My first GP said I was young and beautiful and I would find someone else
A nurse said she was sure I would feel better in a month
Friends compared my love dying to a break-up or divorce
You compared losing my love to losing a pet
Many people told me it would make me a better person
In the long run… stronger, more sensitive, more able
When my world was disintegrating at the seams
Many well-meaning people told me
I would love again
Many people wanted to help,
By absenting my pain.
You’re the first place people turn to after loss. When the police came to my house near midnight to tell me my love had been found dead in the street I remember I just wanted to walk. I felt like I could keep walking for the rest of my life. I kept repeating tell me this isn’t real tell me this isn’t real tell me this isn’t real… I had no idea what to do or what happens now. The next morning I went to see my doctor.
The morning my rabbit died I had to get up at 4:30am as I was on the morning shift. I was heartbroken, he was a beautiful companion and he had been in my family for seven years. I did go to work… and the day after, and the day after. I didn’t need anti-depressants to keep me alive, I didn’t want sleeping pills to just-for-the-love-of-god help me sleep… my dreams for the future weren’t utterly shattered to pieces and although I loved that little bunny my future still existed. It is wrong I have to even type these words… to explain to someone why losing the love of your life is simply not the same as losing your pet. It’s not the same as losing your parent. It’s not the same as losing your sibling. It’s not the same as losing your grandparent. It is not the same as any other loss as each loss is different and should never be compared.
Your words not only tried to compare but they exposed a sad picture of how our culture views grief. You used losing a pet rabbit as an example to tell me I should be coping better. If your pet rabbit had died, you would expect to be feeling better by now. You wouldn’t be coping by taking pills. In your eyes I was failing. I was grieving wrong. I was taking too long. I was too sad, for far too long.
We label people with complicated grief when it doesn’t fit into our standards. We desperately want the bereaved to move on… a phrase that feels like acid to our skin. We try to cover their pain with platitudes about healing and finding another love, as if one love replaces another or that falling in love with another would stop our grief dead in its tracks. Excuse the image. The bereaved are always too much.
So let me tell you a secret that all bereaved people know, no matter who they have lost. The first two to three years after a loss is the immediate aftermath. Then the beginning starts. The beginning is when we start to be able to live rather than survive, when hopefully, we can move with our grief instead of against it and build a life around it. Our grief is messy, strident, consuming and yet invisible to you at the same time. All bereaved people know this secret that grief is life-long. It does not mean we are broken. It means we’re human, we loved and still do.
When you dig down to the roots of the thing, there lays something that isn’t nothing, it isn’t emptiness, it is love with no place to go… it is love that still grows and love is a powerful thing. Yet you view us as weak. I turned to you for help, you’re in a trusted position. I came away from seeing you feeling more isolated than ever, feeling like the only people who would ever understand were those who were also widowed… and suddenly the world looked very narrow, very disconnected.
I wish I could write to you what grief feels like but there is a reason I call my writing a nameless pain… language does not have the words to express this. Each loss is unique, even when they share so much… there are universal experiences but so much is individual. Your words came from a place of judgement but many try to compare losses in a desperate attempt to connect and show us they care… but no loss is the same.
I feel some hope that there are charities trying their best to get our not so hidden secret into the minds of others. The bereaved community feel like we’ve been screaming it at the top of our lungs for years yet nothing changes. The charity Widowed and Young has many resources for outsiders to read. The Good Grief Trust aims to bring all bereavement charities and organisations together, so no one slips through the net and no one feels alone.
If you’re a doctor and reading this, or a nurse, or a friend… please pass this message on. We need to be heard. Please stop trying to absent our pain.