A window pane had fallen out of the back of our little greenhouse during the cold winter months, and we noticed a robin flying in and out. Then, a few weeks ago we discovered a robin’s nest containing six eggs tucked safely inside a flowerpot. We’ve been watching Mr and Mrs Robin come and go over the weeks, and last week when we peeked inside the pot, there was a small brood of newly hatched birds, grey and fluffy. Not yet exactly cute but that will come in time. They are a well-fed family and we’re doing our bit too, shaking out worms from the compost and keeping the fat balls and bread table well supplied.
Finally today we saw the young fledgings, rooting around in the greenhouse. Mum and dad should be proud.
It’s lovely seeing new life.
And that kind of leads into the topic of this post. I’ve been thinking recently about if, how and when it is possible to start again after loss.
I had a personal new start last week. I have started leading a “living with loss / grief companionship” week course for a group at a nearby church. Not only is this particular course new, but additionally, I drove myself there. Learning to drive is going to open up all sorts of possibilities. It’s not something I ever expected to happen but here I am, 60 and with a new driving license and all the freedom and independence that brings with it.
Leading these bereavement support events and being able to drive are two things that are different and new in my life, in comparison to the college English teaching I was doing when Catherine died. I suppose that is a good example of yes, you can start again after loss, and find a new way through life.
On the other hand, 4 years after Catherine died I had kidney cancer. (I’ve written about this before). It was a very unexpected diagnosis and the outcome was that I lost my kidney. Thankfully, since then I have been clear – I have annual check-ups – and in many respects I am back to where I was before. But not completely. My energy levels never completely recovered. Although some people are only born with one kidney and they manage fine, it seemed a bit harder for my body to adjust to losing a kidney.
There is no “starting again” and regrowing a kidney – or any other organ that has been surgically removed.
The death of our loved one can also bring changes to our lives that we cannot start again from, and are much more serious and final than the loss of a body part. A parent who has lost a child may not be able – or have the desire – to have another child. Some of those who lose a partner could not countenance the idea of living with a new person. Maybe their relationship had been so complete and full of love, they can’t imagine sharing their life with someone different. Or maybe their relationship had been fraught and unhappy; and now finally they relish their independence and wouldn’t want to risk finding themselves in a similar situation again.
Journeying through grief involves managing our expectations. What we expected from life might not be within our reach. What we still want from life may elude us. The biggest part of our life might be over in units of time. The most important person(s) we would like to speak with, see and spend time with may be gone. Losing someone central to our life means our present is changed and our future is changed too. I will never be the mother I was; I will never the grandmother I had hoped to be.
And that leads me back to the original question. Can you start again after loss? In some respects, no, but in other ways you can.
There are some things we can do for ourselves as we live the life we have now. We can learn a new skill, reach out for new friendships, develop new interests. Something new can be as simple as changing a hairstyle or where we do our weekly shop. Or it could be bigger and more meaningful, like explore our faith or developing spiritually in new ways. A young parent may decide to try for another baby. Someone who has lost a partner might consider starting a relationship with someone new. If this is something they want, why not?
Journeying through grief is a balancing act. We balance our grief with our daily living; we balance our identity as a grieving parent or partner or friend with our identity as a teacher, artist, retiree, fisherman, or whatever else is part of our life.
We cherish and honour our loved ones, continuing a relationship through memory, but at the same time we keep learning, growing and embracing the new.
This is the journey of living with loss, one step at a time.
(Another article on a similar topic: Self-identities and taking a break from grief )