Lessons in Life – Grief

I don’t often write about things that are personal to me, yes places I ‘personally’ recommend be in your little black of contacts but not of matters close to the heart. I haven’t written much this year at all in fact, but now I feel I’m able to share why.

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Last autumn I lost two close friends within six days of each other. Lara had been fighting cancer for over two years and I am grateful that I could say my goodbye ten days before she said hers. Of course, I didn’t believe in my heart that that was my last physical farewell to her and went straight into a rehearsal of a show I was performing in at the time to try and distract myself from the pain of seeing someone I love being so brave.

The beauty of living in a big city like London is that when something so huge happens you want to be able to blend into the surroundings around you, not in a ‘stiff upper lip’ way but more just to be as anonymous as possible. I sob-walked through Covent Garden and of course, because of living in a big city like London you invariably bump into someone you know which I did. Some big man bear hugs later I went to rehearsal, no one knew where I’d come from until I broke down afterwards. It was a new show, with a group of people I knew little about yet they bundled me up and filled me with love.

Ten days later Lara died, I got the call from another friend an hour before the show. I gave an angry performance that night; short-tempered, impatient, my emotions were everywhere and then sank myself into a vat of gin and noise to try and block the pain.

Six days later whilst driving my daughter to school I got a call to tell me that my friend Susie’s body had been found in a park, what was happening? My world had been turned once that week and now again? Plus answering my daughter’s question ‘Mama, what’s suicide?’ in the best way I could before squeezing her extra hard and telling her I loved her as I watched her go into school.

I know the circle of life happens, and inevitably we all deal with death at some point during our own existence, particularly with family members. I’m in the latter part of my forties with a ten year old daughter and fortunate to have a wide circle of amazing, brilliant people in my life, some who have been with me forever, some more recent, all as important as each other to me. What I’m not ready for is losing any of them.

Both Lara and Susie were close to my age, and Lara with a beautiful daughter a similar age to mine. We are all fighting battles every day; cancer and depression were their battles. Mine has been of grief and the reminder of my own mortality. Life is precious. And sometimes too short.

With the anniversary of both of their deaths coming up, I’m only just starting to emerge from the fog that has been my year. I haven’t really dealt with grief in this capacity before. In recent years I’ve mourned the breakdown of my seventeen-year relationship, which is now growing into a mature, adult co-parenting friendship. But death, jeez, so final.

I first went through a phase of thinking I was developing ME as I was in a constant state of exhaustion, I hadn’t slept well for some time but it had got a little better, blame the menopausal hormones as well as the night time brain.

Then it was the unconscious stepping off of the hamster wheel that is generated by my ego and need for adulation from all that people see me do in my more public persona: blogging, presenting, speaking, writing, etc. None of it felt important anymore, it just wasn’t a priority. I only needed to focus on getting through each day as a mum and getting to my day job to keep the wheels turning. I now co-parent so my daughter spends half her time with me, half with her dad, it’s a very happy arrangement, she is brilliant and it all works.

However, this leaves me with time on my own which is where I go downhill and self-sabotage. I haven’t enjoyed my own time and space this last year, I have been needy of attention, physical gratification, been filled with self-loathing, raw, vulnerable, empty and lost.

For someone who runs several people’s lives I’ve found grief really hard to factor in. I’m used to a routine, I like routine, yes I’m flexible and I like that my everyday is different but my days don’t allow much time for emotional breakdowns. I’ve realised that grief shows itself whenever it feels like it and you can’t suppress no matter how hard you try. I’ve cried on the tube, walking down the street, at work, mid conversation with people when talking about something not even mildly upsetting, I’ve even cried on a date.

I’ve missed work opportunities, forgotten appointments, been a bit rubbish on the day job at times, been short-tempered with people who I didn’t need to short-tempered with, and generally not cared much about stuff that hasn’t been necessary to my general everyday getting through life.

I’m only now, with healing and working on my own wellbeing (with tiny steps) coming out of the other side. Colours are definitely starting to look a little brighter, I’m less numb and I’m gradually enjoying time with myself again.

So, I guess this is a bit of an apology to all those calls/emails/requests I’ve missed. I’ve realised that life sends you messages along the way and grief has been mine, telling me to put things on pause, acknowledge and accept what I’m going through. Let’s all just be a little kinder to each other, none of us know what’s going on on the inside do we?

Lara and Susie – big love to you both wherever you are. Thank you for being part of the patchwork that I am.

Carpe Diem.

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