Thursday, 2 July 2015

Some things I've learned about death...and grief...(updated,almost a year on....)


**In a couple of weeks time, it will be exactly a year since my father died. I thought that it might be apt to republish this post, with a few updates incorporating the experience I've gained in those 12 strange months. It doesn't get easier. But it gets more familiar and routines return together with joy and happiness. The life force is an incredible one. We must treasure it.**

 Most of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will know that my darling Dad died...exactly 6 weeks ago today at 4pm. It was, in the end, a very peaceful death...in his sleep, in his own bed, on his beloved farm. We couldn't have asked for more. But since then, I feel I've learnt some valuable lessons which I wanted to share with you here. I was lucky...apart from my grandparents, I haven't lost anyone very close to me until now. Grief is such an individual emotion...each person will feel it very differently. But you may find some comfort, or useful information here...I hope so x
 1. However ill the person is...however much you expect and anticipate their death...you will never be prepared for it. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer over 18 months ago. He outlived all the likely timelines we were given. At the end, he could barely eat anything at all. And yet, somehow, it all seemed so sudden. He was here...and then not. And never will be again. Shocking. Truly. ** One year on, this feeling is no better. The space left by my Dad is enormous and un-fillable. We work around it, our lives go on...but we're re-routed somehow, as though a crater has appeared in our world**

2. This is a tough one to talk about, but I think it needs saying. If you are given the opportunity to spend time with the body of your loved one after their death...do fight any first impulse to reject the idea, and really consider it. I confess that I was scared at the prospect. I'd never seen a dead person before. But I followed the advice of my sister, Esther. She's a nurse and has experienced literally hundreds of deaths (although, of course, this one was very different emotionally) She thought I would regret it if I didn't. And I'm so glad that I listened. If you have loved the person deeply in life, there is nothing to be frightened of....that time, which I spent with my Mum and youngest sister too...was incredibly special and valuable. It was peaceful and serene and it was a privilege. That's all I can say.**I am still so grateful that I had this opportunity. It has helped me come to terms with his death, however hard it seemed at the time. And it has also made me less scared of my own death. As Shakespeare says "....and our little lives are rounded by a sleep." Nothing to fear, really.**

 3. You don't have to follow tradition, or convention. Of course, some...even most...people find it comforting to be able to leave the funeral and other arrangements in the hand of experts. Where religion is involved, there is usually a clear path to follow. But if this isn't you, or more importantly, the person you have lost..then don't be afraid to do your own thing. For example...we arranged the whole funeral as a family, with minimal input from the funeral director. Dad had no faith, so we had no religious element at all. My sisters and I led the service, choosing pieces of music that we connected with Dad in place of hymns. We each wrote & read a piece about him. One of his dearest friends spoke too...a wonderful, funny, warm & irreverent speech that he would have adored. My mum chose an incredibly beautiful love sonnet by Shakespeare to honour their 53 years of marriage and what he had meant to her. And...because none of us like formal flowers, and Dad adored wild ones and growing vegetables...a lovely, talented friend of mine made the stunning arrangement above...full of his favourite things: globe artichokes, red chilis, aubergines, turnips...wild honeysuckle and buttercups from the farm he adored. Very Dad. Which was the whole point. It all felt so right. So don't be afraid to do your own thing, if it feels like the best thing.** I've only been to one funeral since Dad's...ironically in exactly the same place, which was hard...and it very much followed a similar pattern and was extremely personal and family-led. Although I didn't know the person involved very well, it gave me a connection and insight into his life and felt very special. So I believe this even more now than I did when I originally wrote this piece**
4. Grief is exhausting. And it takes up a lot of time. Time talking to people...explaining what's happened. Making arrangements - to stop things, to cancel things, to put an end to the administration associated with a long-ish life lived fully. Be prepared to go over the details again and again in the first days. However tired I was in the first month, I often either couldn't sleep at all, or woke in the early hours. Coming to terms with the reality...the finality...is really hard work. Don't plan anything important in the first few weeks...you will likely forget arrangements you've made, even if you have written them down. Don't rush anything. There is an impulse sometimes to sort things out, to clear things away. Try and resist. Let things rest, take time, be patient. You may regret it later if you don't...or you may not...but in any case, a few weeks at least won't hurt.**And, a year on, although this has naturally subsided a lot, there are still times and pockets of extreme grief that hit me in the face like a hammer and stop me doing anything at all for a while. Often as I'm drifting off to sleep I'll remember something random...like my darling Dad teaching me to 'read with feeling' at about 5 years old, using William Blake's poem 'The Tyger'...and his voice is so clear...'Tyger, tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?' And the tears will flow silently, and my nose will get stuffy and it takes ages to sleep even though I'm exhausted. But there's also something very comforting about the recalled memory too....the sharpness of the pain has subsided.**

