Death lillies
Love letters

Life and death for Chicken Little

I am the youngest (by many years) in a family of five children. Mum was 42-years-old when she had me, a baby that was never planned but couldn’t be helped. My nearest sibling is eight years older than me and the oldest is 17 years older than me.

Earlier this year my Mum died following complications from a drug-resistant bacterial infection. She was 89-years-old and had been disabled by a stroke for the last 13 years of her life. If it had been possible for her to end her own life at any time during those years I know she would have done so.

Six months prior to Mum’s death, my husband’s younger brother committed suicide. He was in his early fifties, in pretty good physical health, but after living alone on the family’s rural property for years, his mental health had suffered.

Two years before my brother-in-law left us, my father died at age 85. He had talked a lot about euthanasia during the years he had cared for my mother and had shared his guilt at never being able to give her the relief that he knew she wanted. When the time came for him to make a decision about his own life, he decided to be proactive by halting further medical treatment. Sadly this didn’t bring a quick and clean death – Dad’s passing was slow and painful and caused a lot of trauma to my siblings who nursed him through it.

These three deaths have framed the last five years of my life. All three were surrounded by numb shock, anger, familial guilt and gut-wrenching grief. I haven’t yet restored my balance over any of them, but I keep moving forward and looking to the stars, as we all do. I think I do an alright job of it, but I’ve noticed that some people are REALLY good at picking themselves up and dusting themselves off. I call them the ‘Ant and the Rubber Tree’ people. I, on the other hand, tend more toward the ‘Chicken Little’ school of life. I’m startled by the unexpected, prone to thinking that the sky is falling down, and invariably assigning responsibility for the faulty sky to myself.

So it’s no surprise, I guess, that there have been some dark days at my house in recent times. My long-suffering family has endured times of tears, silence, hyperactivity and restlessness. It’s the restlessness that has me worried and I know where it has come from. When faced with grief, and being very aware of my propensity for catastrophising, I have developed a habit of putting the worst of my grief away. I let some of it out at the time of the sadness, but I box the rest up and pop it outside the door in my mind. I know it’s there. I feel its presence.

Occasionally the box knocks on the door and wants to come inside, wants to empty its contents and lighten its load. I don’t let it. I’m scared of it. But the effort of remembering to keep the door locked is taking its toll. It’s making me fidget. It’s making me forget about all the other cool things I could have stored in that box, like family memories and travel tales, a million happy things that would be better to store than all this grief.

My question to anyone reading this:  How do I open the box and deal with the sadness without having it take over? ‘Chicken Little’ needs some help from the ‘Ant and the Rubber Tree’ people.

4 Comments

  • Peta Goodwin

    Peta Goodwin

    I have enjoyed reading all your articles, Jac – your writing is punchy, honest, fluid – it really sings! This article I can relate to well. Like you (and I think a lot of people in our age group), I was hit by a spate of deaths in the space of a few years – parents, partner, best friend. I nursed my partner and best friend through their last months. For the year following the last death (my friend’s) I had recurrent back problems, shingles, numerous colds and was (like you) restless – also angry, intolerant and a general bitch. I believe it is called Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. At the end of that year and on the anniversary of my friend’s death, I, with her sister and two other friends who had nursed her as well, held a sort of “Day of the Dead” at her grave. It was a finishing. We had completed our part in her life and we had done it with all the love that we had. It was a conscious ritual and it was good.
    Grief does turn into sadness and sadness is a comforting thing – grief is hard to share, we can meet in sadness.
    I’ve gone on a bit – what I wanted to say also was that, as a society, we don’t do dying/death well. We don’t deal with it openly and honestly – we want to stop it, we want it to go away. We celebrate birth but not death. I think this is changing. I think that once we have some societal structure around dying that supports us to assist (in all the ways we can) the person who is setting off on that part of the journey we will do much better with our grief.

    • Jac

      Jac

      Thanks Peta. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to nurse a friend toward their death, my heart goes out to you. I love the graveside celebration idea! I also agree with you – our society doesn’t do grief well. The “just get on with it” school of thought has a lot to answer for.

  • Summer Goodwin

    Summer Goodwin

    Hi Jac, I agree – your writing sings! I haven’t lost either of my parents yet (I can’t imagine the planet without my mum on it) and my heart goes out to you. While it hasn’t been due to the actual death of someone, I have experienced much grief this year through people leaving my life.

    This time last year I broke up with the man I thought I was going to marry. Then I broke up with the rebound guy I fell madly in love with. So, I had a double whammy of heartbreak and there was no avoiding it. I felt devastated – like I was nothing but a shattered heart, black storm clouds, and immense sadness. I shed many, many tears. Even on the train with my sunglasses on so no-one could see. I felt like life was never going to be joyous again. But I remember waking up one morning, after two months of intense pain, and it had lifted a little. I was still heartbroken but I could feel a tiny sliver of light inside. Each day from there I got a bit stronger, a bit happier, a bit more peaceful.

    The grieving process takes as long as it takes. And I think sometimes it’s not even about getting over the loss, it’s simply about learning to live with it. Lots of love xxx

  • Jac

    Jac

    Very true Summer….it is about living with grief and not resenting it while it’s with you. Grief speaks of love and it is so much better to have loved than not.

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