Grief is a strange thing, because the idea of loss encompasses so many different things, including the loss of an abstract concept.
I know that an acute grief reaction can occur in women who are expecting to have a well baby, but instead have been told their child has a birth defect – the grief over the diagnosis is just as real as their grief over the well child that existed only in their imagination. In some cases, the pain can even feel as visceral and as violent as if the well child has been murdered.
I once met a lovely and vivacious girl from Australia at a friend’s wedding. The both of us didn’t know anyone else there other than the bride (who was of course busy making her rounds of all her guests), so we just ended up chatting to each other most of the evening. She told me about how she’d worked as a lawyer to please her family, saving up all her earnings in order to pay her way through achieving her dream of becoming a veterinarian. At the time, she was finishing up her final year of veterinary training in Australia. We traded stories about our clinical work. Towards the end of the evening, we got up and danced with the bride and groom, giggling and laughing like old friends. I had to leave the party early, but not before promising that I would drop her a line if I ever headed out to the land of Oz.
It was almost two years later that we were planning a trip to Australia, I remembered my promise and I contacted my good friend (the bride who’d invited us both to the wedding) to ask for her help in connecting the two of us via email.
My friend was completely flabbergasted that I didn’t know what had happened to that beautiful girl. She’d died a few months after the wedding, in a horrific car accident.
I couldn’t believe it. Dead? No way. But it was true. It happened when she was bringing her family back to the Perth airport, after they’d attended her graduation from veterinary school. Her family members all survived with a few injuries, but she was killed instantly.
In telling me the story, my poor dear friend had to relive the devastation and despair that she felt upon receiving the news of the death of her best friend and had been asked to give a eulogy at her funeral. The accident was so terrible and so tragic that it had even been reported in our local newspapers – I’d completely missed it because I’d been pregnant with Little E at the time and had turned into a hermit crab for nine months.
For the rest of that day, I felt utterly miserable but I didn’t quite think that I had a right to feel so upset. So I pushed the feelings away and just tried to carry on with the rest of my day. After the kids were in bed, the Barn Owl asked me why I seemed to be moping around the house, and I just burst into tears.
Debs G: There was a terrible accident and she died!
Barn Owl: That’s bad. Was she your friend from school?
Debs G: No. I didn’t know her at all.
Barn Owl: I don’t understand.
Debs G: I don’t either! I never knew her, and I’m sad about it! And now she is dead and my friend was very sad about it, and I wasn’t there for her! I’m sad about that too!
Finding out about the death of someone you know, even someone you’ve only known very briefly, is always a shock, and it’s important to remember that the right to grieve does not need to be earned. If you feel bereft because death has stolen someone from you, that in itself gives you the right to grieve.
Although I had only known this girl for the space of a few hours, she still left a lasting impression, and that is worth something to me. I’ll always regret not following up on our meeting sooner.