When Grief Becomes Too Great, I Switch On The Light

When Grief Becomes Too Great, I Switch On The Light

Grief’s a funny thing.  I know it’s not something normally associated with comedy, although I do remember once bursting out laughing when I was told that one of my schoolfriends had died.  Now, death isn’t very funny, particularly if you’re the one that’s died.  I know that now as an adult, but when you’re eight and you’re faced with the prospect that Claudia isn’t coming into school again because she’s gone and done something called dying and she’s gone forever; and you don’t understand that forever means, well, forever, you laugh to hide your ignorance.

Looking back, as that term progressed at my rather expensive prep school that hadn’t actually prepared any of us in Form 1 Alpha for the death of a classmate, we were all slightly suspicious that Claudia wasn’t coming back when she missed the end of term disco, an event that allowed all the posh girls (us) to run amok with all the posh boys at the boy’s prep school at the other end of the field.  I remember Poppy was actually quite pleased because it meant that she could get off with Piers (who was ten and quite advanced for his age) without competition from Claudia, who had been a child model before her untimely disappearance.

So, yes, grief is a funny thing, a natural reaction to loss that manifests itself in a variety of ways whch most of us recognise at some point in our lives because we all experience it – loss – whether it is loss due to bereavement, or loss of a job, a loved one through a break up.  We all go through it and we sometimes laugh to create a defence to our deeper, innermost feelings – those ‘classic’ stages of grief which we are supposed to experience and which are considered acceptable reactions to something that we once had, but have no longer.

There are five stages of grief, apparently.  It begins with denial, working up to anger, then moves into bargaining, which gives way to depression which finally dulls into acceptance.  It’s this acceptance thing that worries me, because I don’t think I’ve ever accepted the fact that my daughter died when she was six months old.  I can remember the denial bit.  I kept it up for years, buying birthday presents, wrapping paper, cards which will remain unopened for eternity.  I can trace my dead daughters’ progress through school by the unworn school uniforms purchased each year and which I found in the loft recently; a sad timeline of a mothers’ grief. I finally stopped shopping in Tammy Girl and Top Shop when my youngest son moved into sixth form, because I didn’t need to buy uniforms any longer.

I donated all ‘her’ clothes to charity shops after discovering them in the loft, and it made me wonder had I finally reached the end of my grieving process?  I’ve accepted that she is dead; I’ve bargained with a God whom I no longer believe in; I’ve been depressed – who wouldn’t be after walking into a dark, semi lit nursery on a cold winter morning to hear not the snuffling, impatient sounds of a hungry baby waking up, but the still silence of death.  I’m supposed to be okay now. I’m a fully functioning, rational adult who just happens to have found her six month old daughter dead in her cot. No problem! Only it is.

Who writes this stuff about ACCEPTING?  You accept a compliment. You accept a pay rise.  You do not accept the death of a loved one.  You do not accept that one day they were alive and the next they were not.  Let me tell everyone right now – acceptance does not come with the death of a child, so the grieving process lasts the lifetime they never had.  There is no resolution, and that’s why I am afraid of the dark, and sleep with the light on.

I’ve been an insomniac ever since Lucy died. Because she died in her sleep, I had no control over her death – there were no medications to administer that may have prevented her quiet departure from the short life she was allocated; I could not tap her tiny chest and deliver CPR to a baby heart that simply stopped beating, tired already of living.  She simply went to sleep and never woke up.  So, apart from the dreadful recurring nightmare I suffer from when the burden of being awake does overwhelm me, when in sleep I recall that indescribable moment of leaning into her cot and seeing not a pink, wriggling baby but a tiny pale form, lips and fingers tinged with a blue unearthly pallor, stilled by death – apart from that nightmare, I fear sleeping because I fear more loss.  Every night before that moment which is supposed to liberate me from conscience into sleepy oblivion, to drift peacefully into pleasant dreams, my symptoms resemble anxiety.  I sit in bed with sweating palms, with a heart which jumps around my chest as if it is going to burst through my rib cage. I can’t breathe, I can’t see. I feel faint.  Acceptance? No. Unaddressed anxiety? Yes, maybe.

