Monthly Archives: April 2014

Love, Life and Loss: How to help the bereaved

It’s a month since Nicky died and I am writing at the kitchen table, a(nother) glass in hand. Time and distance heals us slowly. Time because it is slowing motion and softening the blows from the wicked spectre of grief who still cohabits, and distance because it gives a sense of how death and life and death and life exist within the great universe we inhabit.

There’s anger here, so again bear with me. We’ll all deal with death and loss, it will come to us all, and it has come to me too soon. If you love at all (and who amongst our friends does not?) you will face the immense metaphysical catastrophe of the end of love, the wilderness of days without laughter, the acres of unwarmed bed, the dismembered imagined future and the loneliness of a familiar celebration unshared.

Given the experience of the last few weeks, and the fact that so many people affected by this have said to me they felt il equipped to deal with it. I am writing this to help those who will experience their own or witness another’s grief. It’s also a means of expressing my eternal thanks, appreciation and love to those who have supported me and the girls. I have been overwhelmed at times by the response to this very personal tragedy. I want to recognise and record a few of those acts of kindness here, in part to acknowledge the acts themselves (too often I’ve been too sad, bad or drunk to do so at the time) and in part to help others when future malignancies prevail and love is lost.

‘A lover’s guide to Dealing with Bereavement’ (or How to help when someone you know is Lost on a Sea of Grief)

First. Ask yourself “Who am I to this person?, What am I to them?” It is of course about THEM. It is not about you, so do not presume to think that what they are to you is reciprocated. Do ask them how they are, and if you do be prepared for any answer. In grief social niceties or familial politics cannot be maintained. You understand I’m sure.

Don’t be Phoney. Phoney is an excellent motif. Read Salinger. But whatever, don’t go there. A grieving man is an emotional Samson. If you are not true it will be obvious and as obnoxious to the bereaved as a charlatan salesman peddling emotional elixirs. If you are acting in your own interests, consciously or not (pay deep regard to self awareness here) keep well away. If a tragedy is unfolding don’t try to write yourself into the script, if you are a player you are a player and the compulsion will be to act, not to perform.

If action is required ask yourself three further questions:

“What do I know of love?”
“What do i know of life?”
“What do I know of loss?”

Choose one or two, all three and you’re likely to be phoney at one at least.

If your interest is in LOVE then do as these folk have done. Seize the season and plant flowers where the bereaved can see them. Write them the words to a favourite song or poem. Make confetti from the funeral flowers for a daughter’s future wedding. Make jewels from finger prints and send pictures illustrating the love lost in all its once rude health. Do not shy away from showing your own love and care for one another, it serves to reinforce the value and importance of love and why it is that the pain endured is so hard to bear when any love is gone. Talk to the bereaved about the love they had, don’t be scared of the answers, be brave. Speak freely of love and why the dead were loved, tell the bereaved what their lover did, said, believed or cared for that made you love them. Make a book of memories, share a photo album, get the Archer’s cast to sign a card (or similar!). Collect some cash and buy some junior tennis kit to keep that person’s love alive in his or her children. Tell the bereaved about their loved one and do not be scared of tears, they cleanse.

If your interest is in LIFE, bake a cake. Lemon Drizzle, what a winner. Brownies, Simnel, Coffee and walnut, surely the prince of cakes, really, any cake will do. It’s not for nothing that Britain bakes. Cake fuels the bereaved through late night vigils, unexpected guests, puddingless dinners and more besides. If you can’t bake be practical. Do the washing, sweep the floor, tidy the garden, organise Ocado. Whatever is missing and needs to be done just do it. If you have a special skill or passion then let them know. I, for example, have learned that some folk actually love to organise filing, kitchen cupboards, odd sock draws and even to sort the useless felt tips from the working ones. Bring and stack some logs, take the kids to school, tidy the car. If you are a leader organise a food rota for meal times and encourage others to follow, and then cook a meal. You might offer to take the kids away but don’t expect them to turn up or accept. The bereaved cling together at night like wounded animals, they need the warmth of the familiar. Always remember life for the bereaved is not like your life, it is not practical and day to day, it is a life lived on eggshells. Life for the bereaved is brittle and scared because at any moment they might sink to the bottom of the bleak North Sea of sadness, so keep them afloat with things that serve the currents of their life, not that go with the flow of yours. If your part is not to bake or be practical then set up or support a little charitable donation to keep their life alive. And finally do not be disappointed if you do not receive thanks, for the chances are they haven’t even noticed you have done it, and that is the greatest of gifts.

Finally, if your interest is in LOSS be blessed for you are the heralds of the kingdom that cometh. Let the bereaved know of your pain and of your suffering. If they want or need to hear it they will, if not, no matter. Share your story. Tell them of how you as a ten year old rolled like Mohammed Ali with the nerve shattering punches of grief. Tell them how the black dog can run and fight and bite and snarl and bark but ultimately has no stamina and will tire. Tell them he will tire, again and again, tell them. They need to know. Each story reinforces the other, each story of recovery is another seed sown in the no mans land that will one day be a meadow in which to run and roll and stare at the sky. There are so many beautiful stories of life and love that remain untold until loss allows us to tell them, and that is so very sad. Help the bereaved to understand the value or otherwise of memorials, shrines, trees and benches. Recommend a therapist, advise on anti depressants ….help them, listen to them, love them.

This is all said with an open heart. I am a severed man, the best part of me macheted away. My guts are in open view, the wound is massive, raw and brutally exposed and exposing. We miss her terribly. Maybe I’ll find the strength to write about that soon.

I cant begin to explain how valuable the various communities that Nicky was and I am a part of have been, I am deeply grateful. Whilst I feel like I am making a few tentative steps towards recovery I am aware that there are many hands outstretched beneath me ready to catch me if and when I fall.

Lastly, Nicky’s charitable cause for women’s education in India has received £4k, an amazing amount of money that will change lives in rural Bengal. Thank you for all those who have contributed.

yours in love, life, loss and now learning