Bereavement

Coping with Grief

I have just listened to a couple of women, their voices laced with empathy, talking on the radio about grief. They would think me a hard bitch or in denial — my husband died 4 years ago — I loved him — I think of him every day. BUT I moved on with my life almost immediately — the reasons for this are simple.

1. I always knew he was going to die and not just because everyone dies — sometimes I think people forget this. He was also 10 years older than me and he had cancer and he smoked and drank and ate bacon sandwiches and always lived life to the full.

2. I had planned for his death — I consciously valued my friends, not letting my other relationships dwindle during his illness. Our affairs were in order, we had discussed his funeral, he had an up-to-date will, I knew what he wanted me to do with his possessions. I had something suitable to wear for a funeral and had my hair cut regularly just in case.

3. I had an outline plan for my life afterwards — visiting family and spending time with my interesting, lively women friends, writing and not making any decisions about my life for at least twelve months.

3. Ever since his diagnosis I had known his prognosis (he had preferred not to be told) and I dreaded his passing — the mode of his dying — I did not want him to suffer — I knew he would loathe invalidity — he never gave in to his illness and clung on to his extrovert persona regardless of what the illness took from him. This meant that being in hospital was exhausting for him and he hated it.

4. In the event his death was dramatic but almost instantaneous, this may have been traumatic to his son who also witnessed it but, to me it was a huge relief — he had gone suddenly, a massive haemorrhage and complete collapse. No pneumonia, no difficulty breathing, no pain, just a big surprise. He had remained himself until the bitter end and now he was gone.

I was alone, but I had a plan and knew what to do.

Moving on? A human life is a very short span –you cannot afford to squander any of it. When opportunities arise one has to grab them while you can. The trauma of bereavement gives you a little burst of rejuvenating adrenalin — you can’t afford to waste that either!

Sometimes we confuse grief with guilt, with fear of the unknown and with loneliness, all of which are part of it. I would urge folk that the best way to avoid these is to think about them before the event, anticipate and plan, come to terms with what is ahead, be it joining a choir or talking to a friend.

And children (I am well) but don’t fall into the trap of thinking your Mum or Dad will always be there!

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Humour, Thoughtful

First Ten Ages of Woman

from the Library of Congress photographed by Stuart Rankin(CC BY-NC 2.0) Flickr

Life has chapters but someone else is turning the pages — here’s a brief index!

1 – the bit you can’t remember but you’ve seen it in photographs.

2 – Idyllic childhood gradually eroded by the realization that all is not 100% even in your Garden of Eden. Adults not always all they are cracked up to be! Actually — the sooner you learn this the better.

3 – Teens — driven by so many peculiar drives and preoccupations: BOYS/ girls/ secretions and changes/ dandruff/ dancing/ BOYS/ men/ exams/ driving lessons/ BOYS/ getting drunk/ stoned(not me!)/ paranoid/ poetical/ no money/ weight gain/ weight loss. Generally not very mindful of the bigger picture but navigating that choppy sea with friends in the same boat.

Teenagers by Kamyar Adl (CC BY 2.0) Flickr

4 – (Optional) Suddenly serious about relationships, politics and career (not necessarily in that order). Get qualified/ get married/ read the papers/ vote etc.

5 – Motherhood and child rearing (Optional) — struggling to keep head above water, multitasking, juggling multiple balls in the air (marriage/ finances/ clean socks/ hair cuts/ children/ job/ MOT/ tax returns/ cleaning out the rabbit/ walking the dog/ visiting Granny) feeling guilty about whichever one is about to drop. “Mummy, the cat’s had kittens and they are in my bed! Why’s my bed wet?”

6 — Dropping a ball (inevitable) — Divorce/ Burn out/ Son sets fire to the house/ teenage daughter pregnant (not ours)/ serious illness in the family/ menopause (that was quite a relief actually). Pretty well anything that can go wrong will go wrong and not just for bad people!

7 – Decline — coasting towards retirement with 2nd husband (if you are lucky) — is the work more demanding or are you just getting older? Science, technology and systems generally are starting to evolve more quickly than you seem to adapt. Spend a lot of time shouting at computers, often scratch the car and find it’s always later than you think!

An angry woman: 16th C. misericord, the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame (Coll├ęgiale Notre-Dame), Le Puy-Notre-Dame, Anjou, France

8 — Retirement — Yippee! However did you find time to go to work. Do new things and find you are not as stupid as you thought.

9 — Grandparent and Health Service User — endless peer group discussions about eyesight/ teeth/ bowel screening/ breast screening (Ouch!)/ stents/ knee replacements/ erectile dysfunction/ prostate surgery and how you can’t do anything with your hair since your last chemo! All this is rather unwelcome but is punctuated by delightful visits from little kids that remind you of yourself (and sometimes of your X-husband) and of what a wonderful life it really is.

10 — Widowhood — sudden, though always half-expected because no-one can expect to be happy forever and you did know he was ill although he pretended not to be. Now your children (who are suddenly definitely grown-up) worry (and probably moan) about you at least as much as you do about them. You keep wondering why people are being so nice to you, then you remember. Suddenly you can do whatever you want although you don’t really want but you do it anyway — yesterday I climbed a mountain with a group to look at historical sites, one of those Welsh mountains that are really a huge hill. I was interested in the archeology, the others seemed to be serious, serial walkers — there was talk of Kilimanjaro! It was very cold and steep and I got extremely short of breath (probably not the altitude) and hobbled a good deal on the way down but I walked 8 miles and didn’t die. I’ll tell you about it another day.

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