been there for as long as they can remember. I think that what I am most upset about is seeing their grief; it is also their first experience of a sudden loss, but certainly not mine and I must help them navigate their way through it. I have spoken to them about grief before and told them what I said at the beginning; that it has to live alongside you. That you must make a place for it to do so. Because with grief, whether it be because of loss or through your keen sense of what you could not have or be, you cannot keep tamping it down, trying to subliminate it; yes, you can distract yourself for while, of course, and that is good, but you have to feel it so it can be lived with and so that you can change as the grief changes.

There is a type of loss which is not about losing a loved one, but is about change; a death to an old way of life. There are decisions that appeared before me or which I forcefully made during this past year. I realised that I wanted to live in a smaller but richer way; that I was truly contented on my own and might like to spend more time that way, that I was actually quite ruthless about certain things – for example, it seemed to me that a friendship could be extinguished and a clear current example (for me) is those who have not been mindful at all of rules during the pandemic; who insist it is solely about individual choice. I realised I did not want to be friends with someone like that as, ultimately, it connoted so much more: effectively a casual disregard for a community, local, national and global. I felt a little bit ashamed to think like that, because we are encouraged not to be judgemental. I was told I was judgemental. I did not mean to hurt feelings, but now I no longer mean to be friends. And it was loss. You may make a choice, but that does not take away pain. I feel much has changed and come to the surface, too. I know many people reading this might feel that way too. The change, or the visibility of this process, is uncomfortable. But test something on your pulse: does it revolt you? Do you tense up? Or do you feel a surge of joy, that sense of being alive, or perhaps just at peace – as much as can ever be! You have your answer. That is what you believe.

For me, time, trying very hard to be present is a key thing. The past is a different country and up ahead, in the future, is a place where you can never actually be. It is simple but fiendishly difficult to plant yourself in the now. At least it is for me. But I am learning to do better in this regard. I plan to spend more time with those people I feel I cannot bear to lose (though of course I must, or they will lose me) and I am so looking forward to meeting other people. There will be people I no longer see. There will be people I realise I need to see less. I have to stop trying, also, with two older ones with additional needs, not to focus on what I think occurs in other families and to look only at love and doing the best we can, with what we have, at that time And as for work? I have reshaped it. I will continue with teaching, but do not think I will return to a school, though I miss the classroom. I want to work with a variety of ages and in different areas, books at the heart of this. I want to do things that are more focused on local and global communities through writing. For this reason, I am currently part of three mentoring activities, one with young people and, in my writing – forgive me, but it would wrong to say any details with work out and about – I plan even more to pay it forward. So, for every event I do, I will make an online version; for books, I aim to use my teaching and mentoring skills and experience to boost others which is, essentially, my favourite thing to do. I am excited, but I am uncomfortable with it, because it is change, because there is loss mixed in – there have already been books written which are not valued and which fail to fly – so wish me luck as I go forward, doubting myself but determined.

I will close there. Today, I am sad, bereaved, in a period of change. I am mired in loss, wearing it as lightly as I can, but giving in to the paroxysms I mentioned earlier. Perhaps you feel the same. We could do it all together. I should like that.

And I send you my love. x

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