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Grief Awareness Day: Guest writer Mary Upton 'On the strangeness of grief'

August 30th is Grief Awareness day. Join us in exploring the depths of the human heart, as we navigate the complex journey of loss, healing, and remembrance.

Nia Griffiths

Aug 30th, 2023

In a world that celebrates happiness and success, it's important to make space for conversations about the difficult and uncomfortable experience of grief. Grief Awareness Day is an important reminder that behind every smile lies a story of loss, behind every success is a journey of healing. Our guest blog goes into the raw emotions, shared stories, and meaningful rituals that shape our experience of grief, inviting you to join us in embracing the complexities of this universal human experience.

'On the strangeness of grief'

How do you feel about oak?” I prised myself away from whatever mind-numbing TV show I was watching and turned towards my sister, who was sat next to me at the dining table. My eyes drifted down to the glossy brochure pages laid out in front of her. I’d never seen a coffin catalogue before. To say it was all rather strange would be an understatement. The afternoon was looming, we were still in our pyjamas and I was on my second cup of coffee. My Dad had died a few days earlier.

Planning my Dad’s funeral in the summer of my 26th year was not something I pictured for myself. My parents were divorced so it was agreed my siblings and I were best placed to lead the organising. So, there we were assessing our options. I am capable, strong-willed and at times independent to my own detriment. But I had never wanted to be babied more in my adult life than during this time. Funeral arrangements were quite possibly the last responsibility in the world I wanted enforced upon us in the aftermath of our Dad’s death.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s okay”. I felt indifferent to oak. How were you expected to make rational decisions on a thing like this? It turns out you can’t. At least, not while keeping a straight face. We knew it was inevitable something unsuspecting was going to make us all laugh sooner or later. My family have a wicked sense of humour and there was no way we’d survive without somehow using comedy as a coping mechanism. Something would come and slap us in the face with absurdity. Reminding us of the complete surrealness we found ourselves in as we continued to question, is this actually happening?

“I don’t like the rope on this one, it’s a bit too nautical” my sister commented on the handles of a particular design. We caught each other’s eyes and well that was it. We laughed uncontrollably, howling until our sides hurt. Tears streamed down our faces as we struggled to regain composure. Grief is weird.

It was a month to the day between his death and his funeral. It will forever be to me a distinctly odd period of time. The journey winding along the river Styx to the gates of the underworld was a sluggish one. I was overwhelmed by the thought of life continuing as normal for people outside of my family. Days going by just as they did yesterday and the day before that. How could the world still remember to be turning at a time like this?

Lugging my grief around with me beyond the safety of my family home gave me sensory overload. Things were a little too loud and a little too bright. Like that big hole in the ozone layer above Australia, I felt utterly exposed. I had intense fears and visions of more things going wrong. If my siblings and I were all driving together in the same car I’d pray we didn’t die too. I was certain more disasters would follow in quick succession. Everything was as fragile as a house of cards.

I’m more grateful now than I could have ever imagined back then for the essential task of planning the funeral. It was a blessing bestowed upon us in disguise. I can see now that it gave me a much-needed sense of purpose, structure and control when I needed it most. The funeral was validation of how significant our loss truly was. We had something to pour our overflowing grief into that was tangible and kept us occupied. It made his death real.

We weren’t left to fend for ourselves. My mum, Grandma and Dad’s best friend always offered their ears for ideas, their shoulders to cry on and their help when asked. Our emotional-support triumvirate. They helped us pick hymns when our knowledge faltered, told us the flowers for the coffin were called a casket spray, and listened willingly to our shortlist of songs for the entrance and exit music. This all after deciding on oak or no oak, of course.

When the day came around I remember it being peaceful. The sky was serene, soft and blue. I took a walk first thing to ready myself for the gruelling hours ahead. I stood for a moment to watch a wheatfield sway gently in the breeze. Nature, a constant, was rocking me back and forth saying “Hush now, it’ll all be okay. You can do hard things”.

Life is short. I am mortal. We are strong.

Liked this? To see more from our guest writer Mary, please visit her Substack here: https://iamdrafting.substack.com/

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Ways to commemorate grief awareness day

  • It's important to talk about your grief or encourage others to. Make space to have a conversation about someone who you miss.
  • Be kind and patient with yourself and others. Grief is a difficult and complex emotion to navigate, allow yourself to feel it's depth.
  • Write a letter to a loved one who is no longer with us.
  • Reach out to a friend or colleague who has suffered a loss and let them know you are thinking of them.
  • If someone close to you has recently suffered a loss, offer to help with things like cooking, cleaning, running errands, or even taking care of their pets. Grief can make daily tasks feel impossible.

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