Grief is an interesting emotion. It is an emotion we don’t often speak about. To be honest, many of us want to avoid the loss and change that comes with it. Often it is a loss that we can’t do anything about, like a loved one dying.
This morning I watched a beautiful video on Instagram. A granddaughter and grandfather are driving in a car and listening to his favourite music, he is happy as they both sing along. What we don’t know at the beginning is that he has dementia. Listening to his joyful singing and her smile made me cry and think of my Dad.
He was a musician and played in a marching band most of his life. He also had dementia in the last years of his life. In his last days my sister played him his favourite Austrian folk songs. They helped him to relax when he was restless, tossing and turning in bed.
Grief, in my experience is often like a panther, it pounces on you when you least expect it.
Last summer I walked through a garden center and unexpectantly burst into tears when I saw Alpine plants from Austria. Some implicit memory was triggered as I saw the plants. It was such a quick reaction it really surprised me. I saw them and started to cry, only after did I start to think of memories of our many family vacations in the Austrian Alps.
Many of us are afraid of grief, as it is a painful emotion. It reminds us of what we have lost and may never have again with a particular person.
It may even lead to other feelings like regret for not doing certain things like writing that letter, or taking the time to do something together.
Grief can be heart wrenching, especially immediately after a loved one has died. It’s shocking, often surprising and still unexpected even though you might have known that it would happen.
It leaves us feeling out of control, it can make us feel utterly lost and empty.
When a loved one dies, the world as we know it stops. I remember how stunned I felt when I drove into town for errands, during one of the last days of my father’s life. I could not believe that the world outside of our house was still moving at a normal pace. People were laughing, shopping, and living their day to day life when my father’s life was ending. When my life was about to change in a way I could not and didn’t want to comprehend, they continued to live their life. Grief is a very private and a very public emotion, especially when you grew up in a smaller community where most people know each other or of each other.
“How is your Dad?” Was a question I both feared and desired when I would be out in public. An old friend from the marching band, or a shop owner would ask about my Dad and tears would quell in my eyes as I talked with them. I heard stories about my Dad I have never heard before. Many shared their appreciation, respect and love for him. Some shared very personal memories of loss and grief they had experienced. Grief brought me closer to others, myself and my family.
I remember how full the church was, how many came to honour my Dad and to support us in our loss and grief. I remember long hugs, whispered words and familiar faces. I remember gratitude when seeing people I haven’t seen in ages, like one of my favourite High School teachers.
My heart overflowed with love and gratitude for the support we got as a grieving family. Many in our community mourned my father’s death. They also experienced the loss of a friend, mentor, colleague and neighbor.
Grief has many faces. Grief can make you feel tired, heavy. Grief sometimes feels like a veil over your eyes and especially your memory.
Grief sometimes brings up anger when others whine or complain about something insignificant compared to your loss.
Grief will be your companion whether you like it or not.
It will be two years in February that my father died. My grief has changed in that time. It’s not here every day. It still pounces on me unexpectedly and I assume that will happen until I die.
I am no longer afraid of it though. I welcome it as it always brings memories with it. Little memories of sitting on my father’s lap, listening to his voice reading a story in bed. Remembering his tears when I left the house to move away to another province. Christmas cards and birthday wishes.
The immediate pain and grief when someone dies feels like it never will end. However when we allow ourselves to experience it, to talk about it and to listen to it, it can and will tell us many things about ourselves. When we are brave enough to listen to grief, to experience it and to speak about it, it will connect us with others and with ourselves.
My experiences with my father made me into the person I am today, my memories are stored in my DNA and will always be part of my own journey.
Over the past two years I have wished I didn’t have to feel it, I wanted to avoid it sometimes and was tired of it.
Today, I feel I have made my peace with it, allowing it in even more, even welcoming it as it also brings joy, a feeling of being deeply loved through these moments.
I want to embrace my grief with curiosity, openness and respect for their memory. I now see it as a natural and important part of my life.
Grief is no longer a feared pursuer but an accepted companion.