It was an odd start to a dream vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park. Tears streaming down my face on the drive from home to the Cedar Rapids Airport. My husband and I were going to meet two Australian friends-Conrad and his 22 year old daughter, Claire, who was my daughter Claire’s close friend while we lived in Melbourne for 6 months.
But Doune was going to be missing. Claire’s mother and my soul mate died in a car accident on her way back to Melbourne two years earlier. Doune was a tall woman with a fast gait—she and I walked with her dog Gypsy along the Yarra River in Melbourne at a speed that left me (short legged) breathless.
When we lived in Melbourne, Doune invited me for a Sunday lunch one weekend, I realized that real people cook marvelously and with a eye for taste and presentation…and have outside parties that I thought were fictions of food magazines. She enjoyed my attempts to get through a cookbook of an Australian chef, Bill Granger whose restaurant I loved in Sidney. She and Conrad were kindred souls when we planned a birthday party for our daughters- the Claires (amazingly with birthdays a day apart) which was a lollies and chocolate scavenger hunt in a city that prides itself on its chocolate shops. The girls went everywhere in the city.
The relationship continued across the Pacific. We hosted their son Boyd for 4 months in our home. We continued to send packages, and Doune was regular about sending any of the new Bill Granger cookbooks.
And then a call came 2 years ago that Doune had died and that the Wonder Dog Gypsy had survived the accident.
Up until that trip to meet Conrad and Claire, Doune’s death was nothing real. Sure, I went on a commemorative hike in Iowa when they had “Doune’s walk” around Princes Park in Melbourne. But until I walked and hiked with Claire who had Doune’s fast pace, tall stature, and ability to talk while walking fast—the reality of my loss (and how small it felt compared to theirs) had not set in. I deferred my grief as there was no reason to subject myself to that pain. How generous of Claire and Conrad to comfort and listen while tears flowed before, during and after our hikes ….. two years after her death.
The irony of it all is that Doune sent me a book years earlier, written by colleagues or teachers called Nonfinite Loss and Grief, by Elizabeth Bruce and Cynthia Schultz. The book is about grief when the object of your grief is still present-a family member with dementia, or in other life situations when life chronically fails to meet expectations. The grief never ends as it reinforced by constant comparison to “what could have been” and the constant contact with the object of grief. This kind of grief can be disenfranchised grief—not socially allowed because the object of the grief still lives on.
It occurs to me that we might defer grief for reasons other than long distances and many time zones. Sometimes we take it in small chunks because it is all we can handle. Or we think that strength is not crying or appearing resilient (a trait I see in professionals). Deferred professional grief can lead to burn out, and in health care, we tend not to model grief for our younger colleagues. Helpful articles about professional grief can be found here and here.
I know Doune would care about our grief. She was such an engaged Mum that she would care most about the grief work of her now adult children. She is no longer physically present to help-she is here though, in the presence of memory—which are stirred when I open the Bill Granger cookbooks, see the pictures of her family and when I sensed her while on the top of Estes Cone in Rocky Mountain National Park.