Grief … you tread on it, stamp on it, walk on it, tiptoe round it
You are buffeted by it, you are sheltered by it
You see it, you taste it, and you grow it.
You smell it, taste it, feel it, hear it, and finally you Throw It.
We have had some hard frosts this week. Each morning, the roofs have been iced in white and I have had to run the car engine for a while to de-ice the windscreen. As I watch from inside the warmth of the house, a tiny gap appears in the centre of the screen, slowly expanding and melting, spreading across the glass until eventually the ice turns to slush, easily cleared by the windscreen wipers.
The frosty mornings put me in mind of the climate of early grief, when you feel as though your emotions are cast in frozen stillness. Numb with shock, you can hardly move to put one foot in front of the other.
The thaw comes very slowly.
It is notable that in compensation for these cold, frosty mornings we have had stunningly colourful sunrise and sunsets. Late in the afternoon, planes leave raspberry pink vapour trails across the darkening sky, and the sun is a glowing orb that sinks slowly below the horizon.
Early grief is a cold and exhausting climate. But eventually the clouds separate, the sun shines and the rainbows arrive.
At night, the sky is clear and full of stars. The newest star is yours. And the moon shines her benevolence upon you.
Comparing grief to how the weather behaves I suppose to be a reasonable enough concept, and perhaps it can be applied to our senses.
If you could see it, how would your grief look?
You might think that grief would be unremittingly ugly, like a warty old crone face. You can picture early grief looking like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’, with an unutterably horrified expression.
But grief’s face does evolve.
You begin to see a gentler, calmer, visage.
When your grief is new, your face carries a hunted, pinched expression. This is particularly evident when you look back at photos when you thought you looked ‘normal’. Eventually the face you see in the mirror has absorbed the hurt and pain in its planes and lines and what reflects back is the familiar look that you know is your new normality.
If you were to hear your grief, at first it might be a senselessly discordant shrieking, wailing sound; your own silent scream. You hear it in your head much of the time. Sometimes it drowns out the rest of the world around you. Sometimes you need to vocalise it.
Tinnitus is an aggravating, ever present ringing, a whistling, white noise mix of sound that is like the second stage of grief’s orchestra. It stays. You get so accustomed to it you don’t notice it any more. Perhaps it never really goes.
You can try to balance it out through listening to music, something that was impossible to do in the beginning. Every song was a memory.
On the plate, grief has its own flavour that kills the appetite and does not nourish you. It’s bitter; sharp like a bad wine, or bland and beige like an overcooked dinner. To work through grief, you need to find stimulants to whet your appetite, which are beneficial and flavoursome and will awaken your taste buds again.
Early grief does not want to eat.
Early grief loses the pleasure in food.
But appetite will return and it needs tempting back with appealing foods.
Given that you are what you eat, when you are grieving and surviving on tea and toast, it is no wonder that you do not necessarily possess the strength to deal with all that surrounds your loss.
The touch of grief is far from tender. You may recognise the feeling of sensitivity when you have a fever, when your scalp is so sore it hurts to brush your hair. Your skin is dry with an underlying itch that you cannot scratch. Your throat is raw from weeping. Your eyes are red and they burn with lack of sleep.
You have to get past this. You must shower, dress, put on your armour for the day and push yourself back into life.
You might equate early grief to walking along a rock strewn path wearing unsuitable thin-soled sandals. You can feel the roughness beneath your feet and you are lucky if you don’t turn your ankle or slip on the scree-like slopes.
One of the best things about the evolution of grief into a gentler incarnation is being able to enjoy simple pleasures like buying and wearing a new outfit. It will come.
The garden of grief might contain some kind of hybrid mix of cactus, gorse bush and nettle in its first year.
Later on you may have a plump cushion of soft geranium with pink blooms and lemon scented leaves. Or you could brush against a thyme plant on a warm, sunny day, and enjoy the resinous fragrance that drifts upon the breeze. The beauty and perfume of a rose will lift your spirits.
Finally, the sheer weight of grief is hard to carry. It’s hard to determine whether you carry it on your back or your front. Perhaps it is seated in your heart.
Slowly but surely the weight diminishes. Eventually you may be holding onto something as light as a tennis ball. It’s a useful mind exercise to practise throwing it away …