Reflections on grief

My mother died on Christmas Eve last year. Here are my reflections on grief, written on 15 February this year. I’m sharing this write in case it helps someone else who’s been bereaved.


I could empty the green carrier bag that I brought home after Christmas, but I won’t.

It contains the Christmas present I never gave to my mother. Just a small set of bath products. There was so little that she needed or wanted by then. So little that would be of any use. I find it upsetting to look at the holly wrapping paper, to read the card which says ‘Merry Christmas Ma, with all my love’. I really should unpack the bag, unwrap the present and throw the packaging away. But I feel as though I’d somehow be throwing my mother away. I’d be cutting that final cord, the last illusion that she’s still alive, that I might be able to give her the present.

I miss going to see her in the care home. I miss holding her hand, singing a song together, stroking her arm. In my memory, she’s always wearing a cashmere jumper.

I know my mother is free now. But I can’t skip over the grief of grieving. I still have to feel it. The loss ambushes me. It ambushed me yesterday. I can’t tell you where it came from, but it leapt on my back and stayed there all day until I’d cried so much that my grief had shifted to a new place. My eyes were swollen as I staggered, half seeing, to bed.

What is this time like? It’s not wanting to do anything superfluous. This is a time for avoiding people who chatter, who are noisy, who stomp, who shout. This time is resenting people who invade my space. This time is staying away from crowds. It’s not a time for laughter, for merriment, for jokes. It’s a time when I should be allowed to wear a black armband, to warn everyone around me that I am fragile. I need to be handled with care. Keep your distance, lower your voice, calm your noise, hush your flapping. It’s a time for quiet.

It’s a time for sleep, for extravagant dreams cluttered with people and places and with little discernible meaning. I love my bed more than reason. I love to sink into my bed and seek oblivion.

I love to sink into a bath, to feel my body cradled in hot water. To have a massage. To feel kind hands stroking my body.

It’s a time for walking, for meditating. A time for listening to podcasts, but turning off the ones that start with a high energy ‘Hi there’, a loud squawk of greeting, a multicoloured hoot designed to grab attention. It tells me this is a voice I need to turn off immediately. Someone from the noisy realms. Someone from the other world, the loud world of the living, where I’m not quite living at the moment.

Now is a time for stopping and listening to bird song. Standing still in the street to see a robin singing at the top of the bare branches of a hawthorn tree.

Now is a time for cooking the same thing over and over. Now is not a time for new recipes or fancy ideas.

Now is a time to listen to music, but to accept that it may cut deep. The other day, it was too much listening to Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration). It starts with the strings evoking the halting half breath of a dying man and made me think of my mother’s breathing over her last 25 hours. As I sat at her bedside and watched her heart fluttering under her thin cotton nightie. Until she finally breathed her last. It was very final.

This isn’t the time to think of my mother’s last breath. Maybe I will unwrap my Christmas present to her tomorrow. Not now. I need time for grief, for ritual. I need time.



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