jmgoyder

wings and things

Making friends with grief

I have learned so much about grief through my imagined conversations with “Anthony deceased” (as he is described in some legal documents I had to sign the other day) that I thought I’d share them here.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that if I wake up to what I know is going to be a day of acute grief, there is no point trying to evade it (one of the things I was trying to do). Now what I do is sort of greet it kindly, not exactly in a “Hi Grief” kind of way, more in an accepting way, almost as if it is a friend. After all, my grief about Anthony’s death, personified, has more empathy for me than anybody else possibly can.

In a way, the imagined conversations are a way of addressing Grief directly if that makes sense (if you are not sure what I mean then rest assured that I’m not really sure either!) Every time I write one of these conversations, even the ones that were a bit contrived and didn’t really flow) it helped somehow. I fought against doing it for awhile because I didn’t want people to think I was going nuts. I also didn’t want to become dependent on these conversations on a daily basis, to the preclusion of other more ‘normal’ daily activities. But I don’t care about either of those things now. Writing these conversations has often been fun and is sometimes quite enlightening.

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During a grief workshop I attended recently, Pat Kelly, a grief counsellor https://www.facebook.com/pat.kelly.18488169, pointed out that there is no one way of grieving. I found that very comforting in light of the imagined conversations I was/am writing because these have helped me more with my grief than any amount of kayaking, motor-scootering, cycling, swimming, socialising and volunteering (yes, I have been busy) have. All of these activities have helped enormously of course, but writing down conversations I imagine having with a now-well Anthony has been magical.

In re-conjuring Anthony’s voice as a younger, fitter man I have remembered all sorts of wonderful things that I’d forgotten – our holidays down south when Ming was young, our debates about whether animals went to heaven, our private jokes, our delight in the moonflowers blooming, his passion for motorbikes and classic cars, the parties, and so on. I’ve remembered poignant moments and sad times as well but mostly ‘talking’ with him has been a joy. I used to tell him everything even when he became less able to converse so, during the nursing home years, I sort of forgot about the way we used to talk and talk and talk. Remembering these conversations has been like a gift.

Making friends with Grief in this manner reminds me of how I ended up making friends with Dementia. In doing so, a lot of the associated fear diminished and a feeling of wellbeing returned.

I suppose since it’s my grief, after all, I am kind of making friends with myself again too. I’ve been working on that anyway with my wonderful psychologist, Daniella Princi https://www.facebook.com/yourintrinsiclife/ whose program has provided me with all sorts of interesting tools for living my life the way I want to live it.

One thing I know for sure is that Anthony would be proud of the way I am coping with his death and he would be chuffed to think I am pretending to converse him still. He was always very accepting of my idiosyncrasies, as I was of his.

Me: I’ve sort of made friends with the grief now, Ants.

Anthony: Good on you, Jules.

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Imagined conversation 21

Anthony: Didn’t you already write this … twice?

Me: Yeah, I know, but Ming doesn’t want to be part of these conversations, Ants, so that was a bit unwise on my part.

Anthony: Why?

Me: Well, it’s difficult enough recapturing your pre-dementia voice without also trying to invent Ming’s might-be voice when he isn’t the slightest bit interested.

Anthony: That’s my boy.

Me: Exactly. You see what I mean, then. These imagined conversations become really contrived if I include him and he….

Anthony: So, Ming has moved on?

Me: Well, I think you know the answer to that, Ants; Ming moved on a few years ago, before you even went into the nursing home. He did try.

Anthony: Why would you think that I would want my teenage son to hug me when I couldn’t hug him back?

Me: I just wanted you to know how much he loved you, Ants.

Anthony: By forcing him?

Me: Okay, I get it and I’m sorry. I get it now.

Anthony: Jules, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Ming knows me and I know Ming.

Me: So should I just leave you guys alone? Is that what you mean?

Anthony: Just leave him alone, Jules, and let these conversations be just between you and me. It’s easier that way.

Me: I feel a bit stupid now to have contrived those last two dialogues, with a pretend-Ming. Plus he gets so angry when I try to do that.

Anthony: So why do you do it?

Me: Because I want it all back, Ants! Can’t you understand that? I want the three of us back together ten years ago before you got so bloody sick!

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What now?

Anthony: You can’t have it back – it’s gone. Ming understands this and it’s time you did too.

Me: And now you sound like all of those people I want to smash who say “isn’t it about time you moved on?”

Anthony: But isn’t it?

Me: Sometimes I really HATE you for dying. I absolutely HATE you!

Anthony: I know, but….

Me: Yes, of course you know, don’t you, you smug, supercilious, heavenly bastard – I am so angry I can hardly function, Ants; I want to kill the world.

