I was saying to someone the other day that I wish grief was similar to a broken arm, leg or some other illness. There is a process, almost a plan, when it comes to healing.
A broken arm for example, you know you’re going to need a cast, maybe pins, depending on the extent of the break, 6-8 weeks of healing and the cast comes off. You might need physio or some other kind of after care. But you know the plan.
A chronic illness has a treatment plan. A recovering alcohol or drug addict has a plan. And besides the plans they have support. There are nurses and doctors and surgeons and specialists. There are sponsors and groups. There is a plan with people around you.
Having someone to you close die is a little different. As much as there is a grief process, which includes shock, sadness, anger, guilt, panic as you move into the next phase you establish new friendships, new strengths, new patterns and finally loss adjustment. That’s great in theory. And makes so much sense when you’re a psychologist, therapist or studen of psych 101.
Living that loss is completely different. I haven’t been given a workable plan. I haven’t been told that it’ll hurt for about 6 months, we can then look at one after care and in a year you’ll be completely fine. Down the line there might be an ache or dull throbbing but you will recover.
I wake up in the mornings with an immediate sense of ‘not thereness’. The day drags, but in a blur, and I forget where I’ve put things, what I’ve done or said. Last week I forgot a whole lot of Emma and Ben’s extra activities. I’ve wanted them to be away from me for a bit, away from an overwhelming sadness that hangs heavy over the house but then I forget to take them to arranged play date.
My moods are erratic, my mood swings extreme. Catch me during a good moment and you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong. Get me at a bad time and it’s tears and ‘bubble-snot’ and more tears. One minute I’m screeching with delight as I chase Emma and Ben around the garden and the next I’m screeching and wailing as I try and run away from myself.
The stages of grieving includes making new friendships, establishing new relationships. Tell me how I establish a new mom-daughter relationship. Explain to me how I make a new friend with a relationship anywhere close to what my mom and I had. How do I find a ‘new normal’ when my only sense of normality is no longer here.
Recovering addicts know what triggers to avoid. People with a manageable illness know what foods or activities to avoid. How do I avoid remembering my mom? How do I avoid triggers that are laughter and fun, moments of absolute love?
No one told me there would be flashbacks. Remembering her smile or a funny saying intertwined with her lying lifeless half covered with a sheet. No one told me I’d quickly grab the phone to call her and just as quickly I remember she’s not here and that ‘not thereness’ feeling takes hold again. No one told me, that unlike when you’re recovering in a hospital ward or at home, there would be very few telephone calls or messages. No one told me hardly anyone will just pop in to see how you’re doing. Even when I was in the lunatic asylum I had visitors. It seems being around someone that’s insane is better than being around someone who’s sad. It’s better being around bad. Even prisoners get visitors.
The death of a loved one is also the death of relationships. People you considered friends slowly disappear. Their awkwardness around sadness stops them getting in touch. They avoid you in shops and prefer to be in a hurry rather than stop for a minute to ask how you’re doing. New relationships made will never be the same as the old. Because I’m no longer the old me.
The theoretical healing stages of grief includes isolation and loneliness but it comes after 10 other phases in the graph. It doesn’t. It starts the very moment you hear the words ‘your mom’s dead’ and it stays with you every step of the way. And, to be honest, I don’t think the loneliness ever goes away.
A rather crude definition of ‘lonely’ or ‘loneliness’ is:
sadness from being apart from other people: causing sad feelings that come from being apart from other people.
Since my mom left I’ve been sad and I think a part of me always will be, because I’m apart from my mom, my go-to person.
A part of me has died. I’m no longer whole. I am apart.