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A Journey Through Grief

Jill McEwan Condon

Everyone’s an expert on your grief when your child dies

On the 27 June, 2017, my life changed forever in an instant and I became a different person, my life permanently shaped by loss.    Briony was a rare and beautiful soul, living each day to the fullest, practising random acts of kindness and seeking out the beauty in everything and everyone.  Briony’s sudden, tragic and unexpected departure from this life impacted and changed my life and the life of her family and friends forever but their stories are not mine to tell.  This is my journey through grief, loss and longing, a journey that you walk alone and some moments so unbearable that you wish to sleep and never wake again.  For a while my disappointment when I woke to the sun shining was immense, to imagine the next 30 odd years without Briony seemed impossible

To quote Labyrinth, I have fought my way to the castle of the fucking Goblin King, (You knew there would be movie and song references)  on my way there was no help from Hogarth, or Ludo or any shitty shortcuts   I did meet the fire gang!   

Along this forced journey’s way there have been beautiful sunny days and horrific black moments and days that lasted for weeks.  So many tears have I cried, that like a rock face, the tears could have over time etched a permanent waterfall con my face. In this journey, one that I never imagined would be mine, I have learned some truths which are mine and mine alone.  Some give me comfort, some do not.  I have had to learn to reshape my life and find purpose, meaning and discover an identity that felt comfortable in my skin. There will not ever be a day that I don’t stop grieving for the loss of my daughter and I can only imagine what might have been.  There will never be a day when I stop missing her, wishing for one more minute, for one more “I love you”. Life moves forward and I  cannot waste my life wishing.  To honour Briony’s memory, I have been able to move forward, to walk in her footsteps and live a life worth living, of value, to live and not to just exist.   You can sleep when you’re dead, right!

Almost a year after Briony became a star, a double star(scientifically this is called a binary system) that orbits around itself,  no surprises there, we orbited around her, she shines over us and we have the certificate to prove it.  On reflection; these are the truths that are uniquely mine. There’s a lot of them!

Truth 1                You never stop grieving the loss of a child, you just change, mould and adapt to their absence.  All days are in-between without her, yes that was a Cure reference!

Truth 2                My once mediocre acting skills are now deserving of an Academy Award. The role depends on the environment and audience at the time.  So convincing that people have commented “how strong you are to have moved past this, I could not do it”. There has been no moving past anything, there was a choice to wear a mask and it’s a role that works.

Truth 3                Grieving is personal   It’s hard work and it’s difficult to motivate yourself.  One song, one photo, one memory can take hours from your day.  After returning home from Brisbane to visiting the amazing Joshua for his graduation, an event I had been excited about for months, I came to a standstill.  Once home, there was nothing to look forward to and I felt hopeless, lost, with no purpose.  This was a pivotal moment in my life and I was reminded of the quote from The Green Mile, “Get busy living or get busy dying”. In Briony and Tahnee’s words, “Make life your Bitch”, I got busy living! I’ve made plans so there is always something to look forward to, Bob Dylan’s concert, a holiday in Iceland, perhaps the Holi Festival in India.  I’m challenging myself to take on new experiences and live in the moment.  Most importantly I had forgotten I was creative and I’ve now channelled my creativity into works of art, it keeps me busy, focused and excited about each project.  I also discovered Netflix!  I’m moving forward but I still grieve, it’s become part of my life.  Don’t tell me not to grieve, you minimise my loss    Yes I talk about her, it keeps her alive so her memory does not become faded or blurred.   I am as are so many others, the rememberer of her life.  

Truth 4     Everyone is grieving in their own way, the loss is different for us all.  The loves of my life,  Alana and Joshua lost their baby sister, no more revolutionary chats against the establishment (that would be me).  They shared such a special bond and I see it in their eyes but it’s not something easily articulated.  Briony held such a special little connection with Ajooni, they had their own little language, the joy in their photos is obvious.  Avani arrived on 19 February 2018   Both girls will know their aunt through Alana. Brett wishes it was him instead, he cries when he thinks no one is watching.  Blake and Tahnee lost a sister, they were not related but they were family    Tom lost a partner, he was happy for a brief moment and then it was gone     Rachel, Lacey, Dina, patty, Michael, bradley, Eli, Tamsin and so many others  lost a friend and it impacted their lives in waysyou can’t imagine. In some ways, Briony was the glue.   Resilience   We are a family, we are resilient and we won’t be defined by this tragedy but it will shape us.    Practice resilience, life changes constantly    Everyone walks a different path in this journey, you may meet along the way but it’s a silent journey and deeply personal    Loss is different for us all.

