So, yeah. My first blog was about my weight struggles and my second blog is about grief! I promise I am actually a happy little soul and don’t wander through life like a black cloud looming on the horizon!
Grief is a subject that I think isn’t talked about enough, a bit like the subject of death itself really. And, I suppose if we’re honest, our experience of grief is greatly influenced by the way we view death.
I’ve been inspired to write about grief by recent events. One of my friends (who I don’t see anywhere near enough!) has recently lost her beloved Dad. There has been a myriad of ramifications of this, not only has this amazing woman had to deal with the emotional effects of losing her father, she also was responsible for nursing him in the last days of his life (she is a palliative care nurse). In the last two years she has had multiple surgeries and is continuing to battle Crohn’s disease and everything that comes with it. In the last 2 years, her life has been turned upside down……..and now she’s lost her Dad. One of her best friends. She isn’t sleeping and her Crohn’s has kicked off in a massive way. It’s hard to imagine how she must be feeling at the moment, but I should imagine that “Desolate” is probably a good word to use!
My first real experience of ‘grief’ was when I was 11 years old. It was the school summer holidays before I started secondary school and my Uncle died suddenly. At that age, it was impossible to comprehend the enormity of what had happened. All I really understood was that everyone was sad, I wouldn’t be seeing my favourite Uncle again…..and that made me feel very sad.
On the 17th December 2010 my Dad passed away after 10 days in hospital. He was 70 years old. I’m not going to waffle on about his medical history or what happened in those days that he was in hospital. All I will say is that Dad did have health problems, but in no way was his death expected. Right up until the moment the ITU nurse sat us in the relatives room and told us that Dad’s heart had stopped and they were attempting to resuscitate him, I had totally believed that he would pull through. At that second, it felt like my heart dropped into the souls of my feet……….and that’s where it seemed to stay for a good few years afterwards.
It’s so hard to explain how grief can impact on your life and I realise that everyone must have a unique experience. What I would say is that I found that it permeated into every aspect of my life.
I was in my second year of my nursing degree when Dad passed away. In the days after my Dad’s death, the absolute feeling of shock was replaced with an overbearing feeling of guilt. I felt that I had let Dad down and that, in some bizarre way, I should have been able to save him. I took an initial break for a few months and then went back to my studies. I found myself sitting in lectures listening to descriptions of pathophysiology that Dad had experienced during his time in hospital. I wouldn’t be able to focus and I would have flash backs to traumatic moments prior to Dad passing. On placements on wards I would feel vulnerable and extremely nervous, especially when dealing with ‘poorly patients’.
In the first 6 months after his passing, I would wake up every morning and for a split second I would have forgotten that he wasn’t here anymore……….that was so hard. I actually felt like I had lost part of myself.
The guilt aspect of grief was one that I struggled with for months. Not only did I feel guilt over Dad’s treatment, but I felt guilt that he perhaps didn’t know how much I loved him. That was what truly broke me. I’d always been a Daddy’s girl, but our relationship hadn’t been fantastic in the 5 years leading up to losing him……..you know the old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. My Dad hadn’t lived to see me get married, have children, see me settled and winning at life. I felt a failure, like I’d let him down.
For a time, it’s hard to say how long. But, for a time, it felt as if life was very dark. I’m not ashamed to say that I eventually went to my GP for some help with my mental health as it was obvious I was slipping into a deep depression.
I would have dreams and nightmares about him and his passing. The nightmares were always about the time he was in hospital and were particularly harrowing.
All of this dark stuff was going on in my mind, but I dealt with it in the best way I could. I like to think I have a reasonably good sense of humour and I found and still find laughter to be extremely therapeutic. However, I think sometimes my humour acted as a bit of a mask for how I was really feeling.
Immediately after my Dad’s passing we were surrounded by friends who were supportive and helped us through the funeral. However, I noticed how awkward and difficult people seemed to find it to speak to me about my Dad’s death. I would try to talk to friends about how I was feeling, but I sensed that they were struggling to know how to respond to me. It got to the stage that I didn’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable by talking about it.
