Thursday, 26 May 2011

The truth

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I am acutely aware that when I sit down to write this each day, I want it to make some sense. I want it to be clear and clean on the page. I can't avoid the subject, but I don’t want to bang on and on and on about the melancholy facts of death. I must put, not exactly a brave face, but a presentable face on it. I do not want to alarm the horses.

I thought at first that it was because I never wanted this blog to be a glaring spotlight on my soul. You all have your own souls to be getting on with. I realise now that I am doing this here, because it is what I am mostly doing in life. It is not that I am not telling the truth, but I am not telling the whole truth.

Look at me, I am mostly saying, implicitly, I’m doing fine. Nothing to worry about. Nothing difficult or messy or troublesome. Look, Ma, no hands. It's not quite as simple as that, as it turns out.

I cried last night, suddenly, viscerally, for my dog. Sometimes the tears are for all of them: the father, the cousin, the friend, the canine. Sometimes they are for one of them alone. I can’t tell when which version will arrive. Here is what happens: the wave of sorrow crashes, and for a moment, I let it. I feel it roar and rage through me. I arch my back and open my mouth very wide, as if I can let whatever it is out into the room. Then, quite quickly, my brain kicks into gear. I start to think: all right, this is what happens. This is just to be expected; this too will pass.

Then I think a variety of muddled things. I think it is a process and that is fine; that is what I should be going through now. I can’t just tick the box and move onto the next thing. (Although there is a part of me that wants so very much to do that.)

Then I tell myself, oh come on, pull yourself together. No point in dwelling on things. You are not living in the Congo. You are not the two environmental activists who were shot to death in Brazil yesterday. You are not living on the sixteenth floor of a sink estate, with crack dealers in the stairwell. I think: all right, that’s enough of that.

You see, in the nutty little part of my mind where the wrong constructions live, I am not allowed to be sad. It’s a glorious pincer action. First of all, I am British, so I was born in a culture of stoicism and stiff upper lip and people who got through the war and never talked about it. As I went to three funerals in three weeks, I thought, at one point, pah, this is nothing. Imagine those women in 1942 who got three telegrams in a one week. They managed, although I am still not sure how they did.

Second part of the pincer action is that I am so damn privileged. I live in a Western democracy, where I may vote and walk alone in the street and drive a car and not live in fear of the secret police. I am a woman of independent means. I was sent to the best bloody schools; I went to one of the finest universities in the entire world. I am surrounded by so much natural beauty that it hurts my eyes. I do a job I adore. I have utter freedom. I have a family whom I love. I have the old and dear friends, with the laughter and memories of twenty-five years. I have the Nieces and the Pigeon and the godchildren and all the little great nephews and nieces, who are so funny and sweet and golden. I have my garden and the hill and the ability to type. I have All This. How dare I be sad?

Someone I know and love said to me, the day after my Dad died: Well, at least it is not like losing a child. She was empirically correct, although at the time it was not necessarily what I expected to hear. (We worked out later that she does not do Death.) But it haunts me, that remark. She was right. It’s not a five year old with an incurable disease. I have been in a season of loss, but these are not the grievous, tearing ruptures which make a life almost impossible to live. I don’t know what people do when it is a child, or, oh I don’t know, the unimaginable things like an entire family wiped out, by the earthquake in New Zealand, or the tsunami in Japan, or those tornados in America, or the rampaging armies of the Congo.

There is a school of the good life which says the most egregious thing you can do is compare yourself up. If you are always trying to keep up with the Armstrong-Joneses, you will never be happy, because there will always be someone with a bigger house, a better job, shinier hair. I do the opposite. I compare myself down. I have a haunting belief that this is a moral imperative. I must, must, must count my blessings, which are so manifest, because otherwise what are blessings for?

In some ways this makes sense, but in others it leads to a stuttering stall. The wild griefs of life must be honoured, or they end up twisted in the craw, and come out later in dark tangents. I am afraid that I am papering over the cracks. I tell myself that I must be bonny and blithe because of all the fine things I have.