Anthony: You don’t mean that.

Me: That has been your pat answer for anything remotely dramatic I have ever said. Stop always trying to shut me up!

Anthony: Jules?

Me: Now what?

Anthony: These conversations are coming to an end.

Me: Why? What did I say wrong? I’m so sorry, Ants – I didn’t mean any of it and of course I don’t hate you….

Anthony: Ming has already done it.

Me: Done what? What, Ants?

Anthony: Ended it.

Me: But….

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Imagined conversation 20

Anthony: Who are all of these men you keep thinking about?

Me: Will you please STOP reading my mind like that; it’s so disconcerting!

Anthony: Well, who are they?

Me: If you can read my mind, surely you know who they are.

Anthony: But I want to hear it from you, Jules.

Me: Okay, they are just a bunch of CEOs, film executives, producers and….

Anthony: I don’t like it.

Me: What? I thought you’d be proud of me!

Anthony: [potent silence]

Me: Oh. My. God. Are you actually jealous? I can’t believe it. Yes, you are jealous, aren’t you!

Anthony: Well I am a bit, actually. I don’t want you to want them to like you; it doesn’t feel right.

Me: Ants, there is absolutely nothing romantic going on, I can assure you. It’s you I want them to like, not me!

Anthony: That’s good then.

Me: So are we clear now?

Anthony: Sorry, Jules. I just don’t want to lose you.

Me: You couldn’t lose me even if you wanted to, Ants.

Anthony: So what do all of those guys think of me?

Me: They think you are wonderful, Ants – absolutely wonderful! Star material!

Anthony: You are so full of BS Jules.

Me: I’m meeting one of them tonight for cocktails because….

Anthony: For God’s sake, Jules – don’t do anything stupid.

Me: Gotcha!

 

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Imagined conversation 19

Me: Ants, you won’t believe it!

Anthony: Try me.

Me: It’s a bit of a long story and I don’t know where to start and I am so excited!

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: I have all the time in the world.

Me: Well I got short-listed for a group that got to talk to film industry professionals and tomorrow I get to pitch my idea about how I coped with the dementia stuff.

Anthony: What dementia stuff?

Me: Whoops! Okay, well your dementia stuff. Okay so now that you’re in heaven or wherever the hell you are, do you remember having dementia?

Anthony: What a lot of rubbish, Jules. Of course I didn’t have dementia.

Me: Yes, you did actually.

Anthony: No, I didn’t.

Me: You just didn’t know you had it and I never told you.

Anthony: You really are a whimsical creature aren’t you, Jules.

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Imagined conversation 18

Me: Hi, Ants.

Anthony: JULES! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

Me: Here and there – lots to tell you but I can’t be bothered.

Anthony: Why?

Me: This whole grief thing is absolutely exhausting, Ants – it just goes on and on and on and on and, as soon as I think I am over you, and able to move forward, it all begins again.

Anthony: What begins again?

Me: I just said! Oh, what’s the point?

Anthony: Sorry, Jules – you now have my undivided attention.

Me: Let me guess; you were playing poker with your mum, right? Or are you just frolicking naked in your own puffed up cloud?

Anthony: Ahh – you know me well, Jules.

Me: But do you know me, Ants? Did you ever know me? I had a horrible nightmare last night where I discovered you had been unfaithful to me multiple times with multiple previous girlfriends and you somehow did all of this from your nursing home room even though you were bedridden.

Anthony: Yes, I saw that dream too and – sorry, Jules –  but I did find it quite invigorating.

Me: So did you get to the bit in the dream where I decided to divorce you?

Anthony: No, but I did see your anxious face, Jules.

Me: I keep waking up to the question of what will happen in the end and it always takes me several seconds to realise that we are already at the end. You died.

Anthony: I didn’t intend to die, Jules.

Me: A bit of warning would have been good, Ants.

Anthony: Jules, please! I didn’t know any more than you did.

Me: Hi, Ants….

 

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Imagined conversation 17

Me: I know you won’t remember this because it was so long ago but….

Anthony: Try me.

Me: Okay so I had only just met you and your mother and you had employed me to help her out in the house and it was my day off (from recollection you gave me a single day off per week).

Anthony: Go on. I’m enthralled.

Me: So I spotted you on the opposite side of the street getting out of your car and I felt that whoosh of feeling I have always had for you. But then, when you saw me and yelled out, “Jules!” I began to stumble a bit. You crossed the street to talk to me and I almost fainted from exhilaration but you just said, “Why are you limping?”