Truth 5            In that moment where I felt lost and hopeless and the urge to isolate myself became overwhelming,  and the companion of hopelessness, dark and awful thoughts, in all honesty that had plagued me for a while were intensified.  In my heart I knew it was time to reframe my world and change my mindset.  So I did! ( I also didn’t want to be a lonely old woman eaten by her cats)  Live in the moment, know what’s important and don’t get involved in anyone’s drama.  Life is short; you are one phone call, one accident, one moment away from your life changing forever, don’t ever take that for granted. Tell people you love them, start random conversations, eat the cake and absolutely buy the shoes.        I don’t care anymore, in a good way!   

Truth 6               Be kind and don’t be a judgemental arsehole.  Be kind, practice random acts of kindness, you don’t know what anyone else is going through at any particular moment.  Your kindness could save a life, one smile, and one conversation. One moment to change the world.  He who saves a life, saves the world – a quote about Oscar Schindler.  If you can’t be kind…….#$%^off.  Actually be kind to arseholes, that’s the point    They need it more   Buy a homeless person a meal, practice compassion, walk a few steps in someone else’s reality.   

Truth 7          I read once,” Never have we had a generation document themselves doing nothing as we do now”  Thank you to the millennials for this trait.  Keep taking photos, videos, snapchats, selfies, random stuff, messages to your Mother.   Briony was no exception! There is a wealth of material including her music.  I only have to turn to social media and my own collection to have an instant fix of Briony.  I have a video message she’s just woken up, it simply says I love you Mum     There is no amount of material wealth that can match that simple video.  

Truth 8    Since Briony became a star, bees are everywhere, they buzz around me, land on me, and they drink passion pop at night! Bitch came back as a bee, I’m allergic! Butterflies appear out of nowhere as do feathers.  I had a dream that Briony was holding my hand and I could feel her hand. This can be rationalised away by science, but please don’t.  This gives me comfort that her energy is around plus I’ve lost my fear of bees.   Really Briony, you came back as a bee!!!  

Truth 9          “When your child dies, everyone’s an expert in your grief” a quote from the beautiful Tahnee, Briony’s Sister and protector.  This is a certain truth. Everyoneappears to have an opinion on how you should grieve, how long you should grieve, how you should act, how you should be, what you should do and seem unable to halt their words, opinions, or behaviour.  “The Greatest Deception men suffer from is their own opinions” – Leonardo Di Vinci.  Some opinions really hurt me and I wondered how people could say such a thing.  I stopped hurting or caring once I realised that people only see things from their perspective and that people seem to treat their own opinions, as facts, values and morals. There’s a difference between expressing your own opinion and being rude.  Now I don’t care, in a good way.  Just for the record, it’s my journey, not yours.

Truth 10              I know how you feel, my Mother died, my dog died, my (insert whatever you lost) here) died.  Nope, on no account, definitely not, no no no no no no no no no no you don’t!  Just a big no you do not know how I feel.  You cannot even imagine.  Close your eyes and imagine one of your children gone forever.  You can’t can you because you know that they are really still here.  You don’t know how I feel so please don’t try because you will fall short each time   

Truth 11      You have to move on, you have to be strong - God works in mysterious ways - She is in a better place - I spoke to her last night - You would cope with this better if you had faith in God - You have other children - How did she die, (add your own unhelpful quote or questions here). If you are travelling through the grief experience (damn, that sounds like an amusement ride, probably a roller coaster) get used to hearing these or some version of these “insights”and find strategies to cope with the mind-numbingly, outrageous and insensitive things, people believe they have a right to say in the name of helping.  Prepare for people who will not speak to you at all (Its not catching, I am not contagious, hello is a good start”)I would like to think these people did not intentionally cause harm or be insensitive and they were operating from a place of complete oblivion, a lack of insight and utter stupidity.  I tried, I tried so hard to ignore these people and their platitudes but it became impossible.  My strategy has and continues to be to challenge what a person has just said.  Here’s a sample, if you are easily offended, stop reading now.  Seriously!  See it as a guide of what not to say to a grieving person.

 You have to be strong – Why?   Why would you say I have to be strong?  Why do you need me to be strong    

 You have to move on – Why?  I’ll move on in my time, not yours, Why is it so important for you that I move on?

