On Grief, Loss and Bad News…
We have all had that call. The one that comes out of the blue and shifts our world to a new, unknown, place. The call that might not be totally unexpected, but suddenly rips the life raft of hope from our hands. It leaves us floundering, drowning. Facing a future in which our life is changed irrevocably. Forever.
I have received that call. I would do anything to have never had it. To have not heard those words. “…is dead.” “…won’t make it.” “Nothing can be done.” “At least there’s time to say goodbye.” I think we have all heard them, by the time the threshold of ‘mid-thirties’ is passed. Death becomes a way of life as we say goodbye to grandparents, parents, family and friends.
As age creeps up on me, the calls become more common. The pain remains as rare. The sense of injustice never changes, nor does the futile hope the doctors are wrong. Medicine will work. A cure found, a life saved, grief averted. Life will carry on and that one person shall still be at the end of a phone. I will always be able to call them. Tell them how much I love them. Laugh with them and hold them close.
Until I can’t. The call comes and life changes.
It’s natural to want to scream and deny the reality. But we can’t be ‘selfish’; there are others affected. Spouses, children, parents, family, cousins…the list seems endless. There are, quite swiftly, no words that can be said and no way to take away or ease the pain of all those who shall be left behind. As the grief builds there’s no right thing to say. There is no right way to deliver the news; no right way to receive it.
No right way to be the one left dying, surrounded by dozens, maybe hundreds, of people who have to face a new altered future. That has to be as hard, if not harder. Being the one knowing time is nearly up, knowing it’s time to leave. Not being able to stop what is going to happen.
Age, in this case, gives no answers. Death, as ever, gives no dignity. To be told we are losing someone hurts. It cuts into a heart and saws at emotion with a serrated blade. We put down the phone, we sit, stunned, and we try and adjust to the news we have been given. Be it a friend we grew up with, a friend we made at work, a friend we have slowly grown close to through the internet…none of that matters. The grief is still real. Still there, choking us.
Reflection brings memories. At first they hurt. It’s easier, less painful, to push them away. A flash of a smile can bring us to our knees, crying afresh. Eventually, though, they bring comfort. We welcome them and hoard them. We make them, knowing that we are planning for the day their face, voice, words, aren’t there for us.
We say goodbye, slowly. Knowing the end is coming, we build our future and pray we have enough memories to pull out and examine, when they are needed. We stand, wait, hope, help, love…all the while knowing there are no right words. There is nothing that can be said. Nothing to ease the weight of loss. We hold each other and cry, laugh, smile and remember. We visit funeral parlours, choose music, plan wakes…making sure everything is ‘just so’.
Or we wave goodbye as an ancient V.W Camper is packed to the roof with painkillers, clothes and quilts, holding back our tears as that final adventure is embarked on. We might be privileged enough to be party to the Bucket List and grin at the thought of paddling in the icy waters of Morecambe, eating potted shrimps from a pot; watching a sunrise in the Scottish Highlands; being in the presence of The Gutenberg Bible; just holding hands and watching the tide come in…small things that will leave memories.
There are no right words. There is no right way to say goodbye. Yet we manage to speak silently and express every word we need to say, without uttering a sound.
And we remember.