As those of you who read this blog post last year will know, April is a difficult month for my family. While the spring flowers come into full bloom, the lambs scamper in the fields and the temperatures warm up, this ambush of fresh colour and new life contrasts with memories of April 2012, a month that changed my life forever.
I’ve written about bereavement before, but I’ve found that as the time passes and I reflect on coping with the loss of my father, so my understanding about the process of grief and healing evolves. The title of this blog post perhaps reflects that more than anything else I could write. Put simply, losing such a close loved one is, I feel, a loss of innocence.
We associate innocence with childhood, and arguably losing a parent during childhood would potentially be even more life-changing. Yet as adults we aren’t immune to feeling utterly bereft as a result of bereavement. I’ve heard many adults describe losing a parent as being orphaned, even though society generally only sees orphans as children.
When we are surrounded by the people that fill our earliest memories and who are most closely linked to our life experiences we feel secure. When one of those people departs, as is certain to happen one day, we are confronted by the full force of bereavement – something we can never really prepare for even if a loved one’s passing is expected.
Life is not and will never be as it was, and unlike many aspects of our existence this is something that we have no control over – we cannot bring our loved ones back. The innocence we had towards life, love and the complex web of feelings that joins all of that up is gone. I think for me this is most starkly illustrated in a particularly bleak reoccurring memory I have.
I was with my dad when he died, and life-changing though that was I could never have been anywhere other than by his side. I recall it very vividly, and the aftermath, as first the GP came to certify his death and then the undertakers came to move his body to the chapel of rest. All first-time experiences for me, and none of them made any easier by knowing that those moments were coming many days before they happened.
My most bleak reoccurring memory, however, is from over a week later, when we visited dad at the chapel of rest before his funeral. Seeing his body perfectly presented but coldly lifeless in his coffin has haunted many a night-time for me. It is that image that forces my mind to relive his passing, questioning if I should have visited the chapel of rest at all.
I think that memory remains so vivid, when others associated with dad’s death sit more peacefully in the back of my mind, because it represented a loss of innocence for me. Dad gently slipping away in his bed seems more natural than dad’s body lying in a coffin. That visit to the chapel of rest was very confronting and may never sit easily with me, which is a reality I have to accept.
It was a visit I made because I needed to see for myself that everything was as it should be, but nothing could prepare me for it or will soothe the memories it leaves me with, save for dad’s strong arms to give me a big hug and comfort me, something of course that can never happen.
My mum tells me that losing her mum is still incredibly hard to come to terms with 26 years later. Sadly I know many friends who have faced their own bereavements more recently – for some the tears are daily, for others the regrets are haunting. Some say their children have helped them cope. Others have found strength through their faith. What I believe we all have in common, however, is that loss of innocence. Bring brave in this new world is a struggle that for some people becomes engulfing.
I’ve had conversations with friends about acceptable time-frames for bereavement. How long is it ‘ok’ to grieve for? My personal view is there is no time limit, nor is there an ‘acceptable’ path, a one-size-fits-all coping method, or a magic solution. Some people say time heals. With the two year anniversary of my dad’s passing upcoming, all I can say is that time has given me a mixture of emotions – the positive has been a reflective perspective and a huge amount of love and pride in being able to call such an amazing man my dad, but the negative remains those vivid images.
Each of us will have our own positives and negatives. No one can jump inside someone else’s head and tell them how to feel or cope or ‘get on with life’. Finding your own way is one of the great unknowns in bereavement. The only way to protect yourself from this is to have no one and nothing in your life that you would ever or could ever mourn but that, for me, really wouldn’t be a life. The joy our loved ones give us is the reason the pain is so acutely felt when they leave us. An irreversible loss of innocence that binds us to our everlasting love for them.
Until next time…