Grief like a bearhunt

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A brown bear cub balancing on branches in a woodland

This lovely blog was written by Kate, and perfectly articulates the journey of accepting grief in all its complexity. Leave a comment below if you enjoy it, and get in touch to share a story yourself.

I’m a loyal member of my local library. This week I went in and took out two books that I chose based on their authors (Sarah Winman and Celeste Ng), their front covers (I firmly disagree with the cliche we grew up on) and their placement on the shelves (the ‘recommended’ one). Getting home I opened the first one up, ‘Tin Man’ by Sarah Winman, and within the first few pages clocked that this was a novel around the theme of grief. Will it never leave me alone?

Admittedly, I do often go after things I think are going to give an interesting perspective on grief and have bought various resources this year to help me make sense of my grief (who knows – maybe one day I’ll blog about them). But, I sometimes get wary and feel like talking about grief has become my ‘thing’ and I really don’t want it to be. So, accidentally getting a novel from the library about a character struggling with the death of significant people in his life when I was just after a page-turning dose of escapism was less than ideal – is there no break from it all!?

The threats on the quest

Another book I’ve been thinking about recently is that classic children’s story by the legend that is Michael Rosen, ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’. The recurring problem in this story is that the characters keep encountering obstacles which initially pose as a threat to them succeeding on their quest to find a grizzly. There is long wavy grass, a deep cold river, thick oozy mud, a big dark forest, a swirling whirling snowstorm, and a narrow gloomy cave.

What a dramatic list of unpleasant hurdles that the children have to overcome simply to go about their task of finding a bear. They do some fast troubleshooting and realise quickly that they can’t go over the hurdles and they can’t go under the hindrances. ‘Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!’ they exclaim before making various comedy noises to emphasise their plight (‘squelch’, ‘swishy swashy’, ‘splash splosh’ etc.). And they even say they’re not scared to do so!

Stepping around the obstacle of grief

And it’s much the same with grief, I’m afraid (but sadly without the comedy noises – more like drawn out sighs and your right to use whatever expletives help). When someone we know, love or have cared for dies, our gut survival instinct is to work out how to best avoid the feelings. How to move around them. How to push them down and step politely over them. How to duck them.

I’ve accepted that I’ve got to go through it

But as someone who can bottle things up quite well, who can tidy things into neat little boxes to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ (yeh, right), and has spent too long hoping to ‘beat’ grief rather than make eye contact with it and sit with the discomfort, pain and emptiness that comes from facing the loss of someone who rocked our worlds, I am much more inclined these days to go through it.

Through it, not around it

How have I done so? I am talking about the loss of my Dad much more with people – friends, colleagues, a counsellor and my brother. I have given myself space to not have it all together. I have let go of the fear that talking about my Dad will make other people uncomfortable. And most importantly I’ve accepted that we’ve got to go through it.

And it’s okay to be scared.


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