It’s hard being bereaved.  Not only have you lost a loved one, but you are supposed to be categorised, pigeon holed into certain behavioural patterns which let everyone know you’re ‘better’. Baby just died? Oh, you’ll be angry.  Six months on and still not over it?  Oh, you’re in denial. You need to move onto acceptance.  No, I do not.  I will never accept losing my child, but I would like my anxiety to be addressed.  Perhaps if this stage of my grief had been spotted and acknowledged all those years ago, I might be able to sleep soundly, with the lights off.

Claire Bidwell – Smith wrote an excellent article about changing the five stages of grief (see slate.com – it’s worth a read).  She makes the excellent point of if you’ve already lost a loved one, what is there to bargain for? I spent years in denial; years bargaining with God? With myself? Years paying the electricity company over the odds for all the nights I’ve spent with my bedside light on, with the door open and a chink of light from the landing burning its wattage; and when I still lived on the island of Anglesey, where my daughter died, I kept her nursery light blazing brightly for years after her death.  I look back now and see that in doing that I was denying that dreadful early morning discovery when the dark had taken my daughters’ life, and it’s only now that I realise it was anxiety, not grief that made me switch on the light that I still haven’t found the courage, or the peace of mind to switch off.


© Amy J Steinberg 2018

3 thoughts on “When Grief Becomes Too Great, I Switch On The Light

  1. Oh my God. I am crying as I write this. I can’t even consider the grief that you are going through. I say that because you are grieving and will do for the rest of your life.
    You should not have to accept that it has happened as though it is some thing that you can put to one side and move on.
    When I lost my little sister when I was just in my teens and she was not even 8. A teacher that I hardly spoke to and had never thought me while I was at school said something that stayed with me it was.
    ” Grieving for anyone you love will always be with you, you will never get over it and nor should you. It’s hard and will always be so. You should never accept it but don’t let it eat you. You are still alive and they will always be with you. There will be days that you will be great but there will be days you are not. Some times it will hit you like a slap in the face which will hurt. But then others when it’s a gentle nudge they don’t hurt but they trigger the same thoughts. I miss them, or what would they think of this, or they would have loved this. It is not easy and you will never get over it just try and learn to live with it. ”
    And that’s all you can do is try to live with it the best as you can each day at a time even each minute at a time on some days. No one should tell you what’s right or wrong in how you you feel only you can do that.
    But you do have to think of the others around you that care for you. Family and friends. We all have our own way of dealing with things and sometimes we mean well in what we do or say it just comes out or across wrong.
    Sometimes a smile is enough to help us rather than words. So with all that I have just said I will leave you with a smile. And hope that in the bad times a smile is enough to help you feel you are not on your own and there are people who care. ☺ xx

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience and loss with me. The grief of loss is an awful thing and I haven’t yet found a way that is can stop hurting. I don’t know if I ever will. I still sleep with the light on and I still wake up screaming in the middle of the night sometimes. I can say that in some ways, I have accepted that she has gone forever in a tangible way – I cannot hug her, or hold her and she will never call me ‘Mum’ but the mind keeps replaying what the heart can’t delete. I’m so sorry for your loss but I am grateful for your ability to smile x

  2. I think I can say it will never stop hurting. It may hurt less often or not so much but it still hurts.

    Through sharing our feelings I think that helps us deal with the grief. Again it doesn’t make it better but may help to see a future. Definitely not the one we would have chosen but maybe one that we can after what has happened live with. If that means we leave a light on at night then we do that. If it means we leave their room as it was after they have gone, then that’s what we do.

    However after a while again no time frame but maybe change the bed sheets. We all love that feeling of a fresh bed. Or just tidy one thing away as you hover the floor. These little things will help us feel you are still looking after them. But after a time each thing we have done will have changed the room not to remove them from it but to one we can again live with maybe sit in and remember them .

    They will not have gone from it they will always be with us, but the moments that we have in there can be a way of positive reflection.

    This maybe more of a metaphor than things we can actually do but the changing the one thing at a time process does change the picture after time. With the thoughts behind each change being able to be reasoned these help us “accept ” (bugger there’s that word) what has happened has happened. BUT that doesn’t mean we have to “accept” it in they way that it’s fine and think nothing of it. That will never happen.

    However leave the landing light on. Let this rays of light that you get from it over the night time be your guardian and not anxiety. Allow it to watch over you give you comfort at this time. Stop it from being the anxiety it has become and allow it to be your companion through the dark. Let it help you feel you are not on your own and there are people out side your door who care about you because I am sure this is the case.

    Again take care and I will leave you with a smile ☺.

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