Two Years is Such a Very Short Time
Two years is such a very short time in #grieftown. When my brother died unexpectedly in 2012 I spoke about feeling like I was in a place, far from everyone else and I affectionately hashtagged it #grieftown. When my favourite aunt died unexpectedly in 2017 I remember posting online about how I was back in #grieftown. When Dan died 6 weeks later, (after helping me through some of our darkest days, holding me upright at her funeral, parenting our girls while I stared at a wall eating giant Jaffas and then gently encouraging me back to my computer to write the book UQP had contracted) I moved to #grieftown on a permanent basis and now I reside there. It’s not what I wanted or where I want to be, but here I am.
If you are new to my blog, welcome to my corner of the interwebs, where I talk books…with a side-serve of grief. This is a *ridiculously* long blog post about grief and will not be at all be smiled upon by the web people who tell me to stick to 800 words. My blog, my rules I say. In this post you will find all of things people ask me for on a regular basis: blog recommendations about life and death and parenting with grief; books on grief to purchase and read; my own rambling thoughts on grief in general.
When people meet me, they often tell me that I sound exactly as they imagined and I dearly hope this is true as I do strive to be authentic in all I do. In being authentic, my blog readers have watched ChickPea and PudStar (as they are known online) grow and they have been invited into aspects of our lives. Obviously the snippets on social media are a curated version of my life and there is an awful lot more mess and screaming in my actual life, but I have certainly welcomed my online village into our lives, being careful not to overshare the lives of the girls, because their stories are their own to tell.
Six months after Dan died I shared some of the eulogy I gave at his funeral (here) – I cannot re-read this post but it may be helpful to you if you are in early grief…and if you know me or knew Dan, I’d love to you to re-read it so you never forget him. At the one year anniversary I shared (here) some of the books that have been part of my journey and a little about how I am experiencing being a widow.
The 29th April 2019 marks the two year anniversary of Dan’s death. I have passed the expiry date for polite and socially acceptable grief and I am okay with this. If there is one thing I have learnt in #grieftown it is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and every experience of grief is unique; #grieftown is not a pristine housing estate of cookie cutter houses, it is more a rambling mess of brokeness butted up against beautiful…with roads that sometimes lead to dark places and others that take you to places of unexpected light.
I expected that I might feel some sense of ‘relief’ at the two year mark. Relief that we have survived the early days of grief where you exist in a fog and your brain cannot focus, function or make sense of what is happening. In fact, what I feel is the most incredible sadness that Dan is slipping further from my reach. I don’t want time to march on dammit, I want it to stand still so that the memory of Dan forever remains where it is now. I feel a rising panic that people will soon forget Dan: that they will one day stop laughing when they remember his stupid sense of humour; that eventually the music he loved won’t be current anymore; that the projects he worked on at Qld Transport will be soon superseded and forgotten…and that soon I will be unable to add my thoughts to conversations about husbands and marriages and that me saying ‘Dan and I used to…’ or ‘Dan would have said…’ won’t work for much longer. Dan was reading his favourite series, ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ the night he died (yes I know it is aimed at 11+ year olds but it’s ageless I assure you!) and without Dan I am not at all confident judging the new titles as they are released. Instead of reading them, I now just add them to a shelf which contains some of Dan’s favourite books. It is the most horrific thing watching a life fade.
I am not brave or strong and I am sure as heck not inspirational. I’m often asked for advice and I don’t feel like I have any to offer, however I have written a list of things that I have been pondering lately. Advice of sorts I suppose but just my personal experience and opinion. None of it is related to the grief of my children as that is not my story to tell. The books below my ramblings contain the actual useful, researched advice!
Megan’s Ramblings on Grief
Being a widow and solo parent is different to being a single parent – please do not compare a marriage ending to a marriage cut short. Our marriage didn’t end and I still feel married. I am a solo parent, as there is no other parent and I do not have shared custody or parenting payments. I have family support and support from friends – but at the end of the day I am solo in this parenting game and it all rests with me.
