Learning about life through grief.

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It was a year ago that Roanne died.

I sleep with one of her jumpers in my bed, her scent has gone now but there’s still comfort in it. I have a few voicemails on my phone that I listen to when I long for the sound of her voice. I’m glad for videos like this on the internet where I can hear her wisdom. I’ve found it frustrating that I’m still unable to find any words suitable to describe the moments I want to remember and I’m so desperate for those words incase the memories disappear.

I wasn’t expecting that there would be two kinds of grief. The loss of her, and also the experience of those last few months when she was really poorly in the hospice — the weeks and days of anticipatory bereavement leading up to the inevitable — estranged from normality. The uncertainty of time, the unknowingness of how you will find the person you love each day — how will they be? The strength of emotion that you are holding — there was so much love in that room at the hospice, very rarely was the desperation, the sadness, the pain expressed in that room, but it was there, always, under the surface — so much was suppressed. I held in my throat the words “I don’t want you to die” when I wanted to throw them into the room. It took me months just to drain my body of all of that, and to become less numb.

Now I’m able to remember her before that time.

The new normal

I miss being able to pick up the phone to her and ask for advice — how she knew me meant I needed to say very little — she always had the words, the silence or the gesture.

Looking back through old email exchanges, we acknowledged how we felt stronger when we were together. When we walked in a room with the other, there was a formidability about that. I felt in my power when Roanne was with me — like our connection, our way with one another, was a force to be reckoned with. I particularly miss that.

Loss leaves beautiful things behind

But I’ve found ways of moving forward. For a while I was just looking at what was not there. Now I look at what is there. That is why I have found the moon so helpful in my grief. It’s always present, it’s always got some wisdom to share. I love that on the year anniversary of Roanne’s death there is a very rare Full Blue Moon Lunar Eclipse.

I’ve found comfort in staying in touch with the people she loved. I love that many of us are now connected through the roses we each are growing in our gardens, gifted to everyone at her memorial.

I’ve learnt that love is stronger than death. The loss can be haunting but it’s consistently submerged in love. The love hasn’t lessened.

It’s a cliche perhaps but there is no way that I could experience all that and it not change me. Meghan O’Rourke writes in her beautiful book, The Long Goodbye~

When we are learning the world, we know things we cannot say how we know. When we are relearning the world in the aftermath of a loss, we feel things we had almost forgotten, old things, beneath the seat of reason.

I’m remembering more of what matters to me. The strength I found in those last few months of her life I hold on to — I learnt so much during that time about love, compassion, kindness, truth and courage.

The cards I made for people to take away with them from Roanne’s memorial.

Lastly, it’s odd when something is very present for you but not for anyone else around you. To quote Meghan again~

Ours is a culture that treats grief — a process of profound emotional upheaval — with a grotesquely mismatched rational prescription. On the one hand, society seems to operate by a set of unspoken shoulds for how we ought to feel and behave in the face of sorrow; on the other, we have so few rituals for observing and externalising loss.

I wish we could talk more about loss, share the experiences of loss, especially when so many people are facing all kinds of loss (think unemployment, lack of certainty, loss of security, change of identity…) and their grief is invisible. Loss can be even more painful if it goes unacknowledged.

And don’t forget to make your “once in a blue moon” wish.

Written by

Senior Head, UK Portfolio at The National Lottery Community Fund & Co-founder of the Point People. Previously Strategic Design Director at Doteveryone.

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