When holidaying or bushwalking in special places I sometimes collect a souvenir to remember that special time.
I keep two souvenirs on my key chain… a blue lego block I found on the beach below the cliffs at the Twelve Apostles on The Great Ocean Road… and a small metal washer that was part of the Pacific Dawn; I found it on the deck of the ship during Rosie’s and my final cruise.
Sometimes I gave Rosie a souvenir as a gift… like the alpine flower I found when I climbed to the summit of Victoria’s highest mountain, Mount Bogong.
The other day I picked up a shell as I was walking one of Perth’s beautiful beaches. There was nothing special about this shell; it was one of many similar shells scattered along the high water mark; but it captured my memories of the pristine white sand and crystal clear waters along the West Australian coast.
I then picked up a second shell for Rosie… even though I knew I could not give it to her, I sensed it was important for me to do this, even if I didn’t know why.
A new season of grief
Travelling to Perth to celebrate the arrival of my second grandson was a time of joy and delight like I have rarely experienced before.
It was also a time of being exposed emotionally… alongside the joy I felt the pain of knowing Rosie was not there to celebrate this incredibly special moment with me.
The coming month is going to be tough
This Wednesday 30th September, many of us will receive a Facebook reminder that it is Rosie’s birthday. For some who were close to Rosie I know this will come unexpectedly and deep feelings of grief will resurface.
Rosie’s birthday is the beginning of a new season of grief for me too. It is the forerunner to an intense time, the first anniversary of Rosie’s death on October 29th and her funeral on November 6th. For me the awareness and pain of losing her is already intensifying and I know this will only increase as these weeks progress.
So how do I navigate this difficult time? This question has been echoing around my mind, calling out for an answer so that I don’t enter it unprepared.
The simple answer is that there are no simple answers. Grief is something you deal with by going through it; it does not readily lend itself to plans and strategies designed to manage it.
Some helpful principles…
Grief is not something to run away from, rather it is one of the dark strands of the tapestry of life that we have no choice but to weave. Going through it is not easy, especially in the first year after losing a loved one when all the ‘first anniversaries’ take place, but it is far more healthy to allow oneself to feel and experience grief when it comes than to try and suppress it.
Grief can give rise to a range of other deep emotions. For me, deep anger and frustration are also crying out to be resolved. Allowing grief and these other emotions to rise will provide me with an opportunity to work through not only the loss of Rosie, but a range of other issues that have been buried within me for decades. (Thanks heavens for grief counselling… there will be no lack of ‘grist for the mill’!)
I may not want to acknowledge it, but grief provides a unique opportunity for me to learn about life and myself, and to grow. None of us like “grasping the nettles” of painful times, but I know it can bring healing, growth, empathy for others, and equipping for the future in ways that nothing else can; grief actually has a positive side that can encourage and empower me, giving me strength to make it through.
To the extent that grief brings us pain, it also brings the choice to accept it, learn from it and find healing, or to suppress it and perpetuate it, possibly in harmful ways.
I know I am not alone
Knowing I am not walking this journey on my own is a huge blessing and comfort.
My close friends will play a key role during this time. I have the freedom to call on them anytime and know they will be there for me. Catching up with them regularly allows me to offload the emotional pressure… these friends know how to really listen, a rare skill these days.
My wider family have been supportive beyond what I thought possible over this last year, and we now share a much deeper bond as a family. I will not want to be alone for Rosie’s birthday or the anniversary of her passing. Spending time with my family on those days will be very important… I have no doubt my family will need each other too.
I may also spend time at Caritas Christi, where I can quietly reflect on being with Rosie during her final days and final moments. The hospice is my sacred place for reflection; it is here that Rosie was last alive; where she spent her final days “living well and dying well” as was her motto to the end.
A helpful metaphor
As I write this I have the two shells in my pocket… they represent Rosie and I and our relationship.
The shells are of the same type but are nonetheless unique and complete in themselves… no two shells, no matter how similar, are ever exactly the same. In a healthy relationship not only do “two become one”, they also grow as “one plus one”, complementing each other.
Together the shells represent our relationship… it took both of these shells joined together to protect the life that grew and thrived within them for over 33 years. But every living thing and every relationship one day must come to an end… this is a tough reality we all face. When that day came for Rosie and I we experienced the pain of separation and our two shells now travel their own paths through ‘the ocean of life’ here and beyond.
When I took the shells out of my pocket I found the smaller shell nestled fully within the larger one. From above, only the larger shell can be seen; turn them over and the smaller shell is revealed, hidden within the larger one. While Rosie is no longer with me physically, I will hold my memories of her deep within me for the rest of my life…
On a practical note…
Being able to express in a practical way, our gratitude for who Rosie was to us, and the grief we feel at losing her, can be an important part of the healing process, not only for ourselves, but also for others with whom we share.
Rosie’s facebook page is still active for this purpose. If you would like to express your thoughts and feelings during the coming days and weeks, please feel free to do so.