ESSAY ON BEREAVEMENT
(Personal observations on man's grief)
© EDGEWOOD (June, 2002)
This was written for a young friend who I had come to know and care about in a Neurology Forum, after the death of her mother and after her heart was broken again by her father blaming her own illness for causing a worry that contributed to her mother's passing.
Its words apply to the loss of a pet just as validly as to the loss of a human.
My friend, my heart goes out to you with love and compassion, freely given from an elderly Scot to a young and beautiful American lass who I have not met, yet know so well. I am not a professional counsellor. I have no expert qualifications in listening and helping. What is written here is the result of the analysis of a lifetime of observation, personal experience and first-hand study of loss. But it is written from the heart and sent in the hope it brings some understanding, some consolation, some sense into the darkness which has fallen on your life in the past week. Above all, it will have worked if it brings you a ray of hope for the future.
I have lost a brother, a father, a mother, pets, and many, many more. But more than that - I have watched my mother and father lose their child, their eldest most beloved child and my mother when my father, her constant companion and lover of over 61 years was taken by death. I was the one who had to cope and be the family stalwart when our wonderful bonds crumbled around us. Yes, the same events and feelings and consequences hit me as they have hit you, and you need to know how things will progress in your future with this heavy load on your heart. So, to what I have observed.
I have decided to lead you, step by step, through what happens when someone loses someone with whom they have shared love, for weeks, months or years, for a lifetime, to the Angel of Death. Perhaps it will help you understand and forgive yourself for your imagined guilt and your father for his unfair and uncharacteristic outburst. Read it all the way through, then keep it, and read it again and again over the coming weeks, months, years, if needs be, when you need to speak to a friend and one is not there at the time. Sooner or later, you will understand my message.
When someone dies, more so when it is an unexpected death, the one (or ones) nearest to them in love and life, find themselves running a whole gamut of emotions and a see-saw of feelings. First, the disbelief, the rejection of the event, the refusal to accept that it has happened. Next, the first pangs of awareness and loss, and with that the beginning of incredible frustration, soul-searching, the inevitable "surely I could have stopped it from happening?" Then, on to "it must be my fault, and surely I can do something to put it right?". But not yet the full inevitable acceptance , and not yet, therefore, the true mourning.
That is why we need a funeral service or memorial ceremony, whether we are religious or not. Until then, life is in a sort of limbo. A hassle of dashing around, making arrangements, telling relations and friends, visits to registration offices, and thus a chance to forget the reason for all the bustle and activity for just short periods of time, but long enough to keep our chins high, keep the real tears away, keep us going onwards.
But the funeral or ceremony is finality. Is visible acceptance of the event. It brings home the full, awful truth. Then begins the real grief, the inconsolable tears and heartbreak. And that frustration at not being able to change things, for at last you accept you cannot, begins to change too. It always, without fail, turns to anger. At first not against anyone in particular, except sometimes against God or the one who has died, for dying, but a general anger at the unfairness of life and death and the end that comes to us all and is the only true certainty in life. But that anger, not there in the front of the mind, the conscious mind, but smouldering in the subconscious, after the funeral is over and the mourners go home, flares into a blaze in the subconscious. And it is man's mind's nature to find someone to blame, something, anyone, anything. Anger has to come out, and must do to keep the sanity of the bereaved. Still that person is not consciously aware of all this going on in his or her inmost mind.
So the subconscious mind goes on a search again, to find the one to blame. And it always, without fail, chooses oneself or the nearest person to the bereaved one's heart. Where there is no reason to blame, as with you, it will invent a reason, find something to use. The choice is certainly because that will be the one person who will take the outburst without destroying their love for the grieved one. The one who will forgive, and the hurt caused does not enter into it, for the conscious mind of the accuser is not involved in this. The anger must find form, but the mind wants to make sure of self-defence afterwards. My mother said the same to me, as your father said to you, after my father died. It hurt me the way you have been hurt. This is the truth, it happened, nineteen years ago, and I have never forgotten how it made me feel. I felt every one of the feelings and emotions you feel now. But it was not my mother speaking. It was her grief, her realisation that the man she had loved for over 61 years was no longer beside her. So I bit my lip, said nothing in reply, and waited for time to fix it.
