"The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where..."
This for me is the perfect metaphor for grief. Sometimes that long, winding road stretches so far ahead you can't help but wonder if it will ever end.
On October 15th 2014, I lost my only and beloved brother in tragic circumstances. A few days after receiving this devastating news, a friend of the family asked me how I was doing. I told him I was still in shock, that it hadn't really hit me. I have thought about his response many times since. He looked at me with quiet understanding and said, "You could be in shock for the next year, or 18 months." I silently balked at the notion. Was it really possible to be in shock for a year and a half? Well, it turns out that yes, following a trauma in your life, you can remain in shock for quite some time. I can attest that you don't just snap out of it either. It gradually releases its hold on you so that you can continue with the next stages of grief.
As I sit here and reflect back on the journey thus far, I wonder how I have survived. I was heart-broken, prone to suddenly bursting into tears, both at home and in public places (park benches, airport queues, doctor's waiting rooms, to name but a few), and I was extremely sensitive to everything; what people said, what they didn't say, how people felt about my work, what was on the news, music, I mean EVERYTHING. To this day, I still can't listen to any song about New York, that sprawling metropolis where my brother died. I felt incredibly vulnerable and wanted nothing more than to hide from the world and wait until I was stronger. Hiding from the world, however, is a luxury you can't afford when you're a mom and you run your own business. Instead I became a master of putting on a brave face, smiling at other parents on the school run, being full of positive energy on shoots, writing what I hoped were witty updates on Facebook. I quickly realised that people believe what they see. If you're smiling and appear generally happy, most people subconsciously conclude that you're fine, you're over it and that you have stopped grieving.
I'm not sure though you ever truly get over something like this. Even now, two years later, I often find myself wondering, "Has this nightmare really happened?" Now and again, I'll awaken in the middle of the night and feel such profound sadness that my brother is gone that it crushes me anew. And so the cycle begins again - get up, smile, be brave, move forward.
So even though I do my best, I suspect it's not always enough. I have to remind myself that few people in my life will understand the impact of this trauma. My focus for the past two years has been survival, pure and simple. If I haven't been sociable, enthusiastic, quick to respond to messages, etc, it is because I have conserved my energy for surviving. Not everyone will understand this. It saddens me, but then I realise that people forget what's happened, they move on, while you are still attempting to move forward. We are on different roads, with different life lessons to learn. And I am always looking for the lessons in life... I have learnt that your life can change forever with one phone call, that you can be incredibly grateful for someone in your life, but they can still be taken away from you without warning, I have learnt that I am comfortable with the subject of death and I have learnt that grieving doesn't magically stop after X amount of months or years.
If you are grieving, I can only share what has helped me. Be kind to yourself, take long walks, surround yourself with people who have positive energy, release anything negative from your life, put one foot in front the other and just take one step at a time. Maybe just maybe, something great is around the next bend.