Thursday, March 4, 2010

That Certain Sadness

One of the joys of Facebook is connecting with people you haven't seen or heard from in over 20 years. I've just finished a conversation with a friend from high school - she is somebody special. One of those people who just got on with things, we shared a number of classes from memory and she was always nice to me. She's somebody I remember fondly from high school - there aren't many of those people about.

This evening she was telling me of the passing of her father, who after two weeks of hell in intensive care, departed yesterday.

It always puzzles me how as a society, we rarely broach the subject of death. It's all too raw, to messy - we don't know what to say - we'd rather say nothing than bugger things up. Most people say sorry and get the hell out of there.

I don't. When it comes to death, I tend to get my hands dirty - I listen and I ask if they want to talk. Albeit gently, I offer my support letting people know you're there. If I can't be there, flowers get sent. Immediately.

After giving my condolences I told her I understood what she was going through - my own father passed away nearly fourteen years ago. We talked.

She told me of the shock, the hurt, the fact that she can't believe he's no longer there, that her child was throwing a tantrum and that her family were all around. I'm so sorry for my friend's loss - but I'm so glad she has the support and love of her family around her.

I wish, when this happened to me, I had a similar experience.

Losing a parent is about the most awful thing that can happen to you. And unfortunately it will happen to most of us. It's different for everybody. For some it happens when you're young. For others, when you're at the end of middle age or later. And it's never easy.

When my own father died I was in London. I couldn't get back for my family or for the funeral. I knew my mother was happily remarried so she had my stepdad and my sister was all partnered up, so they had a support network.

The first I knew anything was up was there was a knock at the door - and there was a policeman standing there. He told me to call my mother. I knew something was wrong then and there. My flatmate had left the phone off the hook in his room, nobody could get through. Then and there, I knew it was either my father or grandmother who had gone. Mum wouldn't send the police for any other reason. It turns out Mum had been trying to get hold of me for more than 24 hours.

After the initial shock, the initial grief, I had a week off work to "collect myself" as my manager called it. I painted out the flat, happy to have a job to do that would keep me busy, but not to use my mind. The odd friend called in the week I was off, but I don't remember seeing anybody other than getting a fleeting glimspe of my flatmate. My downstairs neighbours I remember checking in on me, but again, it was fleeting visits.

The one person who sticks out in my mind was Maya - a friend from massage college. A free spirit and a great drinking mate. I remember her coming over to the West Hampstead flat, making me a cup of tea and telling me,"Well, this is crap. I've got you something to help." In a small zip lock bag was her stash of hash. Seven evenly rolled joints. My instructions were to smoke them if and as required. She would return after a week and if I gave her the remains of the stash back, so be it, if I didn't , that was okay too. She called every day to make sure I was okay too.

It was the best thing anybody could have done for me at the time. A simple, hands on act of kindness.

Three months after the event, well in to grief counselling, it occured to me that my own mother had only called twice, and my sister once, to see how I was going, on my own, on the other side of the world. And part of me thinks that is the part that still hurts the most.

Sometimes, just being there, in what ever little way you can, means far, far more than the silence.

Card of the Blog: Death - a card of great change and transformation. Time and tide. The necessary rhythms of life. The universality of humanity. Regeneration.

I promise normal transmission will continue as of the next blog and apologise for this indulgence.


Kilometres walked since 29 January: 102 km
Kilometres run since 29 January: 57.5 km
Currently reading: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes, TS Eliot's "The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufock".
Weight lost since 29 Jan: 0.7 kg


Kath Lockett said...

Oh Pandora, my eyes have gone all watery and stingy now.

Death is friggin' difficult and I haven't yet been through what you have. But your post will remind me to not do what most us do, which is mistakenly think that giving a grieving person some 'alone time' is best. I think too that a lot of us dread saying the wrong thing....

I won't now though. I'll be around to offer seven different chocolates rather than joints and be visible rather than invisible. Top post!

Pandora Behr said...

Thanks so much for yoru words and thoughts. I've got a little prepared speech for things like this - it's been use a lot over the years. It goes 'Hi, how are you doing? Just letting you know I'm here. I can't do anything to take your pain away, but I'm here to listen, or talk, or make you a cup of tea or to have a beer with or go away as you wish. There will be no offense taken if you cry, sob, yell, scream or send me away. Just know I'm thinking about you."

The chocolate idea sounds brilliant - just turning up / texting / calling all the more better.