God works in mysterious ways!  Look away, look away if you are easily offended or you have a personal relationship with God. ( I really hate that statement, it’s like saying you have a personal relationship with a unicorn which I do, bad example, a relationship with a block of cement)  at the outset I have no issue with your beliefs.   I respect that.  I have issue when you impose your beliefs and standards on me.   So, let me get this straight, your God or more to the point organised religion works in mysterious ways,(not so mysterious, it’s a mechanism to control the masses) your god as I understand lets children starve to death, allows children to be abused and tortured, causes death and destruction everywhere (just think holy wars ) and let’s not forget the intolerance of a belief system other than yours. (so many religions but only one true god)…….yet, he heard and answered your prayers when you needed a new material possession.  Your God is your reality.   My beliefs don’t include organised religion and when I tell you this, I am angry that you get offended and  I don’t care (please google Stephen Fry on being offended) and try to convert me to your cause which leads to this next gem..........you would cope with this better if you believed in God.   Let’s be honest you  said this because you are glad it’s not you. Yes maybe, I know it’s worse for you because you only have one child but that is not of my concern -  exactly as my grief is none of yours.  Please don’t pray for me.  Please just go away.  (For the record, I cut this person out of my life, the day of that conversation)  Your religion doesn’t make you a nice person or a good person.  It just makes you religious.  When I was in India God was explained to me very succinctly   God is you, God is family, I can live with that   Religion is in your heart and your mind, beliefs are not contained in a building with walls   If you respect me, I’ll respect you    We had a Hindi ceremony in Bali for Briony   It was beautiful    A Native American ceremony was held for Briony   She flew with the great spirit who guided her back to our ancestors.   

 

She is in a better place! Oh, have you been there, what’s it like? I would like to know.

You have other children?  Thank you for reminding me, I forgot momentarily about those times I gave birth.  Yes, yes I do and so do you.  Tell me, which one would you choose to never see again? I'd like a name please. Each one of my children is irreplaceable.  You would not tell someone to go home and have another child - this is not a solution.   Yes, yes I know your friend lost a baby and I should be  grateful because I got to know my child,  she’s much worse off.  Grateful is an offensive word. If you knew Briony, you would never be grateful for losing her, regardless of the time you knew her.   Please go away, this is not helpful, this is not kind, this is cruel.   

How did she die? – She died.   Short and sweet.  The fact is that you don’t need to know, you want to know.   It’s irrelevant, the truth is she is no longer here. 

 

I spoke to her last night, I’m a psychic.  Stunned and amazed expression on my face, what did she say?  Allegedly Briony said according to this unreliable source that she is in a better place, happy and not to worry.    It would have been better had she told me the password to her bank account and I am not sure she is in a better place or happy.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t want to be dead.  This is fraudulent and made me very angry.   

In short there is the guide of what not to say to people who are grieving, I’m sure you can add your own. Oh and you will see her again, she’s waiting for you  Well I want to believe,that sort of like the x files, I really do, but in truth I don’t know   Maybe when you’re dead you’re dead.  

Truth 12 I am incredibly lucky and I have an amazing life.  (What’s that you say, you’re lucky, your life is amazing, are you on crack!!, you lost your daughter how can you be lucky.!)  This is the biggest truth.  Yes, I lost my daughter, she was my string, I loved her more than can ever be expressed as there are not words.  I miss her and sometimes I have dark days. My network of friends and family is substantial if I need support it’s there.  My husband coping with his own grief, allows me to grieve the way I need to and does what he can to make sure I am ok.  When you say for better or worse, no one every says this is the worse that you will have to go through.  I have amazing children, who are smart, successful, creative  talented and I am so very proud of them.  I have stepchildren and children that are not technically my children. They are also considered my children and they are also smart, successful, creative and talented. I have truly beautiful granddaughters.  I have incredible friends who are always there for me no matter what. They are also there for me when I don’t want them to be, this is true friendship.    Along the way, the past year, I’ve lost some friends, gained some friends and cut some friends completely out of my life. Truth be told, they handed me the scissors and they weren’t really friends.   You find out who they are in a crisis, really quickly.   My life is amazing, I work, I study, I travel, I pursue creative interests, I have everything I need. I also have Netflix. ( who knew there was insurance for binge watching television, in case you get a sore neck from your uncomfortable position )  I would rather have had Briony for 23 years, 4 months and 10 days than to not have known the very special being that she was.  The impact she made in her short time never ceases to bring me joy.  People still contact me to tell me how she changed their lives. In the end, family, friends and a live worth living is what’s important in life, nothing else matters (yes I know) the rest is white noise.  ( yes it happened again)   Briony would be proud of all of us today  and such is the impact she made on everyone she met, she lives on and I see glimpses of her in everyone.   I miss the person I was on the 26 June 2016, but I am learning that the person I am becoming, that person who lives with grief as a companion is just as special and in time grief and I will comfortably exist.   Maybe I will see Briony again and maybe I won’t, no matter what, I’ll always be waiting in that place between sleep and awake. (Peter Pan)  

Fun fact, at a recent conference a presenter stated  most people in your work and social environments, expect you to be over with the grieving process in 3 months.   You are very lucky if you have people to support you at work on the days when you need a kind word.  I have those people, they know who they are.      

There is a positive in everything, you just have to find it    Grief is a lonely and often silent journey but there are many characters along the way.    Thank you to everyone who got me to the current destination.  Love and light to you all.