The Smallest Of GesturesBy Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
Pictures created by myself. Main picture, my Grief Mentor.
24 May 2021
This past week has been abominably hard. Violently hard. Or should I say, this past week has had some abominably and violently hard moments, minutes and hours in it.
Yes. That’s closer.
I once heard that Christopher Reeve (aka Superman) said, after his horse-riding accident in 1995 that left him paralysed with spinal cord injury, “I may have bad moments, and I may have bad hours, but I never have a bad day”.
I have looked up those words and not found them, but I take it on good faith that he did say words to that effect. And if he didn’t, then I shall appropriate them for myself. I like them. They suit me. Because most of the time, I feel similarly.
I don’t have baaaad daaaaays. Not solid, 24 hours of awfulness. Not 86,400 seconds of horror, non-stop. But I might feel like vomiting up my life, what has happened… I might feel empty and weak and hollow and helpless through every cell in my body…I might wish I were living a different life…. I might just wonder what the heck happened here, again…. for minutes, for hours at a time. I might be awake much of the night feeling that I am standing at the edge of a precipice, staring into the biggest void imaginable. And I might be grateful that all I need to do in a given day is feed the dog and get him outside for a while, wash and feed myself. And breathe. Yes. Breathing is always good.
Survival can be just a few basic things. I don’t think I have yet forgotten to brush my teeth. Or feed myself. And I haven’t ever missed a client call. So even when things are really very very hard, I function well enough.
But some days and weeks, the awfulness pervades more deeply.
I still cannot get my head around Julia’s death. I still cannot get my head around Mike not being there to comfort me when I miss her so, when I miss him so. The horror of that total aloneness. Wanting just one person to talk it over with, to scream and cry with. And him not being there.
I call one of my go-to persons for times like this. No answer. I call another. No answer. There are no others.
I sit and cry. I cuddle the dog. I take him out. I cry some more. I come back home. I go to bed. I congratulate myself on having got through another violently impossible day.
The next day I set low standards. Get up. Eat. Drink. Read. Make myself connect live with another human being. Even if it’s virtual.
I pursue an invitation from Megan Devine’s new book (“How to Carry What Can’t Be Fixed”) to think of, to imagine, to totally make up, to invent, a Grief Mentor. She writes, “Even the best of humans aren’t available 24/7, and sometimes even your favourite people can’t hold the whole vision of how to best support you. It’s great to have an imaginary mentor on standby.
Draw or collage your fantasy mentor. You might start with a person, then add elements of animals, trees, or even parts of the landscape, such as rivers and mountains. Anything can lend its support. You get to be as practical or fantastical as you’d like. You might call this creation your patron saint of grief, or your grief-fairy- godmother”.
So that is what I did. I painted my Grief Mentor. Who, as it happens, turns out to be me. Exhausted, drained, hollowed out, but still breathing. Holding a tender heart as big and open as can be to keep engaging, to keep living fully. Made more fit for human consumption by being out in “big nature”. Supported by life and colour and yellow tits (Julia), swirling wind (Mike), and brilliant sun in stormy skies (Ed).
Later in the week, on 22nd May, my brother Edward’s should-have-been 52nd birthday, I saw a pure white feather – totally out of place. I decided it was from him. And Mike and Julia.
And then today, out on a mountain walk with my parents and some of their friends who know so little (it seems) about me, one man whose child also died by suicide aged 15, some 30 or so years ago, I imagine, simply put his hand to his heart and looked me in the eyes and held them as we parted company. We only exchanged 3 minutes conversation about our dead children. At some level, his story is more horrific than my own. But those milliseconds, that held gaze, that hand on his heart and the words, “I hope we see one another again soon”, and knowing he really meant it, it made my day.
Smallest gestures of kindness, of symbolism, of imagining, of humanity. They mean the world to me. They make an abhorrently hard week survivable.
(For more information on Megan Devine’s new book, click here – https://refugeingrief.com/journal-for-grief/)