Maybe you were just travelling through
You were not destined to be with us for long
You didn’t need to stay a hundred years
To get everything done; you did it in nineteen.
You came to deliver the warmth of your smile
Your lessons in love, friendship and trust
You were already a teacher to us all
To our family and others, so loved…
Maybe you lived your life faster than the rest
You certainly knew how to make the best
Of all your opportunities and time
You wasted nothing; each moment precious.
You delivered your gifts and now you are free
To travel on; an extraordinary being
Who leaves knowledge for we who remain
Your presence to treasure, again and again.
The concept that grief and loss can give us anything other than pain and heartache, indeed that they may provide something of a positive nature, is an entirely untenable idea in the early stages of bereavement. But as we tread along our individual grief pathways in the ‘two steps forward, one step back’ manner associated with such journeys, we may find ourselves surprised.
Very soon after James passed, I began to write out my feelings as a way of alleviating my pain. Writing is solace for me and I have always expressed myself in written form, usually keeping journals and diaries for my eyes only. I recognise myself as a recorder of events; if I am not photographing it, I am writing it down! I began to share my writing on grief support forums and the first time someone kindly commented, saying,
“Your words have really helped me, you have expressed exactly what I am feeling”,
I felt tremendously uplifted.
I don’t write for plaudits and praise, but there is great satisfaction in knowing that what comes relatively easily to me is able to help others in similar situations.
This was an unexpected outcome from loss and the first of its identifiable gifts. The catharsis of writing and keeping James’ memory alive through writing about him benefits me, too.
Alongside writing, I have on occasion been asked to speak about grief and I’ve given various presentations, both formal and informal. Public speaking was never within my remit before. But it brings a very important lesson, which is that grief has given me a new voice, a positive voice that shares the state of mind around the rollercoaster ride of sorrow in a way that uplifts and helps those who are travelling a similar route. This second gift takes its form as a growing confidence which arises directly from my experiences and is therefore very personal.
The third gift from loss that I identify here is perhaps a little nebulous and difficult to describe. It might be summed up by a quote by Julian of Norwich (reprised into modern English): He did not say you will not be storm tossed, you will not be sore distressed, you will not be work weary. He said: you will not be overcome. I guess resilience is the best name for this gift.
When we were on holiday earlier this year, I made a less than sensible decision. We arrived at a most beautiful location, the port of Kotor in Montenegro. Above the city, itself bounded by ancient walls, is a zig-zag, vertiginous cliff path up the side of the mountain which rises from the fjord on which Kotor is located. Despite my mobility being significantly compromised by my arthritic hip, I was determined that I would ascend the path, reaching at the very least halfway up, in my quest for photographs.
We set off. It was hot, steep and dusty. The path was heavy going, made treacherous with loose shale. But I was constantly seeking the best photo opportunities as we ascended, and I concentrated on reaching the goal. We finally made it; hot and sweaty but with the sense of achievement that comes only from working through something difficult; and in this case painful.
This example illustrates that there is no recompense in just sitting brooding and reflecting on grief, loss and sadness. We need to hold onto the faith in our ability to metaphorically climb mountains as they loom up ahead of us. The result is the gift of knowing that we are managing, we are coping, and we are working our way forward, however long and difficult the climb.
I didn’t do myself any favours in Kotor as this unwise expedition turned out to be the defining factor in my decision to seek a hip replacement on our return home. I am now recovering very well. The gift inherent in that trek up the mountain was to give me a clearer vision about what I needed to do for the sake of my future.
If we open our minds and hearts with faith in our own strength we can draw upon many forms of support, both seen and unseen, which then nurture and bolster our determination to carry on progressing along the personal grief path. It is only by moving forward that we are able to look back down the weeks, months and years and chart our advancement.
The signposts and helpers along the way point us towards what eventually become tangible positives; such are our gifts from loss.
“Maybe some people just aren’t meant to be in our lives forever. Maybe some people are just passing through. It’s like some people just come through our lives to bring us something: a gift, a blessing, a lesson we need to learn. And that’s why they’re here. You’ll have that gift forever.” Danielle Steele