Grief is unbelievably lonely and you cannot make that better for someone. Many people, including me, lean into lonely and make peace with it. I need a lot more time alone these days. I can be at my most lonely when at a crowded event and have become the master of silently exiting crowds and slipping away librarian-ninja style. My head is so very, very full and I am okay with lonely these days. One of the loneliest times is when I get home from work and have no adult to unpack my day with. My long suffering mother gets a lot of phonecalls from me and I do have well established texting conversations which go on for hours. But still…it’s different.
Please just say their name. For goodness sake say their name. You cannot possibly make grief any worse by saying the name of the person who has died. It’s so awkward to watch someone dance around the issue. I expend so much emotional energy working out when to insert Dan’s name into a conversation or mention his death – people are so much more at ease once the elephant in the room is outed – but try to sometimes get in first and acknowledge grief or say their name.
Do not offer your opinion on ‘recovering’ or ‘moving on’ unless it is asked for. I may very well slap the next person who asks me if I feel ready to ‘move on’ or if I ‘feel better’. I have much more to say on this but it’s not really for polite public consumption!
Accept that your grieving friend or family member is forever changed. I am not the same person I was. I have been very lucky that 99% of my close friends have remained close friends. Sadly, I spend far too much time agonising over the 1% who abandoned me when they felt I had ‘changed’ <insert many swear words here>. I have read so many times that grief often results in friendship breakdowns and I have not found this to be the case (apart from that confusing 1% that I cannot wrap my head around – as I said – I spend far too much time on the 1%…oscillating between crying for the lost friendship and wanting to scream very loudly in their face). What is different for me is that I now have all these ‘groups’ of friends: widow and widower friends; new friends who are single because sometimes it’s really hard to constantly be around couples or people who are married; incredibly close and loyal friends who text me 25 times a day; new friends who are people who have really stepped up and supported me; old friends who have never let me fall…I know I am lucky in this regard.
Don’t ask if there is anything a grieving person needs. They don’t know what they need. Look for what they need and just do it. The person (who I shall not ‘out’) who did my washing week in, week out for a looooong time? I will never forget that kindness. Those people who still just turn up with a meal ‘because I was cooking and knew it would probably be helpful for you’. If I hugged, I’d hug the random meal, lunch snacks, fruit/vege dropper-offerers. That anonymous person who recently sent the girls and I Gold Class tickets? You couldn’t know it but your timing was impeccable as I was just bemoaning the fact that I had not seen a movie in forever and it made me do something about that; instead of fighting about eating broccoli I took the girls to Gold Class and fed them chips and ice cream – and while I did sit through a tedious kids movie, it was exactly what I needed at that point. That local church group who didn’t know me from a bar of soap but turned up and offered to tidy up the garden no strings attached? HEAVEN SENT.
Grief is exhausting. At the six month mark I said here, ‘ I feel like all the Adrenalin has left my body and I am exhausted to my core’. Well I still feel exactly the same. I have never been so brain and body tired in my life and it is very different to ‘normal tired’. If a grieving person cancels on you because they are tired? Be cool.
Online People I Admire
It’s a unique and lonely journey, but I found immense solace in reading the stories of others in the online space such as:
Emma Grey: Emma is a YA author (see here) but also a widow who posts about grief SO UNBELIEVABLY ELOQUENTLY on her private FB page. I cannot wait to meet her IRL.
Lisa King: Lisa would have no idea how much her blog has helped me through some of the worst times. For many, many months I read it endlessly.
DC Widow: Marjorie lives on the other side of the world but her words have so echoed so many of my own thoughts, fears and silent howls.
Just a Dad: I’ve never met Chris but he says all of the things I want to say but am too polite to say. I am a librarian after all…
Books on Grief
To add these books to your home, school or library collection click on title links.
‘It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok’ makes the perfect grief book for the recently bereaved- yep a grief gift. Megan Devine witnessed the accidental drowning of her beloved partner Matt. “All my professional experience as a therapist felt meaningless,” she writes. Megan has dedicated herself to helping people find a new way to deal with loss that honours our experience without trying to ‘solve’ grief. Her book helps navigate grief and loss, not by trying to escape it, but by learning to live inside of it with grace and strength. I regularly dip back into this remarkable book and have listened to it on audio.
‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant is essential reading. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, experienced the unexpected death of her husband and while essentially this is a book on grief, it is also about building resilience and living through times of crisis.
