You can have many kinds of grief. You can grieve the loss of a job, a dream, even things (accidentally dropping and smashing a favourite mug will give you a stab of grief…)… but mostly what I am talking about here right now is the grief at a loss of a life, of a beloved pet, or of a human being who leaves a hole in your existence that is shaped like themselves and which it is hard if not impossible to fill.
I lost my beolved grandparents thirty years ago. I still miss them to this day; our relaitionship was special – for different reasons with grandmother and grandfather – and when they went they took a chunk of me with them. To this day I will tear up when I talk about them to somebody, and a photo of them makes my soul go very quiet for a moment. But I never SAW them dead, or buried – they died when I was a long way from them, living on a different continent, and in one sense that distance has served to cushion and transform that loss because although they were GONE it was easy to believe that they still existed somewhere far away as they had been doing for years and that they weren’t really vanished physically from this earth. It took a visit to their grave, years after their deaths, that took the stuffing from me and I sat on the marble slab on which their names were etched and I bawled until I could barely breathe.
But that was thirty years ago. That’s under a scab.
In the last ten years of my life such losses have come like an avalanche – the first pebble that started the slide were the losses, in the same year (2013) of my hear’s-darling cat, Boboko, whose untimely end (he was only nine years old) devastated me emotionally – and, worse, my father after a short but bitter battle with metastatic lung cancer. The cat and the human each had their own context but that was a year that was full, overfull, of grief. I recall that I woke on the morning of what was to be the last day of my father’s life with the clear sense of having heard him call my name (he was nowhere near me at the time) – by the time I went to his side that day he was totally unresponsive to voice or touch, and he died that night. Maybe that call was real, his last hurrah, his final farewell. I’ll never know. I miss him savagely – there are many occasions where I will think about something in terms of “Oh, I have to show this to Dad” before I have to remind myself that he hasn’t been there to show things to for a decade. The last time I played chess was with him a scant few weeks before he died…and I beat him, easily, which made me go away and cry in secret because that alone made it clear that he was fading, that he was leaving me, that he was no longer who he had once been.
I was left as my mother’s sole support, keeper, and caregiver as she entered into her widowhood – but I still had my own beloved, my soulmate, my husband who was brought low by a stroke only a handful of years into our marriage but who valiantly fought the catastrophe and lived a full and vivid life in spite of it. Right in the teeth of the Covid years, he ended up in hospital for what now seems a relatively minor reason but which escalated rapidly into a worsening series of events and finally that great heart gave out and stopped in February of 2021. My life came to a screeching halt in a maelstrom of mourning – I too was now a widow.
Photo by Katsiaryna Endruszkiewicz on Unsplash
In March of 2022 I lost another cat, Boboko’s sister, who left me at the ripe old age of 19 – I really wanted her to make 20, it would have been a milestone, but it was not to be.
In the meantime my mother’s health was taking a nosedive. She too had a small stroke (back in January 2020); following that it was a bout of Clostridium difficile (look it up…) she brought home from the hospital, the gradual but swiftly progressing loss of sight in both eyes from macular degeneration, increasing frailness, diagnosed kidney disease and vascular dementia. To cut a very long and harrowing story short, she finally fell and broke her hip in a bad place – she was not (even if she wanted it which she did not) a good candidate for surgery, and after ten days or so during which she never woke up or spoke to me again, she too was gone. I was now a widow AND an orphan – and, inasmuch as those cats were the equivalent of kids (I don’t have any of the human kind), I had also suffered the loss of a “child”. I was grieving at every gap, full to overflowing with it.
New grief is like a stab with a stiletto – sharp and bloody, visible, and people can see you’re hurt, and they’ll come to help out where they can. But the tip of that stiletto is poisoned, and that is the remains of grief which are driven deep into the wound until they fester there. It is the kind of grief that is hidden out of sight when people tell you to get over things, already, or wrapped in that brave “fine” which you offer when people ask how you are. But there is no real “fine” after hard losses. They become a part of you – or more accurately they become part of a black hole which you can never fill with anything ever again, exactly.
My chalice has been full, overflowing, with grieving over the last two and half years. That poison is deep inside of me – and I kind of feel the urge to withdraw with it, that the people who know me must be absolutely OVER me rattling on about which of my nearest and dearest was currently ailing, dying, or gone.For over two years it’s been that mindset, and I have largely responded by going into full hermit mode with my current cats, even going so far as to “make plans” to do something or other but when it came to leaving the house and doing that thing I would pause, sometimes at the door with car keys in hand, and back away slowly. I was not ready to face the world, or to permit the world to face me. I was way too vulnerable. The wounds were under a bandaid but it was not difficult to see that the bandaid was a less than adequate solution and everything underneath was still raw.
I am all that is left of my inner circle now, of my family. I am pretty much alone, with my books and my cats. But at some point… I need to take that step outside my front door, and get into the car, and drive somewhere. I need to remember that I… that I am still living.
The nature of grief is such that once it wounds you it never ever quite goes away again. But you learn to live with it. And you learn to recognise the bitter aftertaste of it when something triggers a bout of it inside of you – some stimulus, some memory, a word, a scene from a TV show, a song, a photograph. And then you sit with your grief for a while as you would with an old friend, in silence, and you hope that in that silence you can find a trace of peace.