Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Musings on grief: how I'm faring

My goodness! I have been floored by your enthusiastic responses to the sneak peek at *my room of my own*. I never imagined you’d find it that interesting, let alone inspiring . I’ve waited so long for it (try 41 years!) so it’s no wonder I’m fired up with enthusiasm and ideas as to how I want to use and decorate it. I promise I’ll post some more photos soon, including close-ups of the little bits you seem most interested in. But enough about that. So many of you have been kindly emailing, Facebooking and texting me, asking me how I’m going. So today, I thought I’d let you in on my thoughts at the moment.
Christmas 1981 watching present opening - a quiet moment captured
Counting the weeks

This whole grieving thing is so odd. I’ve been through it with two grandparents, an uncle and a close family friend. But nothing can prepare you for losing your parent.

I have been struggling through the past weeks (6 today since Dad died). Yes, I'm still at the 'counting the weeks' stage. Do any of you relate to that? I used to do it when the pixies were newborns. This time around, although it’s such a different reason for counting. I don’t consciously do it – it just strikes me every Wednesday. I guess that will pass with time.

My doctors tell me that dealing with the loss of a loved one can take at least a year to reach a manageable level of acceptance. It’s helped to know that.

The lawyer in me thinks “There’s no statute of limitations for grief” – it can bob up again, years down the track, just when you least expect it.

I doubt you ever really *get over it* but rather, learn to live with it. And I guess, gradually, the pain ebbs away a bit.

Feeling the rawness

It all feels so raw, especially when I visit Mum and see all Dad's things there. It is so painful to see. They have spent the past 34 years there and had nearly 50 years together, so there are so many reminders of their life together but also because it was our family home. I lived with Mum and Dad until I married, aged 28, so the house is spilling over with memories for me.

Mum keeps finding my old possessions or things she doesn’t want anymore so I invariably head home from a visit with more tangible reminders of Dad, triggering more emotions.

Noticing Dad’s absence

I am feeling the difference between Dad's 'presence' and 'absence' most keenly. It’s amazing what a difference changing a few letters can make to a word.

He’s just not there anymore. I guess I’m struggling with that finality. I know he’s gone. I know that on a *rational level*.  But my head is still grappling with it.

I don’t expect to see sitting in his armchair with the blanket we gave him for his 75th birthday.

I don’t expect him to answer the phone when I ring up Mum.

I certainly don't want him to go on living like he was at the end – it was just devastating to see such a proud and noble gentleman so reduced and enfeebled.

But then I find myself with questions I want to ask him. Like whether I can transplant a lavender bush from one part of the garden to the other without it dying. Or whether I should get a building inspector to do an audit of our new house as we didn’t do one before we bought it so we know what work needs to be done and when. That sort of stuff. He had such a wealth of knowledge to tap into. I guess now I’ll have to find someone else to ask.

The regret

I’m not tormenting myself with the ‘if only’ scenarios of life. I’ve really tried to *live in the moment* with Dad for the past 2 years since we returned to Hobart from Sydney.

About a fortnight before he died, I had the great fortune of spending two evenings with him when he was extraordinarily lucid. I seized my chance and told him everything I wanted to say about what a wonderful father he had been. He took it in and gave his trademark little giggle, bashfully. He had understood every word of it.

A wave of relief and calmness flowed through me. To have that chance was such a blessing.

My regret centres on the disappointment he has missed out on seeing the pixies grow up as he cherished them so much. And the bond he and I shared was just so strong (tears are spilling down my face as I write this) that I can't imagine his not being there for me. 

The bitter-sweetness of life

Life feels so bitter-sweet right now. We have our treasured pixies, this gorgeous house and garden with so many possibilities and long-cherished dreams we can finally carry out.

That is leavened by the immense pain I feel about losing Dad.

My faith is comforting me with the thought that he’s in a better place now, surrounded by his loved ones who have gone before him, and he’s pain-free.

Joshua and India have grasped this concept remarkably well. They reassure me that "It's okay, Mummy. When we get to heaven, Pa will tell us all the things he's been doing up there". Oh, to have the blind and unshakeable faith of a child. Sammy, however, just walks up to me, unprompted, and says “Papa. Sad.” My heart breaks.

The unbearable lightness of being

It's weird - such a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders that I can't get the phrase 'the unbearable lightness of being' out of my head. It's one of my favourite books and films and really resonates with me. I feel like I’m floating, untethered. I need to feel more grounded, somehow. 

Of course, that's inevitable with the pixies but I'm looking for it in another sense. I think I need to start crafting again, making something with my idle hands, feeling like I'm making a difference and leaving my mark on the world. Does any of this make sense to you all?

