How Long Does it Take?

‘It takes a year,’ people tell you. ‘The grief passes after a year. Once you have been through all the anniversaries. You’ll start to feel better then.’

Some of these are people who are in the know; who have loved and lost themselves, who want you to understand that you need to be kind to yourself, to go gently.

Others just say it, easily, as though it is a magic formula, the implication being: ‘It takes a year, and then it will be over.’

Strictly speaking it has not yet been a year since Dad left us: it has been a year since he told us he would be leaving. But we have already had our first Christmas without him, his birthday, our birthdays. We have watched our kids do things we would have loved to have told him about, heard things on the radio we would have loved to have shared with him, watched new seasons of his favourite TV shows and wept that he wasn’t there to enjoy them too.

The Victorians had a formal timescale for mourning. This, I feel, along with their black dress and black armbands, were helpful social signifiers. They said, ‘Tread carefully, because you tread on my grief.’ They said, ‘I might not be having a good day today.’ They said, ‘If I am angry or irrational or clumsy or absent-minded it is because I am still mourning.’ They said, ‘I am not over it yet.’ The Victorians might not have liked public displays of emotion, but they knew the emotions were there and needed to be respected.

We are all about emotion these days, but we have no idea how to handle mourning. I still, eight months on, have days when I would like to slip on a black outfit that acted as a shield. I would like to wear a suit of armour against those well-meaning people who think all I need is ‘cheering up’. I would like to slap a band of black on my upper arm which clearly says to the world that I am not to be approached today.

Instead I have to keep working, keep smiling, keep doing the school run, keep eating and breathing and speaking and doing and being.

‘It takes a year, and then it will be over.’ Maybe once all the anniversaries have been and gone for the first time, the pain will lessen. But perhaps we don’t want it to be over, my sister and I. Perhaps we don’t want to forget what it was like to sit with our father in hospital; to share conversations we had not been able to have before; to be there for him when he most needed it; to be there at the end, kissing him, talking to him when he could no longer hear, and, yes, even singing to him in the last hour of his life. Perhaps we don’t want to obliterate the image of his passing.

If I’m honest, I don’t want it to have been a year already. The time has gone too fast. I don’t want to wake up and realise it is a year to the day since he has gone. I need to replay it, to talk about it over and over and over again, because to erase it, to let it go, is to let him go. And I am not ready for that.

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