Oi, Grief, you stubborn little…

Two years ago today, we lost my sister in law, who was 39 at the time, after a long battle with cancer. It was a Thursday night and I had been working late. When I tiptoed into a quiet house where everyone was sleeping, I sensed immediately something had changed. He came down to tell me the news. I was calm. I was serene. Grief was a long way off.

We knew the end was very near. Seven years earlier, they found a brain tumour the size of a plum inside her brain. Miraculously, with the help of medicine and good luck and she survived unscathed from quite a significant surgery. Her life was never to be the same again. They told her quite openly the cancer would someday return. We never believed it though. She went on to open a business, travel the world and, even after consistent chemo and radiotheapy, fall pregnant and have a lovely little girl in 2011.

The cancer returned in 2013. There was something on the scan this time. The scans which they had done time in and time out; each time with an sharp intake on breath, to be held over an agonizing wait for the results. Each time there was a collective sigh of relief when the results came back negative.

For two years, my sister in law underwent treatment and bravely faced one battle after the next. She went on to lead what to the outside world appeared to be a normal and full life, continuing to travel and study for a masters degree- all while undergoing treatments. It seemed the treatments were stemming the cancer, though we’d always been told it, the cancer, would never not be there.  The health officials, in their eloquence, explained the cancer as a “weed” and the treatment was like “weed killer”- we just had to keep on top of it and not let it grow out of control. Easy enough.

The final months of deterioration went by quickly, while simultaneously, dragging heavily. Grief hit me very hard. She was younger than me, a mother, someone I was close to and she was dying. It could easily be any one of us. I knew It was a matter of chance it wasn’t. I was pregnant with my third child and the thought of leaving any of them in the world without a mother tore me apart. We couldn’t even take solace in a long life well lived. Here was a 39 year old woman who was soon to leave her husband and 4 year old daughter behind.

At the end, when hardly waking at all and taking no food or water, there were a few moments of lucidity. At these points, I felt both grateful and guilty and scared. We were given a glimpse into what our own deaths might be like. Where some people might find comfort in this, I found nothing but fear and guilt and a greater sense of grief mounting.

I feel that grief has been a constant in our lives since and still very present two years on. I find it hard to separate what is just normal stress, anger and unhappiness that often comes with life and what is a result of the long winded grieving period.  Grief seems to be my explanation for a lot- the fallback position when emotions are running high.  Still, I  am not sure.

So, who is this Grief? I’ve even taken to anthropomorphizing it/him, as if I can better define him, understand his intentions and behaviour, I can somehow deal with him more effectively.  Here’s some things I think that I  know:

  1. Grief is a stubborn and tenacious– Just when you think you’ve incapacitated him, he keeps comes back.
  2. Grief loves a the element of surprise to keep you on your toes- he does a great line in appearing at an unexpected time and place and unannounced.
  3. Grief is good mates with Depression– The two are often seen out and about hand in hand- messing shit up!
  4. Grief is duplicitous – He often disguises himself for Anger, Hopelessness,, Embarassment, Addiction or sometimes even, Understanding, Determination and Humanity.
  5. Grief is erratic. He seems to have no rhyme or reason. He doesn’t seem to have any plan- he just goes around… existing
  6. Grief is extroverted– He craves being out in the open and does not respond well to being hidden or swept away.
  7. Grief has an ego that likes to be stroked. He likes it when you talk about him, he’s often much more forgiving when you do.
  8. Grief, like an adopted pet, can  be a bit weird around children and often does not mix well with little ones. He can really go off on one when in the company of children- resulting in unwanted side effects like sudden crying, tantrums, food issues, bed-wetting, strange thoughts and admissions.
  9. Grief is like a chameleon or a like a politician on the campaign trail- he can be lots of different things to different people
  10. Grief is multifaceted– not only can he  wreak havoc on you physically and mentally, but also can cause you real issues in your social and spiritual life.
  11. Grief ages (!?), but perhaps not at the same rate. I still don’t know if he ever dies, though. I’ll get back to you on that

I ‘m sure you’ve all had to face grief in one way or another throughout the years. What was he like when you met him? Is he still hanging around?


Blog Bubbling Under

I’ve always wanted to be writer.  I had a penchant for passing notes (some of you will remember?!)  in elementary/primary school and, also as an only child (my brother came along when I was 12) I consumed books and my circle of friends increased significantly with my pals Harriet the Spy, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, to name a few.

I loved English, History and Creative Writing at my the inner city high school I attended. I was very lucky to go to a good school with dedicated teachers. This love of the written word and the encouragement from my peers and mentors continued with me into college and then onto University of Michigan, where I took a few journalism courses and creative writing courses, in hopes I could someday pursue career doing what I loved- writing.

I was sure that I wanted to be a writer/journalist.  When I was 19, I took a break from University and moved to Hamburg and got a job working at a large publishing house who produced a variety of titles- everything from tabloid fodder to “serious” political commentary magazines.  I had found my calling.  I wanted to be a  journalist like the people I observed.  These people were cool.  They were smart.  They talked and wrote about ideas, culture, politics, entertaining, fashion, gossip and much more- all with humour, conviction and eloquence.  I was lucky enough at that time to also write and edit for one of their titles, a magazine called Oskar’s, which was a bilingual magazine aimed at high school exchange students in Germany and the USA.  I remember writing about how to survive the year abroad, compiling a list of language “do’s and dont’s” and writing about curious trends from far away exotic lands: I am talking about silver shoes, green jeans (never not fashionable in Euroland) and techno music. Writing and becoming published made be feel accomplished.  I felt grown up and I felt I was making a connection, even if in a small way, with a larger group of people across the world through writing.

Fast forward 20+ years and, perhaps expectedly, I never did become a writer.  I do write a lot for work, but rarely do I get to write for pleasure.  I am now a 42 year-old American woman from West Michigan living in the UK.  I work in a vibrant, fast-moving and imperfect city and am lucky, but also often exasperated, to be working in the arts and culture sector.  I have three young children. I am Chair of a small gallery dedicated to supporting artists in the region and I try to stay involved in my community as much as possible.  This all means there is little time to do much else than the aforementioned.   There is little time to reflect or to write.

So, of course, I am starting a blog!  I am taking back some time for me and starting to write- something I once very much loved to do.

Who knows where it may take me?  This blog has been bubbling under for while.  Expect rants/raves, wonderment/exasperation, plaudits/complaints.  Expect philosophical questions coupled with recipes for food and disaster. Expect odes to music, booze, Netflix, books, podcasts and films. Expect tales of parenting highs and lows. Expect an exploration of love, friendship and marriage and relationship complexities. Expect discussion around our weight loss/confidence battles, depression/grief, agony/ecstasy, goals/achievements, boxers/brief, etc. etc.

I hereby announce Ma Fratelli- These Years.  This is my blog for me and I hope you like it, but I won’t be offended if you don’t.  The past 20+ years have gone by so quickly and I know the next 20 will too.  “These Years” are important and often they can pass by without note. Here’s my record. I’m writing again, if only for me.