He was taught about living after loss by his grandmother. One had lost brothers and a husband. The other infant children and a husband – to coal mining. they live dina time when loss was part of everyday living. They had very different approaches. One said “I’m ready for ma box, Geoffrey”. She was ready to die. She told him stories about suffering. Sometimes she made it up. The other grandmother would say “it’s all part of the game Geoffrey” – suffering is part of everyday life. She filled her days with activities – knitting, cooking for others. Two grandmothers, same generation, different approaches to loss.
He spent 25 years studying loss. That research showed no correlation between age and ability to deal with loss. Even if you’ve lost the love of your life, you’ve not been cheated by life. We cheat life is we close our hearts after we lose someone. One grandma embodied “why me?” – the other “why not me?”.
They both died in his 20s. That left him emotionally numb. Death was very much in the UK mindset at the time – “don’t die of ignorance” was the campaign to stop the spread of HIV. No-one knows if it worked – but it scared the living daylights out of people. He put himself in the centre of it by getting involved with a centre for people with HIV. He nearly passed out on his first time – because he was holding his breath. But they taught him. People who suppress their emotions are at greater risk of easting disorders, violence and other problems. Emotions can be the fire that fuels their living. London Lighthouse was built out of this. And the ad agency behind “don’t die of ignorance” came to them for help with the next version.
People who cope don’t just embrace their emotions, they embrace whatever grief brings them. If you want to milk life, you need to embrace everything grief brings you. You need to let the emotional abyss swallow you… It may feel that in that abyss part of you is dying. And maybe part of you needs to. Block pain, and you block access to compassion. Block hatred, and you block access to peace. Block that abyss, and you block access to who you really are. In the silence of the abyss, you’ll find your liberation, even if you’ve lost the love of your life.
Connecting to the flow of life is ultimately what makes us happy. Happiness is about how they travelled. Grief is not depression. He’s never met anyone who found a solution to grief through antidepressants. The dopamine system, and a life without dopamine is a life without pleasure.
His brother died in a car crash several years ago. He felt guilty – guilty that his brother was in the crash not him. He imagined what his brother would say: “You stupid git, don’t be so daft”. We honour the dead more by choosing to live well. The survival guilt was burdening his heart. He imagined his brother again, and told him he would live well for both of them – and his heart came back online. He heart was alive. We settle. We find peace – if we let grief run its course. It will liberate us to knit, to cook, to pass on knowledge, to do a TED talk, to live.
Loss can be a life adventure. Stay with it. Breathe, and let your inner experience guide you.