I was having a beer the other night with a friend in The Volunteer in Lyme Regis. He asked me what I was writing these days and I told him that I’d written a memoir about the last 18 months of Chris’s life, 100 or so blogs and a bunch of poems, all mostly about grief. He gave me a quizzical look and asked a pointed question: “You are getting over this thing, aren’t you?”
“I’m not trying to get over it,” I responded. “I’m trying to get through it.”
He took in my reply but said nothing.
“Writing seems to help,” I added.
“Really?” he said, and changed the subject.
It was a fair challenge, and not meant unkindly. I’ve been thinking about it, off and on, ever since. Why had I been so adamant about not wanting to get over Chris’s death? What had I meant when I said that I was trying to get through it? Does writing about all this actually help?
This morning I woke up with a realisation so blindingly obvious that it had hitherto escaped me. “Getting over it” was reminiscent of how my mother attempted to help me deal with my father’s death when I was a little boy. She loved him dearly and I know from conversations much later in life that she was heartbroken when he died. But she dealt with the situation by resolutely refusing to look back.
Whatever she was feeling herself, she acted in public as though Dad had never existed. I was not taken to his funeral and cannot recall him ever being spoken of in my presence. She remarried six years later and the few remaining photographs of my father disappeared from the walls. With the very best of intentions, she had denied me the chance to mourn his loss.
Consequently, it took me half a lifetime, some very challenging conversations, and many years of therapy, to “get over” his death. In the end we managed to rehabilitate him into our lives and I had the wonderful privilege when my mother died, of interring her ashes in his grave, as she had requested.
So, I have no intention of trying to “get over” Chris’s death. Instead, I try to “get through” my grief and sense of loss by performing conscious acts of mourning. I will take whatever time I need to say goodbye: at her funeral and later at the celebration of her life; by caring for her memorial stone; on my peregrination around the world with her ashes; and – yes – through my writing of memoir, stories, poetry, and these blogs.
This is my way of trying to navigate the terra incognita of grief. I am as lost and as determined to come through as my mother was. Nothing can prepare you for such a loss and no-one else can tell you how to survive it. We are strangers in a strange land, seeking our own unique ways to bear our sorrows.
It seems that the ancient cartographers were right: once we enter this unknown territory there are raging dragons waiting to pounce and hidden whirlpools eager to drown us in depression. But as I am beginning to discover, there are also islands of happiness; an ocean of memories; and always the prospect of love and new life on the horizon.