Why did you have to die?
Author’s note: My blogs are quite long.They are not intended for a two-minute read. They mostly do not have to be read in their entirety. This one below has much to say nearer the end. Bereavement is complex not a bunch of short stories or summaries but an in-depth process – my blogs reflect this.
The Confusion of Bereavement – a Personal Reflection
Two personal reflections, one from the author and one from the author’s mother’s diary (journal).
The author has experienced the loss of a younger brother and a parent:
In writing about the subject of grief, no article can ever be described as complete.
It is also true to say that no-one’s journey is identical but, there ARE similarities.
Bearing this in mind, stages of bereavement are neither orderly nor necessarily, logical. They are not a gauge of distance or pain, not a reflection on the depth of love or feelings for the deceased, but some factors commonly occur with most of us - it’s the timing of these that differ.
As we are all individuals; the person we have lost was an individual, therefore, it follows that our personal journey will also be - individual but, we are NOT alone.
Many of the stages of bereavement could be defined; be it twelve, six or forty six, our personal journeys are, totally different. Similarly, our own characteristics, skills and talents vary tremendously. It is very important to realise that, if there is a stage that we don’t actually experience, we must not be expectant. We must also realise we are not collecting ‘points’ on our journey, so in essence, the least we experience could be ‘envied’ as, the ‘desirable’ journey?
Logic and emotion are fundamental factors of life but are they simply words? Do I want to be upset? Do I want to be sad? No, of course not but is there an expectancy for me to act in a certain way even when I don’t feel like it? Stereotypical behaviour trait - I call it.
I always wonder as I try to please folks around me, who gives me a thought before turning out their light at night? Why don’t I, feel their presence? Haven’t I done my best to please them today?
Why am I made to feel guilty because I have (normal?) thoughts entering my head that I can’t actually control? I have thoughts others may describe as ‘self-pity’; I have thoughts of ‘unfairness’ in my situation, and I have thoughts of outright anger towards the one I have lost and, often to a belief or principle I had, up unto now, held dear – a religious conviction for example.
Consolingly, to myself, I say that their (the deceased’s) pain is gone; I tell myself I should be glad for them but I DON’T actually feel like that!
Others around me probably think. ‘Well, they knew it was going to happen, what did they expect?’
What do ‘others’ actually really know? Even if they have been in the same position as me they couldn’t possibly have felt as badly as I do. Just supposing they do, does that ease my loss or pain?
What about those professional councillors? I’m sure they mean well; some may just get a ‘kick’ out of helping others; some may be filling-in time in their own lives but maybe…..?
Some of these thoughts are quite logical, some are almost ridiculous but they ARE, the thoughts I could experience. Maybe, simply reading the following will add some breadth to this ‘new-to-me’ subject - I am now bereaved; a mourner! Maybe it can help if I read the experiences of others after all, this IS a totally new situation for me – I am a newcomer to death?
The rest of my life is about to change; whether I have children, parents a disability or maybe no one or nothing important to live for. Adjustments are about to commence and will I be stable? Can I stay in control of myself? Do I really need to?
Is there strength in a ‘stiff upper lip’ approach? Am I just a weak person who doesn’t want to be – ‘strong’ or, courageous? Can’t I just go and cry until I am all cried out?
Before reading on, death and life are strange events; people too. Do we ever know someone close to us - really? Was I actually listening to them or just waiting for a long enough pause in the conversation to get my own point over?
My mother is suffering from dementia; Alzheimer’s Disease to be precise and physically healthy as she is, my step-father recently came across an events record she wrote after my father died suddenly in 1985. I knew ‘mum’ kept a diary (journal), but didn’t know the existence of this ‘book’.
In it she writes:
March 13th 1988
“I do not know what title to give this piece of writing.
I just felt like putting pen to paper again.
I wrote it briefly a few weeks ago, in rough – a thing I don’t usually do. I I I write as I think.”
“When Philip (her husband – my father), died in 1985 I had many feelings, not only of grief, but of anger, guilt and a terrific sense of unfairness. Why should I still be here, with this house and everything that he wanted so much and had worked so hard for?
Since then I have read many articles on bereavement, religious and otherwise; talked to a lot of people in the same situation, but every person has a different way of living with such a loss – we are all individuals and we react differently.
Many friends tell me I am a strong character – but what does this mean? Am I ‘hard’ and not as caring as they have been with their partners – don’t I miss Philip as much as they miss their husband or wife?
Admittedly I am a strong in determination, obstinate or stubborn in as much that I try to carry on caring for this house and garden (which I love) because they are there and if I don’t look after them they will deteriorate or the task will fall to the family who are very supportive, but they have their own lives to lead and all the time I am fit, I like to manage as much as I can on my own. Apart from all that, Phil would expect me to do it.
Throughout thirty nine years of marriage we both had a slightly independent streak and I know if I had died, Phil would have carried on much as I am doing now. My ‘strong character’ outside doesn’t show what I am like inside and the fears and panic if anything goes wrong within the house, the darkness of winter, the aloneness when I wonder if it’s all worth it etc. but I get on with it and there are the consolations of having got through another day and satisfaction of accomplishing certain things.