5. You may find yourself spending lots of time with photographs...recordings...videos...anything that records the one you have loved. It's as though I was trying to imprint Dad on my brain...at first, I was terrified that I would forget him. That's a silly thought...how could I possibly? But we all take great comfort from images that bring him back, even if only for a moment. We talk about him constantly. He's present in our lives...as he always has been.**Even more true now....so wonderful when someone unexpectedly produces a photo they've found or remembers an anecdote...or we find a letter or postcard he wrote (or anything at all he wrote....even lists or scraps in a notebook are precious) My mum recently found a wonderful self-portrait he'd drawn before she even knew him, in his very early 20's. It's been copied and given out to all members of the family. Especially as he was a naturally gifted artist and the likeness is stunning. One of my sisters can't even look at it yet, while I get a huge amount of solace from it. Everyone is so different...and nothing that you feel is the wrong way to feel.**

6. Not everyone by any means has the luxury of preparing...however loosely...for the ultimate death of someone close to them. Because it is a luxury. To have that time, to be able to say...or try to say...all the things you need or want to. I am lucky. The last thing I ever said to him was 'I love you, Dad', the day before he died. And he said the same to me. So I have that always, like a hug. But it's made me so aware that not everyone can do this...and it's taught me to tell those I care about how much they mean to me, whenever I especially feel it. Because that's so important....it truly, truly is. Just say it, do it, hug them, mean it. You will never regret it.**The most important of all the things I wrote, in my opinion. I try and live by it always. It doesn't take a minute to show or tell someone how you feel about them and how you treasure them. Life is absolutely too short for holding back, or for grudges and feuds. I wish everyone could know this, but too often they don't until it's really too late...**



7. Take comfort whenever and however you can. Dad adored nature....wild animals, birds....his beloved dog....the flowers and plants that grow in the hedgerows. And now I feel his presence whenever I see a butterfly or moth (which he could always identify)...or see a red kite wheeling high in the sky....or here a swift screaming with joy in the sultry twilight air....these things bring him to me and I treasure them daily.**Again, this is still as true a year on and I'm sure it always will be. So many things trigger wonderful memories and bring Dad closer again.**

 I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that he's gone. I still can't get used to talking about him in the past tense. I can't bear the fact that I'll never hear his voice again...or see his smile....or feel his arms around me. My wonderful, remarkable, infuriating, complicated, loving, generous, maverick father. The world is a lesser place without him in it. But I will learn to live without him...because the last lesson I've learnt is that, however much you don't want it to at first, life does go on. Making the very most of it is what I know he would have wanted me to do. And living a full and happy one is the best way I know to honour him and all he meant to me.** What can I add to this a year on? That there have been times in the last 12 months - and still are - when I feel I would literally sell my soul just to see him and talk to him again for 5 more minutes. That the realisation that he's really, really gone is just as terrible now but I am more familiar with it and can cope with it better. I am learning to live without the physical reality of him, as we all must...but I've also realised that he will always be with me because he has had some influence over every facet of my life and I'll always carry that with me. I often ask myself what Dad would have expected of me in a certain situation. If you follow this blog - and thanks to those loyal friends who do - you'll know that I've lost my enthusiasm for it over the past year. I've thought so many times about posts I could write, I've taken the photos even...but any creativity I have been able to muster has been used up in my work and daily life. I'm trying to change that now. Dad loved my writing and took great pleasure in it. He always believed in me and was proud of me. He wanted above all for his beloved family - my Mum, who was his true soulmate, my sisters, his 4 grandchildren and our partners as well as his wider family - to live our lives to the fullest and be happy in whatever we did. Mediocrity was something he abhorred. Dad...my dearest Dad...I miss you every minute. But I'll keep trying my very best to be the daughter and woman you always hoped I would be- and believed I could be.The world IS a lesser place without you, but it's still an amazing and wonderful life and I owe it to you, and myself, to keep moving forward and experiencing everything it offers me.**

xx


22 comments:

