A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I’m never quite sure why I choose not to write so much anymore. Part of it is inevitable: I no longer find myself wading through the thick, viscous grief that clung like oil from a devastating spill in the early days of my loss. The other reasons seem to alter with my mood. On days when I’m feeling good I simply think, Why spoil the mood? But on those when I question myself, I fail to write because I’ve lost my sense of motivation and grown too lazy to nurture a skill that I’ve come to really care about.
Evidently, there tends not to be a middle ground these days. Perhaps ‘middling’ is not a place where I feel particularly comfortable anyway. Extremes always seem to appeal to me more for some reason.
Today gives me reason to write again, though. It has been a year plagued with high profile deaths and outpourings of public grief. I’m absolutely positive that the use of that word bothers some people who are in the thick of what I’d call ‘close grief’ caused by the loss of someone they loved intimately. Grief, however, is not a property owned, earned or deserved by one person more than another. It’s simply a word that attempts to make sense of both senselessness and utterly overwhelming sensation.
Of course the death of someone we have admired from afar will never leave us as bereft as the loss of someone we truly had the opportunity to love, but the affairs, troubles and turmoils of the hearts and minds of others are really no one else’s to measure. It you couldn’t lift or see into a blacked-out vessel, how could you ever know how empty or full it really was?
And yet it’s natural to want to compare ourselves to others, whether for better or worse. Believing that someone is suffering more than we are can help contextualise things and ground us when we feel we have been set adrift. Conversely, knowing that there are people out there having much more fun can actually give us hope for better times ahead. I like to think so, at least.
This has been a tumultuous year for sure. Profound loss and change has shaken the foundations of the world many of us thought we knew: the difficult births of Brexit and Trump; the sudden deaths of actors, musicians and icons; the apparent demise of humanity as witnessed in the world’s tragic camps and war torn countries; division everywhere.
As individuals, I believe 2016 has mostly made us mourn ourselves. The childhoods soundtracked by the prolific artists who lost their lives. The confidence they once inspired in us that we may now take for granted. The times when we needed someone to let us know that it was okay to be different. The innocence we once enjoyed when we assumed that people in power would take care of our best interests, regardless of our status. The belief we once had in the world as a kind and magical place. The idealistic view that when things got bad people would come together, naturally, to make things better. The immortality our idols used to represent before they went ahead and died just like the rest of us now have to accept we will, too.
That acceptance is a phase of grief that we all, at some point, happen upon. While Facebook statuses read ‘I can’t believe X has gone,’ denial inevitably gives way to the harsh reality of loss before too long.
But the harshness of that reality softens too. Things that we took for granted become treasures that we hold dear. Songs take on new meaning; scenes become more poignant; we hold the people we love a little tighter in our embrace. Just like life, loss takes and gives (albeit in grossly unequal measure).
With a new year just hours away, I suspect social media will be awash with comments telling 2016 to ‘fuck off’. People will dismiss what they see as a bad year in the blind hope that the next one can’t get any worse, when of course it can. But it can get better too, just not by sitting round and doing nothing to help it along. In my experience, hope has never got very far without a little action to move things forward.
As I look back over a year when a Brazilian hairdresser brought about one of the biggest legal challenges in British history, I’m reminded of what can be achieved when we are compelled to stand up for our beliefs. I’m reminded of a quote I heard for the first time in 2016 by an American academic called Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
How exhilarating things could be if we could take that spirit into the new year and make good things happen together. How amazing it would be if we looked back this time next year in celebration rather than regret.