This is a weird time of year for me. I love the spring; blossom is everywhere, the swallows are here, we heard a cuckoo the other day – not to mention nightingales! But at the same time, I always dread the arrival of the end of April. The beginning of May has been a difficult time for many years; it has two special birthdays, my Mum’s and my late brother John’s, and as if that wasn’t enough, it has been added to in recent times. Four years ago, on the 12th of May, my other brother, Richard, left us, and poignantly, three years later to the very day, my grandson Ellis was born. So… a swirl of bittersweet emotions, not least because we will not be able to be with little Ellis to celebrate his first birthday next Wednesday.
It’s odd how these things seem to converge, isn’t it? There always seems to be a couple of months in everybody’s life when all the big dates occur. I doubt there’s anything magical about it, just a statistical fact of life. But for the grieving, it can mean that there are times of the year that are harder to get through, like the first half of May for me. I’ll be OK, of course, I always am, but it’s an odd juxtaposition: all this new life, with the spring flowers and nesting birds, and my annual bubble of grief. I try not to let it bleed into the rest of my life too much, but at the same time, I have stopped ‘keeping a lid on it’, as I did for so long, because that suppression was the root of my depressive illness.
Birthdays, anniversaries, family occasions, those can loom large for those of us in the Club-nobody-wants-to-join. It’s Mothers Day in many countries this month, especially painful if like me, you’re in the DMC. Whatever your culture, there will be some festival, religious or otherwise, which will, for those of you living with loss, serve only to remind you of who isn’t there. I had around ten Christmases between Mum dying and me getting married, and no two were the same. I spent them all in different houses, with different people, family, friends, whatever. It was interesting, but incredibly uncomfortable. It’s not the greatest time of year for me even now.
Almost fifty years on, I still find these sensitive times hard to deal with, but I have learned to manage them. I know what’s coming, so it doesn’t – usually – catch me off guard. That’s important, I think. Be ready. Tell those around you that you are likely to be emotional, withdrawn, however it affects you. If you prefer to be left to get on with it, say so. If you want to talk, ask for a listening ear. Most importantly, you should expect acceptance and understanding. And as well as expecting to feel sad, I think it is actually helpful, a necessary part of the process. Perhaps you might find it helpful to do something, make some gesture. Social media does have that advantage – you can express your love for those you have lost rather well on Facebook. Funerals, visiting graves, memorials, all those ceremonial things that occur across cultures are there for a reason. They provide an outlet for grief, an opportunity to express one’s feelings in a socially acceptable way and a structure within which to do so. Remembering the person or people you have lost on their birthdays or the anniversary of their death is normal and, I feel, healthy.
So yeah, I miss my Mum, Johnny, and Dick a bit more than usual at this time of year. But I’ve got little Ellis Alfred by way of compensation…