You walk, in the direction you have to travel, knowing that every step is moving you forward and though your feet somewhat robotically lead you one step in front of the other, your heart, your head, your hopes are stalling behind.
You left them there at the point you started this journey. The day your loved one passed away.
You desperately want the rest of you to catch up so you can feel whole again but you’d also very much like to walk backwards and freeze time, to an hour when you and your loved ones were all together; laughing, happy – a family….whole.
You won’t have that picture as your reality again and that reality is utterly devastating.
You will have an empty seat at the dinner table. You’ll make plans for the future and feel sad to not have that person around to share in the joy or experiences you have.
You’ll travel to “get away” from your grief but it follows you everywhere. You don’t mind that too much as it keeps you feeling connected. You buy gifts for the family while you’re on holidays, all the while, remembering your family is now one valuable member down. It’s the way it will always be now. A happy moment countered with a sad realisation that happiness is no longer there to be taken for granted. Instead, it’s a choice that you have to keep making. It’s difficult.
Some days, naturally, are harder than others. Like the day they passed away. That grief caves in, dark and suffocatingly every Monday for me.
People will try to reintroduce normality. Some will offer walks, catch-ups, coffee, visits, lunch dates. You’re thankful they do but you’re not sure when you’ll be ready. It’s hard to find the energy to fake it in front of people who see through you. You avoid the company instead.
People offer sympathy but sympathy makes you sadder. You never wanted to be somebody people feel sorry for. “Sorry” is all anyone manages to say. You find connecting with people that don’t know this pain, a challenge. You wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy… but you do wish for understanding… mainly that you’re struggling to be the person they wanted to ‘catch up’ with. You’re not sure if you ever will be again.
A part of me went missing on the 14th of August this year. It was the day my perfect, loving, warm father grew wings and flew to heaven. I hold onto the notion that he is happy now. I believe it with all of my heart. There is some respite from grief in knowing he's in a better place and no longer suffering with cancer, heart disease, liver failure or any of the other bodily ailments that robbed him of a long life with us.
My head knows it’s better this way but gosh, my heart aches. Dad didn’t deserve another second of suffering when he was alive. We would have done anything to take it away from him. In a way, his physical trauma has become our emotional open wound.
My sister saw the worst of it. She was at Dad's hospital bedside every day. While we're both deeply affected by our loss, she said something profound on how she copes the other day. "Our grief, as heavy as it may be, is an easier burden to carry than to watch dad suffer helplessly and without recourse. It is not easy, but I'd rather feel this pain than see dad suffer any more than he did." Sherine, my thoughtful, selfless sister is right. Talking helps balance my internal conflict.
Unfortunately, more often than not, I think of the process much more selfishly. I believe the way in which most of us love is in this same vain. I don't mean that we're selfish in a negative way, but that what we love about love is that it fulfils us, drives us, gives us purpose - and the absence of it in a tangible form is a grievous assault on our existence.
When someone you love passes away you grapple with the idea that they’re no longer physically present in your life, daily. You tell yourself that surely you can have one more hug, one more conversation, one more smile, one more encounter as if one more of anything would satiate the gaping hole in your heart. It wouldn't. Not even an eternity would be enough. Knowing love, then no longer having it from the bountiful source you have received it from makes you feel robbed.
Just like a victim of theft you search aimlessly for that missed possession. Sometimes you find them in a memory. Sometimes a setting will trigger a thought. Sometimes an experience will remind you of what you had. You carry that search and that sadness everywhere.
People will call you "strong" to compliment you on your ability to move forward. You cannot blame them for trying to offer you words of comfort but to be called strong almost offends you. Some days you worry that that strength separates you from your loved one even further. Strength implies distance, conquering, or rising above and when all you have are memories you don't want anything to stand in the way or separate you from them.
You worry that if you are not grieving, if you are not feeling the gravity of your loss, that you may be losing your connection. You don't want to be strong because the emotion itself is exhausting. You play this charade daily. You get dressed in the morning. You go to work. You smile. You laugh. You operate.
To the naked eye, you look OK and you are. You're just OK. Always in that middle realm. Existing but not living yet. You have to do this as grief sometimes makes people uncomfortable. They don't know how to deal with your sadness, mainly out of love for you also, so you put on a brave face so they won't know or feel your pain. It's double the job but you do it anyway. You have to do this to gain control of a helpless situation. You have to do this as a human, as soldiering on is actually the only option that you're allowed.
If there was an option to go back in time you'd take it in a heartbeat. You know that is not on the cards. You deal with the harsh truth that life goes on. The world still turns regardless of how resistant you are to it. The world still turns without your loved one. That truth feels unbalanced and unfair. How a world operates without the existence of someone who was your world baffles you every day. Still, you press on.
LISTEN: Robin Bailey emotionally reflects what it was like watching her kids deal with grief (post continues after audio...)
You choose happiness to honour their memory. You choose happiness so their goodness in this world somehow lives on through you. You choose happiness because it's what they would have wanted for you. It's a decision you make every single day then you try again the next day, in hope that someday soon it will become more manageable.
I'm not sure it gets better but I believe you get better at dealing with this painful separation. I was texting my mother-in-law about this the other day, asking when it gets easier. She said to me at first the pain consumes you but eventually the memories become a joy and you're happy to carry them with you wherever you go.
Dealing with loss is difficult, but never having had the love you knew through that loved one, would be a greater tragedy.
That's the sentiment shared with me from other people who have felt this pain. That's the other thing you learn on this journey. So many others have been through it. It gives you greater love for the people in your life who have survived this hurt and have still managed to live on and achieve great things. It gives you hope that you'll get there eventually too.
It inspires a movement of kindness, of sharing and of connectedness. It encourages unity through shared experience. Knowing that others understand the rawness of your pain is a gift that empowers you to keep going.
You hold greater empathy for people's loss and you're a little kinder as you go through life doing your best to be your best for the best person you know. Anything less would be letting them down. Knowing this gives you the strength to try again tomorrow.
For now, doing your best is enough.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please seek professional health or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.