  1. so beautifully written. Just perfect.

    you've made me cry.
    xx

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  2. So true and so lovely and, as always, so beautifully articulated. Rachel, what you are feeling and knowing I resonate with on all levels. Take time is a clear message. No regrets another. Find comfort....another. Do what you need to do in whatever way you need to do it----now THAT'S a very important message as most of us are led by what society finds 'normal' and 'acceptable' but we are each so unique and yet so the same....
    Your beautiful service for him was exactly as he would have wanted because love, honor, and respect prevailed. The fact that it all takes time....time for grief, for closure, for talking, for sifting through documents, photos, and memories. When I see photos of my dad, I can still smell his aftershave, if I close my eyes and breathe it in. I can see him well and happy and fishing and mowing the lawn. I see him smoking a cigarette, driving the Ford, working underneath a car, building a garage. Those memories ARE how we live on. Like history books, loved ones capture one's life and treasure it 'real' forever...I know it hurts so deeply, an ache like none other. Let it ache and heal and open again and soften....let love lift you and hold you and carry you on....
    A friend always,
    Joann xx

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  3. Thinking of you, Rachel. I know all too well what you are going through. You have very good advice here. Sending you hugs. ♥

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  4. Thank you for sharing the emotion of your experience with death, grief and going on with life. I lost my father in a tragic accident when I was only two. I have lived my life pouring over photographs and trying to get to know him through family stories and one very old audio recording... You make very important points here...never let a loved one leave without a proper hug and an "I love you"...Be in the present and BE PRESENT when spending time with those you love...avoid regrets that tug at heartstrings when they are gone by living and loving without reserved feelings.
    Blessings to you and your dear family, Ray. Rejoice in the memories of the well-lived and well-loved life of your father.xoxoxo

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  5. I agree with everything you said. It's so hard to lose a loved one, you feel dizzy and out of sync and it all seems unreal. All you can do is respect your feelings and take care of yourself. I'm glad you've done that. It takes a long time for it all to be real but eventually you get beyond the mourning and are left with all your wonderful memories. You still miss him but you have a lifetime of good memories to make you smile. Meanwhile you go day by day, which is what you're doing so well. Sending you lots of hugs and wishes that each day it gets a little easier. ♥

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  6. As difficult as it may have been to put these beautiful thoughts into words for your blog, I sure am happy that you did, Rachel. Great points. I especially like what you said about spending time with your mom and little sister after your dad had passed. My husband and 2 brothers sat with their mother for at least 1/2 hour after she died in the hospital and it was a very special bonding time for them. Sending hugs for days filled with continued sweet memories of your dear dad. xo

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  7. So sorry to hear of your loss. Thanks for these comforting words and good advice, for sharing your heart and feelings.

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  8. My dearest Rachel, This is such a touching and emotional post. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us have thought or felt, but were never able to put into words, just as you have done so eloquently. I wish I could wrap my arms around you and give you a great big hug. Sending so much love your way, across the ocean that divides us, but also keeps us connected. Love YOU! xoxo

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  9. Lovely post, thank you for sharing this. So sorry for your loss. In the past two years I have lost two younger brothers, both dear to me. It just takes time.

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  10. Dearest Rachel, You have discussed a difficult subject with wonderful sensitivity and warmth. This is a lovely tribute to your Dad, and also a very informative and helpful piece for others who will pass this way. I know exactly what you are feeling. For weeks, perhaps months I so wanted to share with everyone, "this was my Dad, and how special he was", and it was so therapeutic for me, and so much a part of my faith to think and pray about him. You have put your Dad into the context of the things he loved -- the beauty of nature around him. I feel very connected to you through this experience, as well as many of the other things we've shared. Sending a whole lot of love and a big hug. Prayers going up for you and your Mum and family. Blessings! Jane xoxo <3

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  11. Well said and perfectly presented. Continued thoughts and hugs to you and yours.

