To quote Nick Cave: “If you have been fortunate enough to have been truly loved, in this world, you will also cause extraordinary pain to others when you leave.”
Aint this the truth.
In the midst of national mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, my younger brother Simon; a fit, hiker and hill-walking man, in the prime of his life, died suddenly. Plunging our family into an icy pool of grief with such speed and ferocity we didn’t have time to take a breath. Finding ourselves bobbing on the surface, cold and adrift, searching for something to cling to.
The national mood, with flags lowered, music sombre and the general air of reflection felt apt.
Try as I might, I’ve found it impossible to find the silver lining when it comes to my brother’s death.
The first weeks were the hardest. Or so I thought. Locked in a tormented loop of retrospection, I kept repeating; this time last month he was out for supper. This time last week he was walking along the river. This time last week he called my parents. My thoughts tumbling and shifting as I tried to reconcile the fact that his life, his presence, his routine, and his future had just… stopped.
Some eight weeks later and it still doesn’t feel “true” – I wonder if it ever will.
I also had an odd need to regale people with the news. This is where I was when I was told… this is what happened… this is what happens next… apologies to the man who called from a foreign land to organise a furniture delivery. I’m quite sure you hadn’t banked on hearing about my frantic and hazardous drive from North Devon to my parents’ house in the daze of shock. And if you are reading this, yes, a week next Wednesday will be fine for the sofa.
In the hours and days immediately following, I became someone I never thought I would. Pondering the universe, looking for any kind of association to the ‘other-worldly’ and making links where there were none. It is without regret and offering no apology, I admit to taking comfort from them. These included staring at a prominent cloud that looked vaguely fish shaped. Simon loved to fish, was this a sign? Smelling his favoured cologne in a crowded department store. Actually, in the perfumery, but lingering a while with my eyes closed, was this him too? And my favourite; spotting a large adult eagle hovering over the paddock and wondering if he might have returned as an eagle… I know, I know. The fact that the bird was a few years old at least was neither here nor there.
That’s the thing about grief it isn’t rational, it isn’t linear, and it isn’t fair.
It is instead a terrible journey that no one is ever prepared to travel, even if you think you are.
Grief holds you fast, usurping you at will. It’s exhausting, and it changes the shape of you. And how odd that something so universal can feel so unique.
Simon’s death was unexpected, and as a result our grief is threaded through with chaos and disbelief. It’s like being woken in the middle of the night to be told your boat is on fire – so get off! Get off now! When you didn’t even know you were at sea.
Hardest still is when the loss is not solely yours to bear. I have lost a brother, my young niece a father, my parents a son and on it goes. His passing has cast ripples that will continue outwards until the end of our time.
Even though this state sometimes feels interminable. Time will pass and we will learn to live with the new shape of us, our family with a big hole in it. Our dinner table without his cruelly accurate imitations of people and nicking the crispiest spuds with his fingers.
Life will carry on for us: differently. Because there is no choice.
One day that song that reminds me of him will not make me cry but will make me laugh. How I long for that day! Seeing photographs of him will make me smile and not weep.
I will in time, get over this hurdle of grief. I will slip back into my routine and this ache will dull.
I personally have decided to take a leaf out of Simon’s book, his blueprint for life. A keen angler, he told me only the week before he died that it was nothing to do with catching fish, but everything to do with the stillness, getting lost in the process, a chance to talk, the camaraderie along the river bank or around the lake, and being among nature - I think it sounds like a great way to heal.
And actually, there is a silver lining – and it’s that my darling brother, will never have to experience the pain of losing his parents, partner, siblings, or his child and for that Simon – I truly envy you. Because it’s really rubbish.
So, I guess the message for anyone who is struggling with grief – whether it be recent or old, I know the pain is the same; be kind to yourself, and as we approach the festive season – go gently.
Do whatever it is that makes you feel a little bit better, and you will get through it.
We will get through it.
If anyone wants me - I’ll be under a duvet with a torch, reading, only coming out to eat Quality Street and drink tea…
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I am so very sorry for your loss. You described it beautifully. I lost my oldest sister in 1982, 40 years ago. The pain will lessen, but never go away. Tears and heartache will eventually slow, but life is forever changed, replaced by a new normal. Grieve and let your memories heal you.
Oh darling my heart goes out to you and all your family.
I think it’s so much harder when you lose someone who still has so much left to live for. My brother lost his husband aged 63 after a long illness. But even having time to ‘prepare’ doesn’t help. Mike is still grieving 4 years later and he always will. But he’s coping better now. It’s a bit of a platitude but I think time does heal, albeit you may never truly recover.
Sending massive hugs and if that’s where you need to be stay under that duvet 😘