chapter  6
Changes and losses: the private kind
Pages 42

A parent’s death will nearly always be the catalyst for a whole series of changes in your life, internally and externally. It can often seem as if nothing is left untouched by death. And on top of the vast change caused by your parent’s death alone, all these extra changes can sometimes feel unbearable. The gaps left in your daily life after a parent’s death are hard to tolerate at first. You miss the voice in the hall, the face at the door, the Sunday morning phone call, the kiss at bedtime. And then gradually you and your family begin to shift and rearrange yourselves to fill those gaps. Somebody else makes supper or washes it up; somebody else takes charge of emptying the bins or putting out the milk bottles. Somebody else now takes the car to be serviced or weeds the garden. Somebody else buys the newspaper on Sunday mornings. Sometimes these changes make life easier: it can be reassuring for life

to start functioning again, for the chaos after a death to be coming to an end. These daily routines and rituals can keep you going, renew your confidence in the world and in life, distract you from the sadness you are feeling. But sometimes these changes can be distressing, making you feel that the person you love has been easily dismissed, replaced, their death forgotten. Sometimes the changes do not make things ‘as before’, but instead underline how very different life is now. In our house daily life hardly changed at all after my father’s death

because I didn’t live with him, but after my stepfather’s death things at home changed dramatically. My mother now had a full-time job, and much of the household work, previously done by my stepfather, was simply left undone. Mealtimes were no longer friendly, civilized events, but rushed and haphazard affairs, everyone eating in silence and hurrying back to whatever they’d been doing before. No one seemed to be

communicating. We all just lived in our own little bubbles alongside one another. It was hard for my mother to maintain much discipline or routine without her husband to help; regular bedtimes went out of the window along with any kind of rules about friends coming round. Far from feeling sympathy for my mother for having so much to worry about, I felt angry with her for not protecting us from so much unwanted change. I wanted things as they had been. As a parent myself, I have more understanding and sympathy now for what she must have been going through. At the time, I just felt angry and critical of her. It is essential to make changes in your life, to take risks, to try new

things, but it is equally important – and I talk as the fool who invariably rushed in – to look at the loss involved in change, as well as the gain. It is important to expect and allow time to mourn what is being lost as a result of these changes, and expect and allow past feelings of loss to re-emerge. To lose things that matter to you is to lose a little part of yourself; when you have already lost a large part of yourself through your parent’s death, even quite small later losses can reopen the old wounds. On top of the pain of the new loss you feel all over again the pain of the old one. You need to work out what it is you are losing and mourn for it.