Grief is….

In some ways It’s amazing how little I feel I’ve come since my last post. Oh how many things still feel the same. Grief is, as it happens, turning out to be far more complicated than I imagined. The blog I wrote shortly after my parents deaths "When those you love are killed" just poured out of me. Almost un-fettered virtually no editing (save for a few typos). When it comes to collecting my thoughts on how I feel now, it is much harder. Things are much messier.

It’s just turned August the 19th. They died on July the 19th. Officially a month. Technically Mum passed in the wee small hours of the 20th. But to all intents and purposes her life came to a screeching halt along side Dad on July the 19th at 5pm British Summer Time in a layby on the A303.

As my mother and fathers lives ended the lives of many, many people changed. Jolted, these lives shot off in other directions. For my sisters and our spouses it was particularly pronounced. As it was for our aunts and uncles and my paternal grandmother.

Grief is complicated

As you work through the experience of grief it evolves, shifts, changes, it grows. It’s like a thought virus that is taking over your entire system, and changing it. This is why it’s so important to tackle it, head on. It’s a long road and if you don’t travel it you can do irreparable damage.

You have sorrow, the pain and the loss. There are your memories of what was. There is the future that is stolen away from you. There is the extraordinary kindness and compassion shown by other people. There is fear and guilt and bucket loads of "What Ifs". Behind all of these things lies a deep pool of thought, ideas and feelings. With grief you are juggling all of this. And more.

Then of course there is this slow dawning realization… Long after you logically "get" that your loved one(s) have gone (trust me, to begin with you’ll settle for it all being some sort of sick joke). The realization is that you get to a place where you start to understand that because they are gone that the relationship is gone. If you are religious you can image them watching over you, of being with them at some point in the future. And you don’t need religion to talk to them, as if they were there. Then there is the decades of advice and ideas and memories of them speaking to you – and you can hear much of that when you close your eyes. But at the end of they day they are gone and it is no longer a two way street. It’s all in the past.

I’ve been going through that this week. It’s things like this which are a constant wake up call for the length of this road. This process. This experience. This grief.

Grief is Pain, Grief is Loss

It’s a "pass the parcel" of deep darkness and tears. You keep on chugging until the music stops and then you are forced to open your package of grief and confront what is inside. You cry until you can’t breath. You have "moments" and find yourself on the front porch, not knowing what you had been doing or how you got there. Your wife had wondered where you were. She found you breathless, aching, exhausted. These moments still happen. They no longer happen literally every five minutes, like they did in the first week. But they happen none-the-less. When they do happen they are just as arresting and just as effective at bringing you to grinding grinding halt.

When I "have a moment" I’m not breaking down. I’m lighting up, with grief. My tears are gifts of grief and if you are with me when I experience this it is my way of sharing with you what I am going through. Thank you for the hugs, they help. They really do.

We are all in this together. None of us get out alive. (I’m mashing up Gabby Young and Foo Fighters lyrics with that one).

We are all going to go through this in some way shape or form. I understand it’s not selfish to recognize that this has forced me into the membership of a particularly horrible, painful club; losing two parents, two WONDERFUL grandparents to four little boys, people that formed the heart of a very close, loving family, losing them both at once, in a tragic accident, so soon after they were embarking on a fantastic new phase of their lives. I’d never wish this on anyone.

We all lose those we love and we all die. It’s the immutable commonality that we share as humans.

Maybe the fact we all share this is what brings us together to share tears when loss happens. Tapping into the reservoir of our common humanity.

We really are all in this one this together.

Photos. Music. Videos. Tonight I watched my mum sing me happy birthday for the very last time. When my parents visited last October I captured some poignant moments on film. Including my birthday. Replete with singing and cake. My father had grabbed the camera and I was able to see myself and my mother share a happy, carefree moment. One which we thought we would have another 10, 20 or even more of.

Sufficed to say… I had a moment.

Grief is Love

People. Oh my goodness. You are awesome. Every last one of you. You are beautiful, kind, generous, giving and loving. Some of you are close to me and are able to swim deep with me into my pain. Others only paddle with me in the surf for a few moments. You might hold my hand for hours as we plumb the depths or you might simply stop by and touch my palm as we feel the spray of the surf splashed upon us.

All of it is love. All of it is appreciated. All of it helps.

I want to say; Thank You. From the bottom of my heart. I feel lucky, touched, moved, to be a part of a species that is capable of such tender emotion and care.

No matter how hard your day gets, or how dark your night. Please know that if you have interacted with me in this journey you have shed at least a little light on me. You helped me, a fellow human being. You are important. You are meaningful and you have purpose. I love you and I appreciate you and I hope we can both always recognize the importance of the human connection.

