I think that it’s fair to say that 2016 hadn’t been the kindest of years. This time last year my brother had just come out of a coma, just one of the many hurdles he needed to leap in a bid to beat leukaemia. We lost Jimmy to the bastard disease in November, ten days before his 35th birthday and only five months after we lost our father to a cancer only confirmed ten weeks before.
When one of your 5-year-old twins comments how, when packing away the Christmas tree into its box, it looks like Grandad in his coffin, you realise just how cruel 2016 has been to so few people in such a short space of time.
And the grief is palpable.
The thing about grief is that you aren’t quite sure what it is.
Is it an adjective that is describing just another feeling?
Or perhaps it’s a noun, the name of something that actually means something else entirely but you’re not quite sure what?
Or how about a verb? Is grief something you do rather than something you have? Can you actually have grief? Does that imply that you own it? Or possess it?
Is it an emotion? But then, if it is, why isn’t it a straightforward one like happiness which makes me smile or sadness which makes me feel low? Why, if it is an emotion, one emotion, do I feel so much, so quickly and so fleetingly?
When you can’t work out what something is then it’s nigh on impossible to work out the best way to handle it. And you can never be sure that you’re ever doing, or dealing with, or experiencing grief ‘right’.
When someone close to you dies they take a little piece of you with them. You can actually feel it missing from you. You can feel that something that was there once is not there any more and you can feel a physical pain where the violent wrench occurred.
When you lose someone you love the messages come flooding through. Then the funeral comes, it passes and the world keeps turning. The messages stop, and life continues. There’s the expectance that perhaps you’re over it and that ‘it’ is all over. ‘
The desperate, wretched pain that starts off so stealthily, stalking you until your defences are down and then it strikes, leaving you screaming inside so loudly and so forcefully that you can actually feel it rising through your body. It starts off barely noticably, then grows like a snowball as it rises up, torturing you, burning you internally throughout.
The fact that the world has been turning all along regardless isn’t lost on you. You’re well aware of it because all you’ve inwardly screamed for is for it to stop, just for a moment, so that you can catch your breath and try to make sense of the new life that you now have to deal with. Except you have to continue with this new life with this part of you that’s missing and can never be replaced. Regardless of how you feel, you need to keep moving forward.
And as the world turns, there are things you need to do. The laundry continues to pile up and you need to do it else you’ll be walking around naked and that really won’t do anybody any favours. Work still needs to be done as bills and the mortgage need to be paid and the winter season means that the norovirus will hit your household resulting in you considering purchasing shares in bleach manufacturers and toilet roll companies. Everyday tasks are overwhelming and sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees but you need to keep moving on.
And happy occasions like Christmas, when the children are so very excited and are counting on you to make it special and, above and beyond any and everything else, that is the one thing you want to do for them to make this year less painful, but for grief.
Grief sits like an abscess, silently growing and festering and every so often making itself known. You think you’ve shone a torch into all the corners of your soul, uncovering grief from its hiding place but there’s always somewhere you missed. Suddenly, and when you least expect it, grief pounces. And when it does all you want to do is crawl under a stone and hide until you find that missing piece of yourself again, that absent cog that was only ever cut once, cut to fit you perfectly.
I usually love Christmas.
This year Christmas was painful. Ostensibly unruffled yet fundamentally torn, it was not the most wonderful time of the year for me.
It’s hard to deal with grief when you don’t know what it is. It’s hard in everyday life but especially so when Christmas carols are playing, pretty lights are twinkling and bright decorations hang beautifully, and all around you is the fun and joy and excitement of the festive season. It just becomes too much because all you want to do is bring your missing piece back so you can share it with them.
You want to feel happy again.
And you can’t.
A part of you is missing and you want it back.
But you can’t.
Even when I look okay because cosmetics are an absolute lifesaver when it comes to masking reality, and even when I appear okay because I’m pretty good at the automated I’m fine, how are you? line-with-a-smile, I’m actually broken. So even though I think I’m doing well and I think I’m feeling fine, the tears spring from nowhere and burn my eyes without any consideration for where I am, who I am with or what I am doing.
I have two cogs missing, you see, so I will never work properly again.
But I will continue.
Because I need to.
And even though a part of me is missing, a part of the two people I love so very, very much are still with me in return.
I am still here. I can still function. Some days will be harder than others but I can do it. I need to do it because life is a gift I still have.
I shall carry them in my heart.
And I shall keep going.