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A Private Affair

Should our grief be private? Am I being narcissistic in writing about my grief? Death has become a clinical procedure. (Strangely – so has birth, a clinical, medical procedure.) Am I exposing my Mother by writing about her grieving on Facebook? Too much info? Enough with public display? Why do I feel the need to do this all in writing, in public?

The week before my Father died I attended a “Midwifery of the Soul” conference on death and dying. Little did I know what I was about to go through only a few days later. Was I prepared? Equipped? Hell no! Was their support in the healthcare system? Hell no! The curtains were drawn, that’s it. Let’s hide this, pretend that it is not happening, and make it invisible.

Almost everyone that surrounded my Father pretended that this was not happening. Not a single person could voice the words “Your Father is dying”. Nope. They offered physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, saline drips, nasogastric feeding, and catheters. But not a single person would acknowledge that his brain damage was such that he would not survive. The best they could offer was to prolong his life, regardless of the fact that he would have zero quality in it.

By day three I started saying out loud “My Father is dying. You can say goodbye to him if you wish”. “Please do not tell my Father to get better, he is dying”. I said it out loud, not in a whisper. I said it loud so that he could hear me saying it. For me, it was a show of respect, of acknowledging his transition. I told him that it was okay to let go and that everything was taken care of. I told him that I would take care of my Mother and his dog. I promised to take him home so that he could be with his beloved Sally, his dog.

We need to talk about death. And we need to talk about what it does to us, how it makes us feel. And in talking about death we learn to talk about Life. The more we contemplate our own mortality, the more we learn about our living, in the here and the now. And when we look into the eyes of our ageing parents, we see how precious our time is with them. And the. We know about grief, about loss, about love.

I want to share my grief. I want to show my grief. Not because I think it should be a public display, but because I deeply and strongly believe that we should stop this disconnect, this medicalization of the mystery of Life, albeit birth or death, or the journey in between that often brings as much joy as it brings sorrow. My grief I want to share for a Life lived to the fullest extent, but also for lives not lived. For every person living with dementia who battles to Be, who is marginalised by their disease, shunned from the public eye.

I want to share my grief and the vulnerability. I want to open the curtains on ageing, liver spots, brain damage, strokes, and dementia. For it is when we dare to look this part of Life squarely in the eye that we become authentic. My Father’s death was the most beautiful gift that a man could give his son daughter and wife. To conclude a relationship spanning over 58 years, of which I shared 54, and Sally the dog 13.

I want to share my grief to encourage a closer look at Life. But mostly to give words to something that leaves most speechless, to articulate the inarticulate, to give a voice to the silence, and to shine a light on the dark night of the Soul. And to show that I am not ashamed or even shy of my inability to comprehend the greatest mystery of Life, this thing called death.

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