When grief lies down

Picture this, if you will…An old woman, looking at the ground, is mindlessly walking loops of a communal living room, occasionally muttering something unintelligible to herself. Another old woman, still in her dressing gown at lunchtime, is sitting at a table hunched over a bowl of unidentifiable pudding, crying ceaselessly while she asks someone to “Make it stop.” An old man with a birds nest of dark grey hair falling to his shoulders (one assumes, from how well the residents are cared for, that this is because he’s a grumpy old bugger and his temperament makes a hair cut impossible) asks me, with deep concern, if I can please explain why he has had a tooth removed.

Grief.

For a while, I didn’t want to go and see Mum. It was too hard. Our relationship too sticky, the rest home to confronting. But then things shifted and softened and I found myself wanting to see her. And I thought to myself, with – in retrospect – a tiny amount of hubris, that finally going to see Mum was easy. Um. Yeah. Until it wasn’t.

Yesterday, I found myself doing loops around the dementia unit beside Mum not knowing what to say to her. Not that anything I say makes sense to her, it’s more about me being there and the sound of my voice, of course, but suddenly I ran out of things to talk about. I found myself wishing desperately that I had a sibling there to chat with while we walked alongside Mum. Someone to share this load with. But I didn’t, so I left. I went and sat in the car, cried quite loudly for a few minutes, was given gentle nudges from both collies, pulled myself together and drove home. Only to get grumpy with Adam because he commented, as we tried to listen to an interview together, that “I wasn’t really there”, to which I replied “I had a really hard visit to Mum but I don’t want to talk about it” because I really, really didn’t know what to say.

Grief.

A couple of weeks ago, at the end of a massage, my very lovely therapist was brave and wholehearted enough to not only acknowledge this post about the miscarriages but cry with me. She. Cried. With. Me. And I cannot begin to tell you how healing that was. But also how revealing it was to suddenly become aware of how much I’d needed that reflection. It was the first time in seven years since I lost the babies that someone has reflected my grief, with unapologetic and unembarrassed tears, back to me. The first time I really felt I had company in my grief.  

Grief is mostly a solitary thing in our culture, at least that has certainly been my experience. We grieve, mostly, alone. Behind closed doors, we hide it’s wholeness, it’s all consuming nature, from others, even those closest to us. Grief is awkward, it makes us vulnerable, inarticulate, tricky, puffy. There is a statute of limitation on grieving, after a certain time we’re expected to have pulled ourselves together and if not over it, at least have the good manners to hide it so it doesn’t make others feel awkward.

And yet awkward it is. Grief is messy and unpredictable, if often arrives unannounced. It is also very physical. If we don’t express it and instead we shove it down, grief resides somewhere in your body until one day – and that day could be a decade away – you accidentally squash a snail or drop a full jar of tomatoes on the kitchen floor and burst into uncontrollable sobs.

I am aware that friends of mine who live (or even those who are American and live elsewhere) in the United States are currently grieving for their county. I am aware that friends are navigating their way through the slow loss of parents to disease that comes with old age. I know that family and friends are grieving loved ones taken far too quickly by cancer. Others are grieving life changing transitions forced upon them by circumstance. 

Lately, sitting in quiet conversation with Adam, my parents-in-law, and some local friends, we’ve been sharing our grief about our dying world. We’ve come together to take part in an online conflict transformation summit but we’ve inevitably touched on the grief we all feel, and don’t quite know what to do with, while we watch ecosystems collapse as humanity accelerates towards the edge of the cliff. And while it is important, essential, wonderful (pick a word) to maintain hope, it is – I am increasingly sure – necessary to be true to your grief and find a community who can not only hold space but share it.

Grief. 

Are you grieving? 

Do you feel seen? 

Is there someone sharing your grief? 

Are you able to share the grief of someone else?…

“After a while, though the grief did not go away from us, it grew quiet. What had seemed a storm wailing through the entire darkness seemed to come in at last and lie down.” 

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow.

Mum, at rest.