Growing with Grief
It is a truth universally acknowledged that all of us will lose a loved one during our lifetime. It is a truth less universally acknowledged that grief - although hopefully lessened over time - never truly ends, something our society hasn't really made allowances for. But what if you lose someone when you're in the clutches of early adulthood, not yet completely sure of your own identity? What part does grief take in moulding and shaping the person you become?
Honestly, it's not something I've been able to find much about (except for an incredible book "Motherless Daughters" by Hope Edleman) and trying to bring this conversation up, especially with those grieving at a later stage in life or friends who can't relate can cause awkward shuffling eyes and sometimes the most amusing switch of conversation! People assume the topic of grief dark and depressing, and although it can be, it doesn't always have to be. I don't believe the death of my parents has made me sadder, in many ways it's made the little moments between family and friends more special, bringing joy where former me might have not paid as much attention. But it has changed me and today I want to lift the lid and explore exactly how much ones grief takes a role in their lives going forward.
*Warning this is a really honest look at grief so I've put some helpful links at the bottom for those who need it*
Grief in our society has a short time stamp. Although if you asked them, they'd never expect you to just get over it or move on: life, the economy and your inbox wait for no one. As this is the way the outside world views someone's grief, it's hard not to mirror these expectations in your own personal bereavement: desperately trying to keep up with everyone else or getting frustrated when everything you do reminds you of the person you've lost, making it harder to get tasks completed. My last bad wave hit after my Dad's birthday in October and since then I've managed to function like I used to, even surviving Christmas - a time I'd actually carved out space to grief. Regardless of how society views grief, it is ever present, like a shadow in the corner, giving you the space to be you but never letting you get too comfortable. Grief is now forever part of who you are.
Recently, I've been reminded of this and it's not been an easy pill to swallow, especially as my grief and I are in a good space right now. A few weeks ago, I had the absolute pleasure of introducing my partner to a few family members. As with any well versed second generation Irish family, within the first hour we'd all paused our dry January and were reminiscing about those no longer with us. It was a wonderful night, we sang (badly), danced (also badly) and went to bed feeling like those we loved were remembered and had shared a drink with us. However on the drive home the next morning, the pair of us were exhausted. It suddenly dawned on me how much I've been through and how the often fun and exciting getting-to-know-your-new-partner part for someone who chooses to be in my life also comes with a pretty heavy set of crib notes. Not many women under 30 come complete with iron clad plans to tackle the almost certain future diagnosis of breast cancer or a difficult list of experiences surrounding grief that not many can relate to. More strikingly - with the exception of my stepmum/ parental rock - to my boyfriend, my parents are stories, photos of people he will never meet. It can be tough.
Meeting the parents is a milestone in any relationship. For me, it was always a sign you'd chosen wisely if they could handle the inquisition from your father or have an honest heart to heart with your mother (or vice versa, that was just how my family did it). Everyone is different and some will pick partners happily without doing the parent meet and greet but for me it was always important and still is. I'm pretty sure my stepmum and brother will make the most incredible substitute when this meeting happens but I do sit there from time to time and wonder what my parents would think.
As with my relationship choices, my work choices always benefitted from the opinions of my parents as two people who had been there, seen it and done it all. Since the relaunch, the blog has had a theme of embracing the change on the path to finding your happy and as with any good blog writer, it's totally motivated by my own desire for change. In November last year, I decided to take the plunge and shift my focus onto my writing and more specifically, journalism. As the thing in my life that sparks the most joy, I want it to become my focus, basically having an excuse to do what I love on a more formal basis. However, as with any new venture, you want the opinions of your nearest and dearest to make sure you're not getting carried away - especially when you're an ambitious dreamer like me! Thankfully everyone has been so supportive and a few shocked that my realisation has taken so long but what about my parents? To my parents I was never a writer. I had started the blog in the last few months of Mum's life but Dad hadn't a clue. To my parents, I wanted to be a cellist. If I told them about my journalism aspirations would I be a failure? Would they be disappointed? Cross? Think I've wasted their money?
As a 29-year-old, it seems odd to some to crave parental approval. In your 20s, our relationships with our parents develop from those of parent-child to parent-adult. It's been a long time since they sent you to your room and your finances are now largely your own (yay bills and tax returns!) Although their pat on the back and "I'm proud of you" are really important, the decisions that get you to that point are largely your own. They don't hold your hand all the way anymore. Sadly with grief, the relationship becomes a time capsule, suspended in time. When it comes to my parents approval, I'm stuck in the mindset of a 24 year old.
So how does one grow with grief? How do you still become a beautiful, well-rounded, nurturing human-being whilst carrying this weight around with you? For me, it's been about acceptance. Much easier to write down than to do and certainly not an overnight fix. Losing parents so young, there's a million things they'll miss. Even this early on, they'll never meet my partner and I'll never know for sure how they feel about a career change. But there's an odd comfort in acceptance, knowing there is nothing you can do to change it (short of a resurrection stone and we all know how that ends), instead of feeling lost by the idea of what would they say, you start developing a trust in your own intuition. I know my parents have brought me up with a strong enough moral compass and sense of character to have people in my life who will treat me with as much love and care as I treat them, be it friends or lovers. So instead of me spending precious moments worrying about others approval to fill the void of parental approval, how do I feel? Do I feel safe and loved in this persons company? Do they make me happy? Yes. End of.
I also trust they'd support my career move.... This one is still a work in progress so bear with... My Dad told me on our last day together, that he didn't have his first proper job until he was 32. He wasn't worried about me "making it" early, happiness came first. My Mum, well that was special. In her last month, I remember her cradling me whilst I sat on her lap after having a breakdown (my mental health was not good the two months before she died). She just held me and told me how proud she was and how much she admired me, which shocked me coming from someone I looked up to so much. These are the memories I have to trust and use when my Kraken hits the self-destruct button.
Grief has had a real impact on my ability to feel the extreme happiness I used to only two years ago. Chronically sad on first hearing but I don't feel that way. What my grief has done is made me chase that joy. Life is too short to feel stuck and trapped by inherent sadness that cannot be changed. Honestly it's too short to do anything that doesn't bring you joy! I want life. I want adventure. I want to build a life that challenges me in all the right ways. That doesn't involve me tearing chunks out of myself for hours everyday. I'm on the path less trodden and my god it feels good.
So come on grief, we're going on an adventure!
P.S I hope my honesty in my grief has helped those of you who are grieving too, or those wishing to understand more. Grief is still such a hidden secretive topic, I feel if we're able, we should feel like it can be a topic for general conversation. But if you have been affected by the amount of grief talked about in this post here are some people you can call: