Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Character building isn’t just a cliché.

Kids aren’t resistant. They don’t miss stuff; they don’t always bounce back from loss and grief. Don’t be naive. Their experiences in childhood will shape them.
But negative experience building character isn’t just a cliché.

I’ve re-written the first bit of this paragraph about four times.
I don’t want to undermine the importance of the people who are a part of the loss I experienced in my youth. I also don’t want to use their stories in order to strengthen my own point of view. Their lives and deaths were their own, and should stay that way.
Let’s just say that before I was a teen we lost a lot of friends and family to accidents, cancer, and illness.
Not all of them were older. Some were younger than I was.
There was a hangover from this and it is not until I became an adult I realised my ideas of life, death and assumptions about what life will bring are not necessarily the norm.

Stuff that I do that some other people don’t.

Assume the worst if the land line rings after 9pm. – My family never calls each other at night because they know the palpitations it gives us.

Know the process when someone calls and says they are on the way to the hospital:
Call next of kin and tell them you will pick them up if applicable. (No-one freaked out should be driving)
Pack toiletries, pyjamas, bottled water, juice, muesli bars, and any meds that the person needs into a bag.
Grab coins and cash for parking
Stop at the petrol station and pick up some phone cards for recharging the patient/ family member’s cell.
Take a book, bottle of water and some sort of food for yourself.

Assume if someone gets sick enough to go to hospital that there is a risk of it being a really bad sign of things to come.

I know that if a doc says you have a 20% chance that is what it means. It doesn’t mean you are in the “miracle” category and the 20% thing doesn’t count for you.

That if a doctor says “hmm we need to take more tests”, it’s not a good thing.

That just because someone is young and cute doesn’t mean they are guaranteed passage through to adulthood without illness or injury.

That people don’t have to attend a funeral /tangi, and may not want to, and that is ALWAYS ok.

Needless to say, I assume that everyone else has had a wealth of experience with grief by the time they get to 30.

Someone was trying to tell me the other night what he thought “the appropriate” grieving period and process was for a particular situation. I had to explain to him that grief doesn’t come at your convenience, and there are no rules and regulations for what is “normal.”
A mother may never stop memorialising their lost child’s birthday. Or she may choose never to acknowledge it. It’s up to her. She is the only person in her position, just as the father of that child will also have his own process.
This difference in process is therein the issue.

I get really sick of people telling me I look surprisingly good or sound surprisingly calm when I call in on bereavement leave, or tell them about bad news. I get even sicker of people expecting me to hit a “get over it” time line by a certain point – always allocated by them.
It is worse when it is someone you love. I sincerely hope that when I am next bereaved my partner will let me grieve on my time, my way, with their support, and without being judged.
My ex didn’t even attend my much beloved grandfather’s funeral with me.
My grandfather didn’t notice.
I did, and that is what is important - those left behind.

I was going to leave it at that, but I’m going to get into some stuff to help cope while you are getting through the roughest patches if you are here from a Google search on grief, and don’t want to just hear me whinge.

Don’t ignore or bury your feelings. Screw what else is going on, do what YOU need to do.
If you feel like going kayaking for 6 solid hours, or beating the shit out of your friends in a sports game go for it (true story, and it was AWESOME).
If you feel like smiling and hugging and talking at the funeral, do it. There are no rules, as long as you also respect how other people feel.
Feeling alone and often angry or sullen is to be expected, just give clear boundaries, and find a way to get the space you need, without attacking or hurting those who may want to cling.
Communicate your feelings. Sometimes just saying “I’m angry ” will make you feel a bit better, even if it is a “bad” feeling. And chances are someone else will feel the same way.
Learn and understand the stages so you can recognise what you may be going through, and allow yourself to transition through the process.

With all of this stuff the biggest thing is, don’t try and do it alone.
If you are afraid of burdening friends, use 7 and call a different one each day.
If you are living with a partner, allocate a time to be negative but have a clear stop point and go for a walk or something nice after you have gotten out of that head space.
There is nothing wrong with paying a therapist so you can talk through things, without feeling like a burden. (nb feeling like a burden and being one are different, friends like to support!)

Grief is not a timeline from horrible to A-Ok. It is a rollercoaster.
My personal rollercoaster goes a bit like this... get plenty of good stuff done in the first two days, melt down, perk up, melt down, start having normal weeks where I don’t think about things then all of a sudden a smell, or something random (one time a Lego boat) sets me off back to an evening of sobbing uncontrollably unable to breath, feeling like my heart is breaking again.
Slowly but surely I start putting the missing person, or part of my life (in the case of my injuries) into a category of something like a treasure. Where I can control how I view them. I wait until I have the time to pull them out of the safe place I store them and hold them gently in my hands and admire them. I look at them from all angles, and take the time to acknowledge that I miss them, but I’m ok without them.
And you have to congratulate yourself when you reach that point, because you are awesome for getting there, no matter how short, or long a time it takes.


  1. Reading this post today is interesting. It's 10 years today since I lost my friend. My life has completely changed because of the age I was when she died. I have now been friends with her dad for longer than I was friends with her. His life is wrapped around the grief of losing her - even 10 years on it's still raw. And you expect that 10 years will mean something. But it doesn't. Grief and life just goes on.

  2. talk about timing... Im sorry to hear about your friend. I cannot imagine a grief more cruel than having to loose a child, but losing friend's as a child teaches you some hard lessons fast.
    Time not meaning anything is both good and bad, because people expect you to change, but the memories of the lost remain strong throughout any length of time inside you. Which is pretty special I think.
    It wasnt an anniversary for me, I started writing that on an anniversary, but couldnt get it to gel while I was feeling sad.
    Am really happy to have finished it, because it was hard hard hard to write.

  3. odd fact. I think I was replying to your blog as you wrote on mine *cue twilight theme*.

  4. and thats the cool spooky one not fucking sparkly vamps by the way...


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