I also know Dad would want me to get stuck into crafting more love and individuality into our little home, making it our own. But I have to be careful to pace myself. Otherwise, I find myself manically scrubbing at minute specks of mould in the shower or hacking ivy away with my bare hands. I can become a little OCD-ish and need to make sure I take my medication on time.

Where to next?

A dear and wise friend told me recently to ‘go gently’ - that's my aim, although it's hard.

Yes, grief is hard and long and I don't know where it will lead me. What I am really trying to focus on is this proverb sent to me by a dear friend.
Let’s see how I go. I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts about how you’ve coped with grief like this. All suggestions are most welcome. Let’s share our insights. Maybe one little phrase might help someone reading this. Or me!


  1. Dear Jane - so sorry to hear this sad news. My parents have been interstate, so hadn't had much Hobart news in NZ lately.
    Condolences and best wishes,

  2. Dear Lovely Jane, so poignantly written, straight from your heart. As you know my dad passed away just over four years ago and I know some of what you are feeling...definitely 'go gently' and don't rush yourself...grief has no timetable, it is a law unto itself. You will find yourself suddently beset by it as you drive in the car...when a song comes on the radio or something triggers a memory of your dad. Your little ones will be there to cuddle you and tell you it's will your husband I'm sure :)
    The connections are the key as time goes on...he will always be present through the connections you make between things that happen in your life from here on and the way those things resonate with your dads life and influence...and that's how your little ones will come to know him better.

  3. Yes, the unbearable lightness of being. Grief is such a strange state to be in. My stepfather died two months ago and I found cooking 'grounded' me a little. It continues. Thank you for your eloquence - it has helped me. Look after yourself. xxx

  4. Oh, I am sorry for your loss jane, i haven't visited in a while. My Dad died 9 years ago and it is still very sad that first year is very hard. Big hugs. xx

  5. Dear Jane,

    I completely get everything you have just written. It ALL resonates with me right now.

    Although not a parent, the loss of my grandmother just 2 weeks ago has left me more saddened than I would have imagined. She was like a mother to me in many ways, not least because I didn't have my own mother in my life from the age of 12. My grandmother was also one of the only female figures in my life that I truly adored.

    Grief is odd though isn't it? I don't have any answers. I've been away a few days and the distraction was good. But then a simple trip to the grocery store can make me tear up at the sight of a little old lady.

    Definitely do something creative, having the mind completely focussed on a task is a wonderful break for the emotionally exhausted mind. Look after yourself. Be positive. I LOVE the hebrew proverb. I had a chance to say goodbye and I feel VERY grateful for this. I have photos up and enjoy looking at old ones of her and us and when I look at them I tell myself how lucky I am even as the tears flow. Accept the grief as normal. Although physically not there anymore, he lives within you forever, all the knowledge he has passed onto you and the memories are yours.

    Take care Jane

    Mel xx

  6. Thank you Jane. I hope this was as helpful to you as reading it was to me. I know I'll need to come back to this one day, which will be sooner than later.

    Carmel xo

  7. beautifully written and I could have written so much of it. I just couldn't write how I was feeling on my blog as I knew my dad and family read my blog and I just couldn't share it all but it still hurts. this friday will be 6 months for my mum and it still hurts, family events and the lead up are hard because you know someone is missing. And those moments when you realise you won't see them again and it really sinks again and then I think it hasn't really sunk in.

    big hugs, it's such a hard time. My dad summed it best when I said how great it was he had his kayaking and activities and he said I have 2 choices - I could sit home and be miserable all the time or get out there and do something. And that's where having your own little family will keep making it easier and help you.

    big hugs to you, it's still so early for you and I always think of you and how you're doing.

  8. It's hard to read this and not well up is so beautifully written and expresses the sentiments of how I feel over the loss of all my loved ones in the time we have been living in Australia. I think the hardest thing for me to acccept is the not having a chance to say goodbye. Like you I just took each day one step at a time :)

    Take care.


  9. So sorry to hear about your loss. I haven't been through losing a parent yet but it's something that I dread so much. May you always remember your day fondly. I love the Hebrew proverb! xx

  10. My late dad was a gentle man too, and the only way I could cope the first year, was to train myself not to think about things at night. And sewing. Sewing has always helped me in times of stress.

  11. There is definitely no statute of limitations for grief, Jane. Your dad seems (I can never use past tense with people, I don't know why) such a gentle soul and so kind. You are so much like him. x

  12. Hello Jane, That must be so hard I have no answers for you...My biggest fear is loosing my parents and not being able to get there on time (all my family of origin lives so far from me)...I lost my dear Grandma this way and it still bring tears to my eyes these days.Try not "overthink" what you can not control maybe and concentrate on the pixies and your hubby and your new home ?I hope you feel better slowly my lovely...xx

  13. I hear and totally understand all you wrote.

    Like you were writing from my mind all those years ago...

