As it happens, I have spent a lot of the past week thinking about grief and sadness.
That sounds like a miserable way to spend my time, but it isn’t, not really.
A few months ago we were on a “friend-hopping,” road trip around Germany – staying with friends from different phases of our lives.
Friends from a year spent working in a special needs nursery in Hannover more than 30 years ago.
Friends from a time when our children were all so young that the only way you could make friends was by meeting other parents in the park.
And friends from a closer and more painful time.
This week it will have been 8 years since our friend Ceylan died.
She and her family were living in England when we met. It was meant to be their big adventure. A few years living in England, trying on Chichester for size.
From the moment we met, there was a feeling that our friendship was meant to be. Very quickly our lives became intertwined.
Ninesh, my husband and Torsten, her husband, played squash and went to the pub together. Ceylan and I would spend afternoons chatting and laughing in a mixture of German and English. Her children, Selma and Luis, were young, (1 and 2) when we met, our kids, 10 and ll, but somehow, even our children bonded.
It was a gift, the friendship that grew.
They were on their way to spend a week skiing with friends from Germany when we got the phone call.
Ninesh and I were just about to go out to dinner.
It was the police at Gatwick airport. Ceylan had collapsed on the plane, Torsten was in the hospital with her.
“It doesn’t look good,” the police officer said, even though we hadn’t asked, “someone needs to come and collect the children ASAP”
There are things that happen in life that rip through the very fabric of your being And when you try to piece the threads back together, you realise that you can’t quite remember what the pattern used to be.
That’s what happened on that long, dark night.
The lives we knew were shredded, the pattern changed, replaced by something less definite, more fragile, less permanent.
I drove her young, young children back from the police station that night.
I carried them up to our spare room and sat with them, and stroked their foreheads, while they reached restlessly for their mum.
I didn’t leave their sides until their breathing deepened and they found the calmness that comes with deep sleep.
I remember wishing that I could bottle that sense of peace they found that night, keep it safe for them so that they could reach for it when they needed it.
But that’s not how grief works.
In the depth of its pain, you cannot just reach out to find the peace you long for.
Instead you live moment by moment, wondering how you have survived the last minute to make it through to this one.
I sat in the living room, our children and their children sleeping above me, and I waited while Ceylan slipped away from us, from the world, from life.
I tried to convince myself that this was a nightmare, that I would wake up soon.
I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t as hopeless as it seemed, that Ceylan would make it.
I tried not to cry when my phoned flashed :
“Our friend Ceylan has passed away. RIP.”
I remember thinking as I read the words, that I had forgotten how temporary life is.
I remember being scared that I had forgotten to value the things that really matter.
I remember feeling as though a black hole was opening in front of all of us.
I remember wishing that tomorrow would never come.
But it came and we stood there, our 2 children and Ninesh and me, while Torsten told his children that their mum had died.
He didn’t choose other words. He just sat them on his lap, held them tightly and told them the truth.
That took a sort of courage I do not believe I will ever have.
They were 2 and 3 years old, incapable of understanding the enormity of what he was telling them.
They clung to him, their anchor and their lifeboat in a sea of sadness and confusion and pain
And we stood by and watched, broken by the sense of helplessness that comes with grief.
That was 8 years ago.
That day, it started to rain.
A storm raged tearing branches from trees and flooding the fields around.
Ceylan did not go quietly.
She was not one who would have left this world without a fight.
It’s been a long and tortuous journey for Torsten and his family.
There have been times when it felt as though the rain would never stop.
But now, 8 years on, Torsten has a new partner, Leni, and a new baby daughter, Marla, who is loved completely and most especially by her older sister and brother.
Leni radiates kindness and warmth and a serenity that brings with it a peace and gentle happiness to all who meet her.
She gives all her love to all three children with all her heart.
So this story has a happy ending of sorts.
But it will always be a story shadowed with sadness.
For that is what the grief has become…sadness.
It still wraps itself around them all sometimes but it is no longer a blanket of broken glass, gouching pain and suffering into the rawness of grief.
Instead it is a blanket of muted colours, softened by memories, traced with the threads and dreams of what might have been.
There are days when the children wear it like a second skin.
And there are days when it lies crumpled and almost forgotten in the corner of the room.
“The sad truth is that life goes on,” says one of my friends who has recently also lost someone very dear to her.
That is the truth, but I am not sure that it always has to be sad.
When we were staying with Torsten and his family, I watched the two older children leaning into their baby sister. Smiling at her, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead, keeping her safe. Allowing their blanket of sadness to slip to the floor.
I watched their sister, still so tiny, following their every move with her adoring eyes.
And what I saw was hope.
Her love for them is unconditional. She does not know their story is a sad one.
The pages of her book are blank and she is depending on her brother and sister to fill them with love and laughter and happiness.
Marla is replacing their yesterdays with tomorrows.
And at last, after 8 long years, the storm of loss is subsiding, the rain is softer now, the sun is breaking through.
And where they meet, the sun of tomorrow and the rain of yesterday, there is a rainbow that grows a little bit brighter every day.