Walking with a limp

March 2008

Philippa Skinner writes some personal reflections on bereavement: This was something I wrote just a few months after Jim died- too soon really, but for some reason many seemed to find it helpful, so to anyone else, here it is, saying it as it is… well at least as much as I could manage. Reading ita few years on, it is still largely true. I would still say 'time doesn't heal' but all the learning along the way, which takes time, has helped me to live much better again, and for this I am grateful.


Walking with a limp

Dear friends,

I don't know if it is any use to you, but just in case, I thought I would try and write a few thoughts about my experience of bereavement over the past few weeks. This is only my experience, and a few of the things I have learnt along the way. I wouldn't want to suggest that what I have found is true for everyone, for I realise that every lost loved person is unique and so is the business of grieving. Still, here are a few of my thoughts and a few of the things I have discovered. I write them in the hope they may be useful to you, as I hope my experiences will be useful to me, as I come alongside other grieving people in the years to come.

First of all, I want to say a warm thank you to the many who have sent tokens of your thoughts and prayers, whether through cards, flowers, letters, emails or other means. Many have written that words can't do much, but we have found that they have comforted us. To know that others are reaching out to us in our distress has been soothing. Often, we opened cards and wept at the thoughtfulness expressed. And weeping was positive, so thank you for taking the time.

I have realised that after losing a beloved person there is no recovery, no 'coming to terms with it', no question that 'time heals'. There can be no healing for those left behind on this side of eternity since the lost one can't come back. Instead, it is about learning to live a new way of life. Before, my life had a pattern and shape that included my son Jim; now my life is a different shape… in fact it feels all out of balance and lop-sided and I almost feel I have to learn to walk again. I will learn to walk again but it will always be with a limp. That is healing of a kind, I suppose, and I am sure I will get used to it, and maybe, in time and with God's grace, I will learn to walk gracefully again. Perhaps those who don't know me well may not even notice my limp, though I will know it is there still.

I have found grieving to be lonely and isolating. When your heart is very full of emotion, it is hard to know how to relate to other people, except perhaps those closest to you. I have found a need to be on my own and I have found it hard to be in large groups of people. I suppose it feels as if I have to make an effort to behave 'normally' when I don't feel at all normal. To smile and be polite is tiring when inside you are crying. Yet, at the same time, I am thankful for 'quiet, undemanding closeness', from a few, if that makes sense.

I have found that grief is very physical. Always weary, often not hungry, it is a case of doing the right things to look after yourself, because you know you must, but it is all an effort. The best times in the day are flopping in front of an inconsequential DVD, so you don't need to think for a bit, or even better, going to bed and hopefully to sleep. Actually, walking the dog comes pretty high on the list of 'nice things to do' as well.

Wild places are good. To walk out to Red Rocks and beyond, to head out to sea and watch the windmills turn, to see the ever-changing pattern of the sand, to feel a stiff wind blowing your thoughts away, to hear the haunting calls of the waders on the edge of the tide…these things are good. I think there is peace and healing in being part of the eternity of nature and creation.

As a Christian, the really big question is 'has my faith helped me?' In the early days I felt as if every bit of the Bible I read was high-lighted and underlined in red ink… I seemed to read and understand the importance of what I was reading with a new, stark clarity. Then, as the weeks passed into a sort of terrible numbness of desperate but unwilling acceptance, the clarity faded to be replaced by tiredness and a cotton wool approach to the Word of God. I couldn't hear anything, nor did I want to particularly, because I felt angry that God hadn't heard my prayers and hadn't helped my son at his time of need, despite 22 years of prayer for him. What was the point of bothering?

Then I realised how God speaks through other people particularly at black times like those. I came home from a trip away to find cards from good friends in which they shared words, verses, prayers they felt God had given to them for us. Those cards arrived at just the right time. They spoke to me and encouraged me so much, so now I am on better terms with God again. God uses others to speak to us when we are too tired to make much effort ourselves.

Well, there are just a few thoughts about what I have learnt a long this rocky way. Not unique, not special, but I hope helpful to you because I know it is hard to know just what to say to those who are grieving and sad. They aren't always the most comfortable people to be around, I know, because of a fear of saying or doing the wrong thing and upsetting the person. The truth is, you don't say the wrong thing and cause upset… the person is already upset and sad, and the tears that maybe you think you have caused by being 'clumsy' are probably better spilt and would have come anyway. It wasn't you who caused them and tears are often healing and positive.

Meanwhile, thank you for all your kindness and thoughtfulness. Here's to Spring, and new life and rebirth all around.

Love, Philippa Skinner