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Grief Stories Are The Only Stories Here

Z: How was your seminar today?
N:It was good. A bit intense. All about childhood bereavement and how we can bring up death in therapy with children.
Z: Perhaps you could just hand them a balloon on which it's written "Your Mum's Dead".

It was a good seminar although I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it. Got home to settle on the sofa with a glass of the organic white wine Z had brought [it's delicious] and try to watch telly, which meant I fell asleep two seconds later and only woke up because I'd left the telly on and there was loud screaming on account of a person getting drawn and quartered by the Chinese Emperor.

Incidentally, mzwyndi thanks for your message on AIM, didn't see it until much later but it cheered me up all the same. :)

Despite the heaviness of today [which I knew there would be anyway, and was semi-prepared for] I really like systemic therapy because we're not meant to divorce our feelings. Instead our own emotionality is something to talk and think about and see whether or not it brings something useful to a client. It also means drawing heavily on our own experiences and I'm all about the talking about me.

Death was something that shaped the fabric of my family long before my father had died. It affected all our lives, from even before he was born. In the house where I grew up there were always so many more pictures of the dead than of the living [the dead needing remembering whereas the living were tiresome and under your feet all the time I suppose] although there are a lot of pictures of me [which is still sort of the same since I moved away I am the honourary dead, who like all the other dead sometimes comes and visits].

Grief skips not generations. It gets handed down, like any other legacy. In Eastern Europe we are born with war and grief, and our losses form the fabric of our lives. They trail us like puppies and kittens.
In Eastern Europe life is often cheap and never safe. Fire and brimstone rains down from the sky at regular intervals and one loss begets another until they form a chain stretching all the way back past all love and memory and regret so that it's hard to say where it all ends or starts.

In my life all stories begin with my Grandmother, and in her life all stories begin with the Russian Revolution but I won't go into that today. Instead my first Grief Story is about my uncle and The Loss That Changed All Things, Forever.

My uncle was named Giorgi which was also his father's name and the name of his grandfather and in fact the name of every firstborn son in the family stretching back to practically as long as anyone could remember. My uncle was born on 18th of February 1934 and he was not quite ten years old when he died.
This is the story of his accident.

He was killed on the 20th of October 1944 during the celebrations for the liberation of Belgrade after the Second World War. He'd asked my grandmother if he could go out to see the parade and she said "yes, but please don't stay out too long" and he went over to see trucks and tanks full of laughing children being driven through the city streets and he climbed on board. They had a grand old time for a while but then he said "I've got to go because otherwise my mother will be worried about me" and though the other children tried to stop him and hold onto his coat he jumped down from the truck onto the pavement.

It was not a big jump, less than 2 metres. Still it was from a moving vehicle and he fell like wounded birds fall and when he hit the ground he broke his neck. I always thought he was dead on impact but in fact he lived for a little while, until my grandfather got there.

He died age 9 the prodigal son, and he never aged or angered anybody or did anything bad. To my grandmother he was a saint and a martyr someone the living [who did bad, insulting things all the time] got compared to and never found worthy.

My grandmother went mad after that. Her hair turned white overnight and she invested considerable energy into beating her head against walls and trying to hang herself and my uncle's ghost broke her with its nearness, it's nightly visits to her house.
Don't cry, the ghost child always said, please don't cry. But of course she never listened.

The last time he appears is in a dream. In my grandmother's dream she wakes up and sees her son playing with a toy truck.
The toy is for my brother, he says for when he's born. And then though she tries to call him back and stop him he says goodbye and he leaves. In her dream she hears his footsteps across the floor, and then a door opens and shuts, and is gone.

In the morning when she wakes up there is indeed a child's wooden toy by the bed, and some months later she discovers she is pregnant and in March 1946 she gives birth to another boy and gives him the same name, Giorgi and that is where another grief story starts.

