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 12

Me: Happy Valentine’s day for tomorrow, Ants.

Anthony: That’s a shock.

Me: He’s another of those saints – Saint Valentine. Apparently he was all about love and martyrdom.

Anthony: What a lot of rubbish.

Me: Well he must have done something right or we wouldn’t have Valentine’s day. Anyway, I love you, Ants.

Anthony: I love you too, Jules, just for the record.

Me: You know how when you proposed you admitted that you were in love with me from the moment you met me?

Anthony: I wouldn’t put it like that.

Me: So exactly how would you put it?

Anthony: You were so young.

Me: I always knew. As soon as I saw you, I knew.

Anthony: Knew what?

Me: Okay, it’s a bit embarrassing now but I instantly knew you were the one. You seemed like a Greek God to me. It was awful.

Anthony: As far as I know we don’t have any Grecians in the family.

Me: Yes, I know that, but you know what I mean now don’t you?

Anthony: I think I am part Scottish, Welsh and German but….

Me: No, I’m not talking about ancestry, I’m talking about love.

Anthony: You’re fishing for a compliment aren’t you, Jules.

Me: No! Well, yes, maybe. I mean I am still trying to figure out why my 18-year old self fell in love with your 41-year-old self and why did there have to be so much unrequited suffering?

Anthony: You were wearing a pink t-shirt, a long, hippy skirt, and thongs, when you knocked on the door, came into the kitchen, and met Mum.

Me: And you answered the door in your shorts and t-shirt; I thought you were the cowhand-come-butler but then you just left me with your mother and she terrified me.

Anthony: I couldn’t quite believe the sight of you.

Me: What do you mean by that?

Anthony: Your innocence.

Me: Naivety you mean?

Anthony: Mum thought you were a disaster … to begin with…

Me: I remember. I don’t know if I ever told you this when you were still alive but whenever your mum got up from her afternoon nap she would accuse me of having been canoodling with you.

Anthony: Ah, the power of suggestion.

Me: Totally unfounded back then! But I did want to after that.

Anthony: Want to what?

Me: Canoodle.

Anthony: I’m so sorry I hurt you, Jules. I was an idiot.

Me: But did you love me from the start even though I was too young? Sorry, but I have to know.

Anthony: Yes.

Me: So why….?

Anthony: Not a sensible question to ask ever, Jules. It all worked out in the end.

Me: Yeah, romantic story of the century, NOT.

Anthony: Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Jules, even though you do it so well.

Me: Ming thinks he should model his own love stories on ours and he won’t waver from this idea.

Anthony: Impressive beard he has for his age!

Me: He shaved it off. Ants, do you believe in fate?

Anthony: I do now, obviously.

Me: I wish I could just have one more conversation with you, you know, before you died.

Anthony: This will have to do, Jules.

 

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Imagined conversation on Anthony’s 82nd birthday

Me: Happy birthday, Ants.

Anthony: It’s not my birthday.

Me: I knew you’d say that but I am one step ahead of you. It actually IS your birthday, because this is the date you were born; it’s just that you’re not here to celebrate it.

Anthony: I don’t think I would have been up for much of a party anyway. I looked like sh**  in that bed, and dribbling from both ends! How could you stand it?

Me: Have you stopped swearing – what’s with the sh**?

Anthony: Time and place, Jules.

Me: Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how this is but isn’t your birthday, so do you want to hear the good news or the good news?

Anthony: Don’t you mean….

Me: C’mon, left hand or right hand?

Anthony: Left – no, right.

Me [under breath]: Well you always got those wrong anyway.

Anthony: I heard that. So, hurry up with the good news. The excitement is killing me.

Me: Okay well the first bit of good news is that you will never be 82 because you haven’t lived that long. Isn’t that wonderful?

Anthony: If you say so, Jules….

Me: And the second bit of news is … oh bloody hell – heck … I know I’ve written it down somewhere.

Anthony [in deep baritone sing-song voice]: Memory begins to fade in the twilight years, awakening all our fearsome fears….

Me: Oh shut up … here it is. Okay, you listening?

Anthony: Voraciously.

Me: The second bit of good news is that – oh, actually this is a bit lame but….

Anthony: Go on.

Me: Well, it’s that I won’t have to watch you suffer and die a long, slow, cruel death.

Anthony: Good point, good point. I actually have some good news for you too, Jules.

Me: Am I going to win lotto?

Anthony: I don’t know.

