Trigger warning: the topics of losing a loved one and teenaged death are discussed in this post.
I am going through a tough time at the moment. My grandmother, who raised me in my early years, is very ill. She is unresponsive in hospital, and it’s looking like I’ll never get to speak to her again. So although she is not completely gone yet, I am already missing her. I will probably be writing a few posts about my grief and in tribute to her when the time is right. In the meantime, I asked the wonderful Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness – the blog to share some thoughts on how to cope when we lose someone who means the world to us. Hayley’s thoughts here are helping me every moment that I wish I could hear my grandmother’s voice on the phone.
A guest post by Hayley from Mission: Mindfulness: the blog
Nicole wrote to me a few weeks ago asking me to write a guest post for The Mum Reviews blog. Nicole is a blogger buddy of mine who I didn’t want to let down, and I was honoured to be asked. I really wanted to write something that fitted with her remit of mindfulness and suffering a loss, yet I was fearful of writing such an important post. I am certainly no therapist and not an expert in grief management, but said I’d have a think and get back to her. And then yesterday I knew what I wanted to write, so here it is.
Today was the usual busy morning at our house. Porridge being served. Bread being toasted. The radio blaring out. The kids were, well, just being kids really …
And then suddenly an unexplained and unanticipated sadness hit me – coming from what seemed like nowhere. I was transported to a different place and time. But, as I tuned into the song on the radio, I recognised what was going on. Oasis’s “Masterplan” had started to play. My chest felt like I’d been squeezed too tightly in a big, unsolicited hug, and my eyes prickled in the familiar sensation I feel when tears are close.
Although nearly 20 years ago, the power of music was able to vividly remind me of a tragic event. A time when the fragility of life became palpable to me.
The time when my older sister’s boyfriend was suddenly taken from the world in a tragic car accident.
We’d all had a fabulous summer – working and playing together. It was the era of Britpop, and some of us were enjoying the twilight of our teenage years, while others were embarking on the beginning of their 20s. I recall the new Oasis album had been playing A LOT as we drove around the country roads of Lincolnshire, causing great debate. Some of us loved it – Adam, my sister’s boyfriend, being one. Others of the group were not so sure.
That I remembered all of this as if it were yesterday is testament to how powerful music can be. At that moment, the sadness of losing Adam seemed as raw as it had at the end of the 90s.
And yet Adam had not been my sweetheart. Nor my son. Nor my grandson. Nor my brother. Nor my best friend. And so I can only begin to imagine how many times, and how intensely, this happens to people who were these things to him. And as my thoughts overtake me, whisking me away from my residual feelings, I wonder: how did they cope?
Of course it would be crude to speak of a hierarchy of grief. Yet in reality it seems that the rawest of emotions come when a person is taken from us too young. By this I don’t just mean someone of a similar age, or younger, to the beautiful Adam, but even someone much, much older who still also seems to have so much life and living left. That sense of injustice and anger which mixes with the deep sadness of the grief must be an almost overpowering blend of emotions. Understandably these can lead to very dark thoughts.
Until recently it has seemed the norm in our culture – in keeping with the idea of the British “stiff upper lip” – not to allow these thoughts and emotions to consume us. Rather, to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible, to distract ourselves, or worse still for our “inner critic” to take over and berate us for not “coping” as we perceive we should.
Instead, Rumi, the 13th century Muslim poet (much quoted on Mindfulness courses and retreats) offers a different perspective. The suggestion is to allow these feelings and thoughts to freely come and freely go. Without judgement.
To be with them for a moment or two. If that feels okay at that particular moment in time. To view these thoughts and feelings as passing guests and treat them accordingly.
This principle, so important to mindfulness, is eloquently described in Rumi’s poem The Guest House.
The Guest House
Translated by Coleman Barks
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Wishing all who are going through difficult times at the moment much love.