This morning I lay awake in the quiet, anticipating which one of my children would come to greet me first. It was 6am. It’s rarely silent in my house. Eventually, one of my nearly four-year old twin boys, popped his head through the bedroom door and smiled at me. He padded sleepily round to my side of the bed and jumped in beside me for a morning cuddle. Usually, the first words out of their little mouths is about breakfast. The lockdown has made food such a focus.
Today it was different. This morning he led with this. “Mummy, did daddy get buried under sand or grass? I turned to look at him and explained, as I have many times before, that Daddy was buried in an oak coffin, under grass in a cemetery. He followed with “Can we go see it?” His final question before we got up to start our day was “mummy, when we’re older, can we get a spider man phone and web shooter?”. And just like that, normal life resumed. For so many reasons, this exchange is heart-breaking. But it is also heart-healing. It comforts me, that though my boys were just two years old when they lost their dad, that they think of him all the time. I used to worry that their memories of him would not be strong enough to endure. It is also comforting to know that they feel able to ask these questions of me; that it is normal to do so. I want my children to talk about him always, across their lifetime, because grief lasts that long.
Grief admittedly changes and is experienced differently over time. But it is there; a silent companion, in all the moments across the years that make a life. It will be there when my boys start school next summer. It will be there at each birthday and Christmas. That is why I believe grief and loss needs to be spoken about. It doesn’t just go away and yet we don’t talk about it openly. Why not? Perhaps it’s because we have this idea that it makes other people uncomfortable, so we hide it away for solitary moments of reflection and sadness. We try to confine it to a set period of time. I also think part of the explanation here, is that talking about grief leaves us vulnerable and exposes our raw emotions.
If you’ve spoken to anyone who has lost someone, most can readily recall a story about something said to them, that they found less than helpful. Usually, it was intended to comfort or advise them in their grief. However, how many explain to the person how it made them feel, or invite further discussion to redress the narrative. I know I didn’t. Usually, this is because people are well meaning and we don’t want to make them feel ashamed in their efforts. Talking about grief openly, can help others to normalise this very normal experience and find appropriate words that do bring comfort. It can also help us process our own thoughts and feelings.
Personally, I found that having someone listen, was almost always what helped. It feels intuitive to me, that grief witnessed is healthier, than that which is hidden away. As I write, I wonder how many of you reading this have and continue to grieve for a loved one. When was the last time you spoke of it? Have you buried it somewhere deep, or hidden it behind a forced smile and ‘fine, thanks for asking’. Would you welcome the opportunity to talk about your loved one more often? It is a misconception that if it has been many years since your loved one’s death that you must be ‘better’ or whole again. Grief does last a lifetime. Let’s make it part of the conversation, because what we are really talking about, is love.
If you have been bereaved and would like to discuss seeking some support, please do contact me.