So, it’s been a year and two months and a week, and two days since my little sister, Libby, died. Yes, I plan to always talk of the time passing like that. I can’t help it and I don’t mind it.
I’ve learnt too much in the last year for one blog post. Days of Hilda was never meant to be a grief blog, it was an experimental, life thing, but grief is what it has morphed into. Now and then I wonder what will kick Libby off the front page. Still, all these posts are about what I’ve learned, sometimes I know what I’ve learned and other times I understand the lesson in the writing of the post.
Grief. It’s tricky. People have ideas, there are books about how to grieve, the web is fall of ideas. I’m contributing my ideas, and believe me, they have changed from Day One to whatever day this is. Maths is not my strong suit. My strong suits are chocolate, cuddles, and trying to make my sons laugh.
But distillation of ideas is good and everybody loves a list.
Grief Survival Kit
Tissues. Too obvious? Nope. I have tissues in a couple of rooms in my house, in my car, coat pocket, bag. For months, from the first day, I carried around a pink-striped ankle sock. There were tears, the sock was closest, it was soft and absorbent, I dabbed my eyes and shoved the sock into my jeans pocket and kept going. After that, my sock would make it out of one pocket and into another. It became a comfort. I’ve since let go of the sock. Here’s the thing. Do not think your tears are going to dry up anytime soon. We have an infinite supply of tears and they can be brought about by, a song, a smell, a dream, the day of the week, a favourite food, a remembered argument, Christmas, somebody being kind, a dear friend who suffers a loss, a news item about loss, but also, surprisingly, joy. Great joy can make tears come.
On joy. This is going to sound a little odd. I have never been as happy as I have been since my sister died. Weird, unexpected, and I’m thankful. I don’t think it is as simple as making every minute count, looking at the bright side, giving thanks. Anyway, try them, those things are simple on paper and hard in real life. It’s bigger and deeper and better than that. The joy seems to be about acceptance and letting go. It’s about knowing you were loved and that you love. And about being there for the small things, not just cycling the track but noting it, the smell, the colours, your breath, the sound of your tires on the trail. Paying attention. When this first happened, my sister dying of a heart attack on her couch at the age of forty-two, if there was one thing I wanted out of it, other than a time machine, it was to pay attention. Do not get me wrong. I have been depressed, I’ve stayed in bed when I could, I’ve dropped going out to necessities. I’m trying to keep the black dog in her kennel at the bottom of the yard and not on the foot of my bed. But joy, it can be there, and better, I hold onto it when it comes.
Find a scared space. For some it’s a church, it can be automatic, especially if you grew up going to church. But churches don’t do it for everybody. For me, it became the bush. A particular hill in a particular stretch of forest. I’d ride it and always stop at the top. I’d sit on the grass and look up into the trees and think of Libby. Crying was less painful up there on that hill. Now, it is Platypus Rock. Yep, I can thank a watery little animal I’ve only glimpsed twice, but that is okay with me, in fact, it is apt. Libby was an animal lover and that platypus, well, he was a sign. It’s become something that place. It is sacred. I have a much better understanding of scared places since we found Platypus Rock. There are days when I ache to be there. I don’t have to stay long – ten minutes, five – but I stand on the rock and talk to Libby and often find myself laughing. And I always walk away feeling free, light, ready.
Here is another oddish thing. Try to hang out with people who have lost someone. I don’t mean put a profile on a dating website, hi, I’m looking for a recently bereaved person who likes walks on the beach in the rain. Don’t go looking. You probably won’t have to because bereavement seems to come up.Because people who have not suffered a loss do not get it. They don’t, they can’t, and that is fair. Before all this I had an intellectual idea of grief informed by people I know who’ve lost someone, by books and movies. I’d lost my Grandma but she was ninety-seven, it hurt and I still think of her, but it was nothing like this. Nothing. I can see now how inadequate I have been with people who have lost someone. I didn’t mean to be insensitive, I just didn’t get it. Hang out with people who understand. You have to say anything much, sometimes nothing, a hand on the shoulder can do it.
Don’t hang out with people who have lost someone. And that is because, life goes on. If someone had said that to me, life goes on, as recently as six months ago I might have punched him or her in the face (or more likely have found a nice, soft corner to cry in). I have learnt, life goes on. It’s rude at first, the way the sun shines, and the days tick over, and people walk their dogs, and go to work, and buy bread and coffee, and do all the other ordinary stuff of life. It sucks that people are out being themselves when you have lost your sister. That Auden poem, stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, he nails it. The early days are days of wanting stasis and finding none, or not much, because you are required, your life needs you. So go back to work, be there for your children, have tonnes of cappuccino with your best friend, and hang out with people who didn’t even know your lost one. Get on the internet. That’s what I did.