We’re told there are three stages to grief. The initial devastating sorrow; anger; then acceptance. There’s a peace in acceptance but, I have realised recently, it doesn’t necessarily mean that happiness has returned and that all pain has gone.
I had thought that acceptance was about feeling cheerful again; moving on; forgetting the loved one and the past. It’s not. It’s about accepting that you have a great hole in your life and that life goes on despite it. You learn to live with it.
In the past I always ran away: a different country, a different job, a change of address. My immediate, and ongoing, reaction to the sad events of the past year or so has been that I would move away: but because of my children I can’t, and nor do I want to, leave them. Not only do they need their father as well as their mother (however crazy and emotional/volatile she may be at times), but I need them.
What my recent trip to Italy made me realise in any case is that you can’t run away from the pain of losing someone. That hole where that person fitted goes with you wherever you travel. And, at the same time, I miss my children when I’m away, especially if – as occurred this time – I can’t contact them. Coming home was painful in some ways but the cuddles of my children and their pleasure at seeing me more than made up for it. My daughter, who doesn’t normally like kisses, has kissed me a couple of times over the past two days, and given me plenty of hugs; my eldest didn’t stop chatting in the car when I fetched him from school (he can sometimes be a silent almost-teenager); and my youngest was full of cuddles and kisses as he always is, but also didn’t object when he had to leave his Dad’s and come to my house. Their love is priceless. Perhaps I should add that they have just as much love for their Dad as they do for me, and if we can live separately but be amicable enough that the children don’t feel torn between us, then we will have, in some small way, succeeded. Another form of acceptance: that we offer different parenting styles and a different emotional ‘background’ to the children, but that neither is wrong or right, and neither is better or worse than the other.
Meanwhile two authors have brought the pain of loss and how to deal with it home to me recently, both of whom found some solace in their children. I’m grateful for their books as whilst they’re about loved ones dying, loss is loss however it occurs. However much you try to put a brave face on it, get on with life, and be cheerful, ultimately there are times when the tears just have to be allowed to come and the hurt and pain surfaces all over again. This beautiful passage from Cathy Rentzenbrink’s heart-rending book The Last Act of Love (pub. Picador), about coming to terms with the devasting accident to and then death of her brother, was something I wanted to keep and to share:
“I know I’m damaged. As I’ve walked through fire, bits of me have burnt off – but I accept that. I’ve come across a new word. Kintsugi is a Japenese style of ceramics where broken crockery is mended in an intentionally obvious way. Rather than try to hide the crack, it is filled in with gold and the breakage becomes a part of the object’s story. I love this idea.
I think how I am often drawn to broken people and find them beautiful. I have decided that I can stop yearning to be fixed or trying to hide the scars: I can decide to think of my brokenness as an integral and even beautiful part of me…
…I no longer expect that my tears will come to an end. I am no longer surprised that my reservoir of grief is so full and refillable. Because I am no longer surprised, I am much better able to live with it. I weave it into my days. I can cry and laugh at the same time.
I have worked out that the only way to be alive in the world is to carry out acts of love and hope for the best.”