Me: Well, what’s the point of being dead and omniscient?

Anthony: My good news is this countdown thing they have here. It’s a bit complicated but ….

Me: Let me guess, you go backwards in time, right?

Anthony: Sort of.

Me: What a lot of rubbish!

Anthony: Wow, you sound like me!

Me: Well, you sound like me!

Anthony: It’s probably just that you’re getting our voices mixed up with each other in your head.

Me [Sighing]: Probably. This has evolved into quite a complex creative writing exercise. I mean writing to you, talking to you, makes sense, psychologically, but re-capturing your voice is surreal because it’s as if it really is you speaking.

 

Anthony: Don’t overthink it Jules – just go with the flow. But I’d rather be referred to as a voice, not a bloody creative writing exercise.

Me: Aha! You swore. Well thank God for that. You sound like you again, birthday boy. I miss you.

Anthony: I know. But you are going to flourish.

Me: See this is what is so disconcerting; I have never heard you use a word like “flourish”!

Anthony: It’s mentioned in Ming’s psychology diploma manual, on page 27. Actually the term “flourish” is repeated repeatedly throughout the course….

Me: Yes, I know, and it’s not a bad concept – much better than just surviving. Oh, I love talking about this kind of stuff with you, Ants.

Anthony: You are so sweet, Jules.

Me: So do I keep on chatting with you like this until the grief subsides or what?

Anthony: Do whatever you want, Jules. Play it by ear.

Me: I am so relieved I didn’t have another meltdown today.

Anthony: Why would you have a meltdown?

Me: Because it’s your birthday, and you’re dead, and I’m grief-stricken, you beautiful idiot!

Anthony: Steady on … that’s right, but we’ve already realised that there are at least three things that are good about me not being there for the occasion. I’ll talk to the countdown people and get back to you but in the meantime you could think of this as my 82nd unbirthday ….

Me: …. for want of a better ….

Anthony: Yes, and Jules?

Me: Yes, Ants?

Anthony: You mentioned lotto earlier ….

Me [excitedly]: YES?

Anthony: Money isn’t everything.

Me: [groaning with chagrin] OMG I can’t believe I’ve ended up married to some sort of weird angel/ghost/imaginary friend hybrid!

Anthony: And one with such exquisite musculature.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Imagined conversation 6

Me: Why did you un-grip my hand from yours just before you died?

Anthony: You were hurting my hand.

Me: I was worried!

Anthony: I know.

Me: Actually I was terrified.

Anthony: Well I wasn’t, so don’t worry about that.

Me: That’s when I left your room to talk to Ming about what to do if you died in the night. Like, whether to ring him straight away, or what.

Anthony: Oh I didn’t know that.

Me: The doctor said it could be hours or days – did you know that?

Anthony: No, because you were all whispering, whispering, whispering….

Me: Oh, sorry, Ants. I just didn’t want you to hear that you might be dying and get scared.

Anthony: I wasn’t scared, just bloody uncomfortable. And Jules?

Me: What?

Anthony: It was easier to die with you out of the room.

Me: I thought that was one of those myths.

Anthony: I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.

Me: No, it wasn’t that – it was just the shock. I was all ready to spend another night in the nursing home with you so I could get my head around you dying. I even had a DVD to watch. I felt – feel – so cheated somehow.

Anthony: Aha – gotcha!

Me: So you tricked me?

Anthony: Yep.

Me: But why?

Anthony: I didn’t want you to see me take my last gurgling breath; it was a bit embarrassing. And I didn’t want you crying all over me.

Me: But I did cry all over you!

Anthony: Oh. Sorry. I was long gone by then.

Me: What do you mean ‘long gone’? We were only out of your room for a few minutes!

Anthony: Time just seems different now.

Me: I just want my hand back in yours.

Anthony: Well you could have arranged to have it cut off and mummified, I suppose.

Me: Argh!

Anthony: You worry too much, Jules.

Me: I’m so tired from grieving.

Anthony: Well, I was a magnificent specimen of a man so it’s no wonder.

Me: Thanks for the laugh, Ants.

Anthony: You gotta laugh, Jules. Anyway, how’s your mother? Is she still making those blanketty things?

Me: Yes, but probably not as enthusiastically as she was when she was sitting with you.

Anthony: Good on her. She’s a good soul.

Me: ‘Soul’? Since when do you use words like ‘soul’?

Anthony: Since I died.

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