Posted by Tania Kindersley.
This morning, on my lovely walk, in this lovely place, with the sun gentle on my back, I felt sad. I had read something yesterday in Scientific American about pining being an acknowledged part of grief. I loved that. I thought pining was such an unscientific word, more of a nineteenth century word, a novelist’s or poet’s word. Today, it turned out, I seemed to be pining for my dog.
I felt the sadness moving through my body, like a living organism. It pushed up against my left shoulder blade; it ran down my right arm; it traced its way down my back. I felt a vague sense of reassurance that it was moving; the emotional state I dread most is that of being stuck. I reassured myself, as I always do, that this is right and to be expected and part of life.
I ate a last breakfast with the dear visiting relatives, who are leaving, walked with the Man in the Hat and his dog, who made me laugh, went home, did some work, read a bit of a book, attempted unsuccessfully to stake up one of my poor leaning rowan trees, talked to the window cleaners, who must be the nicest, most cheerful men in Scotland, and gazed for a while at the forty-seven different shades of green in my garden.
Then I went inside and for the first time typed the word grief into the Google.
Even though I have been going on about wanting a manual, I have not looked anything up before now. I think I thought I could write my own manual. Of course I know about this, I have spent my life studying the human condition, dammit. Also, I have an odd reluctance to ask for direct help. I like working things out on my own.
I read many interesting things. I read about the revisiting of the famous Kubler-Ross scale, and how people now think it is wrong. I read about Freud’s idea of sorrow. I read about new research which shows the startling resilience of humans. (I could have told them that.) I read that six months is about the accepted time; it is after that that the grief settles. The loss does not go away, but the acute sorrow softens. I’m not sure how anyone came to this conclusion; it appeared to come from a study of widows. I cannot tell whether it is true or not, although I like the idea of six months. It feels about right for me.
Then I found this, on the website of the dear old BBC, and all the bells went off:
Physical symptoms may include: hollowness in the stomach, over-sensitivity to noise, tightness in the chest or throat, weakness in muscles, lack of energy, a dry mouth, fatigue and breathlessness.
Feelings may include: sadness, anger, guilt, self-reproach, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, shock, emancipation, relief, numbness and yearning for the dead person.
Behavioural changes may include: insomnia and sleep interruption, appetite disturbances, absent-minded behaviour, social withdrawal, dreams of the deceased, avoiding reminders of the deceased, sighing, restless overactivity, crying, visiting places or treasuring objects that are reminders of the lost loved one.
Thoughts may include: disbelief, confusion, preoccupation with the deceased, a sense of presence of the deceased, auditory and visual hallucinations.
I have almost all the physical symptoms. I have the hollowness, and tiredness, and tightness in the throat. My startle reflex is off the scale.
Of the list of feelings, I have about half. I do not have loneliness, anxiety, or emancipation. I have the very opposite of numbness; I am keenly alive to the physical sense of the world. I feel the wind on my face, the warmth of the sun, the solidity of the earth more than I ever did. I am acutely alive to the beauty of the trees and the garden and the colour green. I hear the birdsong as if someone put it into stereo. I have had anger, but that has passed. I have also had self-reproach: why did I not see my old dad more? Did I look after my dear dog well enough? There was terrible shock at the beginning, which seemed odd, since both Dad and Duchess were old, and coming to their time. I am left now with the big two: sadness, and yearning.
Of the behavioural changes, I have a few. My sleep patterns are disturbed. Last night I actually slept with the light on, because I was suddenly afraid of the dark. My appetite is erratic. I am hysterically absent-minded, but then I am always quite absent-minded. I have moments of restless overactivity: sudden mad weeding sessions, occasional relentless cleaning, one day, a vain attempt to reorganise my entire computer. There is a degree of social withdrawal, in that I only want to be with my family, just now. Crying, obviously. My favourite in that list is sighing, which both The Pigeon and I do, sometimes in unison. It sounds like something from a Victorian penny novel, but that is what we do. I look at the Pidge, as she makes her little murmuring sighs, and I know she is missing her sister, and I say, out loud, as if she could speak English and would understand: Yes, I miss her too.
But here is the really interesting thing, to me at least. I do not have any of those listed thoughts, in the final paragraph. There was a bit of disbelief, but none of the others. My thoughts are all about the fleeting nature of life, the importance of love, the amazing profundity of kindness, the importance of natural beauty, the desire for authenticity. I think about how it is that we humans learn to face mortality. I think about stoicism. I think about the crucial importance of the small things, something I always dwelt on, but now find almost an obsession. I think about friendship, and the ones who get us through. I think about the comfort of cooking. I think about all the people in the world who know only too well about sorrow. I think about why it is that I come here and write all this down.
I am not sure I have the answer to that last question. All I do know is that I am keenly grateful that you continue to come here to read. Someone once said that we all need witnesses to our lives. Perhaps that is one of the things that this new medium does. It gives us witnesses. And jokes and unexpected information and kindness and sharing with the group, obviously. But maybe the witnessing thing is what it is really for.
Pictures today are of the garden.
Another new tree. This one is a cotinus, and I love it:
The peony has reached its blowsy stage. There is an interesting thing about photographing peonies, and roses too, and, to a lesser extent, the poppies. The colour saturation appears to be too much for the camera, so they always come out looking rather strange and artificial. It does not matter what adjustments I make with my excellent Picasa software - ironically trying to make the flowers look more natural than they have come out by using entirely unnatural means - it always appears slightly odd. I don't altogether mind this effect, but I do wonder why it happens. No doubt those of you who understand about cameras and light will know:
I sometimes think I love my brave little salix almost more than any other plant in the garden. Pictures do not do it full justice. In life, it has a delicacy of texture, its slender leaves the colour of verdigris, its elegant bark speckled with tiny white marks, as if some master craftsman has painted them on, that astonishes me each time I look at it:
I love the way the lavender leans, like a languid lady in a Lartigue portrait:
And how its colour changes as the light moves:
It looks well with the sage:
An amazing thing has happened to my favourite apple tree since the new compost arrived and I watered it in. These branches usually droop, in the curving manner of a willow. Today they are standing up straight like soldiers on parade:
The white lilac is exhibiting a similar effect:
The astrantias go on looking marvellous, day after miraculous day:
The colours of the salix and the new acer are a match made in heaven:
My dad's little tree is looking happy:
The poppy is so bonkers that I can hardly believe such an extraordinary thing exists in nature:
Oh, the face on that Pigeon:
She looks so wistful in these photographs, and she is wistful. However, she has started wagging her tail again when we go for a walk, and she will jump up and down in excitement when I throw her a stick, and there is a spring in her step when I take her to see the Mother and the dear Stepfather, whom she adores. Then, in the evening, when we are sitting on the sofa, she gazes at me and does her little sighing noise, her yearning sound. We are at very similar stages, like that. I can wag my tail, but I may also sigh.
The hill, very blue today:
The funny thing is that I thought I had no heart for writing today. I was going to put up some pictures and be done with it. In the end, I have given you an awfully long post. I know that I do not have to apologise for that, but all the same, I do, just a little bit. I feel that this is a medium for pith, even though I do not manage that every day.