Grief + Loss, Life Lessons, Mental Health

The Reality and Role of Grief

from the darkest nights

It was 18 years ago this week that my fragile, broken 48 year old Mother was no longer able to fight the cancer that had slowly destroyed her body for 6 years. She died in Gosford Hospital in the early hours of the morning on the 15th of January 2000. 18 years … sounds like a long time. Most days it does actually feel like another lifetime, an alternate universe, surreal and disconnected from the life I have rebuilt since that day. Other times I can easily recall the smells and sights, touching her forehead moments after she had died, spending time on my own in her room gathering her things in the hours after she left us.

Grief is not a sexy topic I know. The thing is though, we all go through it, nobody is safe from grief and no amount of avoiding the topic will guard you from it.

The other thing about grief is that it does not work to a timeline of any sort. Yes there can be certain stages and timings that may apply to some of us, this does not mean that anyone has any precise understanding of your grief. It is perfectly OK to spend a lifetime feeling the grief of a significant loss, you are not expected to move through all of the stages in a particular pattern or to anyone else’s expectations.

I read once that ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’ and it has really stayed with me. The deeper we love, the harder we grieve. We will all lose someone, we will all lose many someones in a lifetime. Some of us experience grief earlier than is fair, many of us will never really recover and be changed forever by our grief.

“She was brave and strong and broken all at once.” (Anna Funder)

It is possible to be all of these things all at once, this is me and this is many of us for whom grief is interwoven with our days.

scribbles and crumbs grief

As a society we are told that grief has a limit, that we should be fine by a certain time after we lose someone. I call bullshit on this. I call bullshit on the cliches, the concept of good grief and the friends or family who pressure us “to get on with life”. Nobody knows your grief, nobody knows your pain.

18 years may seem like a long time to grieve, the thing about losing your Mother is that there will always be reminders. This is one of the most profound losses and it will always be felt. If you lose someone who is an integral part of who you are and why you are, it does change you forever.

My grief has taken a twisted, tortured path to eventually settle into a place of acceptance. It has not been a neat process, it has broken me many times and almost killed me on occasion. It has shaped me and allowed me to see myself and the world in ways that I have learned to be grateful for, despite the immense pain.

It is possible to rebuild a life after unimaginable pain. It is possible to feel alive again, and to love again. 

It gets messy, and you will stumble and fall and get back up again more times than you can ever imagine. Some days it will take your breath away and every part of you will want to give up. You will never be the same, and with time you will come to accept this.

From the darkest nights come the brightest awakenings.

Losing a child, suicide, losing a parent when you are still a child yourself, saying goodbye to our grandparents for the last time, losing your beloved pet, losing your best friend … every loss is profound, if you loved deeply. We all process emotions in our own way, and we will all face grief in our own way.

The more we can talk, share, open up and respect the grieving process the better. The more we allow others to find their reasons for going on, without forgetting about the ones we have lost, the healthier our collective grieving will be. I have done a lot of unhealthy grieving involving substance abuse, self abuse, suicidal thoughts, denial, addiction and self harm. I am living proof though that you can survive these things.

Your darkest nights may just become some of your brightest awakenings too, as they did for me. I have found a purpose in my rising, through my sharing and digging into the life lessons I am lighting the way for others. This doesn’t mean that my grieving is now all neatly packed away, far from it. That’s the thing about grief …

“IT WILL IN MANY WAYS, LAST AS LONG AS LOVE DOES. FOREVER.” (Lexi Behrndt)

 Please reach out if your grief is more than you can handle.

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