My Photo

Irony Alert!: This blog may be a tad contrary.

« 'How can you say that!' | Main | LNL catblogging »

April 11, 2007



To take your phrase: thanks, elsewhere, for sharing. I thought that was extremely eloquent and graceful. And much of what you say really resonates for me. Grief is a large and amorphous thing. Take care of yourself, won't you?


Grief is bloody hard work. The death of someone you know or knew well rips a hole in your world, even if you weren't close near the end of their life. It seeps into your memories and your dreams. You have to mend that awful rent, even if it isn't huge, and it is just hard hard hard. And you bloody have to do it - somehow you can't live with that great rip - although I think some people can avert their gaze from it, but it must take most energy than the mending, in the end. Yes, take care.


Thanks, all.

A friend has sent me a comment (apparently my comments function isn't working too well):

"A Jewish friend of mine went into mourning for six months following her father's death - wore black, and didn't go to any social
functions. Apart from everything else, it reminded those around her that she was going through a difficult time. I wish now I did something like that - wear black on my mother's death-day, perhaps? Even though it's so long ago now, it still hurts. There's a hole that nothing else can fill."


Elsewhere, I'm so sorry to read of your brother. It sounds like an awful way to die and I imagine the loss of a sibling would rent large holes in one's being.

And yes, I think our society is cold in the way we deal with grief. I remember feeling the expectation some months after our baby died, that I should be "moving forward". Luckily I had a really gentle doctor who kept reminding me that grief is not linear (a phrase now embedded in my lexicon). Ironically it was when I started a new job (as part of said moving forward) that I found a community of other women that shared their baby griefs, some from many years ago.

I think people often mix up grief and depresssion because, in theory anyway, you can treat depression. Grief is different.

Take care.


A truly lovely post Elsewhere. I think you are, sadly, right. We aren't allowed to grief, let alone guided through it or helped.

lots of love to you

Pavlov's Cat

'Grief is not linear' is something I'll remember for a long time. Grief isn't an absolute state, either, in my experience, so I find one's behaviour and functioning in the grieving state are quite complex, like unstable geological strata.

Interesting about gay men. I had, precisely, 'a cup of coffee with a gay man' the morning after my mother was ambulanced to hospital following the stroke that would kill her four days later. Knowing she would almost certainly die, I insisted on keeping my coffee date with him -- a visiting Melburnian -- partly because he was HIV positive and very sick, and I thought I might never see him again either. He was, if I can put it like this, very straight and fearless with me -- looked me in the eye and spoke thoughtfully about death and how we deal with it. It was one of the things that got me through that week.

(And I'm happy to report that eight years later he is still alive!)


I think the gay man thing has to do with that special camaderie between them and straight women. I heard one of those men who writes soaps (actually, it might have been the Desperate Housewives man) interviewed recently, and he said the reason why he was able to write so many female characters successfully was because he was gay and didn't just see women as sex objects but as whole people.

I don't think the bond exists just because we seek a common prey or whatever. Along with Asian and Aboriginal men, gay men seem to occupy a more emotional plane, probably because they're 'othered' and in a more vulnerable social position -- so therefore more likley to be receptive to others.

But you're right, maybe in this instance it has something to do with their community's awareness of death as well.


I hear what you say about the most unexpected of people coming out of the woodwork when someone dies. When my dad died, almost exactly five years ago now, I expected the usual coterie of friends to be sympathetic once, that is, I was back home where I lived (I received the news on a Sunday night and was gone for a week). But my boss, a very buttoned down fellow, happened to be in at work when I received the call from my sister: his immediate reaction was to give me an enormous hug.

I don't think there was any lack of grace in what you wrote at all, not that I'd say one needs to be graceful when writing about something as important as this.


Maybe some of the problem for those of us who've lost someone very important to us when we're young is that most of the people we mix with are also young (by which I mean under-40) and thus have little or no experience of death. I remember that a week after a close friend of mine was accidentally killed at age 28, another friend (who hadn't known her but had been told the news) asked me why I looked so down.


That's quite possible, but I also had some 'why are you down, that's not a good enough reason' responses from people in their 40s and 50s. I think in some of those cases, it might have been because they'd become used to the notion that people close to you die (tho it baffled me as to why they wouldn't see a younger person's unexpected death as tragic).


A very thoughtful post, El, thank you for writing it.

When my partner's dad died, young and somewhat unexepectedly, he had a week off work and then was expected to return to his job and that was that. I've only experienced the deaths of grandparents, which while hard, is not the same as losing a parent or a sibling or a child, and I watched as Mr Kate struggled for months to know what to do with his grief.

I still don't think he knows. I don't know either. At least now we have a bit of a ritual where we go to visit his grave when we go home.

But I think you hit the nail on the head about this obsession with happiness. It's pathological, I think.


A beautiful post, Elsewhere. I realise reading this how hard it must have been for my mother when my uncle died at 35. Fourteen years older, for her it was almost a combination of death of a child and death of a brother. At the time, when we talked about his death, it was always about how other people (his mother, his wife, his children) were faring, but I know fifteen years later, she still thinks about him daily.

