good grief!

Today’s the 4th anniversary of my mum passing away. She was really great. I’ve written about her before but seriously, how gorgeous is she? I want that outfit.

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It’s funny when you wake up on a day like this. How do you celebrate or commemorate or acknowledge the day ‘properly’? How do you do ‘good’ grief?

May 13th of this year also marked 14 years since my dad died.

Lance was an amazing man. Like, seriously, amazing. He was a civil engineer and an inventor and a story teller and a snappy dresser and a port – both liquid & footy –  lover. Dad suffered with bi-polar depression for many years before unfortunately taking his life. My sister called me late in the day this may and we were having a lovely chat before she asked me if I had toasted Dad. I was like “What?”…then realised after a moment what the date was. I was silent for a while because I had forgotten the anniversary of Dad’s death….what a horrible daughter I was! My sister instantly assured me that it was totally fine, that he knew/knows that I love him….but the guilt manifested really quickly and I burst into tears after hanging up the phone.img006

Not only did I feel really sad because I had neglected to mark the day in my mind, the thing is, those of you who have been through a particular tragedy or losing someone – the anniversary is the day you can be sad. It’s your chance. You can be somber and not have to apologise for grieving on that day, especially as the years go on. You still have permission to mope for a while; it’s your space. By not ‘cashing in’ on the anniversary, had I negated the right to be sad in the future? Was I officially ‘over it’ and had to move on?

Of course this is being melodramatic. Of course I can be sad if need to be. Grief is not a finite period that you have to ‘get over’ and then become a ‘healed’ person. Sometimes you may feel guilty about not being sad, but sometimes you may also have to give yourself permission to be not-sad. That’s ok too. But I still struggle with these questions sometimes.

I heard grief described recently like a verse from “The Bear Hunt” nursery rhyme – you can’t go around it – you have to go through it.  It doesn’t matter what you feel like you ‘should do’, grief is grief; you gotta let it happen how it falls. The thing I’m learning about grief is that you can allow yourself to feel sad when you feel sad, and feel joy when somethings great, and laugh when something’s funny, and then cry again when something’s sad – it’s a wonderful, messy, great, awful time…and somehow, life continues.

Every death, every loss, every person that we miss is different, and it would be a deep crime if we prescribed “how to grieve steps” to every varied situation. Moreover, how you ‘do grief’ doesn’t necessarily translate to how other people view you or view your grief – and that’s ok. But I think one of the most important things you can do, and you should do, is give yourself permission to keep living, and permission to sometimes forget them in some moments – because you know what – it probably means that in that moment something else important is or was happening for you.

Someone’s legacy is not tied up in the fact that you must feel something on a certain day, or behave in a certain way. We often raise to an unrealistic level the importance of ourselves feeling a certain way at particular times.

What I can offer, what I think is life giving, is the permission and the encouragement to celebrate and share the seemingly both banal and ridiculous moments of your memories – these build up pictures of our loved ones for those other loved ones around us.

Like the fact that one of my favourite memories growing up were Friday nights in town. My sister and mum would pick up my dad from his work, we would have dinner in the food court underneath John Martins, and then we would go late night shopping. It was so fun. Even if we didn’t buy anything. I would then lie in the back seat of the car with my Dad and look up at the buildings and try to guess which streets we were driving down…Halifax street? Flinders? East Terrace? Which one would it be?!

Or the fact that my mum took my sister and myself to the library every week. Without fail. Mum would borrow something like 20 novels at a pop, then devour them if she liked what she read, or skip to the end if she was bored. I spent hours of happy memories doing the same, borrowing piles of books and spending hours reading at home in the hammock, or sharing a book with mum over lunch. It’s totally why I love to read now.

These are really ordinary moments…but it’s these memories which allow us to celebrate the great diversity of moments that someone’s life is made up of.  My husband unfortunately didn’t get to meet my dad, but he has gotten to know him through the stories we tell, from the one where Dad reheated cake icing in the microwave, thinking it mashed potato, or the one where he helped suspend a cooper mini from a suspension bridge….by sharing these stories, not only do times of grief gain perspective, but we create legacies of stories for our loved ones who are no longer with us.

So cheers, Joanie. We celebrate you and the way you would never eat at a restaurant without an entertainment book voucher. We celebrate your cheeky sense of humour and your love of Paris. We love you!