It is all too easy to try and comfort a grief-stricken person with stuff like: He was a great age; He’s at peace now; You wouldn’t have wanted her to suffer any more; She lived a full life even if it was short …..
The kindest words anyone ever said to me after losing a loved one was my father.
I was sobbing in the kitchen after the death of a beloved aunt, who was a true friend and confidante. Yes, she was eighty-nine and I was in my thirties.
I could literally tell her anything and I would like to think she felt the same about me. There was a truly special bond between us.
I sputtered to Dad that my heart was broken and he simply said: I know.
He didn’t try to reason with me but just stayed with me and offered me one of his big white pristine hankies.
He had known his share of grief and clearly knew the significance of having it acknowledged.
It was one of those precious moments that he and I shared and I will be forever grateful to him for it.
He was ninety when he died and somehow I wasn’t half as heartbroken as I might have been if I didn’t have this well of precious moments to draw on.
Sometimes I wonder what mothering is all about when it comes to being the mother of a twenty-one year old son. In the early hours of this morning, it suddenly became a lot more than being the fill-the-fridge-fairy and dog-walker-when-owner-out-of-town.
I was still up when he came in to me, ashen-faced, and told me that he’d just found out that a young man who he had been very close to growing up had died. It was the first time that someone of his own age – just 14 days between them -who really mattered to him had died. I had known the lad too and he was one of those creative, empathetic kids who stood out as being able to talk to adults like they were real people.
In that moment when we were trying to come to terms with this sadness, I realised that being a mother is about being there to share in the highs and the lows as well as the everyday. My own mother always made a point of showing interest in our friends and I always loved that she would know who I was talking about when I’d mentioned ‘friends of mine that I’ve not even met,’ as she would term them.
That togetherness of the early hours spilled over into today and we went to catch the sunset with his dogs out at Kilfarrasy Beach, a place that holds many memories for us from long years of going there, especially when it’s all ours.
It was a sunset to savour but most of all it was an evening that I think we’ll both remember always. The passing of his friend is etched into the texture of it. Age has a habit of bringing more and more deaths of same-aged friends but the loss of the first can be very tough indeed. Our hearts go out to the young man’s family. How they could be coping is unimaginable.
This evening on the beach, I did what I seldom do, took a photo of my boy. I needed to gather him into my heart and hold him just that little bit tighter than usual:
Last Tuesday, November 29th, was one of those heart-wrenching days. It was the 20th anniversary of the death of my nephew who died tragically, aged 24 in 1996. Twenty years may seem like a long time but time has certainly not erased my memories of the chatty little boy I watched grow into an extremely handsome young man who was full of love, curiosity, creativity and a passion for the sea.
November 29th is also the anniversary of a young boy, called Daniel, whom I’ve read about on Tric’s blog, My Thoughts on a Page. Daniel died three years ago, aged 13, from leukemia and it’s very clear that he, too, left a huge legacy of love to all his family and friends.
When I realised last year that Daniel and my nephew shared the same anniversary, it seemed like one of those extraordinary coincidences. There is a poignancy, yet a comfort, in knowing that both young men are especially remembered on the same day … though clearly they are never far from our minds.
I’ve felt since last year that my nephew is somehow looking out for young Daniel and that they have built a special bond with each other. This feeling has emerged in spite of the fact that I am an out and out atheist.
Last Tuesday was a gorgeous day here and as sunset was approaching, I made my way to the beach to cast two stones into the sea in memory of the ‘boys.’ Here are the stones that I chose ~ one bigger than the other:
I threw them into the sea which was all blue and lovely. The tide was coming in and it seemed to be carrying gentle love and solace:
It seemed only right to wait for the sunset and there was a warmth in that too which dazzled me and sent me home perfectly reassured that our precious young men are at peace and happy to know that we remember them with love.
Social media, and especially blogging, allows for the development of close bonds and friendships with people we may never have the pleasure of meeting in person. Such people can play a hugely important role in our lives and relationships are built around shared interests.
In some cases, people that we grow close to online can be enormously supportive in our lives. The very fact that they live thousands of miles away but are still there with words of kindness, fun, advice and friendship makes them all the more special. They don’t care how much money we have or don’t have; what we look like; how we’re dressed ….. they see straight into our minds and hearts through our words and photographs and they care about us, just as we care about them.
There’s no easy way to learn that any friend has died. The passing of online friends can sometimes happen without us ever hearing about it. They just go silent. In other cases, we learn the sad news via other online friends or acquaintances and there is a horrible sense of shock and helplessness. There’s nowhere to go with a plate of sandwiches or an address to which to send a sympathy card ~ there’s just a vacuum. That vacuum is when you are in the non-virtual’ world and occurs because one’s nearest and dearest are unlikely to have had any connection or possibly knowledge of the online friend who has died.
But, there can be great communities of support in some cases when a much loved online friend dies. This has been the case in recent days with the sad passing of Paul Curran, who was such a good blogging friend to some many of us here on WordPress.
