The haberdashery of grief
20 April 16
Grief is an apron tied tightly around my throat and that constricts my torso as I bend and weave through the movements of everyday life. I feel its relentless presence daily, and there is nothing to gain in pursing the futility of seeking to cast it aside.
For it’s double-sided, this garment which I did not choose. One surface reminds me of my precious baby boy — the memories that help me clutch his brief existence next to my own mortal heart. The other side is a heavy burn of pain, a deep aching that fluctuates as I move my body but never quite ebbs into nothingness.
If I ever managed to disrobe the grief in the name of closure, I would also lose the treasure that my child was to me. So I wear it daily, noticing its presence more on some days and less on others.
But as time progresses, I’ve realised that the pain from my grief apron isn’t only originating from the simple fabric of loss. Instead, it’s comprised of scratchy lace around the armholes, stitches in bothersome places and random strings of buttons that chafe at my tender parts. The haberdashery that hangs off the edges goads my spirit and reminds me more of my invisible attire than the loss itself.
I twist with the torment and reach with my fingertips to probe at the irritant. As I reach the prickle and identify it, I realise that I’m still choosing to hang on emotions that are hindering my full healing.
Anger is easy to identify. It’s sewn on so meticulously that it feels like it belongs with the grief — friends and family members who have not understood, have not responded, have not supported, have not cared in the way that I felt should be obvious.
Oh, and look, here are two patches of roughness that are really resentment and disappointment. Despite owning my experience as a perfect part of my journey, I still resent the ignorance and feel disappointment at the callousness of others who have not practiced compassion.
Uncovering that leads me quickly to a line of judgement buttons. They bump against my skin as I encounter people on contrasting journeys, and I feel the studs press into me — triggering an internal criticism at those who do things differently.
Some adornments on my apron of grief are embroidered so tightly I do not believe that I will ever be able to unpick them. Guilt is a patch of scratchy stitches across my breasts — could I have prevented my son’s death? Fear presses into my throat with a cold, metallic hardness — how could I possibly survive another loss?
And there are the uglier trimmings that invisibly weigh me down but are occasionally revealed by the light — envy and jealousy at those who have been spared my pain, at those who can still hold their child to their breast and feel the sweet baby breath on their cheek. Others’ lives are continuing, and I recognise a streak of schadenfreude hidden in the hem — “harm-joy” which embodies a most awful desire for another’s misfortune.
Yes, it’s an apron of grief that I wear, that wraps too many of us under the veneer of normalcy. It’s a constant companion, so when I catch a glimpse of someone else’s pain I want to rip off my outer layers and reveal the truth. Each time I do, I discover the bits and bobs that I can remove, and I sit down to work at unpicking the haberdashery.
I did not choose my apron of grief, but I can steadily work on lightening the load, on smoothing the surface, on cutting away the negative embellishments and repairing the fabric so all I am left with is pure grief once again — painful but purely so.
The haberdashery of grief does not serve me, so I’m freeing myself from its companionship. How about you?
I’ve found meaningful support through The Compassionate Friends Victoria’s support group for bereaved parents. The Compassionate Friends have chapters around the world which may also be helpful for you or someone you know. You are not alone. So much love, Lauren.