‘Any Ordinary Day’ by Leigh Sales is a very practical but oh so wise book. Leigh talks intimately with people who’ve faced the unimaginable, from grief to terrorism to natural disaster to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Expecting broken lives, she instead finds strength, hope, even humour. Leigh brilliantly condenses the cutting-edge research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief, and poses the questions we too often ignore out of awkwardness. Many of my friends have read this book and said it has helped them to process some of what I experienced back on the ‘Very Ordinary Day’ that Dan died.
‘The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement’ by Virginia Lloyd is a remarkable memoir and would make the perfect choice for book clubs. Lloyd is an accomplished writer and while her grief is woven throughout, the story is universal, and at times remarkably funny. Highly recommended and I’ve purchased six copies of it now as I keep giving my own copy away.
‘Jean Harley was Here’ by Heather Taylor Johnson, University of Queensland Press
‘Small Victories’ by Anne Lamott, Penguin Random House
‘Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche was given to me by a dear friend and fellow widow. While I believe Rinpoche himself is under somewhat of a cloud, this book is just astonishingly soothing (as most things Tibetan are I find!) and I regularly pick it up when I need to be reminded that how I feel is okay. It has an excellent chapter on how to support those who are grieving and the issues which will be faced with friends because ‘grief rearranges your address book’.
‘Raising Readers’ by ME. My chapter on ‘reading the dark’ was by far the most important one to me for a long time. I have added the words and advice of psychologist Shona Innes to my own thoughts in this chapter. Life is full of light and dark and literature is a reflection of life. We should not shy away from sharing books on the ‘the big topics’ with our young people.
‘How to Heal a Grieving Heart’ by Doreen Virtue and James van Praag, Hay House Inc
‘Epic’ by John Eldredge, Thomas Nelson Publishers
‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion, HarperCollins Publishers
Children’s and YA Books on Grief
To add these books to your home, school or library collection click on title links.
‘Lifetimes’ by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. This is my all-time favourite children’s book on grief. Yes I have an all-time favourite book on grief. Suitable for early childhood – adult.
‘The Important Things’ by Peter Carnavas. Suitable for early childhood – adult.
‘Visiting You’ by Rebecka Sharpe-Shelberg and Andrea Edmonds. Suitable for early childhood to adult.
‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst. Suitable for early childhood.
‘Shine’ by Trace Balla. Suitable for early childhood – adult.
‘The Wattle Tree’ by John Bell and Ben Wood. Suitable for early childhood – middle primary.
‘The Memory Tree’ by Britta Teckentrup. Suitable for lower primary – adult.
‘Leave Taking’ by Lorraine Marwood.
‘The Elephant’ by Peter Carnavas.
‘Life and I’ by Elisabeth Helland Larsen and Marine Schneider. Suitable for upper primary – adult (have tissues ready).
‘Michael Rosen’s Sad Book’ by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake. EXQUISITE. Suitable for middle primary – adult (have tissues ready).
‘Cry, Heart, But Never Break’ by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi. Suitable for upper primary – adult (have tissues ready).
‘The Grief Book: Strategies for Young People’ by Elizabeth Vercoe . Suitable for Middle Grade – Young Adult.
‘The Messenger Bird’ by Rosanne Hawke. Suitable for Young Adult.
Do you commemorate anniversaries? There is some thought out there that you should commemorate a birthday but not a death date but to be honest it’s impossible to not remember the date of death. Well I find it impossible. I get that it’s not a day to ‘celebrate’ but it’s certainly a day to commemorate. Over the years of overwhelming grief that my extended family and I have experienced, we have released balloons (yes, yes I know better now), planted trees, shared meals and just sat next to graves. This year Dan’s death anniversary falls on a school/work day so it will be a super early morning grave visit. I have seen ‘wish paper’ talked about before and have decided it’s PERFECT for us right now. It looks just like normal tissue paper to me but hey it’s in a pretty packet. You write messages to your loved one, scrunch it up tightly as you think about your loved one and then unfurl it and set it alight. The paper burns quite slowly and like a candle and then extinguishes and floats beautifully…heaven bound. My test ones on the kitchen bench didn’t result in fire alarms so I’m hopeful…