I can’t remember when Paul first came into my life ~ I guess it was three or four years ago. He was one of those people who commented on my blog on a very regular basis and I loved to read the Sunday guest posts which he wrote on Willow’s and then Mark’s blogs.
Paul was a Canadian man with a huge heart. He had lived a life of adventure and ups and downs and was a true fighter when it came to the illnesses with which he had to grapple. Most of all he was a man who had a love of life ~ down to the simplest of things.
He was man enough to be able to laugh at himself and shed tears for those he felt were less fortunate than himself. He spread hope wherever he went in blogland with his wise and well-chosen words.
So, how do you cope when someone as significant as this dies? I wish Paul was around to give an answer to this question!
My sense is that, like any other death, you’ve got to give time a chance to let the reality of the situation sink in and also do what one can to remember the person as they have suggested they would like to be remembered.
What Paul’s comments always suggested to me was that he longed to be at the ocean ~ and he was soon to be there if he had just lived a little longer.
He would also want openness ~ yes, Paul, I have shed tears knowing that you are gone from us and I’ve given Puppy Stan, whom you loved, a special cuddle. I’ve also read back over some of your comments and smiled, pondered, wondered, smiled again.
One thing I DO know is that just because you were an online friend doesn’t make you any less a friend than a ‘real’ one. I know I will think of you when I’m by the sea or old places that you always thought were awesome. I’ll give a little wave to truck drivers as they pass me by and think of all your adventures.
You can be damn sure, I won’t ever forget you and I know that there are many, many others all around the world whose lives you touched who feel just like I do tonight.
Rest Peacefully, Paul, and know that you have made more of a difference than you could ever, ever know.
Tramore is in deep mourning today as the community tries to come to terms with a horrific car crash out along the Cliff Road last night.
A sixteen year old school girl lost her life and two other teenagers are seriously injured.
Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the girl who died and our thoughts are with the injured boy and girl and the driver who, though, not badly injured will clearly be scarred for life.
Every parent lives in dread of these awful accidents which can bring such drastic changes in a heartbeat.
The community is certainly drawing together to try and support those who have been beareved and injured. I guess we all know that this could just as easily be one of our own children and, in a small place like this, where people know each other, there is a sense that we have lost a child who was part of Tramore and its environs.
A sad, sad time here which will live on in the collective memory for a long, long time.
Rest in Peace, Beautiful Young Woman and know that you are held in the most loving arms imaginable.
A met a stranger recently who on hearing my name asked me if the Frank Tubridy who took photographs was any relation of mine.
I responded, with a smile, that he was my father and she said that she had always loved his work and then asked me if he was still alive. I told her that he had died in 2010 and she said that she was sorry to learn that.
I know that people can be feel very uneasy about mentioning someone who may have died, in case they upset the person they are asking or somehow remind them of the the fact that they have died ~ as if it would be something they might have forgotten about!
I am always chuffed when people talk to me about my late parents and say things like: I always think about your mother when I see the snowdrops blooming; or I have a photograph that your father took hanging in my sitting-room and every time I look at it, I remember how he loved a good joke.
It’s so good to know that people who mattered to us are remembered fondly, especially as the years pass since their deaths.
So, I give thanks to the stranger (now friendly acquaintance) who clearly knew that speaking kindly of those who have died can be extremely comforting. I guess she had learned this from personal experience.
I expect that there may be divided opinion on this topic but I also suspect that more people than we realise are warmed by hearing their loved ones being remembered with fondness.
I came across this list-to-self which I wrote not long after my father died in 2010. It has served me well and I hope it can be of some use to at least one other person in the whole world who is struggling to cope with the death of a loved one.
I would be delighted with additions to the list, if you feel you can contribute.
Finding Solace in the Face of Grief
Read Wordsworth’s Poem, The Daffodils.
Look at Monet’s paintings
Listen to music
Go for a walk
Think of your happiest childhood memory
Close your eyes and imagine you feel a purple butterfly land on your shoulder
Eat a passion fruit
Go for a swim in the ocean
Listen to the birds at dawn
Watch a river gliding under a bridge
Make a list of your favourite movies
Write a list of the 10 people whom you admire most and why
Sow some seeds to give promise of colour
Plant a scented shrub in the garden
See the love in a dog’s eyes when you pet him or her
Have a bath with a few drops of lavender oil
Feel a handmade chocolate melt in your mouth
Read a book of Humorous Quotations
Write about a happy time spent with the person who has died
Share your feelings with someone who truly cares about you.
Grief is never truly finished. When a loved one dies, we will always miss the relationship we had with that person. Sometimes we will re-experience the pain of that loss as we go through annual celebrations such as birthdays, holidays and anniversaries.
Nonetheless, we are called back into the land of the living and our daily responsibilities. Reinvesting in life and significant relationships is the key to getting through our grief. Realizing life is forever changed by the death of a loved one gives us permission to begin building a new life with their memory in our hearts.