I don't know what's the saddest thing. That my father was born and conceived to replace someone, or that he was told throughout his whole life from it's very beginning how inadequate and second-best and what a failure at it he was. Or that my grandmother was never a whole person after that and could never love anyone [except perhaps the dog] for who they were again. Or that if you look through photograph albums you will see a boy taken to the photographer for an annual portrait and progressing from chubby blond baby to a boy growing taller every year until the last picture, which is a tomb stone. Growing, growing, gone.


My own grief stories are different. The one I've learned to live with but never got past is the death of my father a story left open ended for a long time because his dying was so unexpected, and because I never got to say goodbye.

The day my mother told me he was dead was mostly a blur, made easier by the fact that my grandmother broke down and kept screaming so I focused all my energy on consoling her. The rest of my energy went towards maintaining a state of Disbelief in which It Could't Be True & Someone Somewhere Had Made A Huge Mistake. That first night I remember that all night I dreamt of him and cried and howled in my sleep and the day after that I woke up and the world was still shattered and I couldn't move because of a crushing heaviness that sat on me like a mountain.

The world was broken like a cracked egg and it couldn't be fixed again but I was still willing to believe it wasn't really happening until my aunt all dressed in black gave me two chocolate eggs. My aunt who was always so critical of my weight and apetites giving me not one treat, but two. Afterwards it took me ten years to get to the point where I could abide the taste of chocolate.

In the days that followed my father's absence got hammered into me continuously with how nice everyone was being. How they went out of their way to show kindness. As though I had suddenly been replaced by a little girl all made of glass. And the long torturous consolation sessions in which my teachers took me out of the classroom and had long chats about what a wonderful man my father was and how we'd all miss him and that if crying would bring him back we'd all cry but crying wouldn't.

Mostly throughout the sympathy talks I was mute, using everything I had not to break down. I remember that if I concentrated hard enough on the mouth shapes the moving lips of my teachers made then I could block out the sounds of the words themselves and at home I practiced with my mother saying "My father has died" until I could utter it without tears.

I don't recall very much of that first year. I was spaced out for huge chunks of it when I wasn't trying to commit suicide. A lot of what I know is second hand, teachers telling me that though I sat in their classrooms often I simply wasn't there. I was just...absent. I started writing shortly after Dad passed on and the writings speak for themselves. Each story began with orphans whose parents were always miraculously restored to them at the end because they hadn't really died, there had been Some Mistake. I remember crying only once. Sitting in my grandmother's lap and wailing - just... screaming and sobbing for hours until I nearly drowned in my own pool of tears. I remember that time, she just rocked me and held me in silence one of the first truly unselfish things she'd done for me. All of our grief was so big it needed a lot of space to show itself. It was no good at sharing.

I was not yet 9 when it all happened, but I had no sense at all of myself as a child.

Even though rationally I knew Dad had died and what that meant, inside I still clung to the belief that he was just Off Somewhere and that he would come back someday. The last time I'd seen him he was conscious and healthy and cheerful. I never saw him in a coma, or went to the funarel. I never saw him dead. Furthermore throughout his life he was frequently absent. He travelled for work and often he just vanished. My father's presence was not a feature of my daily life which for a long time made it easier to see his death as One Very Long Business Trip.

I couldn't come to terms with the fact that someone could just Stop Being, that they could disappear as effectively as water down a plughole.

When I go to the cemetary now, my heart tells me that my father is not there. That I'm just standing on a square of empty earth and that he inhabits the snow and silence and air. But back then, and for a long, long time the graveyard was my black hole. The space I could not go near unless I wanted it to suck me in and crush my bones.

And memory has places which are jagged and raw and lead like nerves straight to the heart. When struck they emit aching and there is one memory which gets me every time:
It's the first New Year after Dad had died and I am making presents for my family to put under a tree [in the atheistic post-communist Yugoslavia of my childhood New Year was celebrated in place of Christmas and a top guy called Grandfather Frost dropped in to leave you gifts]. Mostly these presents were drawings, and I remember making a drawing for my Dad which I asked my Mum to take to the cemetery. [To Daddy it said, because I was imaginative like that, on top of some abstract doodle/scribble; I was well into my adolescence before I became any good at art].

