Ah, the pet Grief Monster. Along with our three cats, he’s a member of our household that not too many people are aware of, but a very important one nonetheless.
Tomorrow will mark three whole years since the Grief Monster came to live with us. I’d had the misfortune of seeing other people inherit Grief Monsters before, but hadn’t really had much close up experience with one myself.
It joined us under dire and unexpected circumstances. My fiance had been unwell for a few days with what we all assumed was the flu. Fast forward 24 hours, a panicked call to the emergency services, an ambulance trip to the ICU, a night of intense neurosurgery and, in a fog of words such as: “We’re so sorry, there’s nothing more we can do… stem cell dead…organ donation…funeral arrangements…” I found myself the brand new owner of a pet Grief Monster (along with a generic, rather unhelpful booklet on ‘Dealing With Loss‘) and was sent on my merry way.
I drove home from the hospital with just the Grief Monster for company. I vividly remember it sitting on my shoulders throughout the entire trip, but it became so heavy and suffocating that I’d quickly gone numb. As I walked into a relative’s house, I hid the Grief Monster behind my back for a few moments, wondering how I was meant to introduce this unwanted new addition to my unsuspecting children. In the end, I calmly sat them down, explaining how their stepdad had contracted a rare virus (streptococcus intermedius) that had quickly taken his life and how the Grief Monster was going to be taking his place in our shattered little family.
They both froze upon seeing the Grief Monster. They shrieked in fear and confusion as I desperately wished I could protect them from this awful creature for just a little bit longer. We barely slept thanks to the Grief Monster jumping around the room and keeping us awake all night long. The next morning, we begrudgingly took our terrifying new pet home with us.
The three of us quietly watched in disbelief as the Grief Monster ran around our home, unsure of what to do next. When the kids went to bed, it cornered me as I sat alone on our back doorstep in shock, clutching a cold cup of tea and cigarette (a new, unhealthy habit I’d developed whilst waiting at the hospital).
During the aftermath, we were initially inundated with visitors offering condolences. Some came to see us out of curiosity, keen to catch a glimpse of the elusive Grief Monster in all its glory; those people didn’t stay around for long once the novelty had worn off. Others refused to acknowledge it and found its presence intimidating. A rare few friends refused to let the Grief Monster change things and supported us unconditionally.
In the months after the funeral, it followed us everywhere; to work, to school and even to inappropriate occasions such as friends weddings and birthday parties. Sometimes, the Grief Monster would taunt us publically to the point of tears. Every now and again, people would spot the Grief Monster and immediately run in the opposite direction, leaving us feeling isolated, embarrassed and tainted.
I was driving home from the office one night, just me and my unwanted passenger, when I had an epiphany. If I just drove a little bit faster and ‘forgot’ to slow down on the sharp bend near the reservoir, that could be the one thing that would finish off the Grief Monster for good. No more heartache, loneliness or relentless grieving. I pondered for a while before realising that this spur-of-the-moment thought was far from a sensible solution. It would simply mean that my loved ones would end up having to deal with a Grief Monster of their own, and that was something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
So that evening, after it became apparent that I was almost at breaking point, I sat down and looked our Grief Monster right in the eye. I told it that I hated it, that it wasn’t welcome and none of us wanted it in the first place. I screamed, cried and shouted. I marched to the back door and kicked it firmly out of our home.
Within just a few hours, the Grief Monster was back, sitting on the end of my bed. It was then that I finally understood; the Grief Monster was going to be a part of our lives forever, whether we wanted it or not. So we talked. We talked all night long and I set some ground rules. It would be acknowledged as and when the girls and I decided. No more popping up at the most inconvenient times and hijacking our every waking hour.
I was determined to tame the Grief Monster but on occasion, I would hear it sneak into my daughter’s respective bedrooms; the sobbing that shortly ensued told me that we still had a long way to go on this intolerable journey. Eventually, we began to get stronger together and collectively embraced our strange new world as a family of three.
When Adam came into our lives, it wasn’t long before the Grief Monster made an appearance. Unfazed, he assured me that he’d stick around to help us train the Grief Monster as best he could, despite having no prior experience of this beast himself. He knows when we need time alone with the Grief Monster and on the odd occasion when we’d rather not talk about it anymore. He respects and understands the Grief Monster and all of the complex issues that come along with it.
With this unexpected romantic relationship came another kind of loss. Some friends and family members simply couldn’t understand how I could even contemplate the future with a Grief Monster behind me. The fact that I wanted to live my life regardless of this horrid situation was an alien concept and so I made the respectful decision to move forward without them.
The thing is, with its heartbreaking arrival, the Grief Monster also brought along a few positive traits. It taught us all about resilience, strength, wisdom, bravery and forgiveness, reminding us every single day that life really is too short to be anything but happy.
Oddly, I can’t image it not being around these days and would even go so far as to say that I’ve grown rather fond of the Grief Monster; it’s now integrated into my messy, patched up core. Although people may not see it out ‘on show’ frequently, it’s still very much a part of our lives and always will be. It gave us things that perhaps only people with their own Grief Monster can ever fully understand.
I truly hope that you never have to deal with a Grief Monster yourself, but if that day does come/you already are, just know that you’re not alone. You will never be the same person as you were before owning a Grief Monster, however, there is the potential for freedom, happiness, hope and a future regardless – I promise.