The day after my dad died, having just accompanied his body to the funeral home, I went to the gym. I turned up, annihilated a HIIT workout, threw in some core work, and stretched. Whilst I do love to preach the importance of prioritising your workouts, to put it lightly this behaviour could be seen as insensitive and, quite frankly, insane. But we had spent 9 days moving heaven and earth to make him comfortable. 8 nights on the floor at his feet. I needed to move, and as much as it felt like it, I did not have ‘death in the family’ tattooed on my forehead. No one would ever know.
All was going well at the gym, I was feeling like a very inconspicuous fatherless daughter until, in the midst of a hamstring stretch, I found myself face to face with David, a semi-retiree I had struck up one of those workout friendships with where you discuss what exercises you are doing that day, and the weather. David, being the kind and considerate man that he is, with all the earnestness and interest of someone who no longer works a full-time job, had the misfortune of asking me how my fathers latest procedure had gone. It was at that moment I found myself having to confess that actually, my Dad wasn’t doing quite as well as we had hoped, given that he had departed the earthly plane yesterday. David, who had just witnessed me squat jumping and burpee-ing away like a maniac a mere 45 minutes after sending my fathers body away in a hearse, has never been able to meet my gaze again. I am almost certain that he still looks at me sideways as a Patrick Bateman-esque character, that might enjoy inflicting pain on animals (I definitely don’t).
Knowing you have experienced a loss can make individuals forget how to use their words or gestures. Neighbours may avoid you in the driveway and start collecting their mail in the dead of night. People may treat you as though you have developed some form incredibly contagious leprosy. Some will disappear when you need them the most, while others will show up in the most incredible, possibly wine bearing way. Being around death is a reminder of our own mortality which makes many people about as comfortable as a nun at a ping pong show. When dealing with someone who is in the belly of the grief-beast, take some comfort in the fact that it is highly unlikely anything you say will be worse than the loss that has occurred. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Never worry about saying or doing something cliché. I still remember the flowers and unexpected messages from people who let me know they were thinking of me.
Anniversaries and birthdays might be more difficult than you thought. As someone who doesn’t place a huge amount of sentiment into certain days of the year, I spent the first birthday after my fathers passing in a hostel in Singapore. Hours of uncontrollable sobbing can be quite uncomfortable in a backpacking situation, least of all for me. I checked in to a hotel and cried in a bathtub with a view. I now know not to spend these significant days in a communal sleeping space, and to instead spend them reflecting and indulging in things that person loved. If you choose to acknowledge these days, don’t let anyone make you feel like they do not matter. That you are basking in your grief or prolonging your suffering. On the 25th of December the entire Western world stops to celebrate the birth of a guy that couldn’t get a bed at an inn. You can observe your own holy days.
Grief doesn’t come conveniently pre-packaged in 5 neat stages. Grief is not linear or binary. You can feel happy, horny, guilty, hungry or desperately in need of a good workout and still have suffered an earth shattering, life changing loss. Death isn’t like the movies. It’s not always cinematic and there won’t necessarily be a ‘moment’. It may not be peaceful. Being in the front row and becoming aware of the fragility of your own existence is much like encountering a blocked nose or a sore throat, having never truly appreciated breathing easily or swallowing successfully until you could no longer. However, unlike ear, nose and throat issues, this awareness of your own undetermined expiration date can, eventually, make life better. You might breathe deeper, laugh harder, learn to appreciate a breeze or even rain hitting your skin. I would say you could even learn to love burpees, but who am I kidding. Burpees are still burpees.