Swindon Link columnist Beth Ritchie reflects on the recent loss of her dad
By Beth Ritchie of https://propergrownup.com/
Pre-warning, never one to shy away from life in all its glory, this week’s column includes graphic references to grief. If you’re squeamish about that stuff I suggest you don’t read on. For everyone else, follow me on a little journey through grief…
I can’t remember if I’ve said before, but I recently lost my dad. It was after a long illness (three actually – diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, which turned out to be a killer combo). I was lucky enough to see him on the day he died and say goodbye, which was a huge privilege that so many others have not been able to experience since Covid, or indeed at other times. I truly recognise what a blessing this was.
Like many others, I have lost more than one person in the last year, and this has been a huge lesson in resilience and in life in general. Grief has affected me in so many ways, so much so that I barely recognise who I was before.
The grieving process is a complete rollercoaster. I anticipated the moments of feeling so sad I thought I might die of a broken heart, but grief has also triggered moments of pure joy which were completely unexpected.
Grief is never straightforward. But thanks to the 7 stages, I thought that it would be.
The 7 stages of grief are well known: Shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction and working through, acceptance and hope. I’d read about these, we all have, so I thought I was well prepared.
But in my opinion, the 7 stages are a massive misrepresentation (I demand a refund), because it suggests that grief is a linear process that can be followed like a map. At least that’s what I expected. My experience has been completely different, with more twists and turns than that episode of Dallas where it turns out it was all a dream.
I’ll give them the shock and denial, that’s definitely one of the early symptoms. But one of the things accompanying the shock and denial for me was a sort of “this isn’t that bad” feeling (which I suppose is denial) because I had literally just seen them, so their absence from my life had yet to be obvious. This was accompanied by a massive sense of guilt that I had this feeling. Surely, I should be more upset? Guilt has been a common theme throughout the whole of the process for me (but as a woman, a mother, and a daughter, guilt is kind of my default setting anyway…).
Of course, as time wore on, and the time that I hadn’t seen them stretched into weeks and then months, I long to go back to those early days when their voice was fresh in my ears or the look in their eyes was so easily conjured in my mind.
I certainly hadn’t expected the “going about my business being perfectly fine one minute, then bawling my eyes out the next, then back to perfectly fine again very, very quickly” stage, which is ongoing, and I know from experience lasts well past the 6-month mark.
(This is often accompanied by the “telling all and sundry that someone has just died” stage. Sorry taxi driver, Tesco checkout person and insurance broker).
But one of the main things that I hadn’t expected, and arguably the most selfish part of grief… is the fact that your own mortality marches up and smacks you around the face in a way that is impossible to ignore. The death of someone close to you is one of the starkest reminders that one moment we are here, and the next, we may not be.
Someone you could never imagine life without, has literally just vanished from the face of the planet. Ceased to exist. And so will you one day.
Yeah, yeah, YOLO, life’s not a rehearsal and all that. We churn out these cliches carelessly as an excuse to have another bit of cake, stay up for an extra episode of our latest Netflix binge or have questionable sexual encounters.
But when someone dies, you suddenly realise, at a core level, what all those cliches really mean. Suddenly an extra bit of cake just isn’t enough.
And while I can’t help but feel guilty (told you, default setting) that I am selfishly thinking about myself at a time like this, I also feel like this awareness is the silver lining of grief.
Because thanks to this year, I have gone after my goals with a previously unseen ferocity and grasped opportunities like there was literally no tomorrow. Apart from making my loved ones (and random strangers) feel uncomfortable with my occasional but very sudden bouts of crying, life is very, very good.
I would give anything to get back the people I’ve lost this last year, literally anything. But I can also say that thanks to grief, I have never felt so alive.
And maybe that is the lesson I was meant to learn.
Grief isn’t ever going to be straightforward and will take time. But if you feel like you’re struggling or need some help, please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to those around you, ask for help from your GP or call a grief helpline like Cruse.