Being a professional eulogist, Wendy thought talking about her experiences of grief would come easily, but like so many of us, she found the uniqueness of grief, and its continuation throughout her lives, hard to articulate. This is her story.
Grief is without doubt hard. It is unique and we get no preparation for what those initial moments, days, weeks...will feel like. Or how it will affect us. It is one of the most complicated and misunderstood expressions we experience. So much so it can seem that we are not experiencing it. There is a term ‘delayed grief’ but even that is part of someone’s journey. I learned this very recently when my sister-in-law entered a stage of confusion and anxiety after the passing of her life long partner of 55 years. It was as if she would disappear if she acknowledged fully his passing and entered into what society widely recognises as grieving. She will reminisce but it is as if he is very much still here in the present tense, and she is just talking about him while he is ‘absent’ from the room. Perhaps that is the only way she can cope with the shock and loss; it is not delayed, it is her grief.
When my mother died, I felt a deep sadness and loss, but became more integral in my father’s grief at the time, absorbing his loss and need.
One year later when he died I finally ‘grieved’ for my mother too.
What really struck me was that I was now on my own two feet at the age of 37. No parents at my back. But I was wrong, they will always be at my back, in fact are part of that backbone. Their lives, their thoughts, their lessons are with me day in day out and it is unlikely that a challenging situation passes without my deferring to what they might have said or done.
I subsequently lost my sister-in law. She died in the USA after a long illness, and I ‘managed’ that by writing a piece for her funeral. I felt that remembering her and committing that to writing and thanking her, considerably helped myself and my brother. I was there not because she had died but because she had lived and left a significant part of herself with me, my memories of her and what she taught me helped me ‘keep’ her.
But then the great unexpected. My husband of 25 years died very suddenly while we were abroad on a city break to celebrate his birthday and our silver wedding. This was the moment when life stops, literally. I was lost, alone, abroad in every sense of the word, the clock had stopped, the compass was broken, and I had 3 children at home who needed me, and I needed the one person whose loss this was all about.
I won’t talk about the immediate days, they are just ‘empty’, but I do remember looking for some ‘guidance’. I had always found meaning in books; song lyrics; poetry. Surely there was a book somewhere that would tell me how to feel, how to manage, what I was likely to feel, what people expected me to feel? There wasn’t. I even looked at Queen Victoria as a model widow. I carried on supporting my family, ‘making him proud’, being the ‘strong woman’ everyone somehow knew I was, but it was all a performance necessary to get through another day, after all despite everything, I was still here. I was behind it all, totally unrecognisable to me, I had to find a means of gaining an identity without him – oh, and ‘move on’.
Amidst her grief, Wendy sought meaning in books, songs and historical figures like Queen Victoria.
21 years later and I finally realise that there is no identity without him, he was and is a part of me, as is my loss and sadness. I take time to indulge ‘grief’, I let it visit and we coexist, it is a part of me. It does seem to play on nerve endings and as a result create some unexpected movements of behaviours at times, but that is who I have become and what I will leave behind for those who grieve for me.
Grief is a welcome part of my story, it means I have had incredibly special people in my life who have allowed me to grieve their loss, it means I am a deeper richer person for having adopted it as part of me, and I hope it makes me a better celebrant for those who allow me to share their grief.
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Real stories like Wendy's help us to break down barriers around dying and death. We’re sharing our experiences so that anyone experiencing grief feels less alone. Will you share yours?