Essay: Coping with Grief 14 Years On
This post is a little different from my usual blogs, more of an essay or a diary? I'm writing it firstly as a way of talking about how I feel and airing it all out! But also, to help anybody who might be feeling as I am, in knowing they're not alone.
So, here goes...
Grief hits us all at some point. Whether it's a family member's death, a lost opportunity or the grief of missing a moment - the same emotion is present in a great many scenarios, just at different levels. But, how many times is it acceptable to grieve something? What's a normal amount of time for bereavement? When does it all go away?
My Grandma died eleven days after my 7th birthday. She knew her death was coming and so did my family, but I knew very little and what I did know, I didn't fully understand. She took us on one last family holiday together - my parents woke me up at 5am on a Friday morning and said, "We're not going to school today. We're going to France!" I spent a long weekend in Nice, in the South of France. We stayed in a very posh hotel, with a huge room which had dividing doors between two massive beds - one for my parents and a humongous bed all for my 4-year old sister and I. From what I remember, the room had a beautiful view of the Mediterranean sea and the sand was almost as white as the newly laundered sheets on the bed. I was ecstatic to see a mini-fridge in the corner, laden with chocolate bars and what I now presume was alcohol. My dad told me not to touch the contents, or we'd be charged a thousand pounds. In hindsight, I can understand his anxiety about leaving a 4 and a 6-year old alone, with a feast in a fridge.
Why am I telling you this though, dear reader? Well, it was this specific memory that brought me to tears, 14 years after my Grandma's death. I wasn't even sad at first. It was almost like a bodily reaction to the memory. I remembered being that happy... and I thought about why. As excited as I was about the fridge, it wasn't the sole source of my contentment. It wasn't even the giant bed, as I'm pleased to say, six-year-old Hannah, we've got a nicely-sized one of our own now! It was because I was surrounded by all the people I loved and nothing was complicated - I was just a child, in a ridiculous hotel, giggling over the idea of a thousand-pound chocolate bar. I realised I haven't been that innocently happy since then.
A few moments ago, I went into my desk cupboard and pulled out a green box, with yellow swirls. It's a box full of items that either were hers, or that remind me of her: letters I wrote her, postcards she sent me, a Russian doll, two pots of expired jam - one from Harrods and one from the breakfast buffet in Nice. There are necklaces and pin-badges and a token from an amusement park in Sussex. Her old sunglasses case and photos from her 70th birthday. There is also a list I made a few years ago of things I remember about her house. As I've gotten older, tiny details like that have slipped away, so I'm so thankful I wrote it all down - younger me expected to forget and prepared accordingly! Thanks, me.
I hold the pictures close to my heart, as if somehow I'll be closer to her by doing this. I sob, "I miss you", to no one in particular, even though some part of me is hoping she'll hear. An even smaller part still hopes I'll hear her reply. Even now, the little things are the things I miss the most. Ringing her doorbell, which made a low buzzing sound. Then, being welcomed into her mansion of a house with outstretched arms and a "Hello Darling!" My memories of her are so very much alive, both in how real they feel to me, but also in my recreation of her - she was never dull, nor lethargic. She would love to play hide and seek with me, or push me on a swing. Those are some of my earliest memories of life.
She would listen to me playing on her grand piano. As I bashed out Mary Had A Little Lamb, my feet dangled from the stool - they weren't long enough to reach the pedals. Now, that grand piano and its stool both sit in my home and I have learnt all my grades on the keys. Subconsciously, I think it's the memory of her that draws me to it every time.
These are my coping mechanisms. In reliving memories, in keeping a dedicated box full of purely her, in playing the piano, I am coping with her passing, by appreciating what she left behind. My Grandma was a second mum to me; we were so close and I like to think she'd be proud of what I have accomplished. I'll continue to live with fragments of her scattered throughout my life and deal with the waves of grief when they choose to surface.
If you're dealing with grief now (and I'm sure you're sick of hearing this), it does get easier. Tonight was the first time I have cried over my Grandma in maybe 6 years? It still hurts a lot, when I choose to dwell on it, but I find ways to cope - writing this blog being one of them. I hope you were able to take something from my story. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or using my social media links, at the top of the page!