07 Dec, 2012

felix's picture

Grieving, three months on.

I remember being told that grief would not even peak until three months after mum died. I remember thinking that perhaps this woman, the mother of an old friend, who told me this was being mean spirited. I've never had a great relationship with my friend's mother, but this is mainly due to one event thirty years ago, when I was playing with one of her sons, a few years younger than my ten years, and let him crash an improvised go-kart in her back yard.

She got understandably protective, and angry, and the relationship soured from there. Thirty years of mistrust, from a go kart ride. Nothing makes me despair more at the hopelessness of peace talks between ancient rivals, than seeing how little two neighbours in the same street can co-exist.

But she was probably correct on the grief stats.

Dad sat opposite me tonight at the white Ikea formica table, pausing over a delicious chicken stew he'd made (A stew! In December! In Queensland!) he twice emphasised to me this day, the bizarreness of such a non-Summer event - first in an email to me at work (I get almost daily emails from a man I used to speak to once a fortnight), and then again over the meal itself. Further proof, to him, that global warming was a sham. 'Global Cooling' was his email subject.

But he paused, speaking of some photos he'd found the other day whilst potetring through the endless tidying up, that he will never finish.

"There were a few colour ones of you and Emma as children, and the top one was black and white" and here he slowed into the ever-hovering breakdown of his emotional control. He was about to mention mum, three months after she died in his arms, and this was Not Easy. Pauses crept in, tremors in vocal range became apparent.

"..black and white...it was of a restaurant...."

For once, riding a gabo-driven mix of bravado and pity, I finished for him, trying to give him some small amnesty from the pain.

"You and mum at a restaurant?" I prompted.

"Yes, but today I looked and the photo was not there. I looked everywhere. I think...I think I imagined it. I don't think it existed".

Tears come, and I don't allow him my usual grace of turning away so he can remove them surreptitiously.

Instead, I reassure him with the usual platitudes - "I'm sure it'll turn up, have you looked amongst the other colour pictures?"...blah blah.

But that wasn't the thing to do. I knew then, and I know now. So many times in my life I have a little time-delayed narrator reminding me that the sentence I have started is not the one I should be employing. I should have said to him:

"Dad, it doesn't matter whether the photo exists or not. Don't you think it beautiful that your head can recall such detailed information? It must have been one of those nights you cannot forget for it to come back with such clarity."

But whoever says the right thing at the right time? That's a gift we receive less than a handful of occasions, I think. Perhaps, with a lot of practice, and a Zen outlook on life, we can increase such synchronicity to maybe twenty occurrences, but it's just not what we're designed for. In my life, these rare moments are always associated with the start of a relationship, that first magical hour. Words take immense weight and yet float between us.

But for whatever reason, we more often seem to follow the Path of Most Bumbling. Of telling our loved ones they look "great", instead of "enchanting". Of saying "I guess so" instead of "Hell yeah".

I am reminded of the ending of "The cowardly assassination of Jesse James..." (or whatever it was called).

James' killer lies dying on a floor, the narrator says that the dying man, once an actor, speaks not, as he is:

"..trying to find the right words, the right words".

I can well imagine dying never having found them either. It's just not what we seem to be designed for. Fluidity and elegance of tongue sank down in the gene pool, instead fleet of foot and strong of jaw seem to have been favoured.

Three months is up. I look for the upswing, I look for the well-crafted turn of phrase.


sayarsan's picture

By your friends estimate your grief should have just peaked but is there an estimate for the time before it abates? People seem to focus on an end to grief when in many cases this might not be what we want. It is a part of letting go and in the case of someone we would rather not forget who really wants to let go? See what your Mum endured in preference to letting go and grief seems to pale in comparison. It's doubtful your Dad is wanting to let go either not from his wife and he is facing up to letting go of Everything which is a daunting prospect, terrifying at times i would imagine which could go some to explaining the daily emails. It is a drag when we finally have the right words but the person has been gone for years and surely many would happily embrace the notion of eternal life if it meant the possibility that these words might reach their destination.

My sympathies are with you.

I don't believe these thing are directly related to time. Use for a week and 'emotional' time, has been forestalled. Social workers and psychologists (both Arts degrees!) invented the grieving process,.. from statistics and averages, and we all know how faithful such numbers can be to their masters.
I still cry about Joel out of the blue every month or two, a few years on, I even still cry about Mal sometimes....
I dunno what really exists, but I do know that loss hurts...
and all you can do is go with it.
NOT avoid,... by various means.. it's only delaying..You know that though.
Sometimes excruciating pain is the only way to truly understand yourself. ...?