What does bereavement feel like to go through? Not a question you can usually ask someone in the thick of it, so I've been asking myself that question. Blogging about loss is actually proving quite therpeutic for me, and it seems to have made some connections for other people, so I've decided to continue.
If you want some theory, you could read about Kübler-Ross's 5 stages of grief, which can be a helpful insight from a psychiatric viewpoint. It can help to explain lot of confusing and sometimes disturbing feelings that people go through. But not everyone fits the pattern. Humans are all different, and we don't tend to comply with tightly drawn up models in all circumstances.
Instead, I'm going to give you a little story that resonates with what I have been feeling. I've drawn on my own recent experience of bereavement and also what I have observed in others for the longer term effects. I've decided to call it the Parable of the Swiss Army Knife.
I still have my original Swiss Army knife. It's a Huntsman, which is mid-range - two blades, a screwdriver, a can opener, a saw, a bottle opener, a cork screw and that pointy thing which is a mystery, but I used to create starting holes for wood screws. After a long career in camping / DIY and serving drinks, it's lost its shine, but all the sections are still functional. When I first got it, the main blade was fabulously sharp, and sure enough I was so taken by surprise by its edge that soon I slit my thumb being careless cutting something with it.
If you've ever cut yourself on anything really sharp, you'll know the experience. You know it's sharp, but you have no real sense of what such a blade can do to you. Initially you feel nothing - no pain and if the blade is sharp enough, you don't even feel the cut occur. I remember looking at my bleeding thumb with initial disbelief. How did that happen? Then you realise you need to do something about it, and perhaps even get some assistance. As you start to clean the cut and get the slit held together with a dressing, that's when it starts to sting. Sometimes the sting is quite acute, especially if antiseptic has been used to prevent infection.
Once everything is contained, there's a dull ache, and sometimes a throbbing sensation. You have to be careful what pressure you put the wound under, as it can make it sting quite badly again, or even re-open the cut. You have to protect it from acquiring an infection and turning into something nastier. Eventually, it's safe to be exposed again, albeit with a slightly ragged edge, where some skin has died at the edge of the original cut. I seem to remember those edges peeling and flaking for a while afterwards. Once it had all healed up, I didn't have a visible scar from that particular cut, but it was certainly more sensitive for a while as things knit back together under the surface. However, I can still remember where it happened over 40 years later.