Sunday, 14 August 2011

Thoughts on Grief and Loss at a Poignant* Time

My article “When my child has died, please…” still excites the occasional comment and I did once promise to put some more of my writings on grief on line. Here are some rambling thoughts written late at night on 23rd February 1991 – four years after our son, David, died.

* Poignant is defined in the dictionary as 'moving, touching, painfully sharp' - how appropriate a word it is....

I took Bryony and Helen to see 'Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' at the Empire. Thoroughly enjoyed it but, even more, much more, simply delighted in being in their company, being their father, and sharing experiences with them.  Hearing them singing the songs in the car on the way back was just so wonderful.

The time of year and being half-way through reading John Tittensor's "Year One - a record" have made me aware of how important it is to enjoy each moment with Richard, Helen and Bryony. Guilt and regret are so much a part of grieving that I've learned how important it is to minimise them in normal daily life.

In a way it seems unbalanced and illogical that a life which lasted three months (ten if you count the time of expectancy) should continue to have such impact 48 months after it is 'over’. How much more illogical it is going to seem after 60, 120, I80... but I have no doubt the emotions will remain.

At first one of the objectives in grieving is to put as much time as possible between "then" and "now". Time is seen (in self-defence) as a healer. And, of course, it is not. To heal is to restore, to cure, to make sound and whole. What time does is reduce the pain, the immediacy, the rawness, the bleeding. But once the scar is formed - as perhaps it is now after four years - time has no more effect. Nothing can take the scar away. The tissue damage remains and a thoughtless action can jar it painfully or it may be knocked by someone else brushing against you. Even, unconsciously, one may pick at it occasionally. Plastic surgery might hide it from view or you may pick your clothes so that only those who swim with you see the white and gleaming patch of difference. But it remains, ever vulnerable.

In a way that all makes it worse- On going to bed at 12.10 am on 21st February I said to Jo "That’s another year survived," For most people the year begins on 1st January. Some few respond to March 21st and the Spring awakening. Commercially it is often 1st April that heralds each new dawn.  For the bereaved parent the new year begins on the day after the anniversary of their child's death. Another year is over and there is a chance of renewing myself and facing the world more positively again after the bad spell which may span any part of the November to February dark, dank, dismal winter of the soul.

Now snowdrops are open, today was mild, Easter, Spring, sunshine and butterflies seem much closer. But the scar is there and who knows how it may next be knocked, or when?

One of the things one begins to wonder after four years is whether occasional bouts of rage or depression are a normal part of life's everyday stresses or a residual effect of bereavement. And, if the latter, is it that one bereavement or a combination of all life's losses simply compounded by your child's death.

I still find it difficult to accept the loss of things and search endlessly for a missing Star Wars figure of Richard’s (which disappeared before Christmas and must be around somewhere) or Jo's pendant (which simply cannot be here since we would have found it when moving from the flat). I have perhaps always searched more than most people. I remember a penknife which disappeared in a camping field in Llangollen when I was in my teens. It took me a long time to come to terms with its loss - I even went back to the field months later and searched for it.

And yet, in complete contrast, when the Ford Cortina was stolen on Sunday I made comparatively little effort to find it despite knowing its battery would not have allowed it to travel far. The Police found it on Monday night in the road opposite. Had they not done so I doubt if I would have made more than a few cursory searches. In a way that too is the result of David's death. It helped me put life into perspective. The importance of all material things has been lessened. The illness of a friend's father means much more now than it did - the breaking of a favourite plate means so much less….


  1. What a devastating loss. I'm so sorry. Even though his life only lasted three months,you had a lifetime of dreams for David and nothing can replace that. Thank you for sharing yourself.

  2. Thank you for this post. Put things in perspective - that is exactly what my husband's death did for me. And like you, my life revolves now more than ever less around material things than people and my relationship to them.

  3. I'm so sorry. I lost someone very special to me in June of 1989, and though I don't feel the sadness as much as I used to, I doubt if a day goes by without my thinking of him and wondering what he might have accomplished if he had lived...perhaps memory is the most poignant of human emotions.
    God bless you and keep you and your family, Scriptor.
    Canadian Chickadee

  4. Sir, your words on loss, grief and the power of time have struck such a chord with me.

    Everyone will pout the old cliche, "Time is a healer" - But I find it is just as you say, time helps, but the healing is harder won.

    My love and great respect to you and your beautiful family x

  5. My husband lost his only brother a little over a year ago. While healing progresses to the time of it's own clock, the perspective of a loss such as this takes on a whole new meaning.

    God Bless your family


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