Grief’s Slow Progress – 22 March 2015

I have written about grief and loss, but much of this was related to partner loss; my researches were very practical, after my first wife’s passing over 13 years ago. The loss of my father, now almost 30 years ago, has also inspired reflections. But, over the last two years, I have been experiencing the slow and gradual loss of my mother, with a form of grief that has accompanied this process of decline. This grief is closely related to the decline, but its development has not mirrored it.

As a teenager, and even before, I had the dread of the loss of my mother, fearing both the world without her, and the grim, never acceptable, notion that her life would one day end. I recall reading D H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, and not seeing it as, presumably, Lawrence intended. In that novel, Lawrence depicted a young man dominated and limited by his mother, and, when she dies, an end hastened by him, he is left freed. I didn’t read it like that; I felt the dreadful loss of someone so important, the son’s apparent desperation when she reveals she has incurable cancer, and the emptiness, the annihilation of any future, when she does die. I still find it hard to read it in any other way, and can only use intellect and reason to counter this reading. Lawrence’s stark description, that at the end the son is left with nothing but “the drift towards death”, and the vision of him walking towards the town, alone, still seems to dominate. I read this first almost 50 years ago, but I lived with the dread, often modest, fleeting but well-hidden, ever since.

The decline began about two years ago; up until then Mum was getting frailer, but still coping. I could call round to her house and talk in her kitchen, often recording long scattered reminiscences about her past. Now she lives in a nursing home, with little independence, and the memories are much more scattered. I dismantled that kitchen table, that my father acquired about 1964 when he moved into the house, and saw it in the back of a car today; it is going to another home, and maybe will feature more conversations, and I am glad about this.

The house has been slowly – far too slowly – emptied, and has been sold, so that after next Friday I will have no access to a place in which I lived from summer 1964 to December 1979, and have thus known for 50 years. There is little left to visit, and she is, of course, not there, and has seen it for the last time. But it will be odd to go past, and not enter the gate to see if she is in.

The process of dismantling the house has been very difficult, as it so often is. At least Mum has been around to comment on particular items, objects that in many cases seem to have little meaning to her. So I have moved items that have some meaning, or use, to me. That feels like an odd mixture of the sort of recovery process that may come after a loss, and the experience of that gradual loss itself.

Grief and prospective bereavement and grief is riddled, in my experience, with uncertainty and ambiguity. I have suffered one or two bereavements to which I have felt unable to respond, or to comprehend response. Simply, I have not known how I should feel, or indeed how I do feel. A stable regret seems to be the settled state, not a condition in which the regret has gone, or been extinguished by some organised process of ridding and divestment.

So, there is great uncertainty about this present loss, which has partly happened, is partly under way, and yet with more to come. I am trying to salvage what I can, of my mother’s present and future life, to help to provide some sort of pleasure and positive experience. The home in which she lives is, despite all its rhetoric, a place that is depersonalised; and if she does not seem to mind this, I do. The salvage is both for her and for me. I will, at some point, start to write about earlier, more positive experiences, ones for which I knew, at the time, that I would one day look back. But that must lie in the future.

I have written, on a separate site, about my late father. But the house that has been vacated, and all but sold, is the one that was, in the clichéd phrase, his pride and joy, and it was where he died, in the front driveway. To lose contact with the house is to lose yet another link with him. Sadly, the clearing and sorting process proved to yield very little about his life.

I will write further about this slow, incremental, process of steady loss and feelings or detachment and engagement. This must do for now.

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