    You know what to do to get through this time. Just make sure you do it.

  14. Dear Jane, I so feel with you dealing with the loss of your dad. I'm glad you managed to tell him all your feelings and that he understood - I have no idea to deal with the loss of a parent - the fact that you have the strength to share it with us is just amazing. The proverb is beautiful.
    Love from me in Denmark

  15. Dear Jane,

    Thank you for sharing your sorrow with us. I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes knowing that one day I will fully understand your pain.

    I wish you well,

  16. Sound advice from your doctors, Jane, that grief takes time... although just how long I'm not sure. My father died when I was 18 and it took a good three years afterwards to be able to tell new friends without my voice breaking. It's a part of my life but even still, especially now that I have children of my own who are missing a grandfather, the grief creeps in and takes over at unexpected times. I let it. Best to be honest with yourself about these things and just go with it... gxo

  17. hello sweetie - thoughts with you le xox

  18. Beautiful Jane. I dont think you would ever feel 'normal' when it comes to that sort of loss, I think that is normal. Half of you is that lovely Man and should that void ever heal over? I hope not. You should always feel a mix bag of emotions when thinking of him. At first it will be sadness, but soon it will be joy to have had him as YOUR Dad, happiness to have told him what you felt, love for everyday he was there doing his thing.....
    Im thinking of you sweetie and sending a huge hug your way.
    Ness xx
    Marley & Lockyer

  19. Oh Jane, as hard as it is for me to read about your pain, I could read your words over and over. You write so beautifully. I think everything you've expressed makes perfect sense. I'll be honest, I dread the day either of my parents are no longer here. I do think of it more often these days, probably due to their age and also having my own family now. I know that no amount of preparing myself will make it easier when the time comes, so instead I just enjoy every single moment we share, take every opportunity to tell them I love them and record as much as I can about them on my blog... because it's the perfect vessel for carrying the memories into the future. Life is so fragile sweet Jane. I think you're remarkable to post so eloquently about something so emotionally challenging. Hugs to you.
    And I look forward to seeing more of your room of your own soon xoxo

  20. Go gently sounds like beautiful advice. Grief is so individual. There is no right or wrong way. 'The unbearable lightness of being' is one of my favourite books also. Haven't thought of it in years. Must return to it.

  21. Sweetie, grief is indeed for everyone different... My heart was heavy reading this post, I feel for you and your mama.... Just keep on going as you do now, it seems you are going on the right track, being with your loved ones and knowing with your head to go and put your love into crafting and your new home, just take your time... As you said, you still count the weeks, so take all the time you need... And if you want to write it off your chest, know I will listen, an ocean apart, another timezone, but I will, Maureen x

  22. Yes, I am still counting the weeks aswell. Yes, I have the regrets that Dad will never see the boys grow up and that they will not know him as adults. Or the biggest concern is that they will only remember him as being a sick old man and not the wonderful Grandad he was.

    Thank you for sharing. I have really been just floating along trying to deal with the day to day. I find I have been turning to my knitting and have just started baking again. I love the advice you received about going gently, that is all we can do. That and remembering the wonderful times and sharing them with our young ones. My thoughts are with you and your family. Warmest hugs, Deb

  23. Jane, you are doing so well. I think some crafting will really help though. I like to keep my mind busy, not that you're not busy with your kiddies! It would be nice for you though. I suppose the grief eases over time, but of course you'll never forget. But as I said, I think you are coping so so well x

  24. Jane, grief takes forever, my mum died two years ago and I still struggle. Just take each day as it comes. If you need to cry wherever you are just cry. The pain is extremely intense. Just the other day I was in the local library with my daughter and an older lady dropped her wallet, I bent down to pick it up for her and I just started to cry. It just happens when you least expect it. I feel for you and your family all the very best. Mimi xxx

  25. Dear Jane
    I'm really sorry to hear this sad news.
    Condolences and best wishes,

  26. Why, thankyou everyone - your kind, thoughtful and compassionate responses have floored me. Once again. I really appreciate all your suggestions, especially from those who have trodden this path before me. You have huge hearts. J x

  27. Dear Jane, I so admire how poignantly you bare your soul, even though things must feel so raw still. Stay strong and definitely go gently, one hour,day or week at a time. xx

  28. Thanks, Amanda, you darling. I'll try! J x

  29. Dear Jane,
    It is 11 years on the 11th of this month that we remember my dad's departure from this earth, and it is still hard however the rawness is softened somewhat. my only regret is that he never saw me find my husband and be blessed with my miracle Sophie in 2007, although I'm sure he knows about her!!!

    Take special care of yourself each and every day,
    Christine xo

  30. Oh Christine, you darling. Thankyou. I'll be thinking of you on the 11th. J x


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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