“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
My brother was fifty-nine when he died suddenly: too young to have retired, to enjoy the leisurely years he hoped for. That could happen to any of us. It could happen to me, depriving me of the chance of a less pressured way of life, with more time to pursue my passion for writing stories. I’d experimented a little, worked less, taken time out. I was old enough and secure enough to retire and follow that dream: so why hadn’t I? Tino’s death focussed me, made it easy: do it now.
Catastrophe is the major agent for change in people’s lives, closely followed by creeping misery: gradually, over a long time, life may have dulled for a myriad minor reasons: you are stuck in ways of working, or living, or loving that meant something once. Now, your experience of life has dimmed; your base mood is despondent, your energy is low; sometimes you feel despair. It takes more courage and proactivity to make changes then.
For me, it was both Tino’s death, and my wish to retire from my working life that challenged me; but there are a number of other reasons for a recovery programme, for example:
- to be happier and more fulfilled
- to be more effective, whatever that means to you….
- to improve your relationships with others…
- to understand yourself at a deeper level….
- to navigate a life transition well: marriage, parenthood, retirement
- to reconnect with your own rhythm, your needs, desires, ambitions
In bereavement, a brain reset can be challenging, depending on different aspects of your loss.
How close to the person were you? Parents, children, siblings are the closest familial relationships: ties of kinship and blood. As young children our brains are literally forming through and around these relationships, they are part of our fundamental biology, coded in our hearts and minds. So they involve a specific kind of grieving. Even if we didn’t live with the deceased, or are not in frequent contact, their deaths impact us profoundly. I saw Tino two or three times a year and spoke or emailed maybe a dozen times maximum. So I didn’t miss him daily, moment by moment, as his wife did. It took me six months or so to miss him physically. But I feel his absence in my heart and soul still.
Was the death sudden, unexpected? Or was it predictable after a terminal illness? Either way it’s a shock. My mother had breast cancer for some years, yet, with breath taking denial, I refused to think she might die. When my Aunt told me she would, it was a shock, despite the glaring evidence; and when she died that was a shock too. Though different to the sledgehammer blow of Tino’s death.
The death of a child is considered to be the worst bereavement, partly because it’s not in the natural order. I remember Nana saying, during my mother’s dying days: she’s still just my baby to me. I’m sure Dad felt like that when Tino died. Though the loss of a child in infancy must be devastating, with the additional grief for a life unlived.
The death of a loved spouse is particularly painful, moment by moment, with the devastating absence, felt constantly, of a partner whose life was intricately and intimately connected with your own. The daily loneliness of the widowed must be especially hard to bear.
My brain reset aims were to grieve for my brother in a resilient way; to reconnect with my own natural rhythm; and to retire from my professional life to spend more time writing.
These were the basic principles I followed in choosing activities:
- Improve my well-being in mind, body and spirit
- As there’s no silver bullet, no simple easy answer, I needed a range of small changes that would add up to a larger change
- Give it time, be patient, and persist with things that don’t come naturally to me
I identified five activities, aiming to practice at least three of them each day. Here’s a summary of the methods I chose, listed in order of difficulty given my driven and active personality. I’ll dedicate a blog to each one of these for the rest of the series.
METHODS FOR SPIRIT
Sitting still in silence for 20 minutes, twice a day. How hard can that be? Should crack that in four – six weeks I reckon. 🙄
I filled these four notebooks with jottings and musings about how I felt, which was basically sad, furious and terrified. Cathartic. I told my husband to burn them when I die. Or maybe I’ll burn them soon, they’ve served their purpose.
METHODS FOR MIND
What we believe can make us feel better or worse, simple as that. A lot of what we believe is unconscious. So what beliefs might underpin our bereavement? What if we believed that the depth and duration of our pain demonstrated our love, so our recovery/happiness would be a kind of betrayal? Or what if we believed that our lost ones would want us to live our lives fully, and be happy, because life is precious? Makes a difference, right?
METHODS FOR BODY
Exercise, yoga and healthy nutrition. I generally do these anyway, so I upped the ante by setting myself the goal of losing a stone in weight, super motivated given two family weddings during 2018, one where I was mother of the bride, and another where I was the stepmother of the bride. Under that pressure, I smashed it. (Yay!)
Actions I took to soothe my grief, in small daily routines, and rituals along the way. This picture is of the rose petals in the sand on the day we cast Tino’s ashes on the same sea that had carried my mother’s ashes away decades earlier. Can you choose, sometimes, after the acute bereavement of the early weeks, to do things that will ease the pain rather than intensify it? And if you could, why wouldn’t you? (See resilient thinking, above.)
Precious memories and strange experiences
Reflections on the precious memories I have of Tino, and some strange experiences that happened during the year, especially relating to hawks, Tino’s favourite creatures.
Finally, I’ll end the series with some thoughts on how it went, what worked, what didn’t, how I felt at the end of it all, and any suggestions and recommendations I can offer to the newly bereaved, the walking wounded of the world.
Tino, with his son, Anthony
Next blog, coming soon: Meditation
Subscribe to receive blogs directly to your inbox