Seven Lessons Grief Has Taught Me

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Never confuse eye makeup and nail polish remover

Trust me, it hurts. Really hurts.

But at the moment I’m finding it all too easy to confuse the simplest of things.

I’ve worked as a doctor for so long I’ve become a tad obsessive about things. Such as not confusing drugs, always putting things back in the same spot and labelling everything I use so nothing gets mixed up.

But that is at work. I leave my obsessiveness at work, having no desire to bring it home. But for months now my mind has literally functioned as mush.

It’s amazing how many thinks look the same when my brain’s not working. Like endone (a quick acting morphine tablet) and paracetamol. Two drugs at different ends of the spectrum of pain killers. One I take for headaches; the other my husband used for his cancer pain. I have so many drugs lying around the house now I should become an apothecary. I will get around to taking them back to the pharmacy, but doing so is yet another sign my husband has gone.

Recently I picked up two endone without thinking. It was only that somewhere, deep inside, my brain released they felt different to paracetamol as they rested in my hand, and I noticed my mistake.

If only I had done the same with the nail polish remover.

My Life Isn’t Instagram Friendly.

A quick look at my first attempt at making mozzarella confirms this. It actually doesn’t taste too bad, and melts well when cooked. Plus the dog love both it and the whey — but it is definitely a work in progress.

Nothing else at the moment seems worthy of a perfect Instagram post, yet I look for the beauty in the everyday, trite as it sounds. As I sat trying to drink my coffee this morning while throwing the ball for the dogs, the fog lifted and the sun fell in shafts through the eucalypts. The camellias are perfect at the moment, and the rose I planted just after my husband died has just flowered.

I need to find these things, as my emotional bank is completely empty. My first day back at work one of the nurses cornered me to ask advice. She was struggling to get pregnant, her husband was drinking too much, plus there was something about her mother-in-law. I could see her suffering, but I couldn’t feel it. I had no empathy, nothing to offer her beyond those pat phrases which fall off the tongue too easily. I felt so selfish, not being able to see beyond my own feet, and angry at her for asking me to try.

So I look at my flowers, and wait.

What’s that Saying About the Small Stuff?

About not sweating it.

There’s so much I have no control over at the moment, and much I simply don’t have the energy to do anything about. Then are the things I don’t want to control.

The day before my husband died, my mum fell off our verandah and broke her hip. At the time I had a houseful of people. Friends, family, neighbours all coming and going. While my mum was still on the ground someone arrived with dinner for us all. (I can still recall the shock of actually having to cook about a month after my husband died.) My friend had brought enough food to feed ten thousand. Her hands were full, and she had no choice but to walk past the ambos and step over my mum as she lay on my front path. She disappeared into kitchen, set up the meal for us all, then disappeared into the sunset.

A lesson in doing what you needs must do, and working around the things you can’t change.

Learning the Unexpected About People

Such as the lady who brought dinner and stepped over my mum — she had taught my kids at school, which the youngest had left two years earlier.

Or about all the people who showed up unannounced the day before funeral to clean my house (for I was having the wake at home). I never asked them, I don’t think anyone organised it, they just all arrived.

The restaurant where my girls worked as waitresses kept sending us meals.

A friend calling in sick at work to spend the day with me the day my husband died.

My nephew, in the armed forces, standing guard at the door and not letting anyone in if I was asleep. Or pretending to be asleep.

A funeral where people had to stand outside, and a wake which began early in the afternoon and finished round midnight. Who new we were so loved.

My blankets only reach only my shoulders

No matter how well I make my bed, when I snuggle in of a night I’m lucky if my doona partially covers me. Being winter, I have a few layers, but they all seem to vanish.

I never had this problem before, but now everyone thinks I need looking after. This includes the dogs, who have taken up residence of a night. When my husband was dying, they might lie next to him during the day, but would always hop off the bed as soon as I got in. Now it’s not unusual for me to wake up with chest pain and trouble breathing, for my 40kg Neapolitan mastiff thinks I make a good pillow.

Once in the middle of the night, half asleep, I felt cold and pulled the doona up to cover me. A clunk — clunk — clunk — thud followed as my poor Staffy rolled off the bed and onto the floor. He wasn’t impressed.

I can no longer park my car

I drive a mini. It’s not a big car. Yet I’m struggling to park her.

I blame information overload. So much goes in then swirls around my head, unable to escape. Deep inside is negative space, but surrounding it is a swirl of constant pin-picks, so my brain feels like it sits in a ball of electricity. I have lost the filter which stops all that noise I don’t need to hear, so I can’t process that which I need to know.

Still, it’s a mini. If I want to take up two car spots, I can. Because it’s a mini. (And let’s face it, where I live, parking is rarely an issue.)

And finally:

Grief is not romantic. Whatever images predominate in pop-culture, there is no romance or elegance in a time of darkness with only the occasional flicker of light on the far distant edges.

Stay away from the light, they always say. But this hint of a light is what I hope will lead me back to the world.

Written by

At 10 I discovered travel, books and philosophy. Now I pass my days with a camera in one hand, a notebook in the other, looking for the perfect coffee.

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