A Creative Writing Portfolio: The Stages of Grief

A Creative Writing Portfolio: The Stages of Grief

Being an English & Creative Writing student, I recently had to submit a portfolio of work; we were given nothing but the theme ‘Generations’ to get us going. I decided to base my pieces around the stages of grief and particularly how grief affects different generations of a family (a mother, the eldest daughter and the youngest daughter) in varying ways.

I’m aware that this is quite a different blog post, but it’s a subject that’s important to me. I hate how grief can come to you at the weirdest of moments- something completely unconnected can set you off crying. I hate how those around you think you’re fine just because it’s been a few months now and you’re not telling them all the time how upset you are. I hate how alone you feel. But above all, I hate how there is a common misconception that grief’s only form is tears. There is no prescribed way to grieve and you may dip in and out of each stage of grief for years to come. But that’s okay.

For my portfolio, I decided to focus on three of the stages of grief: the irrationality of Depression, the dichotomy between hearing some bad news and refusing to process it in Denial and childhood innocence and confusion in anger.

Losing someone you love very much is honestly the hardest thing to cope with, but the feeling of grief helps you process and slowly come to terms with a life without them. If you’re reading this and you’ve lost someone, my heart goes out to you, because it’s honestly the worst thing in the world. Grief is crippling and it’s all consuming and it often feels like you’re never going to be the same again, but keep going for the loved one you’ve lost. They’d want that for you.

Anyway, I promise I’ll be back with a jolly post on Sunday, but I just wanted to take today for some reflection.

Anger

Grandma and Mummy are in the kitchen. It’s lunchtime and I’m hungry, but they’re not making me food. They’re talking. Their mouths are making ‘shh shh shh’s through their whispering. They’ve shut the door on me; this is something I’m not supposed to hear.

I’m stood just on the other side of the door, in the living room. I’ve told myself it’s my mission to find out what they’re discussing. If Daddy was here he could be my accomplice, my connection between the adults and the childhood world. Taking his big fist to the door and rapping on the wood, he’d stride into the kitchen, trick Mummy and Grandma into letting him join their adult conversation and then he’d leave them be. He’d shut the door again with his big, adult hands. Then, he’d whisper ‘Libby, come over here!’, he’d sit me down on his big, adult knee and he’d tell me all their secrets. We’d giggle together at the knowledge that Mummy and Grandma didn’t know we know; there’s something funny about that. But Daddy’s not here today. Even if he was he probably wouldn’t have done that, as he’s always slumped in his comfy chair, looking very pale and sleepy. I sometimes play a joke on him by pulling funny faces in front of his sleepy eyes, trying not to wake him. If he wakes up I lose the game. It’s another of my missions I often go on, it’s fun.

Today I’ve got to complete my mission on my own, without my accomplice. For some reason this makes me feel a little sad, even like I might cry. But secret agents like me don’t cry, so I won’t let myself. I’m a professional and I’ve got professional things to do. It would be game over if Mummy and Grandma heard me sobbing through the wood of the door- they’d realise I was listening in! So instead, I pretend Daddy’s with me, holding my small hand in his big, clever hand, guiding me through this top-secret mission. I lean forward on my tippy toes, and turn my right ear to the cool wood of the kitchen door.

Now, there’s an art to listening in to a top-secret conversation. First, you must make your ears look out for exactly what you need to hear and you must block out all your other senses. This requires a lot of concentration. I often find that closing your eyes helps, as then nothing in the living room can distract you, like the fact that you miss that Daddy isn’t sitting or sleeping in his chair.

Next, you make yourself as small as possible, so that no one walking past outside can have a nosy in, realise what you’re doing and then play tell-tale on you to Mummy, ruining your mission. I’m little so that helps; Daddy wasn’t as good at this. This is especially important to me today, because I’ve noticed recently (being the observant secret agent that I am) that the neighbours have been looking through our front window, with a creased look of something that seems like sadness, at the cards on the windowsill. The cards say things like ‘Sympathy’ and usually have flowers on them. A bit boring for cards, I think. There’s no ‘Happy Birthday’ or bright colours there. I don’t know what the fuss is about, but I block this out now, continuing to follow step one to listening in.