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  12. Thank you for today's blog entry. I am walking with my 99 year old Mum along her path with the help of In-Home Hospice. I keep thinking that this walk will ease the grief once Mom has passed away. I truly appreciate your experience and guidance for when mom is gone. I will take heed and print out this posting for my bedside table. I have a strong faith that I never walk alone, but I know I will be lonely without Mum at my side too.

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  13. It is a beautiful post. I am not sure how I can really comment on it without sounding empty or silly. Except that, however useful the advises you give are, I don't want to have to follow them in a while.

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  14. A beautiful post with so much resonance for me as we said goodbye to my dad just six weeks ago.

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  15. I know of sorrow. My husband slipped into a coma, then was pronounced brain dead a couple days later and was gone in the early hours of the 6th day. I spoke to him, read to him, touched him during those last few days, not knowing if he was aware or heard. He never woke so I did not get any last words with him. That I wished for so much. He'd had frontal lobe dementia the last 6 years of his life, and I had bits and pieces of him, the him I knew for 37 years of marriage, on occasion. In a way I had spent those years grieving his loss. I wanted so much to hear last words from him to me: I love you. I said it to him and thanked him for the many good times we shared.
    I do look at photos, watch videos, recall events and moments and they make me smile. And I grieve. He was my soul mate.
    He wanted to be cremated and ashes scattered in places we enjoyed. I have scattered some on the coast as he loved the beach, sailing and fishing. I have a memorial necklace, a cross, which holds a tiny bit of his ashes, for me to have him with me. The rest of his ashes will be spread in the mountains as he so loved camping and hiking and being in God's beautiful woods. He wanted to be part of it all, not buried in a grave. So his wishes are being met, and I then can feel he is always around me when i return to those places.

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  16. Hello,
    Sending prayers. xx oo
    Thank you for writing this. I lost my grandma last Winter, and so much of what you wrote is just what we as a family did or I did.
    Thank you for your words.
    Carla

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  17. This was beautiful to read. I am so very sorry for the loss of your father. I lost my child 15 years ago this past March, and though it never does get easier, I do promise you that eventually you learn to live with the pain of loss and the joy of remembering. And the need to talk about them never ever goes away. To this day, one of the happiest things to me is when someone remembers my Rosie to me and I can talk about her. Wishing you love and peace.

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  18. Such a lovely post Rachel; to be honest there were bits I had to skim over as they were too painful for me to read and so much resonated. The 5 minutes, I totally understand that. I think the blog will help people and it's great that you have written it and I hope it helped you as well. I wish I'd been there at the end for my father but I couldn't manage it. I've often regretted that. Good advice here and so wonderful that your dad was loved so much but that is what makes the passing so hard. XX

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  19. Oh Ray you've nailed it again, it's lovely to read your beautiful words again, but don't rush do it as little or a often as you feel and eventually you will be raring to go again, or not. Either way as long as you're happy. This year has been dreadful.....I unexpectedly saw a pcture of the farm last night and it was taken from the cherry tree where dad used to sit and I cried and cried...you never know....death certainly brings out the love and kindness in most, however I've learned that when someone you love dies you never know how people will react and behave, you have no control and sometimes it's abominable. Greed is a dreadful thing for sure....luckily we have each other and our dear strong fairly surprisingly formidable mum...we were so lucky to have dad in our lives and are lucky to have each other now. Love love love xxxxx

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  20. Thank you for sharing your heart so lovingly and being so open! Bless your heart! Miss my parents sođź’—

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  21. Rachel, sending you lots of love and hugs at such a sad time. Last Friday was the anniversary of my own darling father passing away, all too quickly. He was my absolute rock and without him in my life a light has gone out which cannot be replaced. Grief is such an intense emotion and I wish I was better at handling it. I totally empathise with you and cherish special memories too. Your own father will always be with you in spirit. xxx

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