Grief changes you. I don’t think anyone who has experienced it can argue that. But how, and in what ways? Is it for the better or not? Earlier this week I thought about my dead friends, and the many ways my life has changed since experiencing such Grief. If this sounds like a particularly morbid line of thinking, well I guess it is. But if you can quantify something it’s less likely to overwhelm you and that truly is my jam.
There have been so many minor, incremental ways that Grief has changed me and it’s hard to detail all of these. But the one singularly big way I have changed since my friends died is that Death, and People I Love Dying, has become a legitimate section in the “Stuff To Think About” part of my brain. Death has a presence in my concerns that it didn’t before.
This isn’t a new revelation; a lot of people will talk about grief as being a lens to “confront your own mortality”. But that’s not quite what I mean. It’s not as though I wake up with an innate desire to dwell on my dead friends, but they are just now in the general mix of memories and vague thoughts that drift around my subconscious. In idle moments and lazy in between thoughts, death is there. Amongst passages of books I read, dresses I see in shop windows, ideas for dinner. The general melee of thoughts that pass through my crystallised brain daily. My mind goes through the motions of what will happen when my parents die; what music I would play for Ryan’s funeral; how I will read my next eulogy.
Writing that down sounds absolutely horrific and you’re probably about to google counsellors on my behalf. I know! I get it. Chatting about death isn’t exactly a breezy topic but I’m here doing it anyway. It’s okay; I have to stress, it’s not a fraught thought process. It’s not as though I sit here weeping and spiralling into a deep pit of grief, trying to come to terms with the fact that we must all leave this earth. In fact, it’s more a logical and laborious train of reasoning, rather than an emotional one. It’s like when an air hostess tells you to pull the mask down over your face and I do a subconscious check of what earrings I’ve got on. You know, a “just in case”. A train of thought that just kind of journeys on without me feeling actively emotionally connected.
It’s like my brain wants to process the functional needs of death so that in the next terrible event, my brain can be a step ahead of itself. In an awful way, it’s like my brain has learned from prior catastrophes. Next time I need to make a list of people to call, I’ve already mentally run through it. Who do I need to check in with first; which mutual friends do we have who otherwise may not know; who will need the extra support? The files are drafted, ready to go, saved temporarily somewhere in my murky subconscious.
I do hate that my brain does this now. Really bloody hate it. I hate that death flickers in and out of my subconscious instead of staying well away, like you might hope. Interrupting these prime years of mine with it’s nascent burden. But at the same time I know that accepting Death and coming to terms with that is a very important part of life. In some ways, it is absolutely no way at all to be functioning in my twenties. It makes me feel morbid and ghoulish. Who takes a cross-country train on holiday, watches the rolling hills and drifts off, then snaps back to reality when an announcement comes on only to realise they’ve been mentally scripting a eulogy? But in other ways, I’ve already seen this in action; my brain getting past the logical shit means I function that tiny bit better in the event of a crisis.
I can’t say that I behaved anywhere near as self-aware or functional when I got the news about friends dying earlier in my life. On one occasion I just stopped mid-song, mid-rehearsal when a text came through; on another I simply went home and sat on the bed for four hours without communicating to anyone. Now it seems I can act a tiny bit better; be a first respondent instead of a dumbstruck victim. It’s progress I think, a badge earned at some horrible level but at least a skill that will serve me later in life. And as long as we keep finding ourselves on the other end of unwanted phone calls, well, that’s got to be better than the alternative.