The longevity of grief: Mind the gap

I suppose in this day and age, with so much attention paid to disasters and death in every corner of the world, it’s possible to get grief fatigue. On any single day that you read the news, whatever your source, there are numerous tragedies. There are the victims in Manchester, whose names we know; there are the victims of conflict; there are the unnamed refugees drowning in the Mediterranean sea; there are those who have succumbed to cancer; there are those celebrities who found life unbearable and ended their journey prematurely. Need I go on.

When a tragedy is relatively close to home – for us in the UK, that means either in the UK or affecting British citizens – there can be days of blanket news and some very visible and poignant acts of mourning. Heaps of flowers, candles lit, queues lining to sign a book of remembrance, memorial services that bring us all to tears.

Yet how quickly our attention moves on. Last week’s headlines are not next week’s news.

In some respects, perhaps it is understandable. To continuously dwell on the sorrows of those around the world could bring us down to a very sad place. And these public losses are not even counting the difficulties of our own lives and those who are directly connected to us. So yes, we might get a bit of grief fatigue.

If we ourselves are grieving the loss of a loved one, we might also notice a bit of grief fatigue amongst our friends and acquaintances. Perhaps they expect us to be “over it” by now. It’s a beautiful summer’s day and they’d rather not be reminded of the sorrow that stalks around the corner in each of our lives. There’s that little sigh when we mention our visit to the grave of our loved one. There’s the awkward moment when we comment casually how our loved one “used to enjoy visiting here…” And most of all, there is the silence. We mention him or her, but it is our voice, not theirs.

I wept on Saturday at the grave where I commemorate the memory of my son, Pax, who died 35 years ago. My heart broke, it felt literally. Thirty-five years. Time is meaningless when someone you love is missing. Time goes on and on, and your memories of the person may not be so acute, but the ache in your heart continues. It’s probably not like that all of the time, but there are moments when it feels like you have just lost them yesterday.

This is particularly the case when you have lost a child, or a sibling at a young age, or a partner prematurely. They would have continued on your life’s path with you, and that’s what you expected, but they are no longer at your side. They are missing. They have lost a future, and their death has also changed your own future in so many ways that other people probably don’t appreciate. I thought back to Pax this week and all of the things he missed. Learning to read, learning to ride a bike, going to the beach, starting school, going to university, getting a job, having a partner, having children of his own. That’s a fraction isn’t it, of what he missed. He was 3. He should be 38. His departure left a gap.

Each one of those people we read about in the past weeks who died has left a gap in the lives of those who loved them. This is a gap that can never be filled. It is their own valuable place in this world. The grieving families and friends now face a lifelong journey of living with that gap.

My hope and prayer is that the people around them – their wider circle of friends and colleagues – and support networks – will be there for them in the long-term. That as the days turn to weeks turn to months turn to years turn to decades, that each of them will find their way along the journey of life without feeling alone, and without feeling that they are the only ones who remember.

If you are looking to support someone who is grieving – or if you are looking for support yourself – then there are some links to recommended organisations here.

Read more:

Living with the gap

Deck of cards and unbottling

Life-changing loss: Walking a different path, missing a limb

The pain of sudden death

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