I once compared sorrow to a long tunnel, with a very faint light at the end of it. I wrote that when I was perfectly happy, and it was easy to type the words on the page. The thing I do know, I said, is that the light does come again.

I do have light. I can see the trees. I can make a conversation. I can laugh at a joke, although I notice that the laugh comes out much louder than normal, like a forced shout, as if to say: here I am, I am still alive. It is not what those friends of mine who have suffered depression describe, where everything is black and there is no point in getting out of bed in the morning.

But I am amazingly fragile. My skin is thin as paper. I have a fear of people I do not know very, very well. My bones ache and crack. The mortality attacks sometimes come in serried ranks, yelling at me. They say: we all die, everyone you know and love will die, there is no reason or rhyme to it, there is no grand plan, you will end up going to funerals for the rest of your life. This is objectively true; it is the thing that Philip Larkin once marvelled did not make us all scream when we awoke each morning. At the same time, it is the thing on which we must not linger. Come on, I say to myself, when that human condition artillery marches towards me, concentrate on the little things. You still have the trees, and the old, old friends who make you laugh from your stomach, and the swallows who are teaching their fledglings to fly, and the music of Bob Dylan. You have the novels of Scott Fitzgerald and the poems of Yeats and your eyesight to read them. Come on, I say to myself, raising a smile.

I miss them all, the departed, but just now, just at this very moment, I miss my dog. (Maybe, I think, in my crazy mind, I should write out a nice, neat schedule for it: miss Dad on Monday, miss cousin on Tuesday, take a day off on Wednesday; miss dog on Thursday; then the weekend is for rest and recreation.) Even though I feel it is almost not permitted, what with all the human funerals I have been to,  I miss my darling old Duchess. I have sudden panics that I shall forget her. I want to write down all her quirks and funniness and other glorious attributes, so that I can fold her into my heart and mind, and keep her there. I want to be able to take down that book, the one about the dog who truly believed that she was the Duchess of Devonshire, and slowly read.


Camera still hors de combat, so here are some old pictures of the old girl. Wasn't she fine?

26 May 1

26 May 2

26 May 3


  1. Oh Tania... Any words we have must seem so tiny in the face of your recent losses. You may not know any of us well but you've been gracious enough to let us into your life, to introduce us to your family and those closest to you. As strange as it sounds to say about someone I have never met, I think of you often at the moment. I know I'm not alone. You've helped me with your words. I hope we can do the same for you.

  2. I don't think comparing grief is any more helpful than comparing anything else in life. Your friend might have been factually correct to have said at least it wasn't a child but why on earth should that make it any less painful or any easier to deal with? Especially when you've suffered so much loss in such a short space of time. Love is love. It doesn't matter whether it comes from child or canine and of course you're going to grieve about the loss of it.

  3. I think most people who blog/write in any personal capacity tell the truth but never the whole truth, and, well, sometimes nothing will do but letting your guard down and letting it out. Grief doesn't care whether you're privileged or disadvantaged, rich or poor. It's a process, yes, but not a linear or predictable one, and it'll probably come to the fore when you least expect it and it is not at all convenient. So please be kind to yourself, and I apologise for dispensing unsolicited advice. I hope you don't take it the wrong way (me, I hate preachy people). ;-)

    Take care, Tanja, and please don't be hard on yourself.

  4. WV is 'ozympen' which sounds like a support group for grieving friends. Your many readers are your ozympen right now, just when you need it. You have given us all many beautiful words, pictures and word pictures so know that we are all sending you love and support through the ether.
    Sadly, grief needs to run it's course and we all deal with it differently. It is best not to bottle it all up ( I've turned into my mother with the platitudes!) write it all down, shout at the hill, weep sad tears for all the departed but don't let it destroy you, don't let it corrode your heart. I am not suggesting for one second that it is because you are counting your blessings and appreciating your life and its many joys. The sadness is why you are having to do this.