At the time I was unable to answer but the following day you asked me again in the kitchen of this home I now live in without you. “Why were you limping yesterday, Jules?” you said with a kind smile.

And, without thinking, my 18 years of non-wisdom to the fore, I just said, “Because I love you, Anthony.”

Anthony: Long, floral skirt and thongs? Pink t-shirts?

Me: Yes.

Anthony: I’d forgotten all of that, Jules.

Me: Well it wasn’t exactly memorable, Ants but, by the way, your attire wasn’t much better with your short shorts and your tight t-shirts. You were so rough- looking, I thought you were the cowhand.

Anthony: I thought you were so sweet.

Me: Yeah, you said that a few times, but it didn’t work back then – us.

Anthony: I love you, Jules.

Me: I can hardly breathe sometimes, and still do that limping thing when I am nervous. I am finding it difficult to know how to direct my love for you because I love you so much NOW.

Anthony: So what’s the problem?

Me: You aren’t here anymore.

 

 

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Imagined conversation 16

Me: I had another dream about you, Ants.

Anthony: Let me guess – I came back to life?

Me: All of your brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews surprised me by bringing you to a holiday cottage owned by my cousins.

Anthony: And…?

Me: You were sitting in a wheelchair, surrounded by your relatives, even the ones who have also died. It was a bit of a shock and I didn’t know what to do.

Anthony: It was a dream, Jules … it was just a dream.

Me: So I started trying to make coffee and tea for all of the people and I couldn’t find the sugar or milk and it was all a bit of a panic because everyone said we only had an hour before you had to be helicoptered back.

Anthony: Back to where?

Me: I don’t know! The nursing home maybe? Heaven? Anyway the dream became a nightmare because I was rushing from the kitchen to sit next to you, then back to the kitchen to check that the kettles were boiling enough to make tea, then frantically back to you to hug you and…

Anthony: Why are you crying now, Jules? I’ve been dead for nearly seven months.

Me: Because they took you away before I got a chance to say a proper goodbye to you. And they didn’t believe me when I said you didn’t need the wheelchair. Plus I was wearing some sort of Velcro that attached me to where your wheelchair was and I couldn’t free myself in time to see you off. I was so worried that you wouldn’t survive the trip home.

Anthony: Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: It was just a dream.

Me: I need to make sense of it, Ants!

Anthony: No you don’t. Just move along the way you are.

Me: How, when I have these dreams?

Anthony: Buy the kayak.

Me: Really? It’s okay with you? Well, actually, I already did (it’s okay, it didn’t break the bank account).

Anthony: I thought it was a bit of a radical move to begin with but now I think it’s a good idea.

Me: Why?

Anthony: Because you are you.

Me: What about all of those people in the dream?

Anthony: You, Jules – just you.

Me: It’s no wonder I love you so much, Ants.

Anthony: I agree wholeheartedly.

 

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Imagined conversation 13

Me: I did something a bit spontaneous today, Ants.

Anthony: That’s unusual, Jules.

Me: I bought myself a silver bangle – from you to me. It’s kind of a combination of a Christmas and birthday present. It’s nothing to do with Valentine’s day, I promise.

Anthony: Thanks for letting me know.

Me: Oh thank you so, so, so, much for it, Ants. I love it!

Anthony: My pleasure, Jules, you deserve it.

Me: Well, yes, I think I do too because you know the last few years when you always asked me to go and get myself a silver bangle for my birthday….

Anthony: I’m glad I could be of service.

Me: No, you don’t get it Ants, I only pretended to buy myself those bangles because I didn’t want to spend the money.

Anthony: What a good disciple you are.

Me: Yeah, so I would wear an old bangle that you’d bought me years ago, and you bought me heaps, remember? You even chose them.

Anthony: I have impeccable taste. You tend to like chunky, showy jewellery.

Me: That’s a horrible thing to say and not true at all!

Anthony: I prefer the subtle nuances of the bracelet myself.

Me: Anyway so I was having a coffee in town at a new place (I’m trying to get out and about more because that’s what people keep telling me to do) and I just happened to look up and there was the shop – Baroque Design Jewellery Studio – and, whammo, I felt this sudden, nostalgic urge that you wanted me to go there.

Anthony: I had nothing to do with it, Jules. You have an overactive imagination.

Me: Are you sure? I mean the urge was so strong and I walked in and reminded Tim that I was the girl (yeah I know I should have said ‘woman’ not ‘girl’, how embarrassing) who used to come once a year to buy a silver bangle, or bracelet, as a gift to myself from my adoring husband who wasn’t well enough to accompany me.

Anthony: A likely story.

Me: Are you even listening to me!

