We’ve become accustomed for the word ‘grief’ to be reserved for the feeling which follows when someone dies. But it’s not, it applies to any strong feeling of sadness or emptiness as a result of an event, affliction or loss.
To help with grief, people explore their feelings surrounding the event or loss, mourn it, process it and move on. There’s usually some type of closure, which doesn’t mean it’s forgotten about, it just means it isn’t in the foreground of everything else in life as much anymore. The process takes a varying amount of time, depending on the person, initial loss and circumstance.
So grief also applies to when your life changes because of illness. But it’s hard to process and mourn something which isn’t stable, changes every few weeks and is still being diagnosed. It’s a bit like being stuck in a traffic jam on the Golden Gate Bridge- you can see where you’ve come from, you’ve paid your toll fare, but you can’t get to the other side to carry on with the next bit of the journey. For me, it’s been a 2 year-long traffic jam so far.
Another problem is, the other lane of traffic is moving. So you can see people moving forward and how positive they feel, and, just like in a traffic jam, you get to points where your patience runs thin and you feel really irritated. Now, we all know how traffic jams work- one lane suddenly has a burst of speed, and then it stops and your lane starts to move, you catch up and overtake for a while. You know it’s going to happen at some point, but that doesn’t make you feel any less irritated while you’re sat in traffic. Sometimes you pacify yourself, remind yourself that you can’t do anything about it, stick on the radio and distract yourself. But sometimes that anger takes over, particularly if Justin Bieber comes on the radio a lot. It doesn’t mean it’s all bad, there might be a few good songs that come on the radio in a row which passes the time. You know you’re not going to feel better until your lane of traffic is moving again.
‘Why is there traffic? What possible reason is there?’ you find yourself thinking, looking for the broken down vehicle or the accident holding you up. You don’t know what it’s going to be until you can see it, so you’re speculating, and then once you see it, you feel marginally better and can deal with the situation a bit more. The obstacle slowing you down is a bit like medical tests, and, like being stuck in traffic, you might come across one on your journey or you might come across several. It feels a bit like there’s lots of accidents, pedestrians in the road and stranded vehicles holding me up, but I can’t see them yet because I don’t know what they are. And there’s always the chance that one ‘incident in the road’ (or test) will cause another accident and have a knock on effect- something else might show up on scans which has to be looked at first before the rest can happen.
If I could see the problems in the road and get to the other side of the bridge, I might feel that sense of relief you get after a particularly bad journey. I could get angry, have a rant, eat a massive pot of Ben &Jerry’s (you get the idea) and move on. But I’m still stuck in traffic which hasn’t moved for a while. And you can’t process grief while you’re still stuck in the middle of it.
Photo: My photo