  5. If you broke your leg, you wouldn’t tell yourself (and nor would anyone else) that it shouldn’t hurt because it wasn’t two legs – or three or four. Or that it shouldn’t hurt because your other leg is such a good leg. Pain is pain. This somehow sounded more profound in my head… but my point is that we (meaning people in general, I think) often seem to tell ourselves that our psychological pain, such as grief, is somehow less legitimate than the psychological pain of others because theirs is worse (losing a child is worse than losing a father, losing a dog isn’t real grief because a dog isn’t a person) which is something that we would never do about physical pain* – yes, breaking two legs is worse than breaking one, getting shot is (presumably) worse than a toothache, but all of them still bloody hurt, and I am totally comfortable with the fact that my toothache had me awake and crying loudly for a good chunk of Tuesday night**. I don’t think it shouldn’t have hurt me – and when it faded, I didn’t think it should be hurting more. And I really do think that it is healthier to try to view the pain of grief like that – if it hurts, it hurts. There is no should or shouldn’t. There is no legitimacy or illegitimacy of pain – it’s a category mistake to think there is. Pain is pain. Love is love.
    *except for childbirth, which has all sorts of associated bizarre directives about how one should and shouldn’t experience it - but the point still stands.
    **I have since had a root canal and am now feeling fine, if slightly astonished at just HOW MUCH a tooth can hurt. Thank goodness for modern dentistry!

  6. Um, obviously I'm not directly comparing toothache to bereavement. Just so we're clear... I do realise that toothache is minor in the scheme of things - at least now that it's over, anyway!

  7. How lovely you all are. Thank you so much. Of course I want to apologise for having had a little wail, but then I know that I do not need to say sorry to you dear readers because you are all so kind and understanding. Never think for a moment that I take that kindness for granted. It is a shaft of light each and every day. x

  8. Everyone has written such lovely and sensible things (in the kindest sense of sensible), that I have nothing left to add except that I am sending warm thoughts in your direction. I know this is a woolly thing to do but sometimes the feeling that we are 'wished well' can be (a little) comforting.

    And the idea of the people talking about heaven on the radio not believing in Richard Dawkins is still making me laugh. I personally try not to belive in him either but this is because I feel he is fundamentalist and such extremism should always be regarded with caution.

    Anyway - I digress - Warm thoughts!

  9. So, as is often the case with your posts, I read, then consider, then come back. Today is no exception. May I just say, what you describe is so relevant and important as it is amongst the things that I fear the most. I fear loosing those I love and in some small way, knowing that you are getting through it heartens me. Is that unutterably selfish? What I mean is, you are in it and we are observers whom you graciously choose to share with. With that sharing comes empathy and the knowledge that whilst we are all at time ravaged by grief, it will pass, life will go on. I find this a comfort. So I do worry about you and about the pigeon...I also feel sure it will all be OK in the end. Not sure what that means...but there it is. Lou x

  10. Oh Tania, this made me want to cry and then it made me smile because I do this all the time - count my blessings, and say "Well it could be worse, at least x hasn't happened...". And that is true, and right, and actually often very helpful.

    But just sometimes, what's more helpful is sitting down and just roaring.

    And yes, she was very fine indeed.

  11. What thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, on a thoughtful post. One thing that occurs to me is that losing a parent is part of the natural "order" of things, whereas losing a child is not. Perhaps that is what the person who made that comment meant. What I mean is that our parents are supposed to die before we do, like our grandparents did before them. It's a natural pattern, or order... while a child dying before its parents (and quite possibly its grandparents) is most certainly not.
    Grief is a very strange beast indeed - I have heard it said that it is a very private thing, which I have come to believe is true - weeping and wailing is allowed (is it, really?) in the first while, but people can only take so much of that (from the one who is grieving). After all, we have all lost a different person, so what we miss is unique to the relationship we had with them.

    Re toothache, Kate - it is excruciating, it is OK to make a fuss - I would say it is actually worse than childbirth (am now preparing to be shot down in flames!)

