When someone close to you dies, the well-wisher who tells you to ‘stay positive’ should be prepared for a somewhat negative response. What if you weren’t that positive a person in the first place? You’ve certainly never felt less optimistic than you do right now, so staying positive may pose somewhat of a challenge.
But I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with being positive whilst grieving. In fact I find myself using positivity as my weapon in an imaginary duel with the grim shadow of death. I’m playing Luke Skywalker dressed in white and ready to rumble and Grief comes as Darth Vader, dark, dangerous and trying to lure me to the shadowy side.
Grief puts up a good fight – a physical and emotional exchange mixing hard-hitting blows and mind games. Grief tells me it’s my fault that my wife is dead. He tells me I have nothing left to live for. He tells me I’ll never be able to feel like I’m really living again. He makes me think the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought and feel the most negative feelings I’ve ever felt. And when I try to laugh in his face and beat him with positive retorts, his harsh hand tries to slap me back down and put me firmly back in my wretched place. But I’m tougher than I look and my trump card is that I’m not trying to win. I know Grief will be back for more if I put up too strong a fight so I decide to settle for a draw.
So when Grief throws blame at me, I go for a run. I’m pretty fast and I can go for miles without it catching me so I get some time off to empty my head or think about other things. When he suggests I have nothing to live for, I spend time with my son. He confuses the hell out of Grief. He throws little soft punches made of joy, laughter and mischief that Grief can’t defend. Just as Grief thinks he’s got me, my son will say something random like, ‘I love music, Daddy. I love Mickey Mouse!’ Or he’ll try to do the bum wiggle a friend taught him at the weekend, where his bottom doesn’t actually move but he thinks it does because it’s up in the air and his excitedly clenched fists are shaking from side to side. If I’m lucky he might even be my second in the duel and follow me around the house whilst biting on the tail of my shirt pretending I’m the train to his carriage. When Grief makes me think dark thoughts, I think about the good times with my wife. It hurts like hell at the moment because the memories make my eyes go misty and I can’t see that Grief is about to throw a sharp jab, but I keep doing it anyway because it’s worth the pain. And if he does slap me back down, I crawl off beaten, wait for the wounds to heal and come back a little bit stronger.
Grief is a dark place where light seldom shines, but when a spark occasionally flickers it’s unfair of Grief to torture us for our moments of positivity. Sorrow doesn’t bring a dead person back to life. Negative thoughts don’t honour the people we’ve lost more than positive ones. And when the person loved you the way you know they did, it’s reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t get any pleasure from seeing you so constantly forlorn.
That said, sometimes when I feel frustration at my somewhat cactus-like eyes, which can go days with no sign of water, I can hear my wife (the most entertaining person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing) saying, ‘Benji, you’re not sad enough for my liking. I deserve a lot more tears!’ She does, but she also deserves a happy little boy, so I’m not going to beat myself up if I have a good day.