Jessie Cave (she played Lavender Brown in the Harry Potter films) was on BBC Breakfast recently, talking about the loss of her sister and grief.
I know a bit about grief. My paternal grandmother died when I was 16, a friend was murdered when I was 26 and there have been numerous other deaths since, including two of my dogs and one of my cats, a couple of boyfriends, other family members and, last but not least, both my parents.
Grief doesn’t stop with death. When a long-term relationship ends (even if it is what you want) there is still a sense of loss, and maybe failure. If it’s not what you want, there is the ensuing grief that goes with that. It can be just as hard as when you lose someone through them dying. Sometimes worse, I think, because at least when they are dead, you know they won’t come back. When they are still living, you may still hope that they will.
Who Really Knows about Grief?
Even though I say I know about grief, I don’t really. I don’t even know about my own grief. I react differently every time. When my Mum died, I started decorating, I had to keep busy. There have been other times when I’ve had to hide it from others, so I acted normally and no-one ever knew, but at night, alone, I wept.
I don’t know it if it’s just a British thing, but we have difficulty in knowing what to say to people when they have suffered a loss. My brother, his wife and I were discussing this, and we agreed that somehow, we need to make it ok for those who have lost someone to be able to talk about it, if they want to.
What I have really learned about my own grief over the years is that it is never the same twice, it’s very personal and it can come and hit you like a bolt out of the blue when you least expect it. Yes, it is true to say that time is a great healer. If you let it, time can help to ease the pain, but I think you’ve got to want to let it do that. It is also true to say that even years later, something can happen that can bring it all flooding back again.
I was talking to my friend Kate the other day, about my little Oceana who is in poor health. In truth, I don’t think she will see the year out. While I was talking about her, the conversation led to my Titan, my first cat, and how I’d have to have him put to sleep (euthanised, as they say nowadays). I knew I had to have it done, the poor little boy had cancer and the vets couldn’t cure it, it came on quite quickly. Even knowing it was going to stop him being ill and in pain didn’t stop me feeling like a murderer. As I was talking to Kate, I started crying, and that isn’t something that happens very often. I am generally a very happy person. The tears didn’t last long, but long enough to stop me in my tracks.
I think that all we can do when we know someone who is grieving is to be honest with them and tell them that they can talk if they want or be quiet if they don’t want. Let them know that they can have a safe space with you (as long as that is what you genuinely feel). And be prepared to cry with them, if that is how you feel.
© Susan Shirley 2021