I have written quite a bit over the past few months in my favourite cream and now somewhat stained A4 hard back pad with its’ built in black elastic band to keep it closed. This simple band elevates it from being just a hardback to a folder of sorts and raises its status amongst my writing materials. I am choosy about what pens to use when writing in it. I write at all hours but predominantly late at night or the early hours of the morning when sleep eludes me and grief seems to reside in my very bones and invade my body at a cellular level.
That was one of things that took me by surprise. How physical grief is and its impact on my body. There were times when the very act of breathing itself took conscious thought and real effort. My involuntary halting of breathing and the sharp inhalation of breath that just preceded it scared the shit out of my children especially as it seemed to happen most frequently when driving. They don’t have much confidence in my driving abilities at the best of times. I am more quick to notice myself doing it now and can engineer a breath just to reassure those seatbelted in the middle row, that all is ok.
When I was not much younger than the youngest child in my car, my big brother John used to manage to convince me that over a process of time, I would eventually catch up with him, age wise. I celebrated my birthday 2 weeks and four days earlier than him in October so for that short window of time he was 9 years rather than 10 years older than me. I was never strong on mathematical detail preferring a broad swoop approach to many facets of my life rather than any form of minutiae… A big picture person! Thus years were easier to calculate rather than months and weeks.
Given that he was the big brother who with very little effort convinced me that my sister’s anti-nail biting polish was in fact a new liquid sweet which would turn into whatever flavour you wanted it to be, once vigorously sucked from your finger nails and you get the idea of how in his thrall and how gullible I was and how persuasive he was. Gawd that stuff was as vile as he was lovely, truly lovely and his teasings never crossed the line into torment. There was only once when I was 17 that he was very temporarily removed from the pedestal that I had created for him with love, to inhabit in my life. He had dared to give me some unsolicited advice about my university course choices writing to me to suggest that a transfer to DCU or NIHE as it was then might be better for my career prospects than continuing with an Arts degree in UCC. A snotty letter back ensued.
I find myself not yet ready to fully delve into what is now my finite store of memories of John, let alone talk or write about them or publically share them. To publicly do that stroll down memory lane suggests an acceptance of his absence that I am so far from willing or able to acquire. I can’t stroll anywhere on that lane. I only manage short sprint like bursts. I would have no difficulty in writing tribute after tribute for him and part of me wants to tell the world what they have missed; the sheer magnitude of who we are missing. John is not only mine and there are many of us travelling this road, feeling the absence of him every day and trying to navigate our way through a mire of pain and sadness. We do it at our own variable pace and the only way we can and there are days when the weight of our grief and the loss of his presence nearly crushes us.
By the time I celebrate my 50th birthday in October, I will have nigh on 5 months catch up on John. He will never get any older than his 59 years, six months and 12 days that he was on the day he died. If I live for another decade I will be older than him or will I ? I still haven’t quite figured that one out. I think I’ve just about settled on the idea that I will have lived longer than him. I think my need to have him as my “big” brother far outweighs any philosophical considerations.
Somewhere in my mad world of grief ,heartbreak and sleepless nights between pacing around a moonlit garden or frantically scribbling in my book my brain would latch onto, fixate on numerous small mathematical problems all do to with John’s life. It was as if my ability to compartmentalise his life years into various ratios , percentages and fractions would somehow give me an insight into how & why he died; make some sense of his absence. The big picture had become too big for me to contemplate. This patently is not the case but grief gave me a longing, a vehement interest in and an ability to focus and cope with detail, that I would not have believed possible. Indeed. I struggled to maintain any focus on normal daily activities and would find myself lost in transit wandering about within my own four walls. That focus was and still is a coping mechanism as is my writing. By focusing on the minute detail and on the word, I am briefly deflected from my big yawning vast abyss of feelings. I find I can write about my grief.
Those writings, words that just mauraded their way onto the page are full of anger, rage impotence, desperation, heartbreak, regret, longing & sorrow so deep I can’t believe it will ever be truly excavated. I don’t know if all or any of those words will ever see the light of day but some might and they are definitely among the most authentic of any words of mine to land on a page.
My writing has become more fearless & fierce. I rightly have a lot less fucks to give about a lot of things since John died and then there are plenty days when I have to struggle really hard to give a fuck about the things that I should.
I thought that I’d do this grief thing properly, the perfectionist in me insisted on it and my addled head went along in the vague hope that if I knew what to do, it would make it easier to do it and thus reduce my quotient of pain & heartbreak or at least speed up this long & lonely road. I owed it to my brother to do it right. I needed to feel like I was in control of something. I’m not and I never will be, I have accepted that, along with the fact that these days and even this day, will eventually with time become the waymarks of my grief.
My quest for perfect grief especially in July was dominated by forensic trawling of Google. Given the varied hours of usage and the topics searches from physics to grief, my internet searches would have foiled many an attempt to guess my occupation. By the end of July I stopped my obsessive google searching. Although some of the info I came across was useful, some of it was complete shite. Really; spare the bereaved from sanctimonious false positivity. The truth is, I realised that grief wasn’t the problem; it was death.
No matter how well I manage or don’t manage, how long this acute grieving lasts, my brother is not coming back from the dead. He is not going to get to do all the things he wanted, he is going to miss out on so many wonderful days, days of ordinariness, days of love and life, smiles and tears with those he loves. So I gave myself permission to just go with it but I committed to getting up every morning. I have tried to embrace Niamh Fitzpatrick’s concept of the next useful thought, which she highlighted in a 2017 Zeminar talk. https://youtu.be/43VpPIFZPgE
I don’t believe that you get over the death of a loved one, I don’t believe it gets “easier” or “smaller” but I have to hope and believe you can learn to incorporate the absence into your new unwanted reality one day at a time. Some days are harder than others.
Below is one of the most useful items that I saw..it gives me some hope.