8 April 2014

Learning to grieve

I was fifteen years old when the first of my friends died.  We'd been friends since Year 7, were now in Year 11 and Jill had Cystic Fibrosis.When she passed, she'd just got her driver's license and was terribly chuffed.  When we talked about what would happen after college, she said she'd like to make 25, maybe get married and do some University.

The idea of Jill dying was something we were comfortable discussing even if we didn't truly fathom what it would actually mean.  When somebody lives with a terminal illness, there is no point in ignoring the impact is has on their lives - the frequent trips to hospital, the simple activities they can not participate in and the backpack of medications or equipment that needed to come everywhere with us.

The same night she died, a chap in the year below us hung himself. I didn't know him, but others did.  All I felt was internalised red hot rage at his selfishness.  All Jill had wanted to do was live and he'd thrown his life away.  I was grieving and I was angry.  Not dissimilar emotions, but the intensity of my rage had no real outlet because I did not yet understand that it was possible to be sad and mad at the same time.  And that I wasn't only mad at him for dying. I was mad that Jill had died.  It didn't seem fair. It wasn't. It never is.


Over the next seven years, I lost two friends to Muscular Dystrophy, a best friend's new born to SIDS,  two friends to suicide and a handful of relatives to old age.  I'd made my peace with death, it comes to all of us, but I truly struggled to feel compassion for people that passed due to their own actions.  Too many people, people who I knew and cared for, were desperate to live and I could not understand how people could be so careless with their own lives. In some way, it seemed disloyal to feel the same grief when death came in such different ways.  It did not mean I did not grieve. I did. But I still did not have the words to articulate the conflict between rage and sorrow.

As a society we are not good at grief.  We seek to contain it, to measure it, to judge it.  We put time limits on how long grief is allowed to be manifested.  We have a terrible habit of canonising people so that we gloss over their faults, turning them into smooth edged, dulled, icons who are one dimensional.  The ability to create for instance, need not be deified where the artistic temperament (read moody bastard) behind is vilified.  It is our dark and our light, our highs and our lows, our kindness and our cruelties that make us who we are.  To deny the history of one who is passed, or to pretend the negatives never existed, is to deny the humanity of the person.  For when they were alive you loved them in their totality, why would you only love half of them when they pass?

More friends have died in the last 18 years. More relatives. More babies. I had learnt by my mid-twenties that it was possible to be mad and sad at the same time. That I did not need to categorise my grief according to the manner of their passing.  I have learnt that it is possible to be so low, so broken that death seems to be the only option and I have learnt to accept that hopelessness is not always visible on the outside. I have learnt that I can not fix the world or make it better just by believing it can happen. I have learnt that contrary to others opinion I did not need to wail in public, beat my chest or be the loudest about loving somebody to be genuinely grieving.  People grieve in different ways and we all sorrow for what we have lost, the words unspoken and the future we will not share.

So as the media rabidly pull apart the tragedy that is Peaches Geldof's premature death, I want all of us to remember that she was part of a family and a friendship circle that knew her.  Really knew her. That we, the public, only knew of her.  Let her family farewell her, lament her loss and let us not judge her passing, blame her genetics or criticise how they choose to celebrate her life.  Let us remember that one day, we too shall pass, and all we can hope for is to have been loved for all that we are, the same way Peaches and all those that go before us were loved for what they were.

The good. The bad. The madness. The hilarity. The slightly illegal. The beautiful. For it is the combination of all those things that truly create the most poignant, the most beloved of our memories.

Go well Peaches. Go well.



*If you, or anybody you know needs help, please do not hesitate to call the fantastically supportive people at Lifeline on 13 11 14.