Now is the winter of our grief

On Christmas Eve, 1987, an event occurred that would change my life and my husband's life forever.

I was 34 weeks pregnant with our first baby and had just taken leave from teaching. I was looking forward to Christmas and preparing for the arrival of our little one. It was a very hot day. I was rushing around, getting ready for Mass at Shortland. I had to make a phone call to arrange the music for the Mass. I was looking for Mary's number, when this inexplicable feeling of tiredness hit me like a wave. I cannot explain that feeling, nearly 30 years ago. I have never felt it again. Even when I am extremely tired, it’s nothing like that.

I lowered myself to the floor and managed to call my husband. My husband's name was the last word I managed to say for four hours.

I could not move my right side. Everything felt heavy. I had no idea what was happening. I was conscious. The ambulance arrived, closely followed by the Intensive Care team. When my husband told them I was eight months pregnant, it was action stations all around.

I heard the word "stroke" mentioned.

It did not compute.

Strokes only happened to the elderly. Was I in for some education! Strokes can happen at any age − even to babies in the womb.

I was lying in the maternity ward, unable to answer questions, frustrated because the answers were in my mind, but I just could not physically form the words.

After days of tests, it was determined that I had CVA. What is this? I managed to articulate. A cardio vascular accident, I was told.

What happened to my baby? He managed to stay in utero until 39 weeks gestation. I am proud to say I delivered him naturally. He is now a doctor at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, taking care of patients in ICU! There’s an irony there.

Christmas Eve is very significant for us. For several years I had a lot of difficulty with this day. I did not recognise that I was grieving the loss of my former self and the changes the stroke brought.

Along comes an opportunity to be involved with Seasons for Growth, an education program for children and adults dealing with grief. I began to recognise feelings and reactions that were coming from deep within me. I was struggling to be the teacher I had always dreamed of being and being a mum was extremely difficult. But I was determined and the love showered on me by my husband helped me climb mountains − in my mind, anyway!

"Grief Anniversaries and Memories - acknowledging grief, promoting resilience " is the theme chosen for this year’s Grief Awareness Month of August.

Many people observe the anniversaries of their loved one’s deaths and significant other griefs. Some have learned different strategies for coping with these anniversaries. These strategies can help to make us more resilient.

Some people are very aware of the particular month or season when their grief event happened.

The grief and loss program, appropriately titled, Seasons for Growth, has an excellent metaphor to describe these particular times. The metaphor is "Winter." Winter is the season when we become "dormant" like many plants and animals. Not much growth happens in winter and animals tend to hibernate in the colder temperatures.  People can experience a "winter" of their grief around anniversary time.

Winter is also a time to snuggle up in front of a fire or heater with a mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows) and to acknowledge the winters of our lives. Often people say, why would we put ourselves back in that space? It’s easier to ignore winter feelings, but suppressed feelings may eventually emerge in unhelpful ways.

One definition of grief is “The normal process of reacting to a loss. The loss may be physical (eg death), social (eg divorce), or occupational (eg loss of position). Emotional grief reactions can include anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness and despair.”

Memories are important in the journey of grief.

Why do people eulogise at funerals? It is about memories – about taking time to reflect on the impact of that person on the lives of others.

This brought me to a place of reflection about Grizabella, the glamour cat from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats.

"Life was beautiful then

I remember the time I knew what happiness was…

I must wait for the sunrise

I must think of a new life

And I mustn't give in…"

Grief Awareness Month occurs in winter but spring is just around the corner. The wattle trees usually begin to blossom in August. Everyone needs to process their grief and if we can focus on the memories of the person or the thing (job, house) we have lost, we may reach a point where we begin to engage in life once more.

Jennie Nolan is a Family Ministry Co-ordinator, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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Jennie Nolan

Jennie Nolan is a Family Ministry Co-ordinator, Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle

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