Little Birdie is only eight months old and already she has been to three funerals. First, we lost my Grandma when LB was only a new born. Then, when she was six months old, we lost a dear friend in a tragic accident. Now, we’ve lost my uncle to cancer.
Grief is an unpleasant experience at the best of times, but it is somewhat more confusing now that I am a parent. On the one hand, I have some distance, because I’m busy looking after a baby and I don’t have time to be self indulgent and dwell on my own feelings too much. In a way, that spares some of the pain. On the other hand, it’s a problem, because you don’t have time to process the situation. I certainly found that at my dear uncle’s funeral on Monday; when the realisation that he was gone hit me like a sledgehammer during the service.
At all three funerals, as awkward as it was negotiating the event with a baby, I was very glad she was there. More than one person has commented that LB represents the cycle of life and I know my uncle’s family is focusing on her in an effort to distract themselves from the thought that he won’t be with them for Christmas. She was also a good talking point as you speak to people in those awkward conversations that you tend to have at funerals. It is also true that you are never alone once you become a parent and it was nice to have a little person to cuddle through a very sad day.
The deaths of these three important people in my life have really made me reflect on parenting and relationships. My Grandma wasn’t always the best mother or grandmother herself, but I really appreciated her. She was very witty and very intelligent. Even at 90, she was razor sharp. Visiting her in the old person’s home was also one of the few trips out of the house I could manage with a minimum of stress when LB was first born. In those days, LB cried pretty much all day long, but the elderly people at the home didn’t seem to mind hearing a crying infant in the halls. Instead, everyone seemed to embrace the hope that a new life represents. I would sit in the corner of Grandma’s room breastfeeding and I was comfortable, because Grandma was a nurse and I knew she didn’t mind if I breastfed as I chatted to her. She also reveled in the chance to show off her first great-grandchild to the nurses as they passed in and out of the room. Grandma was in terrible pain from a broken hip towards the end and I like to think that our little visits offered her comfort in some way in those final days.
A few weeks ago, the husband of one of my best girlfriends was killed in a road accident on the way to work. It was tragic, totally unexpected and incredibly sad, because he left behind a beautiful wife and three precious children. He was a genuinely good, good man; a supportive husband, a good provider and a loving father. He had been a part of my life for fourteen years, and it seemed like we would all be friends well into old age. He was special, because together with his wife, he was generous with his time and his friendship. His passing shook us and made us all realize how short our time together can be and how fragile life is. When we got the news, my husband was on a business trip interstate. Alongside the grief we felt for the loss of a dear friend, was a realization that the same thing could easily happen to us, bringing our marriage to an end and robbing LB of a parent. It has taught me to really value what I have and to make the most of every moment, because you really never know when things can change.
However, the loss of a loved one also makes you grateful for the time that you did spend with them. Last week, I lost my uncle. He was a remarkably warm, gentle, generous and sentimental man, with a marvellous sense of humour. Not much got past him. He was rent-a-crowd in my life, there for nearly every major event, always positive, proud and encouraging. He was a wonderful father and grandfather to his family and a well-liked man in the community. At least a couple of hundred people turned out for his funeral and it was quite an event, lasting most of the day. My relationship with my own father has always been a difficult one, but my uncle was always there, showing me what a good father can be like. I was certainly cognisant of that when I met my husband for the first time, noting some similar traits. It was reassuring and helped me to know that I was choosing a good man with whom to spend the rest of my life.
So, unfortunately, it has been a year tinged with grief but also a year where I have come to appreciate my family and friends and the precious time I have with them. However, as much as it is good to try to find some positives in this sad year, I think we’ve been to enough funerals for now. LB isn’t even nine months old yet. I think it’s time for a wedding instead. Now, I just need someone in my life to get engaged!
A sad but also lovely reflection on the end, and the beginning of life. You are right about how it’s hard to process a loss when you’re so busy with a little one. My paternal grandmother died shortly after my second child was born, and I had my hands full with her and my oldest, who was just a toddler. The toddler was sick with an ear infection at the time of the funeral, so I couldn’t go. Everyone assured me it was all right, “Grandma would understand:” but I felt glum for a long time, probably because I never got to truly grieve with the rest of the family. I hope you take some time for yourself to mourn the loss of people dear to you.
I think it does help to have that space to grieve at the funeral, or in some other way. I guess that’s why the tradition has developed. My cousin said she felt the funeral was more for everyone else than for she and her mum. We touch a lot of people in our lives.