Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local. Illustrated by Evelyn Rowland
I’m writing about bereavement this month. “You can’t write about that!” some have said. Others have said: “Go for it.” Perhaps the sense of national shared grief following the death of the Queen brought the subject into the headlines. I was unashamedly amongst those who did indeed find it strange and sad that she was ‘no longer around’. The majority of the population had never known another person on the throne. Or on the stamps. As for me, I could remember the life of her father George VI ‘drawing peacefully to a close’ and feeling a 12-year-old’s sympathy for the princesses losing their dad well before his time.
Years later, I vividly recall driving with my sister and brothers behind our father’s hearse and being moved and somehow comforted by the sight of two workmen putting down their pneumatic drills, removing their caps and bowing their heads as we passed. I was thinking: “He will never put his arms around me again and give my back a good rub.” Our mother slipped away early in the morning of her 98th birthday; my sister and my son and I were nearest to the hospital and arrived a few hours later. My sister held her and whispered in her ear: “Don’t worry, Mum, we’ll always be your kids!” Small incidents in themselves but all contributing to the inevitable, painful, yet somehow celebratory and thankful journey we had begun as ‘orphans’.
But there’s got to be a time when it’s absolutely OK to weep; to sob; to howl. I’ve been looking at some of the consoling letters that flooded in when my husband died, and some of my replies. To one I wrote: “The sense of loss is frankly terrible, though I know, somehow, I will be able to get through, not around it, in time. I came upon a letter in his familiar handwriting this morning. I allowed myself a few moments of wailing and then got down to the nearest job available, emptied the dishwasher and stacked things away.”
People are all different, unique, with their own life experiences and relationships. Not surprisingly, their route through bereavement will also be different and unique. As usual, when preparing this diary, I have relied on the help of people I meet ‘down the lane’. So many are happy to talk; so varied their insights: “I lost my partner five years ago. I live in a cul-de-sac. If I didn’t go out, I would see no one all day. I know I must make the effort. Make a habit of getting out. Be in the world like Fred always was.”
“The 10 years of my husband’s deepening dementia were really a slow, prolonged bereavement. He became less and less the person I knew. My chum, my soulmate. When he died, the sense of relief that he was no longer struggling was all mixed in with my sense of absolute desolation. We had been together from schooldays and never apart. It’s as if I’m holding things in balance. On one of those old-fashioned sets of scales. Sometimes the loss weighs more heavily, sometimes the thankfulness that he has finally been released from his cage of confusion.”
“I still have chats with my dear wife, even after several years. And I am grateful for the friends who understand how much I need to talk about her. They don’t avoid the subject.”
“Never a day goes by when I don’t remember my mother. Especially when I’m ironing shirts.” (Tell me more.) “At school, in Home Economics, we were taught the correct way to iron shirts, so when I got home I told my mother she wasn’t doing it right. She was definitely not well pleased!” (But what a loving smile that recollection produced!)
“Yes, I am in mourning. Other pet owners will understand. My dog would always greet me as if she hadn’t seen me for years. She gave me unconditional love, whatever my mood: sad, happy, anxious, whatever. We knew something was seriously the matter but the diagnosis yesterday took us by surprise. The vets could offer no cure. We had fetched her from Battersea Dogs’ Home when she was 11 months old. She ‘went to sleep’ yesterday evening, 10 years later. I am grieving for my loved companion. It feels very raw. But I’m comforted by knowing we were able to give her a good life.”
“I lost my grandma recently. She was very special. We were very close. I’ll be learning to drive soon. It would have been good to take her out for a ride to celebrate when I pass the test. She used to meet me from primary school sometimes. There was a seat in the park that we called ‘our seat’. We would talk together about the day. Or just sit in silence enjoying each other’s company. I miss her very much. I always will.”
“I have seen neighbours cross the road when they see me coming. Some have told me ‘they don’t know what to say’. But if they just said ‘I don’t know what to say,’ it would be more comfortable. Then we could chat.”
Well, dear readers, was I right to choose this subject? You be the judge. For me, there were beautiful moments even in the first few days of my bereavement: my Hindu neighbour walked over the road and sat quietly, cross-legged on the sitting-room floor for some hours just to demonstrate, as he said, that ‘he was here for me’. A Jewish work-colleague rang me on a day when I was feeling very low. “I am thinking of you,” she said, “and I wish you long life.” Another neighbour knocked on the door holding quite a large shrub in a pot. I had to peer around it to see who it was. He was near to tears. No prepared speech. “Remembering him. Brought you a plant.”
To contact DD with your thoughts or feedback, email email@example.com