Creating New & Happy Memories Is Really Bloody Hard If You’ve Lost a Loved One
Five years ago I lost my dad.
It's hard to know if I've properly grieved the loss, or even what "proper" grieving looks like. What I do know is, the moments in my life I should feel the happiest are when I feel the most at a loss.
Everyone experiences grief differently — that much I'm sure of. But a common thread between myself and others who've sat front row at a funeral is that life milestones are one of the more difficult situations to face.
So why, when a grieving person graduates, gets a new job, gets married, has kids, turns 18, 21 or 30, moves overseas or otherwise, do we feel so awful even though we know, in our hearts, that the person we lost would be so proud and want these successes for us?
April Ash, a psychologist at The Indigo Project, says that certain significant times can encourage reflection of our lives and that grief only makes this more complex.
Take Anna, 31, who lost her father suddenly four years ago. She says her 30th birthday was one of the most difficult things she's ever experienced, largely because such a huge new life chapter wouldn't include who she considered her best friend. "To realise I was not going to share this journey with one of the most important people to me, was almost too hard to handle," Anna says.
"Even though I am quite untraditional when it comes to life goals, the fact that so much of my life was so unsure and that I wouldn't be able to work through these with Dad, was really hard."
On top of the life-assessment a milestone can bring, experiencing an event without someone we'd always imagined would be there for it can be particularly challenging.
Kerri, 30, lost her father five years ago to cancer, and in the moments since has gotten married (where her mother walked her down the aisle), given birth to her first child (with another on the way) and turned 30. While she absolutely celebrated each of these occasions, they were all tinged with heartbreak and emptiness for what could have, and should have, been.
"The birth of my first child and just watching her grow has been particularly difficult without my dad," she says.
"Like most parents I want the happiest life for my child, and I know that her life would have been better with him in it. In my opinion, everyone's life was better with him in it, and it particularly hurts knowing that she will never experience the joy of knowing him like she should have."
Grief can be very multifaceted in this sense, because we're no longer grieving only their absence, but also the loss of new experiences and memories we're creating without that person. These layers can affect us simultaneously.
Shaunagh, 26, lost her mum four years ago to cancer, and shares a similar difficulty as life changes and progresses without her. "I get upset thinking there are achievements of mine that she has missed, or that there are now special people in my life I would love her to meet," she explains.
Continuing to live our lives and make new memories without the ones we've lost, or to even be able to tell them about these exciting moments, is terrifying and heartbreaking and empty all in one — it's a painful reminder that the show which is life must go on, even though you yourself will never move on.
Writer and podcaster Nora McInerny, who lost her unborn child, father and husband all within the space of eight weeks, perfectly sums up this concept in her Ted Talk about grief.
"A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again. Absolutely they're going to move forward, but that doesn't mean they've moved on," she said, absolutely nailing the constant conflict of happiness and sadness in a grieving person's life.