Often that is the deepest part of my sadness, the thought of a green square of paper sellotaped to a gravestone, fluttering in the wind and the snow.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 17th, 2006 04:01 am (UTC)
"To Daddy it said, because I was imaginative like that"

[Have awful feeling that I said something similar to Z once - !]
Feb. 17th, 2006 08:23 am (UTC)
Re: "To Daddy it said, because I was imaginative like that"
It's quite all right, his comment made me laugh heartily.

Death's a serious business but I don't think that means that we should be always serious about it.
Feb. 17th, 2006 04:36 am (UTC)
Dontcha mean mzwyndi?

Feb. 17th, 2006 05:02 am (UTC)
I'm not sure how to phrase it because I'm trying to get out of it...

And I'm on enough of an anti-depressant, anti-axial drug dosage to tranq a horse...

I think that the Eastern European sadness is inherited.

Some people like my brother, consciously avoiding looking at it, try to stay as even keeled as possible, as neutral.

Others like my friend T, deny all emotion and periodically use alcohol or ganja to... vent... stabilize... chill... I dunno...

Myself I dove into it and almost drowned. Nothing as serious or as close to hearth and home like your case but in many ways I picked up on the scars that my parents bore, they moulded the soft clay of my being.

That and I couldn't help but to feel guilty that if it hadn't been for World War II and all the horro that it entailed, then my grandfather's first wife wouldn't have died from pneumonia (penicillin was impossible to come buy in Poland in 1944). If she hadn't died, grandfather would not have been remarried and papa wouldn't have been born...

Anyway, I have to head home, my shift is done.
Feb. 17th, 2006 08:27 am (UTC)
I think that the Eastern European sadness is inherited.

I do too. Inherited to greater or lesser degrees depending on the movements of everyone's ancestors and where they were living but inherited still.

I've done all three strategies throughout my life, I think. Nowadays I try to stay even keeled as I can but at the same time hold out one hand to my feelings which I do with relative levels of success. :)
Feb. 17th, 2006 08:24 am (UTC)
indeed I do.
cheers, amended.
Feb. 17th, 2006 09:05 am (UTC)
I think Z is on to something with the balloon thing though...

Hello again BTW.
Feb. 17th, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)
welcome back :) I missed you.

I think Z is on to something with the balloon thing though...

It could be all the rage.
At the very least it made me laugh.
Feb. 17th, 2006 09:31 am (UTC)
Yes. Yes to the broken world and being made of glass and the shock and denial and pain. There are no words but you found some anyway. Thank you for writing this.
Feb. 17th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading.

*gentle thoughts*
Feb. 17th, 2006 10:58 am (UTC)
This is an amazing entry.
Feb. 17th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
Feb. 17th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC)
And on a different note...
Hmm, is it insensitive of me to come busting through with: Nina! I don't have your number, probably cause you've changed it since last september. Call me or unblock me from MSN! I need you!

Kisses, your stalker, Scott
Feb. 21st, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
Re: And on a different note...
Hey Cutie!

Nina! I don't have your number, probably cause you've changed it since last september.

My phone got stolen so I didn't have my number for a while, but now it's been reinstated and it's 07788857508. On the other hand I don't have your phone number because my SIM card was stolen with my old phone. Meh.

You're not blocked on MSN, I'm just not logged into it much :)
Feb. 22nd, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)
Re: And on a different note...
I'm just being dramatic - I'll send you a text.

Miss you!

Feb. 19th, 2006 06:02 pm (UTC)
It still astonishes me how simillar our experiences of our fathers' deaths are. I wrote a letter, but my mom refused to take me to the cemetary so I could leave it there for him. I still see him in the streets now and then, in the face of some stranger passing.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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