I am writing this now because I find putting pen to paper is an outlet – thoughts that buzz around in my head can’t be told to anyone and when I feel low, it helps.
I also had a very vivid dream about Philip (writer’s note: my mum never really called my dad Philip – unless of course she was cross with him!), a few weeks ago which I wanted to record:
I was in a large house in London with Barbara, my daughter-in-law. The house was owned by her parents, Jo and Snip, friends of over forty years. Actually they now live in a Villa in Lanzarote. I was going upstairs to run a bath for Barbara – the bathroom was the one I have here in Warminster. I just happened to look out of the landing window, the top of which was all stained glass. Going into the house opposite was Philip, in his anorak and with a newspaper under his arm. His hair and beard were very neat and tidy and I called to Barbara to have a look commenting on how well he looked. Barbara said, “He always goes for his newspaper, he doesn’t have them delivered now that he’s on his own.”
Philip went up the stairs and when he reached his landing window he raised the net curtain and looked at me, gave a nod as much as to say ‘she’s alright and let the curtain go.
I felt quite pleased and said to myself – he will now cook himself eggs and bacon (his usual breakfast) and then read his paper. I then woke up!
When Phil died he had just washed but hadn’t combed his hair.
When they took him away I was so worried that nobody would know how he wore it and in the dream his hair, neatly combed as usual, was the thing I noticed most about him.
A few days after this dream I couldn’t get Phil out of my mind so decided to sit and read magazines which I hadn’t done for months. I was astonished to read an article in ‘Good Housekeeping’ by Jill Truman, who was widowed whilst in her 30’s and left with four young children. For the first time there were many of my thoughts and feelings there for me to read – someone else had put into words exactly what I had been trying to say. ‘She had felt a great need to talk to her husband and had written letters to him in an exercise book. They had been turned into a book entitled, “Letters to My Husband.”
I am quoting a few of her remarks:
“Why did you have to die – five of us wanting you and you go and die. Typical of your bloody-mindedness. I expect you’re sitting in heaven telling everyone that we’re better off without you. Well we’re not – so come back now.”
“I am forced to be practical, to be in charge all the time, to be competent outside but a bleeding, screaming mess within. Where do people get their certainties from and why don’t I find any?”
“We gave a lot to each other. I’m glad it was you I met and married, but those hours and hours, days and years we wasted together and never discussed things I long to ask you now.”
When you are married you communicate little things which are important and interesting to you both and utterly boring to other people – how the children are doing, when to decorate, even what’s for dinner. When you are on your own there is no-one to tell anything to anymore – that’s one of the hardest things to put up with.
You always wonder what has happened to them.
It’s hard to believe there is an afterlife. For thirty nine years – Philip was a ‘body’ to me that has now gone. I don’t know what a ‘spirit’ is. If he’s a ‘spirit’, in an afterlife, will he want to join my spirit?
One thing Jill Truman wrote was, “Keep on putting one foot in front of the other and you will survive. I think that is my motto too.
Since beginning this I have been in hospital, quite ill. It started with a peculiar ‘turn’ when I felt I had been struck by lightning, with subsequent headaches, getting worse each day until the pains were so intolerable. Within an hour of seeing the doctor I was in the ambulance en route to the Royal United Hospital, Bath with a suspected ‘bleed’ in the head. Tests proved negative, meningitis was then suspected, again negative. Final diagnosis was Viral Pneumonia with 103º + temperature.
For five days the pain in my head didn’t lessen then, I began to improve. After eleven days I was home, having been told the pneumonia will be with me another four or five weeks.
When I felt my worst, my dream of Philip kept coming back to me – I could see him lifting that net curtain. Was he waiting for me? Am I beginning to believe there is something after the ‘body’ is no more?
I honestly don’t know!
My mum evidently didn’t resume writing her ‘book’ until January 1991, two and a quarter years after meeting and marrying my step-father.
When I read these passages, I can hardly begin to describe all that went through my head, the similarities of my beliefs, my emotions, the emotions my mum must have gone through totally undetected by her supportive family, how I felt that I must personally have failed her let alone the grasp she had on this very subject that I have come into, in my post 1989 life – bereavement, and her thoughts on paper were three years after my dad’s death.
So is there any end to bereavement? Do I want or need such a long journey? I know I have to grieve but can I willingly sacrifice – oh, let’s say, fifteen months and spare me the awful pain – I’ll be sincere, I promise?
You ‘know’ the short answer but let’s take a more ‘in-depth’ view of how it may be in the articles found here on our website (Shoobridge Funeral Services) and, may I add:
If at any stage of your life you consider listening to someone who is experiencing bereavement, may I ask one thing of you? – Expressing your personal experiences, no matter how close you consider them to be to the subject, at this stage, will NOT be helpful, the key word is, ‘listen’ – be prepared to listen! – Your personal journey is/was, very different.