It is a grey day around here today in more ways than one. Grey because winter has re-appeared yet again, and it is cold and wet, and grey because someone I know died suddenly yesterday. Not unexpected, but sudden nonetheless. And no matter how much you may think you are prepared for it, it is a mega shock when it happens. Believe me - NEVER think you have dealt with things like death until it actually happens, because it will swamp you.
I got the phone call from my friend's son and went to fetch her from work and break the news. I was with her when she had to deal with the police, coroner and all the routine paperwork, and say goodbye, and so help me, it took me back nearly 4 years and I was in auto-pilot once again. This is the first time I have confronted the reality of death since then, you know, and while this is not about me in the slightest way, it has been tough. And I have been wobbly. I look at her, and I see me. I see the things I did, and should not have done, and I try to speak about those things, so she can avoid some of the mistakes I made. Like thinking I could handle things alone. Rejecting offers of help. The constant need to be doing something - moving. I see it all and I understand. Trying to remain strong for my kids. Saying things like "I am fine". Oh yes. That is a really good one. I am an expert at saying that.
No, I was not fine. But I didn't want anyone to see the vulnerability back then. Didn't want to let the tears fall. Didn't want anyone to see tears. In fact, just shoved the whole enormous emotion called "Grief" or "Sadness" back in the box, and there it has stayed. The only trouble is that at times like this, it starts swelling up like a monster and threatens to break the seal on the box and explode out. And quite frankly, that would be a disaster right now.
Death is something we never really talk about. Strange, that. It is a sort of forbidden subject. Not exactly dinner table conversation, is it. And yet it happens to each of us. There is not a soul in the world who has not, or will not lose someone close to them at some stage of their lives. Sadness is one of those emotions which is inescapeable. It is conceivable that someone could go through life without experiencing happiness, I suppose. But sadness? I don't think so. I know of a family where a child has been brought up so shielded from the harsher side of life, (aka reality) that she is not even told when people are sick, never gets to visit anyone who is not whole and happy, and lives in this little bubble controlled by her mother, where no bad things happen, people are never sad, every wish is granted, and the world is all bright shiny and smiley. And you know, it has prevented her from being real. Alive, human, and it has also prevented her from growing into a thinking adult to the extent where I fear for her safety and well-being.
Life is tough at times. Harsh. Ugly. Hard. Bad things happen. Every wish is not granted, and every prayer may be heard, but is not always answered the way we want it to be. And going back to that post a few days ago re the patchwork heart, it is the scarring of the heart as it is patched with all the experiences life tosses up which makes us unique and inspires compassion. Compassion. "Com" means with. You feel with someone. Not sympathy - that drove me crackers. Empathy. Words are easy but it is the actions which make the difference. Reaching out. Sitting there. Listening. Making calls. Answering the door. Passing the tissues. Wielding the vacuum cleaner. Making tea. Washing dishes. Clearing up. Emptying the waste bins. Cooking. Touching. Holding. And most of all, totally ignoring the ridiculous words - "I am fine."
I think one of the most difficult things to handle is/was when people walk through the door with mournful faces. And extend traditional words of sympathy in quiet voices. I know they all meant well, believe me - and their hearts were in the right places, but they didn't know what to do. Neither did I for that matter. Ironically, it was easier when someone burst through the door in floods of tears. That I could deal with. It felt real. It also made it easier to let those rogue tears fall a little too. I also know it was a total ray of sunshine when someone just breezed in and shot to the kettle to make coffee with a grin. Who treated me like she did the day before. Who chattered away about life, and interspersed that with " Now what is on the list for today? Who do I need to call/chase/ speak to? What needs cancelling / arranging/ doing?"
You see, normality is something which exits out of the window in a flash, and normality is what you want back the most. You want the safe parameters of your life back in place. The ones you know and are comfortable with. Because, as I have said many times, you are in a strange world where you do not know the way, can't understand the roadsigns, and do not speak the language. Oh come back, normality. And the ability not to feel guilty if you want to recall a hilarious moment, and laugh. And to be frank, you will not get much sleep and that will be interspersed with the mind racing off on tangents which seem vitally important, but which are actually piddling. You forget what you are saying, forget what you are thinking. Not because you are losing your mind, but because every processor in that brain of yours is working overtime, trying to get a fix on the new reality. Re-wiring at speed.
And never ever assume that you can quantify the grief someone may be feeling. You cannot. Memories are personal and detailed, and they swim through your consciousness, and make you alternately want to scream, shriek with laughter, or sigh with frustration. They will contain regrets and joys in equal measure. My head hurts just thinking about it all. It did back then too. And it will be for my friend.
Yesterday was a very long day. For my friend. For her family. Today will be filled with activity, as will the coming days. Planning, papers, people, phone calls. House full of people. And then the day will come when there is no more planning to do. No more papers to sign. No more phone calls to make and no more phone calls to be answered either. No more people filling your days. The visitors will go back to their homes and their lives, and pretty soon, people will stop asking how you are doing, and you will keep saying - I am fine. And they will assume you are healing, and that your "life goes on".
It will go on, of course it will. But that heart inside your chest - the one beating rhythmically day and night - will have a few more scars patterning its exterior. Thick ones. Ones which take a lot longer to heal than some of the other ones did. Years maybe. Many years. And in the stillness of the night, tears may leak gently from the corners of your eyes, and you will wonder if you could have done things differently, if your could have fought harder to save him, if you could have changed things. If you did your best. And, if you were me, you would lean against the chest of the Father who knows the secrets of your heart, and whisper with utter brokenness, I don't know what to do now. Help me please.
Somehow my words have become a mixture of two women, two men, two deaths, two families, two hearts, two lives. I never meant that to happen. But the lid of that box just popped a nail.