When The Universe Cares

Babylon 5 quote

What’s your relationship with the universe? Is it friend or foe? Or is it more like an annoying parent doing things you don’t like for your own good?

I joke a lot about the universe having a sick sense of humour. Like when I decide the universe is telling me not to do something because nothing is working out and then suddenly everything falls into place.

Today the universe decided to show me kindness.

As I approach the worst day of the year, anxiety is high and tears are close. I’m not sleeping or eating properly and everything feels difficult.

Today the universe chose to tell me I am needed, I am useful, I am loved and I am worthy.

After two failed past attempts and an almost third, I was able to successfully complete a plasma donation and know I have saved lives.

Chance sent me a stranger I could help with a meal and a train ticket.

A friend reached out, unwilling to let me slip away into social solitude.

I won a pair of trail runners because of something I wrote about running.

A day that began with stress ended with peace and happiness.

It’s still a tricky week but I’m grateful for the small things that help me keep going.

Desiderata Universe quote

 

 

 

How Do You Explain?

How do you explain a grief that never really goes away? How do you explain to those who’ve never experienced the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one why the grief still lingers after decades?

I’ve written before about losing my sister and niece in a car crash in 1993. (In fact, I can’t believe it’s already been nearly five years since I wrote about it.) It’s an experience that has become woven into the very fabric of who I am and the anniversary of their deaths is a day to be endured even so many years later.

Yesterday would have been my sister’s 60th birthday. I always find her birthday difficult, coming soon after mine, but the significant birthdays are the hardest.

I had to work. I am lucky to work with a very caring colleague and I had wisely already discussed what was coming up. So when I disappeared into the toilets not long after arriving at work and reappeared some time later red-eyed and subdued, she was attentive and protective.

The day was exhausting. While I was teaching, things were fine. I have a lovely class and they fill me with joy every day (okay, yes, also frustration at times but that’s teaching, right?) and they gave me bright moments in my day. It was just the ‘down’ times that were hard. And so, when the music played for the end of recess, I suddenly lost it and had to pull myself together in the kitchen before the kids came in. (To be fair, they’d chosen that day to play “You Are The Reason” by Calum Scott. Seriously. Luckily, for lunchtime, they switched to “Nutbush”.)

I made it through the day but I was pretty exhausted by the end. I was fortunate to have a community singing session that night so even though I was tempted to stay home and go to bed, I went and it lifted my soul as it always does.

Today, I got to work and my colleague asked how I was after yesterday.

“Okay,” I said. “But a bit embarrassed about yesterday.”

Because here’s the thing. There’s a part of you that wonders if others think it’s ludicrous that you’ll still burst into tears at the memory of someone gone for 25 years.

How do you explain?

How do you explain that the years don’t matter?

How do you explain that the pain never goes away?

How do you explain that you never really get over it? You learn to live with it and you learn to find joy and happiness in your life again but you never, ever get over it.

How do you explain that the sudden and unexpected death of someone so young leaves a lasting scar that tears open again at every birthday, every anniversary, every family celebration (births, marriages) that highlight their missing presence?

You can’t.

I’m lucky. I work with someone who is sensitive and understanding and she made it clear that I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

I hope, if you’ve experienced the same devastating loss, that you are also surrounded by people who understand.

The grief never really goes away.

It’s hard to explain.

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Empty Chairs

There were empty chairs at the Christmas table. Some temporary, some permanent. Some have been empty a long time. Some we are still getting used to.

Others might think thirteen around the table to be a grand-sized party. The table was full and crowded. But the empty chairs were obvious to me.

I sat in my father’s chair. It made sense, as the only one of his children present. But the burden of taking that place felt heavy.

The party was congenial but I missed my natural allies.

Little things were difficult. A discussion of family likenesses to those not there. The bottle of wine my father always bought for Christmas. Traditions replaced by new alternatives.

The grief has been hard this year.

Things were wrong and there was no way to make them right.

I went to the ocean. I felt the cold water on my body, the sting of salt in my eyes and I let the ebb and flow of the pounding waves carry away some of the pain.

But still next year there will be empty chairs at the Christmas table.

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The Grief Never Leaves You

 

Woven grief

The grief never leaves you, you know. It lingers on, hidden from view but an eternal presence woven into the fabric of your being.

You move on. You accept that this is how life has to be from now on. Joy returns, new life grows and living can be good again.

But the grief never leaves you.

You realise this at times both obvious and unexpected. Anniversaries, holidays, significant family events… How could that absence not be noted?

It’s the unexpected ones that catch you, though. That bring forth the pain so suddenly it seems impossible that you could have moved on, that your life didn’t stop the moment they left you.

A song on the radio, a photograph, a name in a book. Reminders of a life taken too soon, of memories you shared and of memories you have had to create without them.

Giving away something that once belonged to them feels like giving away a piece of the person they were. If you gave it all away would they cease to exist?

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been – months, years, even decades.

The grief never leaves you.

As the pain takes your breath and the tears cloud your eyes, you ask yourself, “It’s been so long. Why this pain? Why these tears?”

It’s hard not to chide yourself. It’s hard not to feel indulgent, ridiculous even.

But you’re powerless to stop the feelings of loss, of sadness, of wishing things were different.

Because the grief never leaves you.

 

 

 

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Tomorrow Always Comes

Tomorrow

 

Staying awake throughout the night

Trying hard with all my might

To stop the coming of the day

To try and keep the pain at bay

 

Running far as the road will take me

Running from the grief that aches me

Such a pain so hard to bear

Fearing it is always there

 

All these things are just distraction

And a ‘life’s too hard’ reaction

Hiding from a haunted life

Hiding from the dawn’s new light

 

But as hard as I may try

I know the sun will always rise

And when all is said and done

I know tomorrow always comes

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday?