Months later I realised that a large part of it was because my mother blamed herself for a lot to do with my father's death. No, not the death itself, but the fact that she, because she was ill too, had refused to accept that he had advanced cancer. She rejected it absolutely. In fear, of course. But her inner mind had to defend her against her perceived guilt of non-acceptance that his death was inevitable, and so it found me, the one she now loved most in life, and found an imagined reason to lay the blame there. When you think of it, it can be clearly seen that this is bound to be the outcome of that "surely I could have stopped him dying" reaction to the loss.
When my mother had come to terms with losing my father, when life had taken on a kind of meaning again, very many months later (and that is what I mean by saying it will take time for you to recover from this), I spoke to her about what she had said. She genuinely could not remember saying it. She said she would never, ever say such a thing to me. And that is what your father will say to you when time has helped him too. Yes, it is hard. It is indescribably hard. It is torture, heartbreak, it is a living hell. For a season, not forever. Part of living life is learning to deal with loss and death, and it is always a hard lesson. But remember that your father said it simply because he loves you now more than ever. His heart is broken, it needs to mend. That will take time.
You say you tried to speak to him by telephone, and he said 'not yet'. That is the most wonderful sign of all. If he really and truly blamed you in his conscious mind, he would not speak to you at all, would say 'never'. And it shows that he does have a memory of saying those hard words to you. Not only is he coming to terms with his loss, he is coming to terms with the hurt he has caused you. But he is not ready, indeed not yet able, to reconcile the two events. That must take time, maybe a lot of time. Nothing can hurry it up, it is a natural process that takes its own time. This, then is the period of mourning. The word means the time from acceptance of a death until the time when it no longer contains anger and inconsolable grief. The time when you can make amends, repair broken bridges and come back to life and the ones you still have and whom you love. The time when you can, at last, pick up and live life again, without the one you lost.
And your part in this? To wait. But to stop blaming yourself and laying guilt upon yourself. You are not to blame in any way whatsoever. One day your father will need you to be strong for him. That day is today. Leave him be. You have phoned, he knows you still love him and are there for him. One day he will contact you, and on that day you will know that his mourning has run its course and it is time to mend those bridges. Until then, do not face him with what he said. He will realise it himself in time and come to you with it. I learned that by talking to my mother about it too soon, because all I did was hurt her too by mentioning it - something she could not remember doing.
Now, go and do your own healing. Keep coming to the chatroom and forums, do not desert them. That would hurt you and all the folk there who love you enough to care deeply and worry about you. And it would remove your second line of support. Your first, just now, is your best friend, and I know you are scared that you will frighten or bore her off. I told her so this morning in chat. She told me she would never desert you. She loves you greatly and wants most of all things to help you through this and to remain your friend for a lifetime.
Healing? Yes, and the first thing to do to bring that about is to make yourself your own first line of support. You can use these events to make yourself stronger. Oh, I know you can't see how to do that yet. But you will, in time, with a bit of patience. Begin by being easier on yourself. Stop the self-blame. Show your mother that you are a lot stronger than she thought.
I have been there, I have been through the same and I have come out the other side, stronger for it all, and you will too.
Finally, there are now two folk who will never be put off by you, never lose patience with you, never stop caring for you. Who are there for you always. And those are your chatroom friends, myself and Peter. He even phoned me all the way from Canada yesterday just to talk about how we can help you most. Think of us as a cybermom and cyberdad, till your own father comes back to you, as he is certain to do, once he has healed himself.
My love to you. I hope this essay helps. None of it is invented or guesswork. These words are the truth I have learned by going through these things too. Now, head up, fight on, keep going, no matter what!
All love and God be with you. Edgewood