the labour of loss

“if you want to go home and have some quiet time, we understand”

Grief is the most frustrating emotion you can experience, and if you have ever been through loss or bereavement, you will know how unhelpful that statement can be. it was almost the last thing I wanted to hear this week, after losing my grandpa to a three and a half year struggle with dementia.

I don’t know if there is an appropriate way to grieve, although quietly and alone seems to be the preferred option in society. I partially agree – bereavement is a very personal and emotional experience and therefore should be dealt with privately, but should this mean it should be dealt with alone?

My problem lies here – I didn’t feel entitled to grieve because I was never particularly close to my Grandpa. We had little in common, I rarely saw him when he fell ill, I was the first person he did not recognise as his dementia became more severe and I have very few memories of us to look back on, yet that didn’t make it any easier. Although I had been expecting it for a while, that phone call hit me like a tonne of bricks to the face, two voice mails that were hurried and both included the word ‘urgent’, after the previous days news that he had been taken to hospital again, made the pit of my stomach clench.i walked out of my office quietly, not wanting to worry anyone with why my eyes were already welling up, walked to the quietest staircase in the building and called home.

After hearing the news, I proceeded to sit on the stairs alone for a few more minutes trying to get my breath back, before locking myself in a toilet cubicle to process the news.

I cried, not necessarily for me, but for my dad who had worked so hard to maintain a brave face throughout the illness, for my uncles who had lost the biggest figure in their life, for my brother who had been so close to him and was so upset the first time he had seen him in the home. I cried because I understood and felt the pain that they would feel, not because of the pain I was feeling. I cried alone, and although anyone in that room with me would have heard, I didn’t go out to ask for help.

“bereavement affects everyone in their own way, every person has a different way of dealing with it”

Another buzz statement that flies around when you talk about loss. Whether you deal with it by sitting alone in the dark and the quiet, or writing a 7 line facebook status, every reaction has a common trait – the need to be alone but not feel alone, yet the solutions are often the antithesis of the problems.

It is difficult, the fact that you don’t want to be alone fighting with you not wanting to explain yourself or be a burden on anyone else. We are a self-conscious species, not wanting to be too confident or too loud or too nice in fear of not being wanted, but the need to connect with someone over a loss can become a battle when surrounded by people you don’t want to upset.

People tell you that they’re there for you if you want to talk about it, or need a shoulder to cry on, but what about if you take them up on the offer? It’s an awkward chat in which they struggle to understand your feelings, pain, emotion or explanation, but want to help. It can be frustrating, trying to explain the life-long intricacies of a relationship to someone you’ve known for all of 10 minutes (so to speak). So how do you get around it when sitting alone in the dark can be comforting for a time, but so can talking aloud to someone?

Grief is not a sign of weakness, contrary to common belief. I understand grief to be the strength to embrace your insecurity, vulnerability and emotion and deal with it in a way that builds yourself stronger. No matter how you’re doing, do not let them tell you that you’re not coping. We all are, just in our own ways.

The fine line between being alone and loneliness is tested when a loss occurs, but I’ve not figured out which side I’m standing on.