In my blog, My grief observed, I wrote about death bringing the fragility of life to the forefront.
When you hear of someone dying it makes you consider, even briefly, your own mortality. When it happens directly to someone you love, it often forces you to focus on your own life/health much more intensely, that you’re perhaps only a heartbeat from death. (Of course, I’m relating this to my own experience and our society in general, people in war-torn countries will understandably have a vastly different perspective on this.)
For me, the impact death has had on me was influenced to a large degree by my age and my relationship with that person.
My first experience of loss was when my grandad died, on New Year’s Eve, when I was about 18, after many years of mental and physical deteration to Alzheimer’s. I remember being called away from the Town Hall New Year’s Eve Ball just after the clock struck midnight in order to be with our mum. It was surreal – one minute dancing with a huge crowd of revellers, the next stood out in the cold, quiet night waiting for a taxi to take us to Mum’s while everyone else carried on celebrating. Ever since, I thought of Grandad at New Year and avoided the parties and hype.
When it happened, I recall feeling distinctly numb. I witnessed my mum in her grief. It was scary and confusing to see her so helpless to her emotions, especially when I wasn’t able to join her and didn’t know how to comfort her. I didn’t cry at all and worried it meant I wasn’t sad enough. I loved and had fond memories of him. I felt the sorrow of my grandma and other family, but I didn’t know how to react. I felt detached, as though I couldn’t make sense of it.
At the funeral, my first, I saw his coffin and the tears spilled out before I realised what was happening. It was almost embarrassing, but there was nothing I could do. I didn’t just weep, I sobbed like a child unable to control it. It seemed inappropriate. Everyone else had a teary eye or a fixed jaw in mournful respect. I snivvled my way through the entire thing and kept away from people afterwards, not knowing how to share my grief.
Then, a few years later, the same reaction happened when my uncle died. He lived in London and while I hadn’t seen him for some years, I had nothing but fond memories of him. It was a sad and lonely end to a turbulent life, but he was a handsome, kindhearted and charming man. His death shocked us all. The order of things was wrong. I was now married and we had been trying for some time to conceive and were about to undergo further tests. The day after hearing of his death, I found out I was pregnant with Abigail. I recall feeling this was no small coincidence.
Again, I didn’t cry until the funeral itself and my reaction, probably boosted by pregnancy hormones, was even more impassioned. The impact of seeing a coffin knowing that the person you have loved is in there and was about to be burned to ash is so deeply final, it makes the death real. How can we all be alive yet this person lie dead among us, never to see the blue sky, a bird or a feel the wind on his face again?
But, despite my sorrow, following both funerals, I felt an urge to live, to make the most of my life and follow my heart. It almost gave me a boost. To stop looking down at my feet and start looking up and ahead. I didn’t feel mournful as such, more glad that I was alive and had my life ahead of me and the joyful anticipation of a new baby; I felt they were watching over me.
Then, five years ago, a work colleague and friend lost her battle with cancer. She was a life-loving, dedicated family woman and her death upset those who worked with her deeply.
For some time after her death, I internalised the fear of something similar happening to me. I suffered from insomnia and anxiety, worrying that something would take me from my babies. I became hypersensitive. I would focus on every death I heard of – the young, tragic cases. I organised our wills and overhauled our life insurance. I started to take better care of myself, realising that if I were to become ill it was better to start with a healthy body. Being around for my children was all that mattered.
With Abi though, it’s been a very different experience. I was now the one on the receiving end, as it were. I had been a bystander on the other occasions, now it was happening to me and my family. I at once was aware of how people act around death and understood more about why we do or say what we do.
The worry about life ending hasn’t left me and has had a huge impact on my wellbeing and outlook. I can be getting on with things for a few days or weeks and then I’ll have a sort of slump when I realise I’ve been living ‘normally’ and spend some time feeling confused and uncertain about how exactly I’m supposed to ‘be’ when life is so fragile.
Does it really matter that the house is a mess and I’ve eaten an entire packet of biscuits? Shouldn’t I be aspiring to a clean home and a healthy diet? Pitiful thoughts of ‘what’s the point?’ take over momentarily, but it’s enough to unbalance me and it takes willpower to snap myself out of it. I know it’s no life to be thinking I could be dead tomorrow, but I can’t seem to stop that thought intruding my mind.
I used to, naturally, believe I would grow old with my husband, watching our children grow and flourish, and see them have their own families or travelling the world. Now, that security has vanished and it’s left me feeling somewhat lost and uncertain. The chances may be fairly slim that something as tragic will happen directly to us again, but then I hear of others’ multiple losses and I think of the chances of Abi being struck down by this brain haemhorrhage as a million to one and suddenly chance means nothing again.
I hope, with time, my inner stability will restore, as the focus shifts from death to new life with the birth of my baby and our efforts to re-establish a secure and happy home. Yes, death shakes us all up to various degrees, but life prevails and I will endeavour to keep in mind that life is for living, loving and enjoying.