Content warning: death, grief
As the world begins to come out of lockdown, we are all going to have to process the tragedy that we have just experienced. Many people will have lost loved ones in the worst possible way: suddenly, and with little warning.
I have had the pleasure of knowing five grandparents and three great grandparents in my life. However, it has meant I have lost more relatives than other people my age. One of them was in a similar way to those being lost through Covid. A freak illness with little warning that should not have happened. My friends have been asking me how I coped with a sudden loss. Here’s what I tell them.
Be angry at the universe. Cry, rage, break a few things. Question every god and spiritual being that you believe in. Tell them it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Ask them why it had to be your loved one. Why? Why this? The rage will eventually give way to grief.
You’re probably going to cry in public places, and that’s okay. I broke down crying in front of my English Lit class because the teacher gave me homework. I had managed to somehow survive the whole term despite feeling broken all the time, I had even somehow managed to sit mock exams. But at that moment I sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. My soul had nothing left to give. But even people who hardly knew me did their best to comfort me in those moments where I couldn’t cope.
There is no right way to act on the day of a funeral. For some, the tears will never come. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean you loved the person any less. For others, it is the only way to get through. For me, my sobbing began when I reached my loved ones house. I was embarrassed; I had got it into my head that the only acceptable time to cry was at the funeral. But my sister was the same, and we cried together, holding each others hands as they played the music we had created together for the funeral.
It’s okay to cry on Christmas. You can have the moments where you’re singing and dancing around the kitchen with a glass of sherry in your hand. You can scream Christmas tunes at the top of your lungs and be excited to open presents. You can laugh as your family does their best drunken attempt at charades. But you can also have a moment of realization that there’s an empty chair. Your lip can wobble when there is no fight for the custard skin. A tear can run down your cheek as you raise a glass for all the memories of Christmases past.
It will hit you at random moments. As you cross the street by the traffic lights, there will be no warning. Rocks will suddenly appear in your chest and you will wonder what it is. It is the grief, hitting you in a moment where you least expect it. When you thought it was gone, it will come back to remind you for a while of what you’ve lost.
It is going to fucking hurt. For a while. In fact, this might be one of the most painful things you will ever go through. There will be days where your chest feels too heavy from grief and you will question whether you can make it through. The answer is: yes, you can. I know you can. Even if it is slow, with one hand at a time, crawling through black treacle. Or maybe it’s erratic, waking up one morning feeling on top of the world and then sobbing yourself to sleep. You can do this.
Slowly, the moments where you are bound in grief’s arms will get further and further apart.
The times you’re hurting will be less than the times you’re not.
Life will resemble some form of normality.
You will always miss them. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to have one more hour with the loved ones I have lost, even five years later.
But one day you’ll be able to live for them.
Image courtesy of Mike Labrum.