A few months ago I lost somebody very important to me. I won’t say who because I think that it wouldn’t be appropriate but I do feel the need to write about something we all experience: grief. The person I lost was somewhat of a figurehead in my life, a constant, somebody who not only influenced my decisions but those of family members, I’d rather not mention. They were a strong and very stubborn individual whose heart was in the right place. The mistakes and choices they made in life affected me profoundly in the choices that I’ve made.
The person in question was ill, very ill, but I still shocked when they passed away. The rational side of me knew it was for the best, that they were in a better place but I could not help but feel overwhelmingly guilty at the same time. I felt inherently bad for being relieved that the pain was no longer there.
To me it seemed selfish to even grieve when others around me were hurting too. That thought still crosses my mind frequently, and even now I still haven’t dealt with the shock that they are no longer with us. That’s the thing about guilt and grief, you think it’s gone but it still sneaks up behind you every now and then. Stupidly, I worked solidly for about ten days in a row (yes weekends) after finding out. I figured that if I didn’t have something to do at all times, I’d have to think about all the memories, the moments I’d not fully appreciated. To be honest it was a mistake, my day job is a public one and it’s the sort of thing where people think they can talk to you like they know you really well. I will never not be amazed at how rude some people were; certain people were aware of my situation and, instead of merely giving their condolences they felt the need to ask every question EVER. I mean weird questions, probing, nosey and sometimes morbid questions:
How sick were they? Really sick right? What kind of sick?
You look tired? Awful in fact, is everything ok with you?
When did it happen?
Why weren’t you there?
Oh you must be distraaaaught
OMG tell your *insert family member* I’m soooo sorry! (except you see them almost every day, PICK UP THE PHONE AND TELL THEM YOURSELF)
On a few occasions I asked one woman to stop asking me questions because I was getting quite teary, to my horror she said “oooh but I have just one more thing to ask”. I swear I’ve never come so close to drop kicking somebody-and I’ve been to the Richard III museum! Anyway, soon I realised that that these people didn’t actually care, this was just everyday gossip to them, something to pass the time. The loved one would have HATED them and probably wouldn’t have given a stuff about gossips ‘thinking of their memory’. If there is one thing we van Emdens hate it’s insincere North Londoners! So this working through my grief thing really wasn’t working, if anything it was making it worse. What had worked for me during my A Levels (my grandmother passed away) was really not this time around.
Before this turns into a misery post I swear this does have history/travelling/an uplifting ending to it!
My personal tragedy coincided with the beginning of the end for Henry in novel-land (you know novel-land right? It’s where I go when I pretend I’m famous) and also with my first solo trip away. I knew that the loved one in question would have totally disapproved of me moping around so I have tried to squeeze out every thought, every feeling into the remainder of this book. All the nasty emotions of regret, guilt, of never really stopping and just thinking are there. Characters grieve for uncles, lovers even children, and I’ve tried to channel (best I can) those feelings through my own feelings. Obviously it isn’t the same, how could it be, but I figure grief is a weird, beautiful thing. It forces us to think about our own mortality, to briefly re-evaluate what we’re doing and whether we’re making the most of what we have. I do feel guilty, but I know that guilt won’t bring anyone back, it won’t change anything. These afflictions that come with personal traumas don’t go away overnight, but they can be channelled into something else. Death brings a person closer to the idea of memory, to that moment when somebody ceases to be in your present or your future. It is about learning to say goodbye to a chapter of your life while still being able to cherish what you had. I didn’t go to the funeral for several reasons, it’s not something I’m ashamed or embarrassed about, I chose to say goodbye differently.
My loved one was a big traveller and my way of saying goodbye was by lighting a candle in remembrance in all the cathedrals I went to. For different reasons neither of us were/are particularly religious, but I’m a spiritual person and I truly believe that you can find solace in the walls of an empty cathedral. There is something about the magnitude and gravitas of those buildings that makes you feel wholly insignificant, it reminds you that there is a world outside your problems, that really human life is transient at best.
I can’t possibly be eloquent when I write about this because I don’t have the words to describe grief, it is different for every single person. What I have learned is there is no right or wrong in how you cope, people on the outside who may judge you for not being overwhelmingly public in grief are not worth the time. The morbid fascination with prying into every single aspect of people’s social lives is an unfortunate by-product of our new world, defined by social media, 24 hour news and out insecurities to broadcast out life to everybody.
If anyone has been through or is going through similar feelings I do hope this provides a litter comfort, grief does not have to a solitary thing, for every awful person there are at least two good ones!
Over and Out