Wednesday, 16 September 2015

On grieving...

I heard the beginning of Margaret Throsby's interview on ABC Classic FM on the car radio a little earlier today. Her guest, Dr Gillian Trigg, chose the beginning of the first movement of Elgar's cello concerto with Jacqueline du Pre playing to kick off the program. It's one of my favourite pieces of music, particularly with du Pre playing. When asked why she'd chosen that piece, Dr Trigg said that it reminded her, born in England, of things English, but also she so loved the way du Pre played. She spoke about the tragedy of du Pre's early death from MS, and made a comment about the saying 'favourites of the gods die young'. There are SO many variants on that saying - it crops up in literature all the time. At this time in my life, of course, it resonates strongly. My friend Lizzie was only 53. So, yet another trigger for the floods of tears that are beginning to be a regular feature of my days as the reality of her death really starts to hit now that the funeral is over and I'm back home.

Grief is a strange beast. Many people have tried to analyse it, work out some kind of formula that those of us who grieve can work to so we can possibly see an end... After my mother died, I found myself having moments of absolute fury in response to many of the platitudes well meaning folk voiced, obviously in an effort to encourage me to 'move on' and 'get over' my mother's sudden death. My experience was showing me very clearly that there was no straightforward journey when grieving a loved one. Certainly, the model that posits a series of defined stages that you move through until you reach the end and are done - presumably to then just pick up the pieces and go on with life again - made absolutely no sense to me at all. 

What I found was that the loss of my mother had a way, after the initial few months while it was still just so raw, of sneaking up behind me and biting hard at the most unpredictable moments. I could be having a perfectly normal conversation with someone, and I'd suddenly be overwhelmed by a huge lump in my throat, a wobbly voice and the tears, once more, running down my face. It still happens...twelve years on. 

I managed last week, a week that included my birthday and all of DD's well laid plans to celebrate, to get through the days after Lizzie's death with lots of memories of the good times we'd shared over so many years. The conversations, the discussions, the sharing of our children's lives, and so on...sharing them with DD, who'd only met her once. I planned my trip interstate for her funeral, accompanied by phone messages with another of my good friends who was also travelling there, making arrangements... He and a third friend picked me up on the morning of the funeral and we spent the rest of the day together. The trip to the church was full of the catch up conversations that are inevitable with people you've not seen for many years. But then it all started to catch up with us.

That moment at a funeral when you see the coffin for the first time is impossibly hard. The cold hard reality that the person you loved so much is really dead is completely unavoidable. Lizzie's funeral was very simple - just as she'd planned it. All of the people who spoke or sang were there at her request. There was some comfort that the hundreds of us who were there were participating in something she'd created, but at the same time, that it was the last thing she'd organise wasn't far from my thoughts. Her husband told all three of us that she'd have been so glad we were there - which triggered memories of her mother saying something similar to me when I flew across for her father's funeral, and again her brother Peter saying it when I went to their mother's funeral a few years later. I can remember Lizzie's face in amongst the sea of faces at my mother's funeral too, and how loved I felt seeing her and so many others of my friends who were there for me as well as my mother. 

Coming home closed some pages. A funeral is, after all, a ritual that enables us to say goodbye. But none of us wanted to do that. I sat at the airport waiting for my flight and the thing that wouldn't leave my head was that I was leaving there and I'd not seen Lizzie, as I usually did when I visited... I just couldn't get my head around that. I still can't get my head around it. 

At times like this, we look for explanations, rationales, anything that can help us make sense of something that just doesn't make any sense. We ask questions like, 'how could someone so young, so good, die?' The reality is that there are no answers to those questions. 

From the experience of grieving my mother, I am expecting that Lizzie's death will mean entering that weird loop of feelings yet again - because death and grieving doesn't offer a straight line you can follow. The feelings come back over and over, often at the most inconvenient and unexpected times. They don't go away. They change a bit over time because we change as we gain different life experiences. It's not a circle, as such, but a spiral where we can come back to a place that feels similar to where we've been before, but it's a little different each time as we go on living. The memories grow sweeter, and the regrets that we've been that much longer without those loved ones grow, the conversations that we'll not have any more - although, I do find myself talking to my mother now and again...she just doesn't talk back any more. 

At the end of Lizzie's funeral, we were offered sprigs of rosemary to leave on her coffin - a herb that symbolises memory. In Judaism, there is a teaching that says that a person never truly dies while someone remembers them. It's why we mark their yarzeit (yearly anniversary of their death) by reciting the Mourner's Kaddish in their name. Those daily memories that we can share with others in between are part of the remembering and the healing. And that healing will come, I know. I'm just not there yet.  


  1. THank you for sharing your friend with us.

    1. Lene, thank you for reading and commenting. I know, from reading your blog, that you would understand that there are the posts you plan and the posts that just insist on being written. This was definitely one of the latter. Writing things out can be enormously helpful. But more, sharing memories of our loved ones is such an important way of keeping those memories alive and cherished. They ought not to be forgotten. It was an important part of last Saturday for the three of us at her funeral and throughout the day.