Wednesday, October 20, 2021

As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star

 

OVER these last few months, it has been my instinct to write about the light and breezier side of life. Today for example I was going to write happily about how breakfast is the greatest meal in the world, but that one will have to wait.

It’s been a week of “You’ll never guess who died?” For the first time in ages I cried. Not necessarily for the recent dead, but for my own list of losses.

Even in the most normal and supportive circumstances loss and grief are hard to manage. But add in the missing hugs and the good old fashioned wake with chat and whiskey and you have added on layers of sadness.

So today my heart is going out to those of you dealing with loss. Death is not just a one-off event, grief and loss have to be managed by us all over our lifetime. Sometimes grief is because of the death of a loved one, but it can also be the emigration of a child, the breakdown of a relationship or the loss of friendship.

Grief and loss linger and become part of us. It’s not so much that we sink into it forever. It’s more that if we deny the grief we also deny the loved one or the event that has caused it. It might make us feel sad but it also honours their previous existence. It’s as if they are also a part of us and we take them into our hearts and our beings in remembrance.

 

‘Our Mother had died at the age of 33 leaving four small children. Her sister’s husband died that same year leaving another four little girls. Adults floundered… It wasn’t their fault, the phrase “mental health” hadn’t been coined then’

 

So imagine then the confusion in a young child when someone in the family dies. When I was a child, it was almost as if grief was too much to bear for the adults around us and huge silence would descend. In my family it wasn’t so much that anyone was trying to repress their sadness so much as they feared the strength of the feelings and maybe felt that their grief would destroy everything good in life.

For a few years there were far too many deaths coming all at once. There was no counselling or support for our grieving family, but most of all there was no language to deal with the feelings. Yes there was religion and praying and rosaries, but there was no such thing as talking things out, no words to describe the pain, no space for the tears. I suppose everyone was going through their grief on their own.

Our Mother had died at the age of 33 leaving four small children. Her sister’s husband died that same year leaving another four little girls. Adults floundered, bought ice cream cones and pressed pound notes into our small hands. It wasn’t their fault, the phrase “mental health” hadn’t been coined then. They had no words.

In the Growing Up in Ireland Report (ESRI 2012) it is reckoned that about 60,000 children experience bereavement every year. Therefore it is heartening to know that talking about feelings is now an integral part of the Primary School Curriculum even extending to courses in mindfulness and exploring with five-year-olds how to talk about death.

As a result of my own childhood experiences, I find myself wanting to talk much more openly about death. I’m not sure about people “passing over” and “passing away”, I’m not sure about the language we use to describe what is going on. Is the word dead not OK?

Our death is the surest thing about each of us. So the taboos about death and dying can block us from openly being present to what is happening. There’s no point in sugar coating it. It happens to us all in the end and we need to learn to talk about it.

It can still be hard to find the words. I’m regularly reaching for the “right way” to comfort people. “Sorry for your trouble,” is too vague. “It’s a blessed relief” is almost too harsh. “Sorry for your loss” is cautious. Maybe there is no “right way”. We just need to be there, and try, it’s better than running away.

We can learn how to encourage each other to express what we really feel, whether it’s anger, hysterical crying or cold numbness. And those of us who are not in the middle of the storm right now can be a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a hand to hold.

The intensity of grief passes. But in the process the sunsets are more glorious, the smallest robin’s song can bring a tear and the hugs go a long way to making it more bearable.

And then one day, when we least expect it, we find beauty and joy in life again. Maybe even more so than before.

 

Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com

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By Catherine Drea
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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