Which side of me will win?

Dad – Epilogue


When you’re experiencing grief, you’re told the same thing again and again – that you’ll come out of it better and stronger.

Every time you hear that you nod unfirmly, more out of duty than out of agreement, affirmation or any other kind of positive expression. You believe it – you’ve no reason not to – but you can’t really conceive of it at the time. It doesn’t really make you feel any better.

I always used to say that I believed there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but I couldn’t see it. The tunnel was curved, so I didn’t know how long it was. At least not until I was almost out. That tunnel was very, very long, but I did get out.

And that thing I was told again and again… it is true.

Grief is like Fight Club. After you’ve been through it, everything else in life gets the volume turned down. Everything else just seems a little easier. Maybe even a lot easier.

Life, particularly adult life, is a process of figuring out who you are and what’s important to you, and how to be that person and how to get, keep and maintain those things that are important. This is, of course, a very difficult process for most of us. Even if we did know who we were, or what was important – which we don’t – then we sure as hell wouldn’t know how to go about being it, getting it and keeping it.

But we all try because that’s all you can do. And even if it’s a struggle, we feel like we’re making progress of a sort.

Grief, when it comes along, takes one look at the wobbly, haphazard structure that we call an identity; a life – the intangible thing we’ve spent our whole lives building – takes one look at it, and goes, “This is SHIT!”

Then it kicks it down like a bully wrecking a sandcastle, and says, “Start again you useless CUNT.”

And walks off, never looking back, leaving you to pick up the… no, there aren’t even any pieces left.

It’s not that you suddenly have nothing. It’s that the things that you do have… you have nothing to pin them to any more. Everything’s lost all meaning and value. And for a while, maybe a long while, you just shut down.

But eventually you realise that what you have is an opportunity. You have a clean slate, a new foundation on which to rebuild yourself and your life. And this time, having had your old, flawed perspective shattered, you can make a better job of it. You’ve learned a very harsh, very unfair lesson, but it’s one of the most valuable ones you’ll ever get.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when and how this rebuilding process started for me, but I know it had a lot to do with breaking out of my comfort zone. Doing things that I’d never done before. Doing things that the reluctant, fearful reflexes grief had installed in me did not want me to do. Doing things that would be scary even to people who hadn’t been living in a sad, little, (too) safe shell for a year or two.

It took time to rebuild and it took time to relearn, but I started to realise that I was clinging to things that were nothing more than dead weight, and that I needed to let go of them and shift my focus elsewhere. It didn’t really matter where. I just needed to shake myself up to get myself off the ropes and onto my toes.

So I quit my job, I sold, gave away or dumped most of my possessions, and I moved to a foreign country with a vague sort of idea that I was going to attempt to start a new career there. Now, I’m not saying that my old job, my old stuff and my old country were shit. Not at all. But my relationship to all of them had become very unhealthy. I was clinging to them out of habit, because I could tell myself that I was lucky to have them, because sticking with what I already had was… easy, basically.

I shed all my ‘baggage’ and threw myself unwittingly into a new life because I knew it would be hard, and a real challenge was what I needed to put me, and keep me, on my toes.

There are still days, weeks even, when I get fed up. And I still haven’t got life all figured out. But I never feel stuck. Not any more. And that keeps me positive and makes me happy.


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