  12. The Duchess was indeed fine. Thank you for the beautiful pictures.
    As all the lovely comments say, grief is such a personal (I think lonely too) experience that there are no hard and fast rules. That in itself can be hard when you are trying to find a sense of normality.
    Thinking of you and sending you warm thoughts x

  13. I am with with Imogen in so far as priviledge and disadvantage really don't come into it, crying and grieving a lost loved one is an expression of being 'human' in its simplest form: I don't believe either that the deep pain and discomfort required in readjusting your emotional landscape, are in any way touched by social or logistic circumstances. In fact I think the opposite is true: grieving, like giving birth, is one of the most humbling experiences we have in life, a true leveller.
    Part of the pain on crying a loved one, is desperately wanting to hung on to all the memories and the impressions of them for ever. And yet, moving on, means having to come to terms with the risk of loosing some. Which may seems a contradiction of terms.
    I know this is a conflictual and unconfortable place to be: suspended mid-air between wanting to keep all that you have just lost as close to your heart as possible, because you really 'never want to let them go', and the need to slowly 'let go', to release them in order to be able to resume our life. It is scary, as if by doing so we were committing the ultimate disloyalty. When you have walked on this suspended rope, and fallen from it many times, you will one day and quite unconsciously, find yourself with new strengh and confidence, and then you will find that those memories will still be all still there just as vivid as you could wish.

    Be patient now, and kind to yourself.

    Yes, the Duchess was so truly handsome.

    I think of you and her each day.

  14. Tania: as so often recently, I am torn apart inside by what you are going through, and can only hope that the input of your little (or, actually, not so little) family in the Virtual World is of help to you.

    And my fellow readers have made some extraordinary wise comments, for which I personally thank them too. Kate, in particular: that is a superb thought about the number of legs... and Alex is so right: comparing anything in life is of no help whatsoever. It is what it is, whether it's pain, love, bitterness, happiness, grief or anything else.

    Roar as much as you like; we will still be here.

  15. You can't compare grief or sadness in any form. It is your grief and your sadness and no one should tell you otherwise.

    Beautiful photos. Thank you.

  16. As difficult as it can be when life goes all wonky on us, sharing opens up so many doors and hearts. You may not be telling the whole truth, but you ARE being extraordinarily honest, both with yourself and with your readers. And look at the kind of response your writing has elicited! You've touched on something very real and have been able to transmit that to us. I'm very grateful to have found you and this online community. Thank you so much for your sharing—all of it—and making this possible.

  17. Many, many years ago when I lived in South Africa my mother and father planted a hibiscus tree in the spot where our dog had been buried.
    It produced the most beautiful blooms in the garden. I like to think the old boy had something to do with it.
    Be patient and strong, the pain gradually becomes bittersweet memories.

  18. Dear Tania,

    LOSS IS LOSS. Period.
    Grieving is natural. Tears are healing. (Bottling it up is far, far more detrimental to your well-being, both physical and mental!)
    I think -- particularly in the so-called "west" -- way too much is made of finding "closure" (I really don't like that word!). Yes, life goes on (as does death, unfortunately. "Those not busy being born are busy dying," to quote Bob Dylan who just turned 70 -- OMG! -- the other day!).
    And anyone with safe shelter, good health, education, opportunities, love in their lives -- is luckier (and more "privileged") than most.
    None of that diminishes your loss(es). None of that determines how you choose to deal or not) with them.
    I'll climb off my soap box now.
    Just wanted to say, please stop being so hard on yourself (sorry, that's how it sounds to me).
    And (from someone who often spends way too much time thinking about -- and then re-thinking and re-re-thinking...every single thing)) get out of your head!

  19. I had to think about this overnight so as not to misspeak, but I wonder every day how YOU do it? The answer is simply that you do. Unless you are predisposed to despair, I think, you do it because it happens only one moment at a time, and quitting is not an option. You endure, you tatter and fray but you hold it together. Your "rely on the kindness of strangers" in addition to loving family and friends, and while you are working ever so hard to make it work, time passes and things change. No, they will never be precisely the same again, but they will be better than they are now.

