Updated: Feb 27, 2019
When a loved one or close friend passes away the void can be terrible. How do we turn the pain into a celebration of that persons life ? It will never be the same, but over time you will gravitate to remember the good times, the laughs and the smiles - celebration takes time.
We heard this week of the passing of Rebekah's (My wife) Grandma, Eunice. She was 97 when she died and was of the generation that did things, went places, was very active, right up until the last few years.
We salute you Eunice, a life well lived....
It brought back memories for me to four specific times life snatched away people near and dear. Here's how I've dealt with death over those experiences.
Nanna Tonna - Nancy Davies
I'm 48 now and haven't had a grandparent around for over 20 years. When I was growing up 'Nanna Tonna (Because there was a Nanna Clyne - Welsh Thing), lived with us, she was bed bound because of a stroke and because she was around the whole of my child hood, this seemed quite normal to me. There were seven of us in a council house in South Wales.
My bionic mother (still going strong), held down a couple of part time jobs, looked after her mother, tended to us, did the housework etc. She was and still is a whirlwind of activity. Nancy Davies (Nanna Tonna), had a few more strokes before she died. When she left the house, it felt empty, even though there were six of us, the front room was never the same. The bed eventually left so did the commode. My Dad wanted to knock the front and back rooms into one, which brought a sense of closure, but it was never the same. We had spent years together in that room, with Nanna, huddled together each night watching one of the four channels on our 'Colour' TV (We thought we were posh when we got it from Currys).
We didn't have the money for a headstone, so the best we could do is me and my Dad went and cemented some ornamental curb stones to form a more solid frame around the grave.
What I remember the most about Nanna Tonna was her peace, I never heard her shout or complain, her life as I remember is was never easy and often difficult, yet she was always willing to give a cwtch or a kiss, to encourage and to be so consistent it helped us kids just carry on.
Nanna Clyne & Grampa
I stayed with Nanna & Grampa every weekend for about 10 years. I only worked out in my 20's that my sisters (three to a room) would rotate sleeping in my bed (a box room) in our council house. I often wondered why my stuff was moved but never put it together.
The 'Grands' were chapel goer's so that's what occupied my weekend. To be honest the work ethic and their faithfulness was a massive influence on me. The Saturday ritual of backing custard tart, apple pie etc. to make sure the Sunday guests (who ever they were) would be full. The gardening of my Grampa, the shed collection of ever oddity he picked up off the roadside, that would be 'useful on day'.
The times when we would all come to my house at Christmas and us kids would put on our own Christmas Panto, Nanna Clyne would laugh so much she would wet herself and whisk herself off to sort herself out. We had brilliant time.
Grampa died in his sleep at 78, Nanna Clyne never really recovered. The shock manifested itself as shingles, TIA's etc. She just missed her husband of 50 years.
Grief is weird, I remember writing a Christmas Card to my Grandparents two years after they had died. Like your brain is on autopilot. I shed a tear that day, then gathered myself, smiled and thanked God for who they were.
It's never the same when these larger than life characters go, even when you manage the grief, you still have the memories. I often find myself driving to the places that they lived just to sit for a while and remember.
Looking back I remember the simple life they led, they made do with what they had, everyone knew them and they would help anyone. Chapel was a huge focus, and that small community makes we hunger that we would remember to support each other where ever we are today.
Brian Brettle was definitely a product of his parents making. Four boys brought up in Clyne. I drove down past Clyne the other day to look up on the mountainside where he had planted 50,000 trees in his 20's as part of his first job with the Forestry commission.
He married young, his sweet heart Hannah Davies from Tonna (My Mother). My mothers family Catholic and my Fathers Evangelical (what a collision of worlds in those days). Love took it's course, their parents worked it out, there were soon four kids.
Dad ended up working in a car parts factory in Resolven. I guess his hope for me was to be interested in Rugby (I wasn't) to be down the pub (I didn't), so we had rough patches where the trajectory of his desire and the angle of my life, just didn't line up.
He worked hard, often nights to bring enough money in to make things work, he never shied away from it. On his time off he did DIY, for everyone in the village it seemed. A Patio here, weeding a garden there, building a rockery for someone - often for free.
Back then there was little thought of diet and exercise and sadly while digging the garden he had a heart attack, he was 54. I remember getting the call. I was by then leading missions in our local Church and rushed from there to Morriston Hospital, my Mam was there, three sisters en-route.
Dad was awake with paddles implanted in his chest to stimulate his heart. He complained of being cold, yet wanted to try and find some dignity where he was. He tried to push himself up on the bed a bit, which was too much for his heart, he died within minutes, my mother an I were taken into a room to process what had happened.
At 28, you never want to have to tell your sisters about the death of their dad. It was a long walk through the corridors to where they were. I paused I as heard them mustering up some funny comments in the hope that he would back in the garden soon.
I appeared and said 'He's gone'.
Just writing this, I miss him. Dad had a naughty streak in him, he was playful and active. In his latter years he often seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. The younger dad is easier to remember.
I was so privileged to be asked to be a Godparent of Naomi Bradley, daughter of Russell and Yvonne, dear friends over many years.
It was poignant to me, a long time single guy who at that time was so busy, love seemed to be something I would do later on.
Yvonne had a very difficulty delivery, and the complications suggested one or both might themselves have died.
When Naomi came home, she brought sunshine where ever she went, her laugh, her little hip swaying run, her enquiring mind made for a extraordinary young girl. As time rolled by we all had so many adventures with family days out in Margam Park, Tenby, Oakwood etc. Life was so full and fun.
The teenager was never moody, although she did want the tallest high heels ever, she was always considerate, always supportive, always encouraging, Naomi was just simply fun to be around.
Naomi's biggest enjoyment was Disney, anything to do with the brand, from Tinkerbell to The Lion King, Mickey, Minnie and everything else along the way. She found love with Adam and then we heard the news.
Naomi had developed a tumour under her arm, which had grown and by the time it was removed had spread, Lung Cancer was the final diagnosis.
I have to be honest, I didn't know how to feel, what to say, how to act ? She was like a daughter and I had never been a Father so to speak.
The hardest day of my life to date was conducting her funeral. Hear me right, it was also my biggest privilege. No one wants to bury a person that they love.
The Church was packed. We saw in that moment just how popular and quietly influential Naomi was, I guess six or seven hundred people came, many of them the same age as Naomi (21).
As parents Russell and Yvonne have worked through the pain of the loss of their only child, with so much grace and dignity it makes me cry. No doubt behind closed doors there have been moments, but in public they have turned their grief into a celebration of the one they love and lost, which is helping so many others right now.
It's the moments of the greatest jolts in our lives which unlock the biggest potential to help people. Unless you go through loss and pain, how can you advise, how can you counsel, how can you support well ?
Wow, I never set out to write a book here, but it's helped just to share. Loss is not the end. Being a person of faith, I feel it's just the beginning of the journey for many. The ones left behind though, feel the pain, because grief forces us to look at our mortality, celebration of faith enables us to look at our eternity.
Where ever you are today and whatever loss you have suffered, talk it out, take time, look at pictures, remember funny stories. Your mind is looking fix or settle on what it will remember moving forward. So don't focus on the negatives, you can't fix them now anyway. Choose to celebrate the life of the one you lost.
You can't simply fix grief, the best you can do is learn to live with it the best way you can.