Grief is the Future

The moment this happened I knew things would never be the same. OK, that’s not entirely true. The moment this happened I was a wreck. I literally couldn’t breath. I wouldn’t breath until I so desperately needed oxygen I wretched and sucked in air. There was a void because the screaming and crying had pushed out all that was in my lungs.

I digress…

Shortly after this happened I knew things would never be the same again. I had experienced a shift in my world. It was tectonic. The great irony is that after reading that blasted New Yorker article on the destruction of Seattle due to a mega quake I had finally put our family emergency plan together. Sufficed to say my life’s real emergency evaded planning. And being your average human I also hadn’t thought, or wanted to think, that deeply about the possibility of my parents untimely demise. Heck, they flew so much I was far more worried about them perishing in a plane crash! Either way the tectonic shift I experienced ended up being in my heart and it was long and drawn out, a sustained 9.5 on the Richter scale of my being.

I know things will be different. How much so I have no idea. It could be a simple different approach to life. I’ve already resolve that I will Question more and do so with Compassion and Kindness. I work in a corporation, the politics are rife. Life is short. We need to work hard and have fun and do the right thing collectively. Alternatively, and as my manager said "You might decide you want to quit and go full time as a photographer". He has been and continues to be immensely supportive. It’s also worth noting the culture (which is driven by people and purpose) at Microsoft has been warm, kind and patient. I’m very grateful for this. And I’m grateful that I don’t work at, for example, Amazon, based on what I saw in this article and what I’ve heard from friends who work there. For the record I have friends who work there who enjoy what that culture demands. All I can say is I feel grateful to work for a company that has a culture that highly values the human "assets" that make it up. Like Mr. Price my headmaster said at our first assembly at St. Johns in 1989 – "Look around you. The people sitting next to you. The teachers up here and all around. That is the school. You are the school. It’s not the building or the bricks or the play fields. It is you, it is the people." I’m grateful to work in a culture that values people. That values humanity.

It is people who have given me strength through all of this.

When I try look at it the future looks bleak. A world without two of the most important, staring "roles" in my life’s movie. Their lives cut so tragically short. It forces me to appreciate the moment we inhabit even more. And it makes me passionate about pursuing a sustainable moment. To fight for things that maintain an ongoing appreciation of everything we have in the now in a way that will give us and our children in the future a continual and beautifully sustainable moment.

Because quite frankly it could all be over in an instant.

Grief is finding your purpose

Over the years I’ve worked hard to try and crystalize my purpose. I’ve done it as a way to help guide me on this journey. Here is a very powerful way to do so. Suffice to say going through all this has brought this pursuit back into stark focus.

My updated purpose in life is as follows; Family man. Creator. Helps people connect, collaborate and grow. Challenges the status quo. Questions with compassion and kindness.

I believe most of us half choose, half stumble through and into where we are in life. We can feel like we "sort of ended up here by mistake". I’m learning that this is a common feeling. You know, it’s OK. We are messy, complicated, screwed up animals. But we are beautiful, caring, and compassionate too. This experience has drawn into focus the sheer volume of feelings which I’d once thought were just me and how they are in fact very common indeed. I’m grateful for that. It make me feel more connected with all of the lovely people I come across, every day. I have no regrets. Everything I’ve done has led me to this point. As far as moving forwards is concerned; being intentional, pursuing my values and being true to myself, all of this will become critical as I move through and on and past this grieving process – I have no illusions on the length of this journey.

And as my grief councilor said "all you have to worry about now is driving home". I’ll worry about the big stuff later. One thing however is for sure, I will be giving it, and myself, the attention it deserves.

P.S. Here are the photos that we showed at the ‘party’ after the funeral (missing a few from my sisters).

18 thoughts on “Grief is….

  1. Incredibly beautifully & honestly written Matthew, and wonderfully articulated. I think this writing will help your friends and loved ones understand a little bit of what you’re experiencing. And I hope writing your feelings down is somewhat therapeutic/an outlet too. I’m proud of your honesty.

      • I just read your article and I just want to say your words have meant alot. I’m still having my moments, I lost my mother on August 15th, 2015. People are swimming with me, some paddle, others dive deep. Your words are inspiring, Ill be referencing this article for sometime to come. Thank you.

      • Keith, oh my. You have my sincere condolences and virtual hugs. We are all in this together and I feel your pain. Hang in there buddy. I can recommend seeing a grief councilor. Microsoft helped me find one via MSCARES Program which I’m most great full for. It’s so helpful to sit down and vent with someone who’s sole purpose is to listen and help you navigate this dark dark dark time. Seek solace in friends and family – this has been an enormous source of strength for me. I’m too close to your own experience to offer much hope about how things get better but I’m assured they do… IF you work through it. Give yourself time to emote and cry and be kind to yourself. Stay in touch too. I plan on doing another blog as I move through these latest days and feelings. Sending love.

