When you think about it, or have a reason to think about it, like I have, there’s been a lot written about grief and loss.
It gets a healthy return when you Google it or when you search on Amazon, as I did, in the early days, for books about grief. It’s a shame that an Amazon search pings you straight to the self-help section and misses out the pain expressing poetry. They’ll invent an algorithm for that at some point, I’m sure.
What I’ve learnt from ‘After’, is there’s a ton of misconceptions, clichés and supposed ‘tried and tested’ models for grief. It’s surprising really, when you think how close grief and loss is to, well, everyone, at some point or another. You’d have thought there was at least a definitive guide. A Shakespeare, a Bible, or a Koran of Grief. The best seller. The publisher’s cash cow that coins it in.
I searched in the heady, sleepless, aching, bleary-eyed early days of After, and, don’t get me wrong, I ordered and downloaded my fair share on Amazon Prime.
(As an aside, there’s a pale purple covered, standard issue book called ‘Information for the bereaved: murder or manslaughter’, written and published by the Criminal Justice System. It was handed to us by Cagney in Week 1 – ‘you might find bits useful, at some point.’ Cagney said. It’s available exclusively from your FLO. You can’t get it on Amazon, sorry.)
So, in the midst of this searching, of my attempts to grasp onto something, some intangible, unbearable way of understanding, comes a FB message from a friend (soon to be a close friend). A quote, from a link. For me, this, quite simply, hit the nail on the head. It’s the dogs bollocks. From Day One, til now, long After, as the night rain pours outside the window of our quiet family home.
The story goes that someone posted a message on a web forum “My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.” And a reply came through. Not particularly well-worded, succinct, poetic or even well considered. Yet it’s heartfelt, honest analogy of ‘waves and scars’ shines through.
‘‘My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. Scars are a testament to life. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out.
Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. You learn that you’ll survive them.
And in between waves, there is life.’’
Now, After losing Izzy and Beth, may I be so bold as to expand a little on ‘scars and waves’.
Wounds come before scars
Scars are formed from once open wounds. Without a wound, you don’t get a scar.
When a wound is inflicted, it’s shocking and red raw. You’re hit as much by the agony, as by adrenaline. Shock, confusion, disbelief, especially when it’s out of the blue, sudden, decisive, incisive, sharp.
And it’s then, when the wound is inflicted and you look down at it and see the flesh open in front of you, that you experience your first ice cold, vital wave of grief. There’s no warning of course. No rhythm or reason for the first tidal wave of shocking, freezing cold water of unexpected, emotional dissonance that hits you square on, full on.
It’s not as though you’re stood there at a sea front or something, staring languidly into the horizon, when a wave comes in and you think, ‘ah well, to be expected really’. No, grief waves hit you hard and hardest when you least expect them. The first feels the worst, but they don’t go away, trust me.
The waves come, one after another. Each time a wave hits you, the bitter, salty water smacks against the rawest of your wound and opens it up again, just when you thought it might be beginning to heal, to close over, to whiten and soften into a scar. But every time a wave comes it stings as raw and as callous as the first day the wound was inflicted – the first violent stab, the angry slash that unexpectedly and inexplicably sliced you open.
But wounds heal with time, right?
I’m sorry, no. I don’t want to lull you into a false sense of security, or into some Hollywood/Bollywood ending.
Sure, wounds soften and whiten and cells combine again and skin grows over, replaced by new, paler, skin with the telling signs of a gentle itch and flesh loses its red rawness.
Eventually wounds turn to scars.
But salty, icy waves still smack you and push at your scars as they try to heal. And the scar feels as though its ready and willing to open up again as fresh as the first ever day.
And you look down at yourself and you see your wounds slowly, slowly becoming scars. They are there, always, a constant reminder of the cause of the pain that was inflicted upon you.
‘Look…’, you pull up you sleeve, you lift up your shirt, ‘Here’s my scars. Where’s yours?’
“And in between waves, there is life.”