The final step involves being on your tippy-toes, constantly ready for the moment that Grandma or Mummy opens the kitchen door. If the whispering ‘shh shh shh’s stop for more than 3 seconds, be ready to sprint back to the sofa. Have a prop ready for your return, like the TV remote or a book like The Gruffalo. That way, when they come out the kitchen, they’ll think you’ve been entertaining yourself all along, and have not been listening in to top-secret conversations. I’m always the best at this stage of the mission, Daddy isn’t. He’s always a little too slow with that poorly hip of his; he always gets caught out.

At first, it’s hard to make out exactly what adults are whispering about. There are always too many ‘shh’s than actual words. When you find you have this problem, it’s better to pick one of the voices to concentrate on first. Mummy seems to be the louder speaker, so I go with her. “We’ve got so much to sort out, the funeral directors need visiting and the obituary needs writing, I don’t know how we’re supposed to cope right now,” says Mum. Grandma replies with a “shh shh”. I’m not entirely sure what a ‘funeral director’ or an ‘obituary’ is, but they sound pretty official. I flip open my secret agent notebook and scrawl ‘funerul directa’ and ‘obichury’ in big letters, with cloud bubbles around them, just so I don’t forget to find out what they mean later. They could be key in solving this mission. Grandma sounds a little clearer now, the whispering seems to have stopped. My tippy toes are wobbling, I’m ready to make the head start back to the safety of the sofa and The Gruffalo, but something tells me my mission is not yet over. Two big words in bubbles aren’t enough to crack the code; I need more.

“Look Deborah, we’ll get through this together as a team. The most important thing here is that you and the children grieve- you’ve lost your husband and the children’s Dad is dead. They know he’s never coming back and goodness knows how Libby is coping with that, so we need to make sure they’re okay first.” I jump at the sound of my name. My tippy-toes aren’t tippy-toes anymore, they’re stuck to the carpet, like death has come along with a glue stick and wickedly stuck me there, so that when Mummy and Grandma come out the kitchen they’ll shout at me for listening in. I’m angry at death, because he’s taken my Daddy and now he might take me. He’s rooted me to the ground and now he’s doing strange things to me because he’s hurting my insides and making me cry. I’m angry at death for not letting Daddy peacefully sleep in his chair anymore, or accompany me on my missions. I don’t know where death is, but he’s probably waiting for me like the Gruffalo waits for the mouse, just to scare it. I want to hug Mummy or Grandma, but I can’t, because they don’t know I was listening and they made sure to ‘shh shh’ to keep this from me. I’m angry at them, because if I was included in their conversation at least I’d have someone to talk to about this. But mostly I think I’m just sad, because Daddy’s been taken by death forever and I don’t think even Libby the secret agent will get him back.

Denial

“Hello? Mum?”

Squinting through the struggle, I attempt to attune my ears to what’s being said. The intensity of the white noise makes me want to rip the phone away from me and launch it to the ground. Then, I’ll stamp on it, continually, so it lies on the carpet in shattered, lifeless fragments of technology, enough to render it useless. Just so I can get rid of that awful jumble of words and incomprehensible white noise that is now tormenting my brain. Breaking up; I can’t hear her. I won’t hear her.

My skin tingles. Small, white bumps are bubbling up on my arms. Cold and numb, I quickly huddle up against the comfort of the sofa, crossing my arms to protect myself. The white noise continues. Dad always moans at me when I leave the lounge door open: “you’ll let the breeze in” and “I don’t put the central heating on just to have this cold air circulating around the room you know.” Do I cause him to shiver like this when I accidentally leave the door ajar? Will he grow cold? The phone jitters in my frozen hand.

