The Before and After-ness of grief

I used to teach ESL (English for Speakers of other Languages) at our local FE college, amongst other places. I enjoyed the actual teaching a lot although the accompanying paperwork wasn’t so wonderful.

I haven’t taught properly for 6 1/2 years. I’ve had a few “homestay” English students but they were mostly interested in conversation. But finally this summer some proper students came my way, and I opened up the big folder on my computer to sort through my teaching materials, lesson plans, resources, etc. – If you teach, you will know what I am talking about.

I’m usually quite organised with my filing, and I give folders some sensible names like the month and year and what it is inside. Although I stopped teaching abruptly – which I’m coming to in a minute – the folders were still there despite being all but forgotten by me.

And there it was, the folder “March 2011”. The last set of proper lesson plans. The end of BEFORE.

Catherine died on 13 April 2011.

That’s why my last formal lesson plan was March 2011. And that’s how my resources and files got left for so long. That teaching career was BEFORE. Before the chasm between life and death. Before Catherine died.

AFTER. What came after?

I took time off work, but I was in no fit state to teach over the next months although I did a bit of community work. As the summer drew to a close, I was still a complete wreck. I only had a “zero hour” contract at the college, and due to reorganisation, both my line manager and department head were leaving. This meant that if I wanted to teach again in September, I would have to go and reintroduce myself to the new management. I’d need to eagerly portray my desire and abilities to teach again in the new academic year. But I was in no state to sell myself, and I let it pass.

Over the next years, all kinds of other things happened which I’ve written about before (or at least I’m not going to get into right now), but there was no need to dig into those files and folders.

Until now. And finding the March 2011 folder was quite emotional. It symbolised that break in time.

There will always be a before and after. The death of Pax – before and after. The death of Catherine – before and after. It is distinct. It’s as much a personal marker of my own life as B.C. and A.D.  is on the calendar.


I think we sort of change time zones when we lose someone who is important to us. Our sense of time can be different. Sometimes it feels to me that Catherine died yesterday, other times it feels like tens of years ago. The only thing I can be sure of is that there was BEFORE and now there is AFTER.

Life is not static. We do keep travelling the road. Life happens, good and bad and middling and boring and exciting and sad and scary and surprising and joyful and all of it. But those of us living with loss will always have that sense of before, after.

Perhaps you can relate to this?


After the chrysalis


8 thoughts on “The Before and After-ness of grief

  1. Pingback: The words we use to describe grief | A Valley Journal

  2. Pingback: “What next?” This far & onwards in grief | A Valley Journal

    • So sorry to hear about your Joe, and that you’ve bene left childless (as I am too). It is still such a short time for you. I hope you will be able to find a way through your AFTER.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Everything changed in a moment – grieving sudden death. | A Valley Journal

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