Tuesday 17 November 2020

Can you 'Heal' Grief?

Hello everyone,

As I recall, it was around six or seven months after Kinga died, that I eventually decided to seek professional help - in the form of counselling. I remember this being the period where my grief was at it's most overwhelming - when the shock of Kinga's sudden death had first begun to peel away. The shock was almost like a protective layer of numbness over my whole body - when it first started to dissipate, it felt like all my nerves had become exposed at once. Everything at that point was just raw, excruciating pain, and it felt as though it would be completely unending - like life was truly over. After all, how could that pain ever become manageable - how could life ever continue, when she was just... so permanently gone?

I had a phone assessment, before counselling was due to begin. It was completed by a woman whom I never met, going through some semblance of a fairly bog-standard sounding script. It was, I guess, quite typical in that sense - but one thing she said really stuck with me. She said, in the most matter-of-fact way, that it would take two years to 'heal' and 'recover' following such a significant bereavement. It is now 23 months since Kinga was killed, so by that barometer, I should be close to healed by now. I recall hating that thought from the moment I heard it - the thought that I could ever return to any form of normality without Kinga seemed... wrong - like doing so would completely erase her from my life, and ultimately negate the weight of her death. But, people are able to live again after experiencing grief - a thought that was to me, at that time, deeply confusing, and utterly incomprehensible. Today, after almost two years into this journey, I want to explore what I think it truly means to realistically 'heal' after your world has been completely shattered by loss and grief.

I'll literally never understand how someone so ridiculously beautiful - inside and out - wound up with me.

We are, in my opinion, a society of fixers. We see a perceived negative, and in general, we are instinctively compelled to want to make it right - make it better somehow. I believe that societal drive toward fixing carries on over to a general attitude toward grief, too - that push to 'move on', to thrive and succeed, or at the very least return to a previous level of productivity and capability. No well adjusted person enjoys seeing people struggling, or in pain, after all. I can recall finding that frustration, even within myself at times - wishing that my own ability to focus and function hadn't suffered so much as a result of Kinga's death. The effects of bereavement - much like the loss itself - are not a thing anybody chooses. It is natural for everyone - whether they are grieving, or adjacent to grieving, to want to reach a point whereby they are no longer suffering from it. The concept of 'healing' is a deeply appealing one to anybody who sees pain, or experiences it, I think.

But grief isn't something that you can change - that you can treat, or cure. It can look like an illness- it's symptoms are similar (and can of course lead to various ailments), but it is distinctly different. It is a constant, a permanence - a void, brought about by the absence of someone deeply loved. It is a void that remains, regardless of anything you do in life. These days though, I don't tend to view my grief itself as a negative, even though it has crippled me in innumerable ways. My grief is a natural response to Kinga's horrendous death. I feel it because I love her beyond what any words can say. To me, that grief simply is that same love by another name. The love that will never diminish - and as a direct result, neither will the grief. It is easy to look at grief in a vacuum - that the pain of it exists in and off itself - but remembering the place it comes from... That overwhelming place of warmth, and joy... To me at least, that is a comfort. I've simply come to believe that grief and love are two sides of the same coin - and I will carry them both forever.

We were totally too cool for school once - think this was our third anniversary!

To me, both grief and love are like an irreversible chemical reaction - and the effects of both are lifelong. Both are at the core of who I am - because Kinga shaped my life - I can't even begin to imagine who I would be without her - and I honestly dread to even think. When someone so essential to your being dies - the impact of their life and death does not go away. It doesn't go away when they aren't mentioned in every conversation. It doesn't go away, even if you are able to find love again. It won't go away 10, 20 years after the fact, when life is unrecognisable - because that is the impact that person has had on your life. That grief, that love - they exist outside of time - and they defy simple human logic and measurements.  

I do think though, that time is often falsely - and somewhat dangerously - attributed as the main way that people 'heal' from grief. Indeed, how often do we all hear the phrase 'time heals all wounds'? 'It just takes time'. 'It'll feel better with time'. Much in the way grief on it's own isn't an inherent negative, I don't believe that time is a healer, by itself - and this is, in my opinion, one of the greatest misconceptions about grief. Time can provide opportunities to adapt to grief - to learn to live with it - but it is opportunities, experiences, and the people you meet along the way that allow this to happen. Time can also provide opportunities for wounds to become completely overwhelming, and cripple a person long term. Grief isn't a wound by itself - but it can certainly inflict deep, entrenched trauma - and time alone isn't a magical cure to that. 

Yeah, yeah, I know. Too many pictures, right?

We are all vastly different people, living on different timescales, experiencing life through very different lenses. Grief is a process of adaptation, I believe - not a process of healing. I think there is some stigma - some societal expectation - that after x period of time, you are not meant to struggle any more - you are not meant to feel your loss any more - and that is something that we really need to dispel. There are no shoulds, and should nots in grief - there is no guide book, and there should be no expectations - we adapt in our own time, and at our own pace. A person struggling with their grief 10 years down the road, is not doing better or worse than someone who is functioning remarkably well at six months. Grief exists outside of time, and logic - it simply is.

There is a grave, very close by to Kinga's. In my mind, it perfectly illustrates all of what I have said today- and the story it tells has been endlessly inspiring to me. It is a very well looked after grave of a 93 year old Great Grandmother. On this grave, their are three names - hers, then her first husband - who died 'at sea', during the war judging by the year - in his mid 20s. After that, is her second husband, who died at a similar age to her. She was widowed in her 20s - and went on to live a full life - but never did her loss diminish. She may have moved forward - but even some 70 years after the fact - never did she forget him. 

If love is to be eternally immortalised, so to is the grief that comes with it. And as much as I still struggle at 23 months... Choosing her pictures for these posts - seeing that smiling face - the person I shared my life with, my soulmate? Yeah. She makes me smile, long before she makes me sad.

I hope they're keeping each other company now.. <3

It has been a while since I have written here, once again. I'm not ashamed to admit that, like so many others, I have struggled in recent times - due to court, and due to covid preventing me from visiting my family for what will be at minimum a full year. Perhaps the biggest reason for my downturn though, was the passing of Cinnamon Roll, the hamster I got Kinga for her 26th - and final - birthday. I remember vividly telling her not to get too attached to him, as he would have a short life - never expecting him to outlive her... She literally cried tears of happiness when we got him - she loved him dearly. He went on to become my own constant grief companion, and a bridge between my life with Kinga, and without her. 

He passed away on 20th September, and I scattered his ashes underneath Kinga's gravestone shortly after. He had a good run - living to two and a half years of age, and passed peacefully in his favourite house - I assume whilst asleep. A part of me believes that he held on as long as he did, because I needed him to. Since his passing, I've actually learned that hamsters have a greater understanding of emotions than I ever knew - given their solitary nature... Perhaps there is something to that. Kinga announced his arrival on this very blog here - if any of you want to revisit her excitement about getting him. 

Thank you all for reading - and for all of your continued support. This blog - Kinga's blog - has really helped me to make sense of my own grief - and all of your comments, and messages throughout all of the places it is shared in mean the world to me. I hope you all continue to stay safe - truly, none of us are alone in navigating any of this darkness.

I think that's enough for today. 'Til the end of time, Cub. That means you too, Cinnami.


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