  2. Photos are fabu, my favorites are the one of young Mum in front of the fancy eggplant sportscar and #18, the family shot – your Dad is a bit blurry and looking at you – most likely you said something funny and he is gazing at you and laughing which made him blurry. So cool to have this glimpse into your family.

  3. Hi Matt – I saw your link on Yammer. Thanks for sharing this, and I’m so very sorry for this monumental loss. I lost my beloved grandmother this spring, on her 99th birthday, and she passed quietly in the arms of me and my aunt. I would add that grief is another plane of existence. For all its unavoidable claim on each one of us, it is downright unworldly. Thanks for writing what you wrote. You expressed it beautifully. Sending up for you a prayer for healing.

  4. Very touching Matthew. I am so truly sorry for your loss, I cannot even imagine. May you always remember the good times with them, and your pain is less and less each day. Hugs to you.

  5. matthew – thank you for sharing. I just one month ago next Monday, lost my mom who passed. Very different situation but the grief is as powerful – I wish I could call and talk to her everyday. And now, I am at a loss as to how to “help” my Dad cope and get by. your writing has helped and my heart goes out to you and your family – all my prayers for serenity through this time. – ljd

    • And mine to you. Much of what I said to Keith I also say to you. It comforts me to know my words have helped you…. Even a little. My heart goes out to your father too. The one blessing-in-disguise for me was that my parents went together and never had to cope with the loss of their soul mate. I’m reading “the courage to grieve” and it’s quite good. It stresses the importance of tackling grief directly and not trying to hide it away. I hope you and your father (and family) can all help each other grieve. Sending love and hugs. Do stay in touch… We are all in this together xxx

  6. Hi Matthew, I just saw your link on Yammer. And I think like me you grew up in the UK and much of your family is still there. You mentioned St Johns and I wonder if you mean St Johns near Woking. 🙂 I lost my Dad seven years ago. And I completely appreciate everything you’ve said. You sharing your feelings helps me to understand some of what I experienced better than I have before. Thank you for your openness. For now, be very kind to yourself, taking one day at a time.

    • Thank you Susan. No, St. John’s in Marlborough. Thank you for your kind words. I’m honored by what you say. It means a lot and also helps me to understand how I’m not alone and that when I see you, functional, seven years later, it inspires me with great hope for this journey. Thank you so much xxx

  7. Pingback: Harnessing Grief | Photography, Storytelling, & Growth Marketing by Matthew Woodget.

  8. Hello Matthew, You asked so I thought I’d share. I’m a bit down the road from my loss but it’s still with me, but please know it gets better. I find grief is like repentance. If I find I’ve been having a wonderful time, feeling fancy-free, I catch myself – “Had I forgotten?” I feel as if I have to keep it top of mind in case it happens again. If I keep the scab raw, I will be more prepared for the pain the next time around. In the back of my mind I think this will make the next loss easier, but I suspect it won’t. I’m realizing I should just allow the scab to heal, and enjoy life completely again while I can. Because of course, there is always more loss to come. And nothing makes it easy.

    Loss is part of living. But I should be enjoying the good parts too.

    Thinking of you,

    Molly A

    • So true. And we will lose again. And again. Each time we are better equipped for the journey through it. Yet the impact will never be lessened, that is controlled by the depth of our relationship and each is different. Life is loss. It is quintessentially human. We have both the animal instincts and the higher levels of awareness about ourselves, our loved ones and the relationship with them. Losing all of that accrues to what it means to love and to lose. To be human. And we must learn to love and enjoy life again for otherwise what is the point? Enjoying life is the benefit of life… That and human connection. Which of course hurts when it is taken away. Our loved ones would want us to enjoy life again… And would understand when it takes a while to get there. The memory of them will always be with us. As will the pain of the loss… There will always be triggers waiting for us to spring wether we try enjoy life or not. I’m still working on getting there. And every time I feel like I’m making progress I get a switch back in the road. The key is to keep moving, not sitting will, plumbing the depths of grief and what it means to us. Then to live and create. Then go back and out and back again. We eventually get a rhythm with life and can live and operate, yet we are changed. Not least of which during that first, big loss. Life can’t ever be the same. We’ve learned too much. And hopefully we can even enjoy life even more in the future; be it because we recognize how transient this all is or that we carry our loved ones in our hearts and to keep them alive we can imagine the joy they too would draw from an experience. And in that way we are somewhat enhanced. And all because of our loss.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s