This July will see me begin my migration across the country. New home, new career, same old (but exceedingly lovely) boyfriend and a lot to look forward to. The excitement is, of course, mixed with quite a lot of fear. Whilst packing up as much of my life into boxes as possible, it’s only too easy to think of those that cannot share in my successes. They have after all played such a heavy role. It’s maybe harder to accept, acknowledge and grow with that fact. Momentarily all progress with recovery and, indeed packing, is lost.
The notion that grief can or should be hidden away; that it is an emotion so scary we should pack it away in a box and place it to the back of our consciousness is so easy to hold on to. Shutting out our feelings, however, is not a solution. At some time or other that little box, bulging at the seams with confusion, anger and hurt will eventually break open, flooding uncontrollably into every part of your life. Prince Harry opened up in an interview only months ago about the grief that had engulfed him in his 20s – a torrent that he had kept at bay since he had lost his mother at the age of 12.
One memory in particular highlights the struggle that I had with opening up around grief, even as a footloose and fancy-free crier. Whilst I was studying towards my degree, I vividly remember learning that someone I had gone to school with had passed away. At this point my dad was in-bed-all-day kind of ill. I used to go into his room and make sure he had everything, whilst I was taking breaks from exam revision. We’d usually chat about something fairly inane because quite frankly, acknowledging that he was dying wasn’t something either of us was really up for. That day in particular, boxing up all of the worry and emotion finally backfired. I took him the obligatory 1000th cup of tea of the morning and a pile of chocolate digestives, hoping I could do a quick drop and leave. My eyes were red and stinging – god forbid I should cry in front of my dad. A true sign that my thoughts weren’t really in order. Luckily, my emotions betrayed my warped judgement. I started to have a good old cry into his tea and curled up on the bed beside him. I told him that a buoyant, bright and brilliant boy from school had his life cut short, unjustly. My dad with what little energy he had left put his head on mine and cried with me. I’m not sure either of us really knew the complexity of the grief we were going through or who we were really crying for most, but nevertheless we let it happen. That is one of the purest memories of grief I have. Sharing pain, regret and sorrow with someone I loved and not having to hide whatever was going on inside. Before and after that day I found myself stalling outside of his bedroom door. I was half hoping I’d find the strength to go in and talk to him about how I didn’t know what to do anymore, ultimately knowing that I’d just drop in the cup of tea and sit down to watch another friends rerun.
I guess none of us really know how to cope with grief. I can’t honestly tell you now, having been through it umpteen times, that I’m much more clued up. I certainly know that when the emotions start to build you have to let them out. Learning to recognise grief, and allowing yourself time to deal with it, is vital. I’d always suggest that you find a trusted confidant, whether they be a family member, friend or cousellor. Occasionally you may want to take time alone. Not necessarily because you want to hide, but because you need to find your own way to process all of these new feelings – resigning yourself to the fact that maybe you can’t always be that successful, fun-loving Adonis that’s painted in the self help books. That resignation is not a bitter one for me though. I feel it’s not always beneficial to seek self improvement. Grief has given me as much as it has taken from my life. I’ve embraced my strengths and weaknesses over the past few years and learnt to love myself.
To paraphrase the last person I heard use this cliché, the great philosopher Ru Paul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love anybody else?”.
A friend recently spoke to me about the analogy of the flight safety demonstration. The flight attendants always remind you to affix your own oxygen mask before proceeding to help others. I drew comparison to my own struggles with grief. Whether it’s been for someone very close to me or a classmate. I always felt like it was my duty to be strong for the person who was suffering, or for those who were closer to the deceased. Packing away my grief into a box at the back of my mind was only useful for a short period. As others begin to rely on you and turn to you for answers, the box becomes less sturdy and you have to acknowledge that you have your own unpacking to do first.