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Living Grief

Last week an old friend of mine lost her husband; unexpectedly, leaving her and her two sons in complete shock at the sudden and abrupt change to their ‘normal’. When I heard the news I was in shock myself and am still reeling at the news that this vibrant man is suddenly gone. He was the same age as me – 47 – far too young to be ripped from this world. The cruellest part of this is that his family didn’t get a chance to prepare and ready themselves in any way for the sudden grief thrown upon them. Not that there’s any way you can ever really prepare for losing someone so important to your life. I had five months to apparently prepare when Jacko was diagnosed but I was in no way ready for the final 24 hours of his life. With Mumma we had two years, but were still in shock when we said our last goodbye to her.

As I watch the messages of support being offered to my friend I find myself reliving everything I went through when I lost my own husband. The genuine shock at the loss of a young man who everybody liked and had all the time in the world for and the offers of support, comfort and prayers sent to his widow and children; and it made me view what I went through with the eyes of an ‘outsider’. I’m sure people outside my immediate world were shocked at my own sudden loss and unsure what words they could offer to me to show they cared and were upset and were there for me if I needed somebody to talk to or receive help from. But nobody ever really knows what to say in this situation. There are no words that can make it all better. I know in my own situation I was grateful for all the words of comfort but also overwhelmed at the constant beeping of the phone as another message came to me telling me they were there to listen and help. People genuinely mean well and have the best intentions and we know that in that moment, but it is hard to face each message because it drives home the fact that the person you love is truly gone once again and makes you face it over and over. That’s something you don’t want to do, especially immediately after the day you lose them. Your whole world has been sucked down a giant vacuum tube and ripped apart, turned over and over and messed up, then you’ve been pushed back out in the world with a pile of shattered debris scattered around you and are supposed to put the pieces back together again. And you just don’t know how to. To my friend, and anyone else who finds themselves facing the loss of a partner, child, parent or close loved one – just breathe right now; nobody expects you to put it all back together. You need to cry, scream, get angry with the world, process, laugh – yes, laughter is still important – and allow your emotions to bubble over the surface and land where they may. If anybody is entitled to be pissed off right now and rant at the world, it’s you. The people who love you understand that you’re going to go through all these emotions and they’ll still love you tomorrow, even if you inadvertently unleash those emotions on them. I know I did it and those loved ones are still around and still love me today. It’s all an important part of grieving.

Some people are lucky enough that they’ve never had to say goodbye to someone they love. I was fortunate that my first experience with grief didn’t happen until I was 24, but unfortunately I’ve become far too experienced in grief and loss since then. No two losses are the same though, and what someone else feels is completely different to the next loved one. I know for certain that each of my siblings and my Dad have each mourned the loss of Mum in a different way, but that doesn’t make any of our feelings less valid than the next family member. We all miss her and remember her and honour her memory in different ways, but we all come together on those important occasions from her life to celebrate the woman she was, just as we do with Jacko. I do know that the first year is truly the hardest. The first time you have to face each special occasion without them brings everything back and you find yourself remembering every little detail of their final day – the first Christmas, birthday, wedding anniversary, father’s day, mother’s day and each of those little personalised occasions that meant so much to you and the person who’s no longer here. I honestly barely remember the first year after losing Jacko. Even now someone will mention an event or a conversation and talk about something I did or said and I have no recollection of it happening. That isn’t a testament to my memory either because I never forget anything – I can still recite the phone number of my primary school best friend. Looking back I know I was in a fog for the first few months after I lost him and barely remember most of what I did in that time. Jacko passed away nine days before Christmas so unless I look at photos I don’t really remember what I did with my family that day. I know that’s normal. You find yourself suddenly without the person you were supposed to be with forever and I think a type of self-preservation kicks in, where you only have to face things a little at a time, only when you’re ready. I believe that if we’re forced to face everything at once we would fall apart. The human heart can only take so much heartache at once and we need to compartmentalise to help ourselves get through the grief process. Facing the big picture all at once is far too overwhelming so it’s important to take it one day at a time and often, one hour at a time. I’m fortunate enough to live on a hill away from the world so when I needed to hide, I did. I closed the doors on the world and just hung out with my cats and chickens, taking in the energy and memories created in the home Jacko and I created together. Other times I had my small band of heroes around me; the people I could lean on and cry with and know they were there for me when I was at my lowest. It’s so important to find those people and have them close by; your rocks, the people who breathe life back into you when you feel like you’ve got nothing left. And just take it day by day, or hour by hour.

The somewhat good news about grief – because there really isn’t anything good about grief – is that it does get easier to breathe as each day passes. One day you’ll open your eyes and look around you and realise that the fog you weren’t even aware you were in has lifted slightly. You’ll find a reason to smile and will hear a joke that makes you laugh. Not too long ago you couldn’t imagine anything being funny again, but there it is, something that you found humour in. You might even feel guilty for feeling a moment of joy – truth be told, you will find yourself finding guilty – but please let that go. They’re not physically here with you anymore, but they’re inside you, living in your heart and I can guarantee that unless they were a truly horrible person (which they weren’t, because you loved them so obviously they were good), they would want to hear you laughing again. Sometimes we get to have that conversation with them before they die, especially if you know it’s coming. Jacko and I had all those conversations. He told me he wanted me to go on living and find happiness again. We had travel plans in the works that got cancelled when covid arrived, and then again when he was diagnosed, but he told me he wanted me to still go to all the places we had planned and do the things he now couldn’t do. He wanted me to live, be happy again and yes, even find love again. He was always proud that he put a genuine smile in my eyes when we started dating and that smile had disappeared when he was sick, no matter how hard I tried to keep it there for him. He wanted that smile back in my eyes. That’s all our loved ones ever want for us. Whether they know they’re going to die or it happens suddenly, they only want us to go on and live and be happy again. So it’s okay to be happy. In time you will be, I promise you. It doesn’t mean you love them any less or have forgotten them – that’s not even possible. Every day you’ll remember them, you’ll tell stories about them and you’ll experience new joys in life and think about how they would love this, but you’ll smile at that knowledge and know it’s okay. Grief doesn’t ever go away. It’s a prick that way. It stays with you forever, but in some ways, that’s a good thing. It means you’re still remembering them and loving them and holding them close in your heart, and that’s what love is truly about. Well there you go, I found one tiny thing about grief that is good. But the rest is hard. It’ll break you down and you’ll feel like you can’t breathe and will wonder how you’ll go on. In those moments just take a time out for yourself and remember the person you miss. Remember the memories you made together and remember the dreams you shared and planned for the future. Breathe in. Then remember to keep following those dreams because they’ll be with you inside your heart as you chase them.

Hold your loved ones close and send a kiss to the stars for the loved ones who have left us.

Carol x

Today I discovered this amazingly talented artist and writer on Facebook and I'm adding one of her images to this post for inspiration. We all need a friend to lean on sometimes. Check out Tara Shannon on Facebook and her website at the links below!

Image from and copyright belongs to:

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