The Days Following: Behind the Scenes of Grief

No more normal

In the days following my brother’s death, there was nothing to do, and everything to do. Our normal lives had been put on hold while we negotiated that strange, liminal zone between the vaporous shock of the news, and the more solid event of the funeral. Really, though, our old lives had been obliterated. What you don’t perhaps at first realise, is that the death of a family member, or someone similarly close, means a form of death also for the one left behind. Old identities, patterns of living, habits of thought, securities, all become dust. Grievers must suddenly assume the shoes of emotional-construction workers, forced to forge new lives from the ruins of the old.

At the beginning, though, all you can do is stand in the rubble and, at best, look around.

The larger contours of grief are perhaps well known. There is the public display of the funeral, the anniversaries, the speeches. There is something pure about these – loss takes up centre stage, as it should. There is perhaps a certain sublimity in acknowledging the enormity. But, as anyone who has lost anyone close will tell you, the experience of grief, for those left behind, is more than the ‘tellable’, traceable moments, it is a life event unlike and also like any other. It involves, of all things, admin.

Now, personally I hate admin, I’m not good at it, it makes me more nervous and takes far more out of me than, for instance, the act of sitting down to write. But grief admin, well, there’s a whole other sting.

The Admin of Grief

In the days after my brother died, while we were all lost inside our own labyrintine tunnels of miscomprehended emotion, tasks did not leave us alone, administration came calling.

Vodaphone came calling.

Now, I have nothing in particular against Vodaphone, over any other mobile phone company. But just this one word now, is enough to send me spinning. I imagine that there must be whole host of words floating around innocently in the world, unknowing that with just the sounding of their syllables they can send people’s alarms off. Grief alarms. Memories manifested just by their mention.

Mobile phones were relatively rare all those years ago. But Greg had one. If we were to pull it out now, it would be a large, laughable walky-talky type thing. Then it was cutting edge. One of the best photos we have of Greg (we didn’t have digital photos either) is of him sitting down with his phone to his ear. He’d just started to carry it around, for business mostly. I’d never called it. After he died, I guess after his items were returned from the crash, I must have taken possession of it.

I remember I would listen to his voice message – often – just to hear his voice. Until it became strange, rather than comforting, to hear him speaking as if from afar. I thought that I was the only one in the world interested in that phone. Anyone who knew him well enough to ring knew it was off bounds.

Until Vodaphone rang. We need to speak to the owner of this phoneHis bill, the matter of his bill, the person on the other end said. I told said person it wasn’t possible anymore, he wasn’t able to pay it. I told them the truth. He wasn’t here. Whether it was the result of an administrative oversight, or deliberate, I don’t know, but they rang again. This time I was even more frank. After that they stopped calling. I’m not sure, to tell the truth, what happened in the end. Loss drags along with it a whole line of loose ends, tangled and untieable.

And then, of course, there was the funeral admin. You’d think, in this area at least, those involved would tread carefully. But,I suppose everyone has to do their job, when it comes down to it.  A representative from the funeral parlour came to the door like an avon lady, or a wedding photographer, bearing brochures. As my family and I sat at our kitchen table with the summer light streaming in, drinking tea like we were discussing a new colour pallete for the walls, he showed us our ‘options’ for the casket, the car, the flowers. Well, we hesitated, as he showed us the basic’ box’ models, right up to the luxury lined versions worthy of ancient Egyptian kings. We umm-ed and ahh-ed and went in the end for what seemed safest, the middle road.

Love and Loss Multiplied

I remember the night before the funeral, stopping by the church and seeing the hundreds of seats set out ready for the following days’ proceedings. There was even a marquee set up, as an overflow crowd was expected.  Greg was popular. My heart swelled and ached all at once, to see the obvious outpouring of love, displayed, this time, in a gratuitous outpouring of administrative care.

It was the first time I felt it, the corporate-effect of the loss of my brother. How his passing was not just ours, but effected so many. It is easy to be jealous in grief, to want to hold tight your version of the past, your place in the lost person’s life. But really, shared grief is much more beautiful than any measured, competitive version. It allows us to walk together even as we walk alone. To exchange tears and stories.

It’s the way he would have wanted it, I think.

* feature image by Rob Viuya


Impacted by these words in some way? I’d love to hear you’re thoughts.