Anthony: Sorry – wondering when you’re going to get to the point. Is it afternoon tea time yet? I’d love a coffee.

Me: As soon as I saw the silver cuff I knew it was the one.

Anthony: The one what?

Me: The bangle that you would have wanted to give me….

Anthony: I’m sure it was, Jules….

Me: So I explained to Tim that the reason I hadn’t been into his shop for a few years was because you weren’t well and you were in a nursing home.

Anthony: I remember him – great bloke.

Me: I didn’t tell him I’d been wearing bangles you’d bought me years ago, pretending they were brand new.

Anthony: You didn’t tell me either.

Me: Well, I’m telling you now! So that’s why I figure I am kind of owed around four years worth of bangles maybe.

Anthony: Interesting logic.

Me: And then I told Tim you’d died and could he give me a discount for being a bereaved widow. I didn’t really mean to say that, it just popped out so I explained that you’d taught me the art of bargaining, or is it bartering, and he said you’d be proud of me and he knocked off a third of the price!

Anthony: Amazing.

Me: It’s not amazing; it’s amazing! Are there any exclamation mark classes where you are because you really need to lift your game.

Anthony: Show me the bangle and I’ll give you my opinion.

Me: See? Here it is, Ants. It’s a cuff; I’ve never had one before. Thank you!

Anthony: Why are you so excited?

Me: Because you gave me a gift and it marks the first year of me surviving without you.

Anthony: I actually haven’t been dead for a year yet but, what the hell, you’re right, Jules, it’s a lovely piece of work. Get it engraved.

Me: Really? Are you sure? So, something like ‘To my darling Julie, with all my love, from her eternally-besotted husband, Anthony’?

Anthony (laughing): No.

Me (laughing): What then?

Anthony: Just our initials will do.

[Note: Tim Cunningham is the jeweller at Baroque. He was so kind to me today. Perhaps he sensed that just underneath my excitement at buying the silver cuff was the devastation of having lost the physical presence of Anthony. Anyway, I asked Tim if it would be okay to share his website here and he said yes so here it is: baroquedesign.com.au]

 

 

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Imagined conversation 7

Me: It’s 2am and I can’t sleep.

Anthony: 2.09am to be precise.

Me: You’re quick!

Anthony: Don’t eat too many of those cherries or you’ll get the runs.

Me: I see my psychologist later on this morning.

Anthony: Why the hell do you think you need to see a psychologist?

Me: I think that’s pretty obvious, don’t you?

Anthony: What a lot of rubbish. It can’t be that bad, Jules.

Me: It isn’t as bad as it was but, oh, you wouldn’t understand. You’re lucky you’re the resilent type. Anyway, I’m going to try to go back to sleep. You would love these cherries!

Anthony: What are they a kilo now?

Me: A small fortune!

Anthony: Hmm, they’re free here. Actually everything’s free.

Me: Ha – I bet you like that!

Anthony: Too right.

 

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Getting wise to grief

I know that this is going to sound weird but grief is actually quite interesting.

I have been trying so hard to outwise/ outwit? the effect that this terrible grief is having on me. Okay, so the grief itself is a given and it’s understandable that I would be grieving for Anthony; that’s not pleasant, but it’s okay.

It’s how this grief translates into everyday life that is the real challenge. For example it is so tiring to be so tired of grieving, to be so tired of my own tiredness, tired of myself, tired of crying, tired of not being able to cry, tired of trying so hard not to be tired.

Grief is exhausting! I can just imagine telling Anthony about this and it makes me laugh because he would have rolled his eyes and sighed at my ridiculousness in trying to figure grief out. He wouldn’t have offered clichés like ‘move on’ or ‘you need to get out and about more’ and I don’t even think he would have said, ‘I wouldn’t want you to be so sad, Jules’. Instead, he would have said ‘do what you want, Jules’ and I know for sure that he would be secretly chuffed that I miss him so much. His heavenly ego will be getting a rush.

Anthony adored me. Even though it took him over a decade to realise it, he made up for lost time very quickly and I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have had such a fantastic marriage. I wasn’t this long-suffering carer of a sick husband (which is probably the perception – you know, the dutiful wife); I was cared for by him. Every time I saw him in the nursing home, the joy in his face was the joy I took home with me, no matter how poignant.

Grief is often seen as the loss of someone you love and of course this is true but isn’t it also true that you miss being loved? I do. It’s not that I want to be adored per se (despite being a blogger – paradox alert); I just want Anthony’s adoration.

And, like a kid outside a closed candy shop, that’s my face pressed against the reflection of the impossible.

Grief is interesting. And so is getting wise to it.

 

 

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