My September of grief

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Before that first September, my experience with grief was fairly limited. I had lost an uncle when I was very little, and I was sad, but it was mostly because I didn't like seeing my mother cry. I had loved and lost a plethora of small fluffy animals, each one breaking my heart when it left this world, but my parents were able to sew it back together when they placed the next soft bundle in my arms. So while I was no stranger to death, I hadn't yet felt the type of grief that makes you ache in places you never realised sadness could reach. My first experience with this was September 2014.

A person diving into deep dark water (vernonwiley / Getty)My pop had been old my entire life, he was 74 when I was born. He'd had countless heart issues and hospital scares, all things which should have clued me in to the fact that he wouldn't be around forever. Still, somehow each time he made it back home, or turned another year older, it cemented further in my mind that he was immortal.

I was lying in bed with my boyfriend enjoying a lazy Saturday when I got the call from my mother. Pop had been taken into the hospital in an ambulance. 'He's going to be alright though?' It came out as a question when I meant it to be a statement. I could tell from the gentleness of her tone that this was not the case. 'They don't think he's going to come out this time.' I hung up the phone and dissolved into tears.

I went and visited him the next day. He didn't look well, but he still gave me a smile and a kiss when he saw me. He was disgruntled, because the nurses had taken his watch and wouldn't let him wear it. I remember thinking that a man with that much fight couldn't just die.

The next day I was at work and suddenly the queue parted and my mother was standing there. 'It's happening.' We walked to the hospital clutching each other, tears streaming silently down our faces. He passed away that night. We got one more hug and a kiss, but no more smiles. Everyone came to my unit after for a cup of tea, and when Nan walked in the door she gave me a sad smile. 'We lost Poppy.'

I'm sure that most people who have lost someone will agree that while there is never an 'easy' day, that first anniversary is the hardest. We were all dreading it. Four days before the date, I got a call from my mother. I wondered what she could want, she'd only been at our house an hour before. Her best friend had had a stroke. She wasn't yet 50.

Mum flew up to be with her family, and to beg her friend to stay with us. Once again I was watching my mum cry, only this time I was crying too. This woman was like an auntie to me, and so young. I couldn't imagine the world could be so cruel to take someone from us again. On the anniversary of Pop's death, Auntie's family decided to take her off life support. She died four days later.

 

"The doctors didn't have an exact time for her, but we all secretly knew it would happen in September."

 

We had a few months of peace, and then one beautiful sunny day in January, the queues at my work parted once again to reveal my mother. Nan. Cancer. Terminal.

She took me home, I couldn't be at work for a while. None of us could. My dad retired so that he could spend Nan's final months by her side. She was getting worse every day, but she was trying so hard to be strong for us. She wanted our memories of her to be happy ones. We still went to the theatre, and she still made me porridge and tea.

Towards the end of August I got a call from my mother. Nan had been taken into palliative care, it was the beginning of the end. The doctors didn't have an exact time for her, but we all secretly knew it would happen in September. We spent all the time that we could with her, but it was getting so hard to watch her shrinking further and further away from us. The last time I saw her I held her hand, and she squeezed it gently. 'I love you,' we said. She died three days later.

It's been three years since we lost Nan, four since we lost Auntie and five since Pop. Each time someone else was taken from us, I felt guilty. Guilty that I couldn't grieve each person in the way that they deserved, the way I needed to. I used to think it made a difference that September was the time they were all taken from us, but each year I get a little further from thinking that. It doesn't matter if it's September, or if it's March — we still miss them just as much. The only difference is that people ask about them in September — for the rest of the year that grief is our own.

Some people work hard to forget, they flinch at the names of those who aren't here anymore. Not me though. I need to talk about them, I need to know that our love was real, and that I didn't just dream it. I need to feel like I am not alone. I still cry — in fact I am crying writing this — but that doesn't mean I am weak, in fact quite the opposite. There is strength in love, and September or not, that can never be taken.

 

 

Katherine RichardsonKatherine Richardson is a freelance writer and illustrator. Her greatest loves are creating art and her cat Marmalade. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more.

Topic tags: Katherine Richardson, grief, death

 

 

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Existing comments

Your writing has brought tears to my eyes too, Katherine. Grief is a searing experience, a hole that won't shift and it doesn't need to. It is part of us and our love is real and it stays real. A cat called Marmalade - now there's a good reason to smile.
Pam | 26 September 2019


You capture it all beautifully, Katherine - death, grief, grieving, family. Now 73, I have grieved for many who have gone before me - grandparents on both sides, generally in the fullness of their time; parents, aunts and uncles, closer to my own age, I felt they could have stayed a little longer; my younger brother, long before his time; thirty years ago but grief is never buried deep. Family love is reflected in, and shaded by, the grief shared.
Ian Fraser | 28 September 2019


Katherine you words reminded me of the poem "Elephant in the Room". I hope you have read it. While we talk about our loved ones who have died they stay 'alive' for us. Keep talking!!
Sandra | 30 September 2019


Thank you Katherine.
Margaret | 30 September 2019


This is bittersweet but beautiful. Thanks, Katherine.
Barry Gittins | 30 September 2019


Yes, I with some I know who read You, do feel for You. Are so sorry for Your loss.... and wonder, if your boyfriend (presented to us in bed with You) is still with You to comfort You as You weep for your loved ones. May the Good God of Jesus Christ of Nazareth inspire You and protect You and all your dear ones. Thank You,
Luciana | 05 October 2019


I identified with your having an older parent as my father was older than average .I have yet to re read your story to hear you more. You seem to have the three tools of connection,resilience and coping which many don't and are helped by Seasons for Growth,developed by the Sisters of St Joseph.
Chris Radloff | 05 October 2019


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