Loss - Part I
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
CW: death, grief, loss - sometimes the Stephanie Sayss blog will get reeeeeaaaal personal. If you need assistance or support, please contact LifeLine on 13 11 14.
This is the first installment in a series of blogs on this platform dedicated to navigating loss and other feelings associated with the death of a loved one.
Something many young people will experience is the death of a loved one. It's possibly the hardest fact of human existence we have to learn to live alongside, despite its absolute certainty. I have been reflecting a lot lately on my relationship with loss, and this has been largely focused on the influence my grandparents have had on my life. Sadly, I have now lost three of my grandparents in their physicality - each at vastly different stages of my life with profoundly different experiences and lessons associated. Considering their lives entwined with mine has allowed me to understand the great impact we all have on those around us, and I am grateful for the way in which they each assisted in shaping me into the person I continue to grow to be.
"My Grandbob was a fireman" - a sentiment I still proudly proclaim when the ring of sirens assault my ear drums as fire engines fly by. Memories of my maternal Grandfather glisten with the golden light of childhood; they fill my heart entirely with love.
I was quite young when he died, but I was at an age where I feel I was able to acknowledge what was going on. Applying hindsight to his death enables me to understand it was at this point I learnt the two great certainties of human existence; life and death.
My little broken heart began to heal for the first time after his death - a little sore, but structurally enhanced by the strength it had gained.
Over the rainbow is where Grandma now lives on within me. Forever the songbird was she; I'll always give cheers to the big karaoke bar in the sky. A woman so generous with her love for me - I can't even express. I feel the utmost privilege that so much of her lives on in me.
Her death was hard, in fact it still is. The little heart that healed itself years before still aches for the loss of her, however through the harsh realities of illness I am thankful for the laughter she gave us towards the end. I've grown comfortable with the idea that it's okay to not ever feel okay with the sense of tremendous loss.
To love, to give, to always care for others - be the best person you can be. When life gets tough always, always sing.
My Pa died at the start of January. It had been coming for quite some time, but the force death propels into you still hurts no matter how much you think you've cushioned yourself. His warmth is something I feel I will miss for the rest of my life. His natural generosity to all is a trait I aspire to hold. His genuine love for a good time - "Grab yourself a beer!" - is something we could all benefit from including in our day to day lives.
At 26, this loss is one that reinforces the strength of love, and the importance of living life with a kind heart. At the time of publishing this piece it will have been a month since his passing. I've had a lot to drink, a lot of tears and moments of deep sadness, and a lot of silence. Despite this, there have been so many laughs and moments filled with uplifting love; moments that continue to light the pathway of recovery. I feel there is a connection I have re-established with myself, which has been both confronting and comforting, but utterly required - the intensity of raw human emotion. All of this however, has been soothed by the love for music my Pa passed down to my father, onto me.
I am so privileged to have lived with these wonderful people by my side for the time this world housed them, and I am eternally grateful that their home is now within my heart, and my being. I am also very lucky that at 26 I still have my lovely Nanna, and the rest of my family who have each walked these paths with me, albeit in their own steps with their own stories to tell - and that's the thing about death, grief, and loss isn't it? We all live it differently.
Our human eccentricities are what make us individual - they are the puzzle pieces that build us up from sheer anatomy to people with character, emotions, experiences and beliefs. It seems bizarre to me that when we're in the murky waters of loss there's this underlying damaging social/cultural expectation that we should adhere to a prescribed set of actions or feelings, within an 'acceptable time frame', despite the fact most of us don't ever fit in the same box.
If I've learnt anything from processing loss myself, it's that whatever you feel is un-apologetically okay. If it takes you a week to start to feel 'normal' again, that's great. If, like me, you feel you swim through the motions of grief each day, that's okay as well. If you cry, you cry - if you don't, you don't. If you're silent, you're silent - if you're vocal, you're vocal. If you're not okay, that's okay. The most important thing however is a self-care notion I have previously heard: put your own oxygen mask on first.
Acknowledging the need to care for ourselves first is often a struggle in these circumstances; there's others we need to care for - partners, parents, siblings, children, friends. Despite our best intentions however, we cannot care for them if we are not caring for ourselves; one empty tank cannot fill another.
Initiating and practicing self care, while absolutely necessary, can be challenging. We all participate in different ways, and despite what Instagram might suggest, it's not a streamline process of massages and meditation. For me, the swimming pool is my sanctuary. The silence under the water only broken by my breath - an unmistakable reminder that I'm alive - is a haven for my thoughts to process and align themselves. I also find the greatest comfort in a long, hot shower; water is my lifeline.
If you're stuck in the waves of grief and loss, remembering the things you love to do is a great starting point for initiating your self care. This way, it's also likely that the activity is a part of your regular routine, so finding time for it shouldn't be too difficult. If you love your Saturday morning yoga class, resume going. If eating delicious comfort food is your thing, dedicate some time to nourishing yourself. It's some time out of the city you need? Go for it. This doesn't just stop either - it's continuous - wear and tear could see that oxygen mask lose it's strength, and as the motions of grief go on it needs to last the journey - repairs are needed sometimes. Self care shouldn't just end.
I hope this serves as a gentle reminder to be kind to yourself if loss and grief are present in your life. I hope it's encouraged you look back at the good moments in your life, and to create more of them in the present and future.
Sometimes we need assistance to put that oxygen mask on. In the next installment of this series we'll go into different ways you can help someone you love who might be experiencing grief, trauma, or coping with the loss of a loved one.
Another great certainty is that the sun will always rise, and while sometimes it feels like we keep spinning and spinning with no end it sight, I am thankful that as it sets I have lived another day filled with love, fun, and happiness. My heart will continue to heal in it's own time. Meanwhile I will grow through, around and tall above the cracks within it.