A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I was asked an interesting question about the blog in a tweet yesterday.
‘Is there someone you want to follow you who doesn’t already? If so, who?’
At first I approached it as one might the question about dream dinner party guests. I found myself dismissing some pretty big names quite quickly though.
Gandhi wouldn’t be able to re-tweet anything I said. Even if he were alive I reckon he’d be crap with technology.
Barack Obama’s got staff that run his social media activity so it wouldn’t really be him.
Ricky Gervais wouldn’t be able to stop himself making awkward jokes about death that would leave everyone apart from him feeling uncomfortable.
But then I realised that my answer wasn’t about politicians, opinion formers or celebrities, it was just about people. In times of loss that’s all we are. Human beings who are struggling to be human, never mind feeling able to fulfil any other role or achieve any other status.
So my answer was, ‘I’d like any person who has ever said, ‘I just can’t imagine what you’re going through’, to anyone who has lost someone they love to follow me.’
When I set up the blog I was pretty clear that I wanted people who were going through similar experiences to me to be able to find empathy online. But my goal evolves with every message I receive from readers who draw anything positive from my posts. To be really honest I don’t mind how people use it, why they read it or what they do with the words, as long as they help someone in some way.
But I’ve also realised that by opening up we all have the potential to change attitudes and challenging reactions to grief and loss, to make life less difficult for the bereaved.
So the reason I want people who ‘can’t imagine it’ to follow me is so they can. Only through learning about loss will the people who can imagine it be helped. That was quite a long introduction, but today’s subject is time.
‘Time heals’. Sound familiar?
Well if you’ve lost someone close to you then you’ve probably heard it and if you haven’t, you’ve probably said it. It’s one of the most popular clichés in the book.
But it’s bullshit.
I’ve not had much time to ‘heal’ yet but I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have and none of them are fixed.
No two people have the same experience or attitude when it comes to loss, so yesterday I took a step outside of my current life to mull it over. As a new friend would put it, ‘I took my grief head off for a minute’. I thought about my right arm that I broke in three places when I was about nine-years-old. I had a cast on for weeks while it ‘healed’ and when the bones were looking better and the NHS budget dried up, time dictated that it was appropriate for my arm to move on.
This was medicalised time though. It was a target. My arm is mess now. When I stretch both out at the same time whilst wearing a t-shirt, people can’t hide their horror. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I can’t see the difference’ or ‘I think it’s lovely. Nicer than the other one.’ I’ve got arthritis in it too and I’m only 33.
So time didn’t heal my arm. Time just changed it. See where I’m going here?
I also spoke to a very interesting professor over email last week. Prof. Sue Read from Keele University has developed a unique, specialist bereavement counselling and support service for people with learning disabilities.
Her view is that in today’s society, anything that detracts away from health, wealth and youth is frowned upon, and that the need to respond to loss and death can be rushed in order to get back to work and expected normality.
I for one, can relate to this. It was a pressure I actually put on myself because I thought three months sounded like a long way off at the time. The reality is, it has just felt like one long dark night.
She added, “Death is shrouded I secrecy, and one has to wonder about the secret versus public experience of death and dying. You only have to look at how we support compassionate leave; usually it has to be a close relative, and (at the discretion of the manager) can be up to five working days. After this time, the person has to go the GP and get a medical certificate, thus perpetuating the ‘medicalisation’ of grief.”
So we concluded that generally society’s way of dealing with loss, and expectations around the grieving process, is through time, both theoretically and emotionally.
But time is one thing we’re not in control of. We are subservient to it. We are nothing but slaves to the time dominatrix.
I’ve talked about strength a lot on the blog so far and the idea that people use the words, ‘Be strong’, when they don’t know what else to say. The difficult question to pose in response to this would be, ‘Why? Why should I be? My wife’s just died. I’m I to hide my feelings for your convenience?’
When it comes to the expression, ‘Time heals’, I imagine myself saying, ‘Oh brilliant! Thank you for letting me know. So, when will I be fixed then?’
It’s not a question anyone can answer, though. It’s not something that’s ever going to happen. If my arm is still causes me pain from something that happened when I was nine, how is my head and my heart supposed to be healed by time.
Time changes. Time softens. Time makes people who feel uncomfortable around a person’s grief believe that it’s time for that person to ‘move on’.
But I don’t believe time heals. I simply believe it’s time for us all to learn more about how to manage grief – our own and that of the people we love. Only then will we stop dishing out time as a convenient medicine to an inconvenient pain that can’t be healed.