what’s grief again?

August is Grief Awareness month. Of course I find that hilarious. I’d be looking for Greif Unawareness Month. A good thirty or so sunrises and sundowns of not knowing about death, and tears, and wishing my little sister, Libby, was here.
Can you imagine it?
A month of how it was before you lost your loved one.
Easy, free days of ordinary life. The liberation of taking someone’s presence for granted. Of not calling her back right now, I’ll do it tomorrow. Or blithely pretending everybody lives forever, and funerals, mourning, missing, are somebody else’s problem. I never knew what to say to someone recently bereaved. Funny thing is, I still don’t know what to say, except, I’m so sorry. Which as it turns out is often enough.
I am sorry, because I’m aware of grief now.
I know the finality I never understood.
Dead is dead. Disappeared. I might have her books, and clothes, and things she loved, but they are like slippery shadows of her. She is gone.
The other day I was visiting Darren, my sister’s partner, when I saw her hairbrush on the coffee table. Two years on and yes, we sorted her clothes, bagged them, donated them, kept a few articles for ourselves, and there are still bits and pieces of Libby’s daily life around the house like she’ll be back any second. She’s gone to the shop and she’ll be back.
Darren was I the kitchen when I picked up Libby’s hairbrush. It seemed like a private thing to do. I picked a curling strand from the brush and slid my finger along it. Twisted, bumpy, golden, I held it soft and felt her. I was with her. I slipped the hair into my pocket.
The things you do.
When I got home I picked the hair out of my pocket, sat on the couch twirling it round my finger, held it up to the light, here was something tangible, less disappeared. I decided to put the proof into an envelope.
It’s no mean feat to deliver a single hair into an envelope.
I made it small, tight, so I could feel it better, and I tucked the hair carefully into a corner, and licked the gummy edges and sealed the envelope. Then I looked down and noticed a shiny twisty longish gold hair on my black t-shirt.
Seems I’d carefully sealed a strand of nothing into my envelope.
Another envelope. Curled the hair into a tiny sideways figure eight eternity symbol. Dropped it into the envelope. Squinted into the white to ensure the hair was there. So far so much better than my first attempt. Sealed the envelope. Found a pen. What to write, what to write. I wanted to say something like DO NOT THROW OUT but it seemed negative, plus a bit of an invitation.
Terrible handwriting it says, Libby. Keep forever.
My grandmother died nearly sixteen years ago. I held onto some clothes, jumpers, her dressing gown, not to wear just to have. I’ve got her old blue purse, and a couple of scritchy-scratchy shopping lists. But I love her glasses the best. They were close, on her face, she wore them everyday. They still have a smear of thumbprint on one of the lenses. Evidence.
Grief Awareness Month isn’t for us, the left. It can’t be. We know, we are aware. It must be for the people who love us, who work with us, share time with us. If you have had a loss and you’re reading this you’ll know what I mean. And if you haven’t you’re lucky and what I call one of the Other People. An innocent. Enjoy your naivety because it won’t last forever. Unfortunately.
Grief is like anything else you have to experience to understand; parenting, sex, credit card debt, you name it.
You can read up on an issue, try to be empathetic, try to say the right thing, but until you have lost, you don’t know. I didn’t. Not even with my grandmother. She was ninety-seven and she was good to go, and though I miss her, because her passing was expected and probably a good thing, it’s different. I do love that thumbprint, though.
I don’t know what to make of a month of Grief Awareness. I like that it’s an attempt at understanding and solidarity, it’s good that people care, and that more is being put into the death and dying conversation. But I’d go back to being blissfully unaware in a New York instant. You, Other People, you can have all the awareness you want, me, I’ll stay here in Pretending She’s Not Gone Land. Twenty-five days left.


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