I have a grief ritual that gets me through each week, more or less. Every Thursday, after my working day is done, I head to one of the excellent, loosely craft beer, pubs in Islington, buy a lonely pint and read a chunk of an interminable tome called ‘Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living Through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies’. It was kindly bought for me by my Stepmum in the absence of knowing what else one could do in the aftermath of my sister’s death last year.
The book itself isn’t so difficult as the fact that it allows me space to open a painful wound and allow some of the difficult feelings out. It’s a weird thing to feel all teary as others around me are going for post-work drinks, hot dates or cool-guy time, but something about the atmosphere allows me to blend in and feel unnoticed in ways that other places don’t. I’d never pull the book out on public transport (too performative), and I never feel able to bring it out at home (where I read books for pleasure). The third place of the pub is a genuinely safe space to read some difficult material. When I’ve finished the book, I’ll find something else that fits the topic, or I might write about it.
I said around the time that I would have the rest of my life to mourn her death and that still feels true. Events have conspired to ensure that I have an upcoming reminder. The process has been very slow and after the postmortem report was released to us, we found out that we have to attend an Inquest – which will take place on Wednesday. The Inquest is presented to us as a straightforward 30 minute appointment in a small town courtroom, during which time we have the opportunity to raise any questions we might have for the Police who attended the scene, the doctors who conducted the autopsy and her regular GP. The reality feels like it will be a great deal more monumental.
I chose to read the post-mortem report a few weeks ago during one of my allotted griefslots. It was a really bad call. I wasn’t prepared for the unpleasant details, that her body could be referred to as ‘it’. I hated reading the police description of the scene, reducing 30 years of her life to circumstantial details around the house. I hated the incomplete medical history – for all the connections that could have been made. I hated that this last official document to her life will have been a piece of begrudged paperwork for some of the contributors. I hate that it is a series of pieces of evidence to the fact that she is dead. Whilst I read this in the pub, I felt sick and wrong in the head. It turned out that this was something I should have read at home.
I feel a sense of dread about the impending Inquest. I worry about the consequences for my parents of having to relive that day and I worry about how bureaucratic the process might feel.
I’ve not written here in a terribly long time, which feels like such a waste of a really good URL. One of the major reasons is that I’ve been knocked sideways by the death of my younger sister last August – which was a waste of a really good person. Not empirically, undeniably good in that she was a perfect human being who made people happy everywhere she went, but good to me. She was my only sibling and died of a tragic accident at home at the age of 30.
To lose the one person who grew up with me, shared most of my childhood and life experience and saw first hand so much of my pain and success has been almost too much to bare. I think of all the love and understanding that has been lost both ways – that which she gave to me, effortlessly and that which I had for her. It’s deeply painful for a brother to take and I wonder whether being a man makes it harder. I was very involved in planning the funeral. I chose a reading and music that I knew she loved and read the eulogy. As I was involved in this process I felt detached and analytical. As I came to read the words that I prepared, I got through it with the wobbliest voice imaginable. I found it hard to be in the moment – I don’t know why it mattered to not appear weak in the face of extremely distressing circumstance, but I wanted to appear like I was coping.
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I’m not sure that I can write about the grieving process in a meaningful way as there are so many elements to the loss that my family has experienced that it’s difficult to get close to explaining it to someone who is outside of that circle of experience. But I want to write about it as I’ve tried to deal with the pain and loss in a boringly typical male way thus far and it’s doing me no good. I can feel myself getting angry about things that do not matter in work and in my personal life, and I think it all comes back to the fact that my life is irrevocably changed, for the worse, and I will not get over it soon. Yet, rather than accepting that the situation is bad and understandably sad, I try to act as though nothing is bothering me and that I am dealing with it with stoicism and grit.
Part of the reason why I have not been able to talk about it openly is cultural, for sure. Our society struggles to cope with death at the best of times, and for colleagues, acquaintances and friends it’s a tricky thing to know how to broach. I think that they don’t want me to feel upset (or worse, appear upset on my visage), so they don’t raise it. This relegates it to taboo status. Unfortunately, all this not talking about my life-changing sad experience does nothing to help me assimilate it into my life experience thus far. There is going to be an inquest into her death next month, and that raises a lot more difficult feelings which it helps to express on here. I apologise if this appears off topic in comparison to the usual subject matter of this blog.