Delayed Grief

When I heard of my sister in law’s passing away three weeks back, I went to see my goddaughter only a few days later. There was a short school holiday, and she said she’d like me to come out, so it was a no-brainer. I packed up my kids and we hit the Autobahn, stopping at the big yucky yellow fast food joint, taking regular coffee breaks, and trying to enjoy the roadtripping. In F, we spent a few intense days trying to sort through things, talking about my sister in law, and also quite a bit about my late brother, her husband.

It was grim work, as it always is, to try and pack up a life in boxes, suitcases and plastic bags. We could only handle so much of it at a time, but we did make progress, and when the kids and I went back home after four days, we went feeling tired and drained, but also with a deep sense of belonging. The pull of family, which I hadn’t felt in so many years, given the somewhat dysfunctional state of this family, came as a surprise, but it was good, too.

What threw me for a loop more than anything else was the fact that my estranged brother who had never come to see us here in Berlin, who knew my son only because I had come to visit, and who had never even met my daughter, had kept a stash of photographs of me as a kid. Most of them are a bit like this one:

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They show a little girl who is completely, absolutely adoring her much older brother, and a handsome young man who seems happy enough to indulge the little critter – both wearing goofy, toothy, identical grins. I was looking at these pictures with a huge cartoon question mark forming above my head. I was like, dude, who are you? How do you have these pictures, and what the f… ever happened to destroy that bubble of mutual love that obviously existed, once upon a time? I had grown up thinking he didn’t really care about me, and there I was, holding evidence to the contrary in my hands. The longer I looked, the stronger my sense of loss became, and the sadder I got.

Last weekend, I hid out at our country cottage, sitting, processing, and crying a great deal, all the while trying to make sense of why this was. My smart friend M., the therapist, explained to me about delayed grief, and that actually did shed some light. It occurs when a person is unable to deal with grief as it happens. The pain gets stashed away somewhere, allowing the person to go on functioning without looking at the sadness and the loss. But eventually there comes a time when it’s inevitable to do just that – and the emotions may feel just as raw, and acute as if the loss had only just happened. They were only delayed. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

When my brother died, I was on a deadline for a book, we had a young man staying with us who was interning with a member of parliament, our washing machine chose that week to collapse, and I was having migraines like crazy … I may have postponed my feelings about what had happened without noticing.

This time around, we have no house guest, and the book I’m currently translating has a comfortable deadline in July. But I did drown my iPhone in the toilet, the car had a fit after we came back from our trip to the South, and I cut my finger when making school snacks in the morning, deep.

I keep getting flashbacks of grief, and I let the tears fall, for I understand that they need to. I’m OK with feeling sad now, and I allow myself to. Grief is a bit like dust. It’s there, and you may be too busy to deal with it, and sweep it into a corner, or let it sit where it will dull everything. But eventually, you need to clean up that dust so your life can sparkle again, right?

The kids and I are about to take another road trip to F, where my sister in law will be laid to rest next to her husband – remember this beautiful spot?

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It will be good to find closure. It always is.

It will also be good to see my girl J, who has been so brave all this time, and be with her this last step, and it will be awesome to stay at my friend A’s beautiful, multicolored, insanely creative place again:

Why yes, that’s the Funky Blanket in its new home right there. And look, they’ve got bunnies, and they’re friendly, too.

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Aaaaand check out the Furniture Socks – aren’t they fabulous, and bizarre?

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Yup, staying with A is pure color therapy, and as a better writer than I once put it it’s like taking a bath in a warm tub of friendship.

I’m so grateful to have such wonderful friends. You guys are my safe place.

Thank you so much for being you, I love and cherish all of you.

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