The trouble with me: the impatiently bereaved

Richard Littledale’s wife Fiona died in our care three months ago. But how long, he ponders, is grief supposed to last? "The phrase 'These things take time' seems like a red rag to a bull as far as Mr Shouty is concerned," he writes, referring to his new alter-ego who "wants strength without rest and normality without delay".

Years ago, when I was training to be a pastor and thinking about helping other people through their grief, I learnt all about the ever-shrinking circle around a person as they become unwell or get closer to dying.

A huge social circle that once included family, friends, colleagues and neighbours slowly shrinks. Once work is impossible and colleagues are gone, as the sickness gets worse so only family are left.

When the end is near, that circle may shrink further still to only 'closest family'.

A circle of kindness

When the end came for Fiona, I was touched to find that I was not alone in that last circle.

Family were nearby, long-forgotten friends reached out and my church were fabulous.

This circle is one that is generally filled with kindness. Neighbours go out of their way to be accommodating. Friends make and remake arrangements to ensure that you have company when you want it. People at work can be very forgiving and understand that the healing continues long after the bereavement itself.

Meet Mr Shouty

In truth, there is only one person left inside the circle who is less than kind. This particular person can be shouty and intolerant, often stamping his foot with frustration.

The phrase "These things take time" seems like a red rag to a bull as far as he is concerned. He thinks things should change far faster than they are doing, and he wants strength without rest and normality without delay.

That person… is me.

Acting on advice

Learning to accommodate that person is a task best done with help.

The voices of friends and family assuring me that nobody is in fact expecting an instant recovery from me have been massively important. They have had to be very patient – saying these things numerous times and in numerous ways – but slowly the message is getting through.

My impatience has been matched – and even outweighed – by their patience.

Taking a break

Most of us find that our mood improves if we take a break, and I have been finding that, much to my surprise, it is possible to 'take a holiday' from grief.

Like any other holiday – the things you leave behind are still there when you get back. This is as true with grief as it is with anything else that you might leave to go away.

Getting away, even for an hour or so, gives room to breathe. Sometimes this can be a thing as simple as a coffee or a meal in good company. Time spent with people who are open, honest, understanding and non-judgmental is a huge help.

The grief might still be there when you get home and open the front door, but your shoulders are a little broader to bear it.

A diet of walks

Those who have read my previous posts will know that I walk a lot. They will know, too, that I walk now with a four-legged companion named Ginny. I do so come rain or shine, at least twice every day.

It was on one such walk this week that Mr Shouty did something entirely out of character.

The sun was rising through the roofs of the town and turning the canal into liquid gold. The air was still and cold, broken only by the splash of a duck landing and the gentle patter of Ginny’s paws. Overwhelmed by it all… I began to whistle.

Almost immediately, I found myself shocked that I should do such a thing. It felt disloyal and inappropriate.

In truth, it was neither. It was an involuntary response to a moment of great beauty, and proved that Mr Shouty may not be here to stay.

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Richard Littledale

Husband of patient

Richard Littledale

Richard's wife Fiona was cared for by Sue Ryder Hospice at Home Nurses during the last few weeks of her life. Since then, he has been chronicling his journey through grief via his personal blog