Every year for the last 15 years, i’ve paused on April 6th to remember a friend who died aged just 17, on that day along with his 3 friends. I was very sad about his death for a long time, made harder by being very close to his family in the year after that. It has often made April very hard, because daffodils and cherry blossom remind me so much of that time which was heady and brightly coloured, the world shaken into sharp relief by the teenage grief we all experienced and which thrust us all so shockingly into the adult world of reality, where no parents could protect us and where the cocooned little world of school and family life no longer made everything more or less okay for me.
Well, since having children, i’ve gradually found myself thinking more and more of his mother each year and how she feels now that her son has be dead for nearly as long as he was ever alive. I hope she has found some peace and that his father and brothers have too. While i pride myself on my ability to empathise, i really don’t have much idea how i would feel in that situation or how those passing of years would affect me. I can’t, don’t want and won’t imagine myself in that situation and i can’t think of many reference points that would give me much of a clue either. Whatever wells of grief i’ve tapped, i don’t know how far down it can go and i don’t want to try the dive either.
When it comes to pain and grief, i go by the “standing on a plug” theory, rather than the “you’ll never be as sad as me” feeling. It goes something like this. If a child stands on an electrical plug (which like lego and maxi hama beads is just about as sickening a brief foot pain as i can think of) it won’t halp them to say something like “well, if you think that hurts, you want to try being in labour for 24 hours.” Not bracing, not helpful, not sympathetic and certainly not going to heal the hurt. On the other hand, now that i’ve tried being in labour for 24 hours, when i stand on a plug (or lego, or maxi hama bead) i can think “not as bad as labour” and take a few deep breaths till it passes. Knowing one thing helps to make the other pass bearably, but as a child nothing hurt more than that plug induced pain.
And so this is why i try not to dismiss other peoples’ griefs or sadnesses and why i admire people who are much more dignified than me about it too. People like Kate, people like Claire and Helen and Sarah who have been so astonishingly kind to me over the last year even though i know they could have thought (with total justification) “you’ve got everything you could possibly want in your children, how can you dare to be sad?” I know that there must be depths in this well that are far below where i’ve reached, but the gift of not being belittled for how deep i’ve sunk has been an enormous one.
However. April 6th. For a long time, when that child-adult grief seemed so awful, i thought there must be no return from such things. But it turns out that that long ago friend bestowed a gift on me in those subsequent years. I’ve been given some knowledge, an actual physical experience that there is truth in the phrase “this too will pass.” I’ve been there and i’ve been here, at the beginning and at the end and i can use that, the reality that daffodils and cherry blossom no long make me cry, to face the future with some hope.
One April Anniversary over.