Mum keeps talking. Her words wash over me like a lie. I will be unfazed, this will be a joke, it won’t be true. Prank calls are cruel, they can be scary and unjust, but at the end of the day they are just that: pranks. I’d like to be prank-called upon right now. I’ll open my mouth and say with confidence, “thank you for taking the time to call me, but I know this is a joke, a lie you have concocted just to scare me. It hasn’t scared me, I know you’re lying and so now I’m going to hang up the phone.” I’ll hang up on her now, with purpose. Deny the white noise, forget the cold.

Grandma is sat tentatively, watching my reaction. That woman has always been a worrier- you need look no further than my Grandma to see why I’ve turned into a nervous wreck. Shivering herself (that darn draught) she reaches out a vein-ridden, papery translucent hand to touch mine, with the fragile concern one employs when caressing a sleeping baby. I don’t need her sympathy; I can wake up without her help. I shuffle further away from her on the sofa.

I’ve got this strange feeling in my stomach; this dull ache. A frozen hand still grasping the phone, I place my other hand on my tummy, rubbing in small circles to erase the unease, like smoothing out the marks on a whiteboard with a cloth. It’s probable that I’m hungry; I only had breakfast today and it’s already midnight. Yes, that’s probably what it is. I’d go and get some food from the kitchen if it wasn’t for the white noise on the other end of the line demanding I listen. I really must tell Mum that I need to get on.

Think about what you’re doing. I open my mouth, imagining how it would look to someone watching this scene unfold. I imagine a perfect ‘o’ shape forming; my audience would be sat ready and waiting, with baited breath, for what I’m about to utter next. Because this is all an act, it’s not real. A prank call, remember.

Although I can’t make a sound. The white noise has rendered me useless. The draught came in, snatched my words and headed off with them, chuckling. “Darling, I’ve got something to tell you,” the white noise says.

I can hear her now, clear as anything. My brain is fog and her words are cutting through it with gale force wind. I squeeze shut my eyes, so tight, until all I can see is black nothingness. But it’s like she’s stood over me, shouting through a megaphone the words I never want to hear. Forcing the phone away from me and into Grandma’s care, I press the palms of my hands onto the sides of my head to break off my hearing, until all I can pick up on is the pressure of my blood coursing its way through my body, until I’m reduced to nothing but skin and bones. But it doesn’t stop the noise in my head, the words that I wish would have stayed unspoken. They’re just as loud as before and I can’t unthink them. I can’t breathe and I can’t see for the tears and I’m wishing more than anything to all the Gods I’ve never prayed to before that this isn’t the truth. I want to break into a sprint and run for miles, run until the pain goes, until I’ve worn myself out with exhaustion and I just fall into this sleep where I can forget about everything. I want to be there with him and hold his cold hand and feel the skin and bones of the person I can’t bear to let go of.

Dad is dead and all I feel is empty.

Depression

Tick tock
Goes the clock
Round and round
It goes

It’s time to go, let me go
They don’t understand me, I’m fine.
It’s these walls and corridors and routines and locked doors that are making me
Put up a fight

I’m perfectly capable of carrying on
I’ll have you know I’m not ill
I don’t need your counselling, caring and pills
Nothing’s fair in this life now he’s gone

Everyone’s gone
My happiness has gone
They don’t understand me, I was fine…
It’s these walls and corridors and routines and locked doors that are making me
Hysterically cry

I wasn’t alone back at home, you see
I had the girls to look after
Without their Father
I was all they had to depend upon

But they took me away
Sat me down with a ‘professional’ who talked away
They don’t understand me, I’m fine.
It’s these walls and corridors and routines and locked doors that won’t let me
Escape my life.

I could escape the prying eyes at home
“Oh love, how are you doing?”
Their fake sympathy unapproving
I couldn’t stand another second of their seemingly sympathetic, sad smiles.

Instead I got locked up
Soon their time will be up
They should have listened when I said “I’m fine”,
These walls and corridors and routines and locked doors
Will not stop me this time.
These walls and corridors and routines and locked doors
Will not stop me

Tick tock
Goes the clock
Round and round
It goes

 

 

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