The Grief trip: it isn't a sprint (and it needs proper support)
This is not the post I had planned for my first ‘taking my website more seriously’ bit of prose. I’d been planning a more light-hearted debut, something fashion-related. But, then again, given the recent event of the death of HM The Queen, how could I not put forward some ideas on the topic of grief?
Firstly, though, when I said ‘recent event’ and then mentioned Her Majesty dying was your first thought: ‘Hang on that was ages ago’? I wouldn’t blame you if it were. And it was, after all, about 4 months ago. But in the span of grief, this length of time is akin to a blink - although all too often I think people believe it doesn’t take much longer than a weekend plus the time it takes to say a kindly ‘how are you feeling?’, and give a sympathetic head lean, for grief to have run its course. Life carries us forward, of course, and as it should. And we must get on with it. But hearts and feelings are often really trailing in the wake, clinging to a life raft feeling lost and bewildered – and they can take a while to catch up.
My own tears after the death of Her Majesty took even me by surprise. I did go and lay flowers at Buckingham Palace (and took this photo). More profoundly, I found myself glad of the national mourning period, oddly comforted by the quiet and by so many of the capital’s lights being turned off. If only we could all have the city be so gentle when we’re grieving. Fat chance.
It also got me thinking about compassionate leave. The reality is that we’re not terribly good at supporting death and those that are facing losing a loved one. Incredibly, there is no legal requirement (certainly not paid) for compassionate leave that employers must offer; though many will offer 3 to five days (sometimes paid, sometimes not, sometimes taken out of holiday leave as if preparing for a funeral is some kind of jolly jape akin to a summer frolic on holibob). But really we all need time to mourn, time to grieve and we should not have to rely on employers being understanding or having to negotiate that out of them at a time when our emotions feels as raw as beef Carpaccio. (I should add here that my employers were marvellously supportive).
We’re very good at supporting the beginning of life. I read the details of a job application recently. It was for a big London department store and it stated proudly its family leave policy that covered everything from maternity, paternity, adoption, surrogacy, and shared parental leave. Please don’t misunderstand me, I fully support all of this, it is hugely and unquestioningly important. But while we are so willing to support the start of life is it not time that we start to show the same regard, the same support, for the end of life and the loss it leaves behind, for the shattered hearts, the bruised souls. If we can acknowledge that a mourning period is required when we lose the great and the good, then surely it is time we acknowledge that need when we lose the close and the quotidian.
So, I would like to formally suggest it is time to enshrine in law the same grieving period for every one of us that we felt compelled (rightly, in my view) to offer to the country for the death of Queen Elizabeth II: a defined 10 day mourning period that offers paid leave. I appreciate it’s a financial burden to employers but surely we are more aware than ever of the importance of protecting our mental health. The Royals certainly are. So would it not be a fitting legacy for Queen Elizabeth II to envelop her realm in a cloak of continuing kindness. I think it’s high time we ushered in change - and a whole lot more support as-to how we are allowed and supported to grieve. I was lucky. I had a hugely supportive editor when my mother died a year or so ago. Grief is a journey we’ll all share but a subject we often find hard to talk about. How we’re supported as we go through it surely shouldn’t just be about luck, but be properly and indisputably supported.
You can follow me on Instagram @edwinaingschambers