Emotionally, I was in a very bad place. I had lost one of my best friends, someone who had always been such a support to me, who I shared a lot of interests with, someone I spent time with every day. Inevitably, this emotional vulnerability, over time, started to impact on my physical health. So much so that, just over 2 years after losing my Dad, I ended up in hospital. I won’t bore you with detail, but I now have health problems that I believe were initially triggered by the loss of my Dad.
My illness was a massive wake up call to me. I could not carry on the way I was and I desperately needed to change the way things were. I had to improve my emotional wellbeing and my physical health. It dawned on me how sad my Dad would have been to see me suffering. It was time for a bit of positivity. I started to think about the lovely times that we, as a family, had shared together……..I drew so much from this. How massively lucky had I been to have this wonderful man as a father.
I had several lovely dreams in which I would be meeting him in beautiful garden or on a train and he would have to go by saying “sorry I can’t come back with you”. I continue to have dreams like this and now I take great comfort from them. It’s as if it’s my Dads way of popping into my mind to say hi!
My Dad was a Christian and myself and my brother were raised as Christians. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as religious these days, I don’t subscribe to a particular religion. However, I would say I have faith and spirituality. I realise that there are majorly differing views on what happens when we ‘die’. My personal belief is that our energy continues to exist in a different (I’m hoping better) place. Once I had come to this conclusion in my own mind, I started to see signs that my Dad was still around me…….I don’t mean him popping up behind me in the mirror or anything horrendous like that! Just subtle signs, things only I would understand, like a particular song on the radio at a moment that I was thinking of a memory. At this point some of you are probably thinking I’m mad, but these ‘signs’ have made me feel like I continue to have a connection with my Dad. They may well all be purely co-incidental, and I’m fine with that……but the comfort they bring is real.
I know this probably sounds totally weird, but I started to notice things around me that I had never noticed before. I could appreciate the sun shining through the trees and hearing the leaves rustling in the wind. I would notice birds flying in the sky and would love getting outside and going for walks. I started to do a lot more people watching when out and about, noticing interactions between loved ones. I now it sounds a bit bonkers, but it felt like I started to see the beauty in the world that I had taken for granted up until that point.
I’ve always been a bit of an anxious person. I’m a bit OCD about being organised and if things throw my plans out, I’ve always found it a bit of a struggle to deal with this. But, I think, because I was becoming less blinkered to the realities of life, I started to calm down……a lot. Yes, I’m still a freak about being organised….but I get less stressed over things, perhaps because I’ve realised what is important and what isn’t!
A few days before my Dad passed away, following some scans, I was told that I would struggle to conceive children naturally. In September 2013, I found out I was pregnant. As I tried not to slide off the toilet in shock upon reading the test result, the first thing I did was think how unimpressed my Dad would have been about my situation………however, in time I realised that Dad would have been supportive of me and I know he would have done everything he could have to help me. So, it didn’t take much for me to decide that if I was having a little boy, I would name him after my Dad. James was born in May 2014 and becoming a Mummy is most definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me. The joy I have experienced due to my son is impossible to quantify. I have photos of myself and Dad in my living room and James points at them and says “Grandad and Mummy” and has done since he could speak. I’ve never told him who the man in the photos was, he just seemed to know. I know my Dad would be so amazingly proud of James, sometimes I feel sad that Dad has missed out on him.
I get married next year to the love of my life. I do feel sad that my Dad won’t be there, but when I think about how far I have come in the last 3 years, I know how proud he would be of me.
So, I suppose what all this rambling is leading to is this: Initially grief seems like a black hole that is going to swallow you up in your entirety. It can permeate every fibre of your life and being. BUT, as time goes on, grief can help you to see the precious nature of life and the world we live in. I have found grief to be a challenging journey, but a journey that has helped mould me into the person I am today. As hard as it may sound, life goes on and the people we lose would want us to live our lives in happiness and to the full.
Charlie, this blog is dedicated to you with lots of love.