You learn how to grieve…
It’s a lesson that everyone needs to learn and it’s something that almost all of us find out about as we grow up. It’s actually an essential part of growing up.
When you raise children, it’s natural to try to protect them from the hurt and pain that exist in the world and shield them from the unpleasant parts of life. The easiest thing to do is to say, ‘Well, they’re too young to find out right now. Perhaps when they’re a bit older.’ That’s a cop out and it often ends with them being over-protected and completely unable to cope when, inevitably, a major loss does catch up with them.
The problem is; there is no right time to learn these things. There is no best age to learn about death and loss. The truth is, they are never too young; children deal with it at the level of their understanding at the time. It simply has to be faced when it happens — don’t try to shield your children from knowing about death.
I’m not going to write about the death of pets or family members, I’m sure almost everyone reading this knows those things. Loss and bereavement comes, unexpectedly and in many different forms.
The funny thing is, you don’t have to experience a death to experience and learn about loss and mourning.
I have been election agent twice in general elections. Someone has to do it. A candidate often needs to find one in a hurry and in the first instance, they look for someone who appears to be efficient, understands the system and knows a lot of people. Possibly unfortunately, but I fit that profile.
Candidate and agent need to get to know each other very well and very quickly. It’s like a whirlwind love affair, without the romance. The first time, it was flattering to be asked, in a church car park after the initial constituency meeting with the candidate. Although I had doubts about my ability, I also knew that there was no-one else who would have appeared as capable of doing the job at that meeting.
For the next three months or so, we spoke almost daily and saw each other more regularly. He moved into a flat, close to where we live. From then on, the campaign hotted-up, it became full-time for him and full-time outside the hours of my already full-time job of teaching.
When the school holiday started, the campaign was non-stop from nine in the morning to gone ten at night. My wife was a big part of it too, preparing meals for us and ferrying his Italian girlfriend to and from the airport; she flew home up to twice a week to launder her clothes or get a haircut — obviously services unavailable in this country! We couldn’t work it out either.
Our teenage children were fascinated and interested, learning a lot about the mechanics and philosophy of politics, they both joined in with the inevitable discussions and arguments round the meal table. Very useful education for them both.
I was probably a little more realistic than the candidate in that I knew it would be a very long shot to gain the seat in our constituency, nevertheless in a contest of this nature, you have to travel hopefully and we campaigned as hard as we could and were assisted by a lot of other people. However, on the night, my realism was justified.
I also knew that at the end of this, it would be very unlikely that we would have much, if any further contact. We exchanged a few emails, mostly formal and administrative, concerned with winding up the structure that we had created; terminating leases, signing off accounts, acknowledgements, in fact all the things that have to be done after the election. In some ways, it was like the all the administrative tasks that have to be carried out after a death.
We met once. A very boozy and sumptuous meal at the House of Commons, entertained by our MP who, despite his opposing policies can be gracious in victory and is, at times quite personable.
This wasn’t a bereavement, nobody died, no body to bury, there was no funeral although there was a wake. However, for us and for me in particular it felt very much like a bereavement. We had spent a very intense period of time with each other, we got to know each other very well, as well as ever you can without passion or romance and in many ways, it felt as though we had crammed a lifetime into a few weeks. Then, quite suddenly, it all ended and I knew at least that it would never be repeated, at least not like that.
I was agent again, for the next election, with a different candidate, it was hectic and intense but there wasn’t that close relationship. At the end of it, there was disappointment but that came from the inevitable loss of the election and not from the ending of the task. Maybe I had learned from the first time and not committed myself to the same extent or maybe it was something else that was missing. There was not the same feeling of bereavement.
The mourning that follows bereavement has many different components. I don’t fully buy in to the theories of bereavement; the seven stages of grief and all that. I’m sure that they are identifiable but in the end, it just has to play itself out in its own way. I also realise that some people cope with death and mourning better than others. Some people never stop mourning, which isn’t necessarily unhealthy. My mother has never stopped mourning the loss of my father, even though he died over forty years, but it hasn’t stopped her rebuilding her life with friends and service to the community.
I think that the message here is probably, simply; don’t be afraid to take your children to the funeral, as long as the celebrant keeps it short — and politics isn’t easy, either on the winning or the losing side.