Can you be good at grief?
I don’t mean the kinda grief you give your darling for not putting the bins out…
I mean the shizzle that follows death, the extraordinarily deep and empty well you are immediately plunged in to.
That well holds all your feelings; the hurt and physical pain of loss, the regrets, the panics over the future, the terrible realisation that you can’t remember their voice, can’t touch them or bring them to bear, and right at the base of the well, lies the concrete certainty that this is how it is now, this life you are somehow continuing to exist in will always be without them.
No wonder we avoid that well of hell like it’s a, well…well of hell! Who would ever voluntarily chuck themselves down there, potentially never to escape again?
Last night the BBC showed us the many ways Rio Ferdinand attempts to circle that well. He is a famous and rich ex-footballer. He is also in utter agony after his wife and mother of his three children died two years ago. To say that financial security and family support make no difference when you’re bereaved is just daft. Of course it is easier to live, to eat and work, to escape, when you don’t have to panic about money, about working long shifts, leaving your devastated kids with a stranger if you don’t have family nearby.
But the agony of the loss is the same. Exactly the same as for the Liberian girl on Comic Relief, who wept to Ed Sheeran about her dad, killed by Ebola. Exactly the same as for PC Palmer’s family. Exactly the same as for me. And you. Agony is agony. And Ferdinand’s was raw.
Crying wasn’t his problem. He did lots of it, even with a camera in his face. He confessed to the efficacy of booze-release in the early days and the sudden, shocking kinship he felt with the suicidal. What he struggled with, seemed deeply preoccupied and tormented by, was whether he had grieved ‘properly’ and especially whether his kids had. He was absolutely cracking on, working, playing and parenting, but all of it with a kind of teetering feeling, as if they all might collapse into that well at any moment.
Ferdinand meets with a group of other bereaved fellas. One tells him that every now and then he puts on a pair of his late wife’s socks, gets a stack of her favourite mags, puts on one of her favourite films and just…wallows in her for a bit. That sofa is his well, with his sock-clad toes dangling over the edge and he’s been there enough to know there’s no danger of falling in.
Because the well of grief is not a terrible and inescapable hole. When death assaults you, the key to not getting stuck down there is to realise that it’s not just an empty pit of despair, it’s also a wishing well. To live without forever being in agony, we need to visit the well, to feed it with hopes and dreams, and listen as it echoes back to us our memories.
My own well is a bit cramped, occupied by several dead souls. With every loss, I don’t seem to find a new well, they all just gather down there together. This is helpful because whilst visiting one, I also get to visit all the others. Most often, I find the well when I’m alone in the car, with a pertinent tune and no one to worry about my tears. I’m also increasingly visiting my well via this blog, unearthing bits of memory, small treasures and sometimes extra buckets of pain. I have visited the bottom, but I now know where the rope is, so I don’t get stuck.
I won’t spoil the end of the programme for you, because it follows a beautiful narrative and you need to be in it to feel it. You can see it on the BBC iplayer. All I will say is that Ferdinand and his kids do make peace with the well and it takes the form of a giant plastic coke bottle.
May I wish you all well xxx