Growing grief and planting pain

Grief has moved in with me and follows me around the house like the dog.   He is a sullen shadow who drapes his arm around my shoulder and snuggles up to me at night. But he isn’t aggressive or chaotic or loud, but slow and droll and quiet.   I live with him, and we get along ok together, working silently together as we do the dishes, and hang out the washing, and make the beds.

My grief is deep and dense but not necessarily dark. Maybe I just haven’t reached that darkness yet, maybe I went so dark in the early aftermath of mum’s stroke, that I don’t need to go there again.   But what I have learned about grief is that it has to be lived. It cannot be ignored, or put aside or glossed over with sparkling gin and tonics. And it can’t be fixed. It just has to be lived. And so when my mum died, I drove Grief back with me to the house and gave him the spare key and a towel. He lives in the house and potters around me, and loiters in the sun stream as the new Spring rays pierce my windows with their sprinkling of promise.

Sometimes, I forget he is there, and I busy on with my life, the girls dancing around my introspection, their laughs and bickering filling the air with Future. And sometimes I feel the weight of his arm as he appears at my side and drapes my shoulder with his presence. And whispering me memories that will now only ever be Past. And I feel that weight all through my body.

But I know enough now to know I have to live with him. He has come to visit or stay, I don’t know which, but he is not there to dominate, just mingle.  And I find I can bear the weight.

But a harder weight to bear, harder than living with your own Grief, is watching that of others. For just over a year I have watched my girls grapple with their Grief and mourn the family they once had.  Their pain was unbearable to watch, and it took me a time to realise I couldn’t fix them. I could only wrap them with as much love as I could to soften the jabs of Grief’s elbows.

And so I watch my Dad, haunted by the hollowness of loss, and I know that all I can do is let him live it. I talk to him every day and plan lots of time together, but in the end, I know the silence of his house that for so long was filled with mum, her friends, the carers, is now hushed by the shuffle of Grief who wonders the rooms of a lifetime together looking for memories. 

I cannot fix their grief. I can’t fix my own. And now that I know that, I adjust to living with it.  And it is ok. 

IMG_5255Because we have found a way to make room for our new houseguest.  My dad arrived with flower pots for the girls, to water and watch as lipstick red tulips emerge to kiss the spring air. And together we have planted our pain into the soil, potting colour and growing our grief through the petals of nature. We have planted a bush for Mum, it’s buds tightly protecting the glory of it’s beauty that will emerge as the sun shines down on them in the next few weeks. My mum loved sitting in the garden with her face turned to the sun, just like those buds. That is my memory of us. Together, chatting, our smiles reflected in the sunshine. So my dad and I, and the girls have planted a little garden for her, with a water feature, a trickle of water playing a melody for my memories.  And over the coming weeks, months and years, it will mature and become a part of the garden, just like Grief will slowly change from being an uncomfortable houseguest, to part of who we are. And I now sit in the quiet of the setting sun, my face turned to the fading heat, my mum’s bloom yearning to open up with colour and potential, and Grief sits beside me.  But so does my mum. And they both drape their arms over my shoulders and I am ok.

IMG_5256

About Grin & Tonic by Alana Kirk

Bouncing into middle age armed with courage, ambition and a pair of tweezers (chin hairs for anyone over the age of 45 reading this) I am a writer with a mission: to redefine this midway point in my life when the last thing I want to do is hang up my high heels and become invisible. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. A single mum to 3 fabulous girls, an author, and a fundraising consultant, both ends of my candle are on fire. As I enter this new stage of my life, I want to explore what it means for 'mid-aged' women today, who were promised they could have it all, ended up doing it all, and just do not identify with the traditional image of middle age.
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