Bill's Story

Grief doesn't play by the rules or behave how we expect it to. Sometimes its impact doesn't become apparent until weeks, months or even years later. This is known as delayed grief. In this week's Grief Story, Bill talks here about how delayed grief has affected him, how it has reappeared after a series of family deaths and other major life events - and also how he has learned to live with the after effects while remaining aware of the impact it continues to have on his life.

My reflections on grief over many years have led me to think it has its own rhythms that you have to learn to live with, as you do the changes in the seasons.

My mother was 44 when she committed suicide. My brother was 4, my sister 11 and I was 15. The morning after her death I could not remember her face or her voice and I have never recovered those memories. I do remember saying to myself that this was not going to spoil my life and just behaving as if it had not happened. This was made easier by the fact that my father removed any photos of my mother and never mentioned her again.

I didn’t go to her funeral.

4 years later my sister, then aged 15, died of an unusual cancer. This was more immediately challenging, especially as my father did show distress over the 18 months or so the illness took to run its course. I was with him in Kings Hospital London in the middle of a large entry hall where a doctor had made a special appointment to tell him, and me, in the open, that she was going to die.

There was nowhere to sit. My father’s knees buckled. The doctor left immediately.

I was in my first year at university, went back, and behaved as if nothing had happened. The College chaplain asked me how I was, which I remember  being very touched by. I did go to the funeral, which was grim.

I married young and we had two sons. At the age of 32 the mother of my children left me and them, aged 5 and 7. They cried at night for her, and as I comforted them their grief got into my bones. It was at this time that I cried for the first time for my mother.

Grief had begun to take on a life of its own, and flared up at irregular intervals, sometimes sparked by a chance conversation, or a tv or radio programme, and sometimes without any obvious cause. It was mitigated by my second marriage and the new family we made.

My younger brother developed a severe schizophrenic condition at the age of 20.  I loved him very much for the generous and loving man that he was and when, after a very challenging life, he died of a heart attack at the age of 55, grief really got hold of me and linked up with all the other losses I felt I had had.

I am still managing it.

So, on reflection, I understand grief to have its own rhythms and seasons.

You cannot deliberately grieve.  And at times you are not ready to grieve, as I don’t believe I was at 15.  So you have to learn to live with grief coming and going on its own terms. You cannot hurry it, plan it, or bury it for ever.

It’s like the weather.

In my own case, these losses have, I think, taken away the top 5% of my capacity for joy and spontaneity. But on the positive side, I would hope it has given me the capacity to have empathy for other people in pain.

As others have said, grief is the price we pay for love. And who would choose not to be loved?

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