Grief – twice removed

I woke up this morning just before dawn broke.

My partner was moving about in the bed, then he reached for me and told me that our friend had died in the night. Barely awake myself and not sure if my partner was awake, I asked him how he knew. He told me he had got a text.

We lay in bed in silence for a long time. Dawn broke.

I was noticing all the thoughts that were coming to me. About our friend. About my partner. About their friendship. About death. Wanting to know more. To understand. Wanting to know what was going to happen next. Wondering what my partner was feeling and thinking.

It was my partner’s friend more than mine. They have known each other for nearly 17 years. The memories that came to me were more stories my partner had told me than my own memories.

But I remembered our friend being kind to me when I first moved to England and I felt unsettled and was looking for connection with my newly adopted community. He was happy to meet up with me and talk about things we had in common. Meeting up with him gave me hope that my adopted community might be willing to adopt me.

He was part of my sense of community.

Now there is a hole in my world where he should be.

As I lay in bed this morning, I realised that the world lives inside me. It’s not the world – as in the real outside world – but it’s not my world either – as in a world I have conjured up.

It’s like everything I know about the world is alive inside me – sights, smells, sounds, people, stories. A mosaic or tapestry of experience and knowledge pieced together inside me to make a whole and it is playing out every day.

All the people I know. Every day I hope they are going about their day in the way my knowledge and experience of them tell me is most likely. Every day I get a new piece of the mosaic, new information and the tapestry changes a bit. People move in slightly different ways, new patterns occur, but still there is a sense of knowing how the world is moving. A world of relationships and communities.

It is not a conscious world; I am not constantly aware of this world or watching it. Some parts of it are further away than others. And they move about – the different parts of the tapestry. Sometimes some are closer to my awareness and then they move away again. Into the background. But always there. People. Living. Lives.

The memories that came to me that were my partner’s stories. They weren’t my experiences to remember but they contribute to my experience of our friend. To the space our friend used to take up in the world outside as well as this inner version of the world.

Everything I know about him through my own experience or through stories has become part of my inner world tapestry. I know the house where our friend lived, the area, I know where his allotment was, I know what kind of things he most likely would be doing. I liked knowing he was there, being himself, doing stuff.

And now there is grief.

Not quite my grief. The grief is slightly removed. There is a distance there.

But I do feel part of the communal grief.

My sense of community has grown while living where we live. The local community takes up a whole world of its own within my inner version of the world. People I am aware of, acquainted with, friendly with and friends with. Going about their lives.

Our friend is the second person to die recently who were significant within my version of the local community. The chiropractor who had been helping me with my back for 3 years died suddenly in January and it felt like quite a communal shock. I hadn’t seen har for over a year when she died and her death felt unreal and too real. I struggled to place myself and my emotions about her passing and had hoped to go the funeral service to help me process and to be with other people in our community. Unfortunately I ended up ill and couldn’t go.

These two deaths have brought my relationship with loss and grief into awareness.

I am 37 and I have not yet lost someone close to me. But people close to me have lost people important to them and I have felt the world shift for them and therefore for me. Sometimes it’s been slow. Pieces of tapestry stretched and eventually dropping away. Sometimes it has been sudden. One day there is a hole in the world.

When I was 13 my great grandmother died. I think she was 93 years old. An impressive woman – like most women in my family. I remember my mum telling me in the hallway in the house we lived in at the time. And I remember hugging my mum thinking she would be upset. I wasn’t sure what I myself was feeling. I only saw my great grandmother once a year and I really liked her. I didn’t know if I’d lost enough to grieve. I didn’t know what to expect from myself. I didn’t know what impact it was supposed to have on me.

I could feel that something was lost. A connection. Something communal had shifted.

For me personally, what was lost was happy anticipation. A happy anticipation every year to sit in my grandmother’s living room with her and look out at the people walking past while my she would be knitting. And going to Tivoli or Bakken with her and my aunt and uncle. Speaking to her on the phone once in a while. Watching her and my mum being stubborn about money. My grandmother offering my mum money and my mum refusing it. Putting it back. Sometimes on the sly.

Little things it seemed to me. I didn’t know if this was enough to feel strong emotions like I thought grief would entail. I thought the other people in my family would have lost so much more than me. More memories. More moments not going to be lived. More happy anticipation not to be felt.

I wasn’t sure it was my grief to feel.

Witnessing people losing people. Grief – removed. Sometimes twice removed. Sometimes three times removed. A distance there. Close but not quite close enough for the grief to be mine.

People disappearing from the golden web of connections around me. Holes appearing. Not a hole in the ground next to me. Not a hole in my heart. But just over there. Next to the person next to me.

And the grief I allow myself to feel is for the people closer to the hole than me. For the shift in reality.

I do allow myself to feel lost for a while. Death is a brutal shift in the patterns in the world that lives inside me. It’s not just a change. Somethings are never going to happen again. Ever. The things this person did. The encounters and conversations that happen because this person was alive. The world inside me becomes less predictable for a while. The tapestry needs reworking.

Will I always think that there is someone more entitled to the grief than me? And do I want it that way?

I know that by moving countries I have removed myself from the daily lives of people close to me. Family and friends. My mother.

I had many reasons to move and I cannot imagine moving back. But I can’t help hearing the little voice that wonders to what extent parts of me were looking for that removal to protect myself from grief? Keeping myself at a safe distance. Though I know that I was good at keeping a distance before I moved. Even when I lived in the same town as my friends and family. But my relationships with friends and family were getting older, more established, more real, enduring and important to me. I wanted that. And it scared me.

I miss people every day. I miss being a bigger part of their lives than I am now.

Living in another country feels bittersweet. I know the people I love are out there. Living. Being. Doing. With people close to them. People who will be more affected than me when death comes.

I wonder when it’ll be close enough for me to believe it is my grief to feel. I wonder what the grief will be like. And I feel terrified.

Will I be able to live through grief when it comes?

Will there be a time when I cannot put anyone between me and the person gone. When I won’t be able to create a buffer zone? When I cannot pretend to be slightly removed…? If my partner dies before me will I pretend that his children, his brother and other blood relatives are more entitled to the grief than me? Or will I be brave and grab some grief for myself?

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