Thank you for writing it.


Thanks, all -- and thanks for your thoughtful & interesting comments.


Wow. I'm unable to write anything sensible, what a beautiful post - you've done your brother proud El.


As others have said, you are sadly right. Even in the U.S., we're taught to move on after the funeral. We're "not right" if we keep mourning for any length after one's death, keep a shrine, or mark a memorial every year. Anti-depressants are heavily prescribed to people still in mourning.

It's okay to do all of the things above: to keep mourning for any length after one's death, to keep a shrine, to mark a memorial every year, or what-have-you.
It's okay.


Thanks elsewhere. When my little sister died the immediate family were all able to take time off work and were pretty lucky with friends and workmates. My boss made sure I got paid even though I was casual. For cousins, aunties, uncles, and friends though, it was really hard to get any space for grief. Cazz's best mate, who'd known her all her life, had to go to uni, and had to go to work because casuals don't get leave. Other friends also went to work, sat exams and submitted essays and were generally pretending (to the outside world) to be fine and normal.

I use Cazz's old mobile, and I'm regularly informed of her friend's birthdays by the reminders that are still programmed in the phone. Last night a reminder message popped up telling me that it's nearly Cazz's birthday. I got the giggles.


Very powerful, El.

I remember being in Wales for my FIL's death, and thinking that the Welsh tradition around death was more healthy for the grieving because of the shared grief rituals - not only the lying-in and visitors coming to see the coffin before the funeral and the neighbours catering the wake with the special food they knew he loved, but also how every time since we've been back people always take a few moments to talk about how they remember and miss him (and my MIL, who died a few years later).

It's not morbid, it's a straightforward honouring (and sharing) of grief, and the fact that while it mutes after a time it's never entirely gone.


Yes, I think honouring's a good word.


Yes, after the funeral you're expected to be OK and to soldier on. Between the death and funeral you can grieve, but it's a busy grief that involves planning the funeral and wake. There are jobs to be done.

But as for the funeral, I realise now how important it is. My mother always went to funerals of distant relations and acquaintances, and as a child I was dragged along in school holidays. It somehow struck me as a bit artificial to attend funerals of people I hardly new, until dad died and the church was filled, and I felt so proud and happy that people had come to celebrate a life so simply lived. It meant a lot to me, which is the point, regardless of the relationship between those attending and the deceased.

The 'were you close' question threw me when dad died. People don't like to presume. People have different relationships with their fathers. The contrast is birth. People sent flowers when the boy was born but then went on talking and asking about the child for months and years after. There's a very real sense that birth changes your life in a way that must keep on being acknowledged. But death isn't treated in the same way. As you say, it's seen as a discrete episode that you 'get over'. Few people would respond to an announcement that I've just had a child with 'did you want it?' or 'will you be close?' or 'does it matter?'. But they will respond to the death of parent with 'were you close?', another way of asking 'is it significant for you?'

There seemed to be no symmetry. But I was thrown: I saw my child born and wept at having witnessed it; two and half years later I saw my father died and wept at having witnessed it. Two elemental things that took decades to come my way. But the way we deal with these events seems worlds apart, as long as mourning stays a malady.


Hi El,I really feel that you summed up what grief is all about, and I can really associate with you. My daughter died at two and I felt that I lived in a bubble for at least 6months, totally oblivious to all around me. I was pregnant at the time and as I gave birth to my baby 8 weeks premature, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I had waited so long for this moment feeling it was going to be the return of my first child who had died. Happily the depression I had lifted after a while and she is 35 on Monday and has been such a god send to me. But this feeling of being isolated from the community as they carry on with their normal lives takes a while to pass. But it will pass and you will come through it a stronger person God bless you wendy


Thanks. What a hard experience to go through!

another outspoken female

As another member of the dead sibling society, am sorry to come late to this post. The death of a sibling unbalances the whole family, each of us play a role and without one the whole dynamics go pear shaped. For me, I felt I lost a mother as well as a brother because of her need to support my emotionally-challenged father through his grief and this changed both of them. My sister in her own way remained constant but without our brother to cajole her, the humour changed between us, something still feels lopsided. Even 15 years on, having a family or 4 - not 5, feels foreign and wrong. Our roles have changed slightly but there is still his absence.

The current use-by date on grief seems to be about 6 weeks. After that, except those who know what it is really like, seem to fall back in their attempts of support. In reality, this is about the time the whole enormity of their death begins to descend.

"Were you close" or even worse "but you weren't very close" was one of the most offensive, reoccurring well meaning themes to emerge for me. Is there some kind of hierarchy of grief we are meant to subscribe to? Brother, sister, mother, father, grandparent, child, friend cat - it all hurts, doesn't it? It's all pain but honouring pain doesn't come easily.

Grief is a weird road trip. Just when you think you know the route, it turns around to bite you on the bum. Hope the road is getting a little less bumpy for you now.


Thanks for the comnment. Other siblings have said the same thing to me -- that it changes the family dynamics hereafter.

The comments to this entry are closed.