It has been a season of loss, this winter just gone. Too many have departed. They never die for me, they leave a little imprint on my heart. But my heart is heavy, it beckons the climes of spring and a changing of seasons. I’m a little tired. Three people departed, all within quick succession. And why is it that even when we know it’s coming; and we know it’s inevitable we are still a little shocked. Perhaps it is because we are inherently hopeful, and it is that hope that leads us to acceptance.
I’m from a small family. I grew up with one sister, two parents, four grandparents, three great grandparents, one uncle, one aunt and three cousins. We are a very tight knit bunch. Sixteen in total, now there are eight. Does that mean I only have half of what I had before, half of the laughter, half of the love, half of the heroes?
Four weeks ago my Uncle left us. Most people will remember him for his stellar career but that is not how I will remember him. I remember his laugh and his love for my aunt. Theirs was one of life’s great love affairs, tumultuous, passionate and enduring. I told him that was how I would remember him. I had a chance to say goodbye, a couple of weeks before. I haven’t had that before, but it still felt hollow. He was worried that day, I tried to reassure him. As I left he still had strength for a genuine squeeze and I whispered something in his ear from my childhood, it was a very happy thought and we tipped in slightly closer and laughed. That was the last time I saw him. It was not the time for me any longer. It was the time for his wife and children; and my Dad; his only brother.
Waiting. This was the easy bit and the hard bit. It was easy for me because I feel most relaxed when I am being useful towards others. My sister came to stay a few times over those weeks and it was lovely to have her sleeping in my house, just like when we were kids, under the same roof. It was easy because there was lots of cooking and cleaning and listening and sharing. My parents ate many meals at my house over this time and I enjoyed being helpful. It was easy because I got to place my emotions in a little compartment for a while; as others needed me. But sometimes when you are this person you are misunderstood because you don’t cry readily.
Each of us coping with a departure differently. I notice that some become acutely aware of their own morbidity when they are grieving others. And some are sorry for all that the departed will miss out on, others are sorry for themselves and what they will miss out on. And some feel a combination of all of these emotions, each of them relevant. For there are no rules for grieving. And then finally there is silence. All the crying and laughing and stories and sadness passes. My Dad seems to be doing okay, my sister has returned home. It’s been four weeks. It is my time again.
I go to bed feeling weary. My mind is busy and I want it to be quiet. I lie on my back and I listen to the wind. It is very loud tonight. The window is open an inch and the wind lifts the blind and then taps it back on the ledge. A rhythmic click every few seconds as it is blustering outside, just like my thoughts, busily clacking around my head. I think of my sister, how I could hear her crying in the night when she stayed. Sometimes I wish I could express my own emotions with such freedom. And then the wind begins to subside, it becomes gentler, and the tapping on the window ledge softens. I think of my Uncle. The wind, it is his breath, it is becoming lighter and the gaps longer. The breath, it is barely audible, there is no clacking, it has subsided. I look at my love, he is fast asleep, next to me.
I hear my breath, it is ragged. And then two little tears escape the corners of my eyes and then a very long sigh absconds. It is hard to swallow, I am sighing, and breathing and snivelling and trying to be quiet. My pillowcase is soaking. I get up and put fresh linen on my pillow and turn my pillow over. I slip into a sanguine sleep.
So, we each grieve differently, giving tribute in our own way. I think of my family living this shared experience. My sister, three cousins and I have added to the original sixteen…four spouses, twelve children. We have another sixteen. The cycle of life and loss continues. Double the laughter, double the love and double the heroes.