As human beings, we need hope. Yet, in the darkness of grief, when we have lost someone we loved so much, when we are drowning in sorrow and heartbreak, where is hope then? How do we find it?
When I was newly bereaved, a close friend put me in touch with her sister Deb and brother-in-law Tony in Australia, who had tragically lost their own daughter Alice, some 6 years previously. They proved to be a wonderful, caring and reassuring source of support to my husband Alek and I during those first few months, and during our email exchanges their many words of wisdom helped us enormously.
One of the things Tony said in his very first message was something I have never forgotten.
"I remember thinking to myself at some stage that there was no way I could make the pain of Alice's death any smaller; and that what I had to do was make the rest of my life bigger in some way".
I find imagery helpful, and the black hole image is one of those analogies around grief and emotional pain that works for me. I imagined tiny glimmers of light down that hole when I thought of all those amazing people who supported me in myriad ways, particularly during the first 18 months or so after Anton died.
Dr Lois Tonkin’s article about Accommodation Theory sometimes call the fried egg theory, posits that we don’t move on from grief, but grow around it. Our grief never goes away or becomes any smaller, but over time, our lives begin to grow around the hole. Imagine drawing a circle to represent yourself and your life, then colouring it in – this is you and your grief. As time goes on, the shaded area remains the same, but you begin to develop and grow life around it – experiences, people, activities etc - and begin to have positive feelings again, even if these are minutely tiny at the beginning. Eventually the whole area (your life) becomes much bigger. The shaded area never changes, the hole is just as big as it ever was, but it gradually becomes a smaller part of the whole; it is no longer everything, everywhere, or all of us. Increasingly we allow ourselves to experience life in the larger circle, giving ourselves permission to grow around the loss, whilst continuing to spend time in the raw, shaded area of pain.
So some days I am in the shaded circle, but at some point I will move back into the larger circle and continue with my life. Until the next time.
During the winter of 2019 it must have rained a lot, because every day, when we arrived home after forcing ourselves out to walk our cockapoo Frankie during those short, cold hours of daylight, we had to wash her muddy paws and tummy. So trudging around the murk at the bottom of the hole was a fitting metaphor, it was literally mucky, muddy, murky everywhere. But we had to walk her, and we had to wash her. Frankie needed us to care for her, feed her, cuddle her, and keep her clean. She was a reason to get up every day and to go out in the cold. And that reason kept us sane.
I'll be really honest here, I don't always feel like going out for a walk. I don't always enjoy it when I do. Especially in the winter winds, I'd much prefer to stay indoors and keep warm. If I'm completely honest I'm not the greatest fan of any exercise really.
But one thing I know to be absolutely true is that I always, always feel better after a walk.
There's something about the physical activity, the repeated motion of step following step, and particularly if I can be in the countryside, or by the sea, surrounded by nature (even at its cruellest) I come home with my heart lightened, or my anger lessened, or my anxiety quietened. Even if sometimes, its just good to get home and sit down with a cup of tea, at least I gain some pleasure or appreciation from doing that, whereas if I'd stayed at home and had a cup of tea it wouldn't have had quite the same impact. And Frankie definitely agrees.
References Lois Tonkin TTC, Cert Counselling (NZ)(1996)Growing around grief—another way of looking at grief and recovery,Bereavement Care,15:1,10,DOI: 10.1080/02682629608657376