Mourning Stories: The Distance of Grief

guest post by Nicky

My relationship with Death:

Grief Distant
I grew up near the infamous cliff  in the U.K where people travel, with their life's unbreathable woes, to jump, leaving each woe in a line along the cliff edge looking down. So many of our woes take us to the edge.

Aged five and on a walk with my friend and her family, we were approached under the cliff by two policemen instructed to look for a  'jumper' who had been sighted close by. I remember sitting on the rocks and watching the stretcher go past. The woman was covered with a blanket but her beautiful blue shoes and matching handbag were visible.

She could have been like us, looking in the rock pools and lifting out small crabs, but she had chosen death over that. Aged five that was my thought: She has chosen death over that and she has chosen her best bag and shoes to go to her death.

Grief Closer
The overwhelming factor in my work now is suicide risk-assessing . All mental health NHS trusts are driven by the fear of having self-inflicted deaths on their books. But it is a factor of the work. It has happened on my caseload and the responsibility and interrogation that follow is overwhelming.  What you hold in your head is overwhelming but if serious intent is there, the best treatment in the world will not stop it.

Then there is the bereavement counselling work. There have been truly life-affirming, enlightening  and heart breaking moments during the sessions. The counselling is for 'abnormal grieving ' where the grief itself is causing the person to become mentally unwell and unable to function. In my experience the grief is nearly always about something other than the death of that person, or some factor in the relationship that was unresolved and often at that point unrevealed to the person themselves. A special memory was a gentleman, now departed himself, who had lost his wife. He had for two years been unable to look at her rings, which had been sealed in an envelope on the day she died. He wanted to hold them but feared collapse to do so. We worked through until he brought the envelope with him. I opened it and held the rings and he put his hands in my hands and we held them together until he could take them from me. Tears drop to remember the poignancy of that moment.

Grief Closest
My personal experiences of grief are part of me like memorable holidays and poignant music. They are written in me. The black cloak that drops from a height knocks you off your feet and removes you from every thing that has held you to the ground.

 I have often tweeted about grief, I remember:
' the losses queue up at the front door, they do not knock, they are thieves and shape shifters' .
Some wipe their feet on the mat and walk lightly without leaving a mark, others tread black mud that can't be removed.  Sometimes the marks comfort us, we like them there, we don't want them removed. Watching someone pass from life to death is the most extraordinary thing, the closing down, the laboured breath, the rattle, the exiting of something enormous. My brother and my mother breathed their last breath against my face. My brother fought and did not want to go, coma deepening and taking him further. My mother desperate to go, wasn't quite ready but a stroke and a strong will had her mind made up, but it took days.

My father died alone in hospital when we'd all gone. I sometimes think the dying have the ability to wait for people to come and wait for people to go.

My mother was the last of the three and seemed to take something remaining of the other two with her. It was three years ago, I don't think you feel the same when both parents have gone. My mother, close to death, opened her eyes twice and said she was frightened. This has haunted me. No garden, no gate, no smiling loved ones. Just fear. This changed my relationship with spirituality .

 I once tweeted about a butterfly in a broken chest of drawers. This was a magical happening in the snow-covered frozen landscape that had altered further what was now a life irrevocably altered.  This day was the final day of taking my family home apart after my mother's death.  In a brown, broken chest of drawers taken from the shed, a peacock butterfly opened its wings in the cold of that winter to reveal its brilliant blue 'eyes.'  It was extraordinary, but I did not see it as a sign.  Now I don't see things as signs. The three deaths of my immediate family were uniquely different as were my relationships with them.

They still wait there, others, at the door. It won't stop and it will be different every time. Our instinct to survive and our ability to carry on against adversity leave me in awe of life. Whether there is a 'later' or just a 'now' matters not to me. I will gratefully accept just the now.