It’s such a strange thing, grief.
As every person reacts differently, it’s something that can prove especially difficult to write about. But given everything that’s going on right now, it felt important that I gave it a go.
You see, grief can make you feel incredibly isolated, even under normal circumstances. I know that, for me, discovering something I could relate to—whether it was a book, a song or a blog post—always made me feel that little bit less alone.
And isn’t that what everyone needs these days? To feel like they’re not on their own?
* * *
When I was a little girl, flowers were never something I would have thought to get my dad for his birthday. He’d have much preferred a more practical gift, like the latest Gino D’Acampo cookbook or perhaps some tools to help with his never-ending garden project.
Nowadays, flowers are all I can buy.
For the past nine years, when the last week of April comes around, my mom and I make the 45-minute journey back to our old hometown to lay a bunch of roses on my dad’s grave.
It’s never really a sad occasion. If anything, in a weird sort of way, it’s something I quite look forward to. I suppose you could say that it’s become a tradition, an annual way for me to feel as though I’m keeping his memory alive.
But today is different; today we have to stay home.
I’ve known this was coming for a while now. When lockdown was first announced, although I had holidays booked and other things planned, missing today was the first thing I thought about.
Obviously I was disappointed, but I quickly made my peace with it. In my mind, there was no doubt that staying home to save lives and show respect for our wonderful NHS was the right thing to do.
So that was that. I thought I was prepared.
Turns out, I wasn’t.
In fact, it’s come as quite a shock to me how emotional I’ve been this week. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to feel like such a big deal.
I’d thought to myself, “It’s been nearly a decade. I can handle this now.” But I’ve come to accept that grief just doesn’t work like that.
Anyone who has ever experienced the loss of a loved one will know that, when it first happens, our whole world stops.
In those initial few months, it feels as though it would be so easy to just give up, to simply surrender to that deep, aching feeling that suddenly consumes every part of us.
But we know we can’t do that, not forever.
Unfortunately, just because we’ve come to a drastic halt, doesn’t mean everybody else is going to do the same. While it may seem impossible to wrap our heads around how everyone is continuing like normal, the fact is, they’re just not hurting like we are.
Time doesn’t stop for anyone. Things keep on moving and it dawns on us that, if we don’t somehow find the strength to rise out of our rut, we’re going to get left behind.
So we rise.
We adjust to life without them. Eventually, we return to work or school, we hang out with friends, and after a while, we might even find ourselves laughing again.
Naturally, we still always miss the person we lost. But as the weeks, months, and years go by, it becomes less of a conscious feeling.
I recently read an article in which Dee Holmes, Senior Practice Consultant at South East Relate, described this perfectly: ‘“Grief is not necessarily something that ever lessens. What’s different is that you think about it less.”
And she’s spot on, I know that the amount I miss my dad will never change, but the time I spend thinking about missing him has significantly decreased.
I feel as though I now only find myself pining for him on memorable dates and milestones. For example, when I passed my driving test, when I graduated from university, the anniversary of his death, and of course, his birthday.
Usually on this sort of occasion, I do two things to help myself cope. The first is commemorating it in some way, like with the flowers on the grave. The second is keeping myself busy enough that there’s not really any time to spend being sad.
Frustratingly, today I can’t do either. There are no distractions right now, and perhaps that’s why it’s hit me so hard.
But, although today is tough, I’m ok. Really.
I know that I’ll still be able to pay the grave a belated visit once this nightmare is finally over.
In truth, what this week has really got me thinking about is those who are having to deal with a fresh loss right now.
In a strange way, it’s made me feel kind of lucky. Although I’d much prefer him to still be here, I’m grateful that I actually got the chance to say goodbye to my dad properly. Hearing stories about people who have spoken to their loved ones for the last time via video call has been breaking my heart.
The fact that some are having to attend funerals of only five people, each standing two meters apart, without even being able to hug or comfort one another, is almost too much to comprehend.
Having experienced firsthand how difficult the normal grieving process can be, I can only begin to imagine how impossible dealing with a death must seem right now.
At 8 o’clock, thousands up and down the country will stand on their doorsteps and join in the weekly clap for our NHS staff and other key workers. But I know who else I’ll be clapping for.
Tonight, my applause will also be for each and every person who has lost someone during this already-difficult time. You’re all so much stronger than you know.
* * *
I once read something that compared grief to walking through a cold, dark tunnel.
For anyone who has recently lost somebody, your tunnel may seem extra long right now, but I promise you there is still going to be light at the end of it.
For now, please keep going, stay safe, and remember you are not alone.