When a death leaves love nowhere to land

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When a death leaves love nowhere to land

Bereaved mother Su-Rose McIntyre says grief doesn’t occur in a neat sequence of events or experiences; rather, it’s like Melbourne’s weather – all over the place.

“You don’t know what you’re going to wake up to,” she says.

“You might be fine until a trigger comes. You might see the back of someone’s head or a movie snippet, and you’re back into dark clouds again.”

Su-Rose knows grief well, having lived through the death of her adult son, Carl, and then specialised in bereavement while studying a Masters in counselling about five years ago.

Su-Rose says carer grief often goes unrecognised and is not well understood. It is however doubly taxing, as carers not only grieve the loss of the person they’ve been caring for, but find their lives take a significant change in direction.

Su-Rose cared for Carl for eight years as his mental health slowly declined. She says one New Year’s Day, he went to hospital seeking help.

“Sadly, Carl was not provided with the healthcare he sought; he took his own life one hour after he was told to leave the hospital and return home,” says Su-Rose, now a grief counsellor.

In her new book, ‘The Grief Kaleidoscope; metaphors for grief’, Su-Rose writes “the magnitude of losing Carl was like rolling all my past losses together into one big ball and multiplying it by one hundred”.

“I was left wondering how I would take my next step; uncertain if I would ever be able to stand tall and live life fully again.”

Her main motivation in writing the book though was to bring grief “out in the open”.

“Our society is a bit grief averse and we don’t know what to do with it. We have the funeral and say a few words and don’t go near it again because people are frightened of grief and frightened of making things worse.

“I think, why should we grieve in the corner? Why can’t we grieve and everyone know we are in grief and acknowledge it and respect it, because it is a healthy response.

“I want to put grief on the map; it’s a journey for non-grievers and grievers. Non-grievers don’t handle it well, so therefore the grievers don’t handle it well. If we all had strategies and knew more about it we would be much better at it.”

She wanted to write a “sweet little book to hand to people who are in deep grief”, which people experiencing any kind of loss could dip into as needed. She didn’t want it to be a manual, prescriptive, or theoretical, so instead wrote short stories that she likens to extended metaphors which are open to interpretation.

Through the days, months and years of Su-Rose’s grieving, an objective part of her watched on, noting her experiences and responses. Metaphors came to her, which she found useful in explaining the “seemingly inexplicable” to those who couldn’t relate personally.

“People asked how I was travelling and when I explained it in metaphor and they got immediately,” Su-Rose tells Palliative Matters.

“With metaphors, I was able to pinpoint where I was, and they speak on a heart level as well. I found they can bring people to tears; it did for me writing the book. They are very heartfelt.”

Her book starts with a story that dares the reader to ride ‘the wild, silver brumby’, stare directly into its eyes and surrender to a treacherous journey. Su-Rose says if readers opt not to take the ride now, the brumby will wait for them, “because grief doesn’t just go away”.

At the end of each short story, Su-Rose provides tasks and gentle tips. The book also includes poems and illustrations.

Su-Rose likens grief to a gift that is wrapped in black paper, though it doesn’t feel like a gift when it is fresh.

“As you go along, surprisingly there are gifts in there: how important love is and how important it is to live in the moment and treasure those moments because you realise life is fleeting and nothing is guaranteed.

“We are not in total control of our lives and things do happen, like it or not. [People who have grieved] can recognise it in others when they are suffering – things like severe diagnoses mean more to me now as a mother than ever before, ANZAC day has more significance for me than ever before. It’s like putting on new glasses, in a way. You see the world differently. Nothing will ever be the same. You proceed, but with new awareness.”

Melbourne clinical psychologist Dr Annie Cantwell-Barti describes Su-Rose’s stories as being gentle, reflective and wise.

“They don’t skip over the harshness and pain of grieving, but also point to the wisdom and growth that can also be found after loss.”

Su-Rose says the underlying message of her book is hope; “hope will get you through; hope that life will still be okay again; hope that you will have the strength to carry on, and also hope that there will be some good come out of this”.

She recently read a definition of grief that resonated with her – that grief is love that has nowhere to land. She realised that her book had served as a landing place and says it was wonderful to flip it into something with purpose that was meaningful.

“Grief can be a fuel as well,” she says.

“It doesn’t have to bring you down. It can also raise you up.”

The Grief Kaleidoscope: metaphors for grief can be purchased from many stockists, online.

Lifeline: 13 11 14