What Is Left?

What is left?

When the things you want to do are hampered or denied

by injury

by lack of time

by lack of space

by lack of money.

What is left?

When those you love are absent

the one who remarries and moves away

the one who lives on the other side of the world

the one who moves away in search of work

the one who would have understood you best but is gone forever.

What is left?

When the friends you had have been driven away

by hurtful words

by thoughtless actions

by irrational emotion

by a lack of attention and time spent.

What is left?

When the structures that held you up and held you steady

the community of faith

the community of theatre

the community of song

the community of writers

are damaged or gone from your life.

What is left?

When you see yourself failing

as a partner

as a parent

as a child to an ageing parent.

What is left?

What is left?

Not much.

Only to try and remember

you have a roof over your head and bombs will not fall on it

you have food in the cupboard that will not vanish with the next drought or flood

you have a home and a place to belong instead of languishing in a refugee camp

you have education, healthcare and technology readily available.

What is left?

Gratitude. Wherever you can find it.

Grateful for the sunrise each day

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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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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Last Words

Last Words

 

A dear old man I know died last week. One of life’s true saints, the world is a little poorer for his loss.

I’ve lost too many precious Elders from my life lately. Keith – a dear old friend who always knew when life was not going well for me and would greet me with a “let’s talk” at just the right moment. Dennis – my grief already well documented in this blog here and here. And now Jock – who always showed me what being a ‘Man (or Woman) of God’ was really about in the face of evidence to the contrary.

My life has been truly blessed for knowing them.

The common words used to describe Jock at his funeral today were the same I would have chosen. Compassion, humour, humility.

Funerals always make me think about what people might say about me when I’m gone. That sounds self-absorbed but I think it is not unusual to consider your own mortality in the face of grief. And today I had time to reflect, once again, on what the epitaph of my life may be.

In my most whimsical moments, I imagine someone reading an excerpt from one of my books or playing a song from one of my albums. I imagine stories of adventure, endurance or sacrifice or the time I was awarded Mother of the Year.

Realistically, what would I want people to say about me after I’m gone?

“She was a good person.”

No tales of derring-do or international fame. I’d just like to be remembered as a good person.

It is what influences my decisions in life and the reason I take mistakes so hard, particularly those mistakes that cause hurt to other people. Any choice of action that results in me not being the kind of person I want to be becomes a regret held forever.

But it drives me and gives me a reason to do better tomorrow. It is an ideal for which I can strive. I will inevitably fail on occasion – I am, after all, human – but I do not think it is unattainable and so I do the best I can each day. Day after day. Until the day people hopefully say:

“She was a good person.”

What would people say about you? What would you like them to say? I’d love you to share in the comments.

 

 

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Tonight Was Opening Night

Tonight was opening night.

I looked for you in your usual seat.

Right at the back, near the door, so you could sneak away once you knew it was all in good hands.

Your glasses glinting in the lights, beneath your black fedora.

But you were not there.

The show went on.

We said our lines. And made our entrances.

They laughed. And applauded. Even without your prompting.

We felt the buzz.

We felt the joy.

And you were there.

Opening Night

 

 

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Why The Show Must Go On

The Show Must Go On

My friend who died last week was a stalwart of the local theatre scene. As an actor, writer, director, singer, mentor and founder – along with his wife – of his own theatre company, any person involved in local theatre would have been touched by his life in some way.

I’m currently rehearsing for a play with his theatre company which is due to open in less than three weeks. A number of friends, when they heard the news of his death, assumed that the play would have to be cancelled. Admittedly they were non-theatre friends. When I explained that of course the play would go on, they looked at me askance. My response? “Theatre people.”

“The show must go on” may seem like a trite cliché to outsiders but to theatre people, it is what they live by. We could no more stop the play from going ahead than stop the rest of the world from going on its merry way. Anyone who has experienced grief knows, to quote another seeming cliché, that “life will go on” even if at times that seems impossible.

“The show must go on” is just the theatre world’s version of “life will go on”.

The play is one by Agatha Christie. It’s the third Agatha Christie play I’ve been involved in, the two previous productions having been directed by my friend. What more fitting way to honour his memory than to do what he loved?

Besides, I’m pretty sure he would be sending thunderbolts down on us all if we dared to cancel. “What are you thinking?” he would say. “The show must go on!”

And so it will, my friend. And so it will.

 

 

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