    You would have been an admirable war wife, admirable as you are in these situations. I realize that being admirable is the last thing you want to think about or be, but that's the nature of "doing it." While you are and we're wondering how, you get through it, and we learn. Thanks for that.

  20. We absolutely MUST count our blessings, yes we must. We are very fortunate women, you and I, to live where and when we do and have all of the bounty we have in our lives. But we must also mourn our griefs, for they are valid, too.

    It's tough enough to lose one dear soul, whether animal or human, at a time. You have had multiple losses and so close together. You are entitled to grieve.

    This stranger on the internet said it, so it must be so. :)

  21. Oh Tania

    I am so sorry that you are having so many levels of grief overlaid upon each other. There is no right way or wrong way to get through (and I use that word deliberately). When others talk of 'getting over' the loss of a loved one I do wonder if they have ever managed.

    We all have different journey's through loss, be it of the gentle almost expected end of days of aged parents, friends, partners or pets; the tragic and sudden loss of a young sibling or child; or just too many. One can never be prepared, other than perhaps logistically. The heart simply doesn't work like that.

    I have found sudden unexplained sweeping grief months later to confound and concern; almost as much if not more than the days that are negotiated with no grief to punctuate.

    You cannot set the SatNav for the end of grieving - and the road to normality is far less sure than the 'Road Home'. Often you will be on unclassified roads, in uncharted territory - but always there will be love to guide - or send the rescue crew.

    And yes, there is indeed the poetry of Yeats.

    Forgive me if I have missed details of this already but I was wondering. Might you plant something special in remembrance?

    God bless you - and may you be gentle with yourself as those who love you are.

  22. I know I'm saying the same kind of thing as your other readers and I too am a little wary of sounding all knowing and condescending, but I don't think one can ever have too much love and sod it......I'll add my bit and hope that it helps. This is your life and you have lost some beings, including a dear companion, who happened to be a dog. They were a significant part of your life. You are completely and utterly (no counter argument) allowed to feel inconsolably sad. Even if your conscious, thinking brain can talk you out of it, I'm sure the 'whole' of you is feeling the empty space where only they sat. I can only imagine that it must feel bloody awful and visceral at times but it does get better.

  23. Chloreplast@yahoo.com28 May 2011 at 17:53

    Tania,when my parents died (11 years apart) I had no problem with grieving as I believe that when loved ones died, grieving is part of missing them. Obviously grieving is different for everyone but I also believe that losing a parent is losing part of ones past and that add to the grieving.
    As an intensive care nurse
    (newborn babies)I am regularly present when parents lose a baby and I have learned from these grieving parents that they have lost their future with their loved one. Of course I only see these parents for a short time after their loss (sadly it is a very busy unit and there are always more sick babies for admission) so I have no way of knowing how long or the manner of these parents grieving but I hope I never lose feeling for these parents.
    I agree with Alex's comments on 26th May that comparing grief is unhelpful as I feel it is unknown territory.
    About the loss of your much loved pet, well we have family rabbits, any number from 10/7/3/7 (not all related!) and when some of them died I miss them for weeks and cried regularly. We still have an 8 year old that was a 16th birthday present (from my mother) for an unconditionally loved grandchild. He has had surgery and now needs daily antibiotics for life.
    He is so active, responsive, loving and funny.He is also kind as he shares his food with his bunny neighbours. He has bread baked especially for him! to accompany his spinach, broccoli, cabbage,courgettes, carrots pears, plums, grapes, nectarines strawberries and seeds with a side dish of rabbit food. I know that he is old for a rabbit and living on borrowed time, but whilst he is active, alert, responsive and eating well, we will carry on with his treatment and will grieve when he is gone.

    I don't know if any of the above will help, but I wish you the best grieving process possible.

    MY e-mail address is the name of the 8 year old rabbit!

  24. I don't have anything to say that has not been said already but just wanted to add to the chorus of those who say they are thinking of you often at the moment as I am. Take care.


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