Photo credits: Seberg / Belmondo. À Bout de Souffle. ‘60.
I chose the death of Fred, my step-father to share my first experience with the darkness of grief, feeling a huge loss that left me empty for almost 8 years. There were 2 deaths that marked my life the most…as a child my grandfather and as an adult at 31 when my step-father died.
We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with death. We don’t even say the D word, now do we…much? In the 70’s we heard of Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross talk about the stages of grief and initially at that time, she was observing people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness. The stages at that time were in relation to a process when faced with dying and death as in her book On Death and Dying: the Five Stages of Grief, first published in 1969: The Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression…then acceptance; but negotiating/bargaining, for example would make more sense when we put in perspective someone who is negotiating with their creator, “Oh, G-d, are you sure it’s really my time? Maybe there is one more procedure…one last try…test…” Kubler-Ross theory was followed by so many people including professionals, throughout time up to about the mid or late nineties.
I remember when this book came out. It was like THE gospel, the apostles’ creed of sorts; and although helpful the order of stages, at that time, confined many to feel they were not grieving “adequately” if they skipped a stage or if it lasted too long. How can one measure one’s grief compared to another?
Thank goodness in 2002 I joined a bereavement support agency (Bereaved Families of Toronto) as a professional advisor helping youths grieve the loss of a sibling or parent. In my training, I felt so relieved when the grief counselor and professor at York University said, “Remember all those stages you learned in the 70’s and 80’s?” We all bobbed our heads like good students. “Well, you can throw that out the window now.” And a sense of relief came over me. What he meant was I was not tied to a set order of stages…the burden was finally removed. No ONE was set to fit into a see through jar so everyone could evaluate if they were grieving right.
I remember when my step-father died in the summer of 1982. My mother had not really accepted her loss until about a year or so later.
It was quite simple. Mom always said she felt his presence even when she went to bed at night. “He is right next to me each night. I am not lonely because he has never left me in spirit.”
I believe this is, on some level to be true. A year later, it was as if she suddenly woke up…her grief turned into a violent rage. She had a difficult time dealing with this time…angry that he left her, angry that she was really alone. It was difficult on so many levels. Being a woman of that generation, born in 1926, strict Catholic upbringing…good girls do not get angry…must comply…accept. Good thing they added “guilt” as another stage or emotion one feels with grieving. A good Catholic female knows how to feel guilt real well!
In a way, this stage of her grief was unleashing a very angry lioness. Before it became liberating, it was quite frightening for her. Many professionals and family to her she was experiencing a delay or complicated grief. It was not delayed …she was simply grieving in her own unique way and in her own time.
Thereafter, she felt much sadness, guilt and fell into depression. It was in spurts…not all in one shot since my children were young and she was often with us. I think the children eased the pain…made it more palpable. I hope so.
I had been exposed to death as a young child but children under 7 do have the same concept on death, developmentally they just cannot understand abstract thinking, only concrete. (Children and Grief by C.L. Roberts)
My step father was my first loss that I truly grieved a long long time…many years thereafter. Perhaps the process was longer as I could not grieve all at once…I mean, I did not have the freedom to feel my sadness and emotions when I was with the children…they were so young both one and 4. So it was only when I would go for a bike ride, a drive somewhere or long walk that I could be alone with my grief.
I loved him as my father…more than my father…he was good to me and loved my mother with so much affection and admiration that I loved him more for that. His love took Mom out of her depression, I think for the 13 years they were together. She made him fill with wonder, his eyes smiled at her always. They both came from dark places, having suffered broken hearts, undeserving anguish.
You know that GaGa look you get when you first fall in love? My mother had that look for him …always! Of course when I was 17, it made me sick…thought she was so silly and making a fool of herself sashaying around, flirting and all. But as a teen we knew very little about love, sexuality and sensuality. We think it is reserved for the young and firm bodies only. Well, of course I learned differently as I matured but back then, my mother and my step-father were such an enigma. I still was in awe at their love…that current of love waves…I say this because it was not electric…they did not have a hot, sizzling love affair but a warm, loving relationship…like warm, soft mellow waves wrapping them together, soothing, nice, sweet, calm and safe.
She always loved him even into her dark illness of dementia…she would often still call out to her third husband, Fred. Perhaps in her dementia, she is comforted with spiritual visits from her love, Fred.
Death of a loving man
A true Love Story.
Two anguished souls mend their hearts.
One day his body failed him.
A part of her died with him.
I asked a favour of the Lord
to have his life extend
until my daughter walked.
She still was only 9 months old.
He was given three
months to live
when he left the hospital
so he could die at home
but, he stopped at the court house
to marry my mother officially
and ensure she would be secure
with his military pension as his widow.
What an act of love!
He sent her off to a ten week course
Assertiveness and building self-confidence.
He wanted her to be strong,
be able to stand on her own
and stand up for her rights
when he no longer would be here
to stand up for her.
What an act of love!
My daughter and I were visiting one day
Fred was lying in a hospital bed in the living room
resting and admiring my youngest child.
She crawled on her knees joyfully,
then up she stood so suddenly
and walked towards her grandfather.
Eleven months she was, and walking now.
my feelings were so bittersweet
I shed my tears of fear,
because her walking meant
his death would soon be near.
One night I felt I had to see
him one more time
And on my drive a bird hit…smack
the windshield of my car
I knew then, his time was near.
I told him for the very first time
I whispered softly in his ear,
“Don’t worry, Fred, I’ll be hear
and watch for Mom. I love you.”
He died that night in mother’s arms
I’m sad I did not tell him more
how much he meant to me.
© Cheryl-Lynn, 2014/02/21
Dungeon Prompts – Season 2, Week 8: When did Death Become Real for You
Related article: Youth and Grief (Ntouch-Alecoute)