I’ve always known that I would teach Elliot about Nieve from a very young age. Lately I’ve started to wonder how that will shape his world. Will his family portraits include his sister? In years to come, when people question him about his family, will he mention her? Will he begin to face the dilemma of whether or not to share her as I do? Will he be deemed strange or morbid if he does talk about her?
I’ve begun the process of ensuring that Nieve remains a permanent feature in our family. Her picture sits in a frame in our bedroom, her name adorned on a teddy which stays in Elliot’s room, her name on a Christmas decoration beside Elliot’s on our Christmas tree. It is extremely important to me that she continues to be included in our family.
Yet when I fill out Birthday cards I am faced with the dilemma of whether or not to include her name. It feels wrong to exclude her but I’m not quite easy about including her name either. The truth is that I feel led by social convention and face a dilemma over what would be seen as ‘correct’. It’s a debate I have with myself for every single card I write.
I wonder how sharing Nieve with Elliot will shape his views about loss. I hope that it will teach him to have the compassion that many people lack and unshackle him from society’s fear of talking openly about these issues. I want him to have a healthy openness about loss, which is something I never had, something many of us don’t. Surely those are positive traits to have?
When we lost Nieve I felt totally unqualified to handle loss and learned that the majority of people felt the same way. I was thrust into a world I was ill-equipped to handle alongside people Ill-equipped to handle me.
So many people made the mistake of thinking we wanted space after Nieve died. Generally I think that after loss, you need the world to reach out and provide a support network. After loss, the world feels different; unstable, sinister, lonelier, colder, unsafe. But the reality is that many people recoil from you when you lose someone- it’s like you’ve caught a disease and the rest of the world deem you contagious.
A lot of people act out fear. They fear unveiling a torrent of emotion that they can’t handle. They also act out of fear of facing up to immortality. It’s somehow easier to live in denial that death is infact inevitable for us all.
Sadly, this means that some people say nothing at all, leaving the griever feeling abandoned, ‘different’, lonely. After Nieve died I had friends who decided not to contact me. They told themselves they were giving me space but I think that the truth is that they were acting out of fear. I know this because I’ve felt the same way myself in the past.
I’ve had several people contact me since they heard the news of Elliot’s birth- people who had kept their distance after we lost Nieve. This makes me feel that I am only of value during happy times. It makes me feel like Nieve has been invalidated. It makes me feel that there is a perception that I’m cured from sadness now. It leaves me feeling misunderstood. Silenced. Resentful.
I too used to be someone who ‘preserved other people’s emotions’ by avoiding discussions about loss. Now I no better. I know first hand the value of reaching out to someone who has just lost a loved one. My experience has given me a sense of confidence in approaching the subject of loss. Unfortunately society still sees death and dying as ‘dirty words’, unmentionables…Avoid, avoid, avoid. Pretend they aren’t real issues. Pretend we are invincible.
I find it ironic that so many children’s stories and movies address death, yet it’s a topic we avoid talking about with children. We teach them that it exists but also teach them that it’s something we don’t speak of. We often see it as protecting them but I wonder if we are missing the opportunity to equip them with the emotional intelligence they need to deal with one of the most inevitable aspects of life? It leaves some children confused and fearful. I certainly experienced that as a child. I think that going forward as a parent I will think very differently about how I address such issues with Elliot and would certainly be aware not to avoid such conversations just because they are difficult to have.
I heard recently that a lady that I work with was having a difficult time as her husband had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I felt compelled to reach out. I’m driven by the knowledge that there are many people who won’t. ‘Can’t’. Daren’t.
In some ways I feel it’s my duty to reach out to others struggling with issues surrounding loss. It’s like being a member of a club nobody wants to be in, like having a qualification in something that you never wanted to study. I feel very strongly that I want to do something in the future to support others facing loss, because now I know the truth about facing loss…
…That grievers don’t always need or want ‘space’. That talking about loss does not make it worse. That addressing loss does not ‘remind’ the griever of their pain, the loss sits with them regardless. That emotions after loss come in all shapes and sizes; all of them acceptable, all of them relevant, all of them transient and interchangeable.
That there is no one correct way to grieve, we all do it differently and that accepting that fact can help us to understand and support one another. That grief does not progress in a straight line, the tides will ebb and flow. That grief is not something you ‘go through’, it’s something you learn to bear.
That when people say be kind to yourself what they mean is free yourself from expectations- we are a society governed by targets and time limits but grief writes it’s own rules. That there is no pride in ‘strength’ and no shame in crumbling, it’s testament to the love we have for the one we lost and what makes us human.
That no matter the depths of despair, the human spirit is strong and more resilient that you know and that happiness will be accessible again.