Wendy's life

This blog has been created as a celebration of the life of Wendy Margaret Cronin (born 16 October 1944 and died 10 October 2007). The blog owner (me) is Steve McRobb (aka Macro) - I was Wendy's partner and then husband for almost 30 years. To add comments or a post, you must be an invited friend or family member - email me if you knew Wendy and would like to join.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Is time really the great healer?

This post is a reflection on the nature of loss, the effects of grief and the passage of time.
People who have never suffered what someone (meaning to be kind) once called a "major bereavement" (way back when Wendy was ill, and we knew she would die) often think that grief naturally lessens over time. Maybe this is sometimes true. For those who have lost a parent, for example, especially if that happened a long time ago. I certainly don't grieve any more for my father, who died more than 20 years ago. Nor do I feel frequent or sharp pangs of grief for my mother, who died 10 years ago just yesterday. I often think with fondness, and sometimes with sadness, about memories of their lives, but that's all. However, I can't easily believe that time heals all losses.
For Wendy, I can still feel a grief that is so sharp, so immediate, so real, that she might have just died. When this happens it is hard to believe that it will soon be six years since her last breath. These episodes of vivid grief are certainly not as frequent as they were in the early days after her death. But I don't think they're any less shattering.
One happened just yesterday. Maybe I should explain that we're in the process of moving me and all my stuff to Angela's house (life to live!). Together, we had gone to my house to mow the lawn, collect post and pick up some more of my stuff. We sat on the swing seat in the garden eating a sandwich lunch. I was enjoying the maturity of Wendy's memorial garden - all the hollyhocks in full flower and the little fountain bubbling away in the sunshine, when the phone rang. I went into the kitchen to answer it. A cheerful woman's voice asked "Is Wendy there?" Sudden shock! For a moment, it was as if I was right back in the days when that was a normal event in any day: phone ringing, I'd answer, someone would ask for Wendy, I'd pass her the phone. Or say "I'm sorry, she's not here, can I take a message?" I fumbled, asked who was calling. She explained that she had run a Tai Chi class at Melton College that Wendy attended for a while. She was restarting the class, and calling up former students to see if they were interested. I remember Wendy and Duncan standing in the kitchen talking about Tai Chi, probably about 7 years ago. Not that long before she died. On the phone, I was matter-of-fact about what had happened. But after the call ended I just fell apart in tears for a while.
I know this is not unusual behaviour. It happens to both Angela and me from time to time. She can be overwhelmed by fresh grief for Mike, often triggered by piano music. Six years on, she still cannot bear to listen to some of his favourite pieces, because they unlock memories of him playing that are just too painful.
I don't want to over-dramatise this experience. Neither of us, Angela or me, is entrenched in our grief. We are happy together, most of the time. We are active in a variety of ways, physically and intellectually. We live our lives to the full, as best we can, and we accept the passing of time and the changes that brings to families and to the people within a family. But at the same time, neither of us believes that we will ever really "recover" - whatever that means - from our bereavement.
I think that what people really mean when they talk about time healing a loss is that emotions associated with a painful event are expected to become weakened over time, so that the loss no longer hurts. But wouldn't that mean that our attachment to someone we love is also steadily undone? Pain of loss is just one side of a coin. The other side of the coin is the love for the person. Without the love, there would be little or no pain. So, if grief lessened to the point where it no longer hurt at all, wouldn't that be as if we had never loved the person? Perhaps I'm exaggerating a little: losing my parents no longer hurts. But they were always so much older than me, and I think most of us expect from quite a young age that our parents will die before us. So to some extent we are mentally prepared. However, I think, in our more important relationships, and especially the ones we have chosen (partners, good friends) or have ourselves created the preconditions for (our children), we lay down such deep roots of affection that there is not enough time left in our lives for them to be undone to any degree.
Maybe this works for hatred, too. That would help to explain how ethnic, religious and political tensions are so able to destroy the peace of the world in so many places.
Immediately after Wendy died, I began to keep a diary, originally as a kind of continuation of her diary that she kept for years. A few weeks later I wrote in it: "Bereavement has wounded me deep inside in the place from which everything else springs. If I were ever to cease to miss Wendy in any aspect of my life, if I were ever to cease to honour her memory, then I would have ceased to be true to myself and what I became through our life together."
How would time heal that? And why should it?


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