Building upon our experiences of the past can lead us to a new future. While the death of our loved one was not our choice, how we respond to that loss is a choice we must make. To move forward we must settle or be at peace with unresolved issues, accept the…
The importance of being a good loser was something that was drilled into me as a child ~ whether it was playing tiddly winks, tennis or … and my parents were undoubtedly prouder of me if they saw me losing with a smile than winning with arrogance.
It’s something that has stayed with me all the years and I tend to look for it in sportsmen, women and children all the time. This weekend, I saw it in both Serena Williams and Andy Murray at the Australian Open Tennis Championships.
When you think about it, though, being a good loser, is a bit more complicated than might at first appear ~ especially when broadened out from sport.
The term loser is a very derogatory one, here in Ireland anyway, and tends to be applied to people who have fallen by the wayside. The stereotypical loser is a person who squandered opportunities and is now a homeless, friendless, drunken lout who shouts abuse at passers-by. Little attention is given to the stories behind the losing and generally speaking there are back stories that would break your heart.
At another level, there is the matter of viewing death as losing a battle against some illness or other. I squirm when I think of this because there was a time in the years after the death of my boyfriend from cancer in 1981 that I came to view people who had survived cancer as people I admired most and I remember thinking of the wonderful Bob Champion and Jonjo O’Neill from the world of horse-racing in this context. I can see clearly now that my boyfriend wasn’t a loser (good or bad) because he died.
It seems to me to be time that we moved away from talking about disease in war terms. Interestingly, we don’t hear about people fighting Alzheimer’s Disease or losing the battle with it. I guess that’s because we don’t see this as something that anyone can overcome. That in itself puts such diseases into a category where those who have them can be written off as hopeless cases, when, in fact, they are very much unique human beings who deserve our love and every effort at maintaining connection by whatever means ~ touch, music …..
I’m not sure what being a good loser in the world of work and business means. Imagine going to an interview and stating that being a good loser is among one’s positive attributes? Should we be measuring people by success all the time ~ even if that success comes at the expense of walking over others? I don’t think so.
And, finally, I have to examine my conscience about writing of ‘Losing’ Elderly Parents on this very blog. As I look at that whole issue now after the deaths of my parents in 2009 and 2010 respectively, I’m not sure that losing is the best word. It felt like that from the other side ~ when they were frail and dying ~ but now I realise how much they are still with me in my everyday life through memories and genes.
In grief terms, there are certainly perceptions of being a good loser and oftentimes, these are about ‘moving on’ and sparing other people from one’s sadness and upset. Such perceptions can put huge pressure on people who are grieving and are most unhelpful.
So, I suppose I would conclude that those urgings to be a good loser are really urgings to be a person who is humane.
I guess everyone has days in the year, like my January 4th/5th, that have the mark of grief on them no matter how much time passes.
I’d like to thank everyone who listened to my words about Seeking Solace yesterday and a special word of gratitude to those who wrote such empathetic comments.
I don’t believe that time, in itself, is the great healer that we hear so much about. Rather, it’s a combination of how that time unfolds and how we ourselves shape it, that is hugely significant.
And, there is no doubt that everyone is different in how they deal with loss and the same person may deal with different losses in very diverse ways. You just can’t generalise when it comes to grief, it seems.
Ever since J died in 1981, I’ve woken in the middle of the night at the time he died. That morning, I stole out to a beach we loved, saw the most beautiful sunrise and got a sense of his mental strength pouring into me. It was one of those other worldly kind of experiences and I’m certainly not about ‘other worlds.’
So, it didn’t surprise me to wake in the very early hours this morning. I got up, took Stan for a good walk and then went off to watch the new day dawn over the sea.
It wasn’t a spectacular sunrise but every dawning has its drama.
There were lots of seagulls around and I couldn’t take my eyes off this pair:
The gulls were a delight to watch as they wheeled about in the unfolding light. The two pairs of gulls in this next shot; one pair away in the distance and the other much closer, made me think of the interplay between past and present and the importance of knowing that a new partner respects and understands the baggage that each brings to a relationship:
Sunset never meant a thing to me on the 5th of January until today. At some kind of subconscious level, I think I felt that the sun had set when J breathed his last and that January 5th couldn’t have two sunsets.
So, it was that I brought Stan out to Garrarus Beach this evening and wasn’t even aware that it was sunset time and didn’t have a camera with me. What greeted us there was one of the deepest, sweetest sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. There was a young woman on the beach, walking her dogs, and I noticed that she was taking photographs. We fell into chat about the magic we were part of and agreed that we’d never seen a sunset like this one before, even though we discovered that we’re both absolute regulars.
I was surprised when I heard myself asking her if she would email me a photograph of that special sunset. She very generously agreed and about an hour later, six photos arrived! Here’s the pair I like best.
And how about this for intensity?
So, January 5th now has a sunset again after 35 years and a new bond has been made with another Woman of the Sea here in Co. Waterford.
It just goes to show that grief days can evolve into days emblazoned with colour and new beginnings.
I’d be more than interested to hear about your ‘grief days’ and how they’ve evolved.