Happy Birthday

I have a birthday coming up soon. These days, I tend to approach them with some measure of dread.

It is not, as you may suppose, because I am well past forty and rapidly heading towards the next significant birthday. I have learned from previous experience that those decade celebrations can be an opportunity for growth – a chance to be a little bit braver and to venture a little bit further out of my comfort zone.

No, I awake on my birthday with the ever-present shadow of knowledge that my sister‘s birthday will come five days after mine. And less than a month after that it will be my niece’s birthday and a mere eleven days after that, we will once more live through the reminder of that awful day when they were both taken from us without warning.

By then, all the signs of Christmas approaching will surround us and we will endure the lead up knowing there will always be those empty places at the Christmas table.

am grateful to have another birthday. Truly. I am grateful to be fit and healthy and that I possess a body and mind that do what I ask of them (mostly). I have a family to love and who love me and I live a good life. There is much to be celebrated at the end of another year on this earth.

But my birthday will always be the day that signals the beginning of the hardest time of the year for me.

I’m not suggesting that you not say “Happy Birthday” if you’d like to but only that you understand why your good wishes may be greeted with a sad smile and an awkward “Thank you”.

 

 

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Mourning Clothes – Why Queen Victoria Had It Right

Why do we no longer wear mourning clothes? Why can’t we, like Queen Victoria, have an outward sign for others to know that we are still grieving?

When you suffer a loss, it often hits hardest three to four weeks after the death. Why? Because that is when the realisation sets in that this is how it will be from now on. And because by then those around you have moved on with their lives.

People are uncomfortable with other people’s grief. They can respond appropriately in the immediate aftermath but weeks later they can find it difficult to know how to react to someone still in pain.

Of course, those grieving often don’t help themselves. Not wanting to make others uncomfortable, they act as if nothing has happened, that everything is normal.

But it did happen. And nothing is normal. In fact, nothing will be as it was ever again.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria went into mourning. She dressed in black and continued to wear black until her death in 1901. Her mourning clothes were a constant reminder to others that she had suffered a great loss that would always be with her.

Queen Victoria & John Brown at Balmoral Photograph taken by George Washington Wilson in 1863 (Public Domain)

Queen Victoria & John Brown at Balmoral
Photograph taken by George Washington Wilson in 1863
(Public Domain)

Unfortunately, there is now no obvious way to indicate to those around us that we are still suffering.

In the absence of a mourning outfit, I offer the following:

Just because the funeral is over, please do not forget that I am still grieving and I may need you.

If I am laughing and joking with you, it is because sometimes I need to remind myself that there will still be joy.

If I am arguing loudly with you about a topic, it is because it stops me from screaming.

If I ask you casually, “So, do you want to meet up for a coffee?”, what I’m really saying is, “I need to be with someone doing something so I don’t crawl into bed for the rest of the day.” Please be there for me if you possibly can because it is more than just coffee to me.

If I seem to be getting on with life, it is because I know it makes you uncomfortable to see me sad all the time so I act ‘normal’ to make it easier for you.

I may look to have it all together but inside I am broken and while I may eventually heal, the scars will always remain.

And finally:

Please be patient. This will take time.

 

 

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Garden of Sympathy

A garden sprang up in my house this month. Flowers of every colour mixed with the traditional white. A garden of love and sympathy.

Garden of Sympathy 1

There were words too. Awkward, loving words from those unsure of what to say. It’s not the words that count, I wanted to tell them. It’s that they’re there is all that matters.

There hasn’t been a garden like this one for more than twenty years. That garden was just as beautiful in its love and sympathy but it was tainted by feelings of horror and disbelief that these things should happen.

In this garden there was an understanding that this is the way of it. It is painful but it is as life is.

It’s gone now bar the stocky little daisies who like to hang about, sitting in a ceramic bowl that will remain as a keepsake from a friend’s loving gift.

“Don’t you think daisies are the friendliest flower?” – Meg Ryan in ‘You’ve Got Mail’

And the words remain. The words will always remain.

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In Answer To Your Question

People keep asking me how I am. I’m grateful, truly I am. It’s just that once four people have looked at you sorrowfully and asked you how you’re going in the space of about 30 minutes, it can be hard to find the answer.

Because, frankly, I don’t really know how I am.

People need me. There are things to be done. Life moves on whether you want it to or not.

Not to mix metaphors (oh, why not?), I’ve got the blinkers on, head down, looking for the next bend in the track (the home straight being an unthinkable goal) and while I’m doing that, I’m paddling madly underneath it all in the hope I won’t sink.

That’s how I am.

How I Am

 

 

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Saying Goodbye

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

– Kahlil Gibran

It was Dad’s funeral today. It was the chance to say goodbye.

Only…

I’d already said goodbye. I’d sat by him for hours the day he died. Felt him go cold. Knew he’d gone.

I’d gathered my memories and shared my stories of him. Been touched by the responses of so many.

Today was about letting others say goodbye and to share more of who he was. To put together the jigsaw of experiences, of his contact with others into a coherent and impressive narrative. Even those who thought they knew all he’d done, learned something new today.

It’s been unseasonably fine and mild this week. Until today. Today it turned bitterly cold, the wind blew in gales and the rain came down in buckets. Weather gods love a cliché.

I am an introvert and a shy person by nature. I’ve learned, with age, to hide it. But social gatherings are still stressful at the best of times. Today loomed like the Cliffs of Moher.

But I did my best. I listened compassionately to others’ memories of him, accepted gratefully the sympathy and love. It was meaningful.

And now it is done. In my immediate future is some time to myself and, hopefully, sleep. And tomorrow I will have to get on with learning to live without my Dad.

“She was no longer wrestling with the grief, but could sit down with it as a lasting companion and make it a sharer in her thoughts.”

– George Eliot

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