What grief can teach us now, from the neighbourhood

Our neighbourhoods are full of people with wisdom to share, especially on the subject of grief. We can all learn from them, especially now with Covid-19. Here is Robin Low’s story and word of wisdom.

I grew up in a gorgeous family, with lots of support. But it was an era when children were shielded from death and it was shut away from us. So when people died, I wasn’t really aware of it at all.

And then my grandfather died. I must have been about 10. Until then death hadn’t hit me, I didn’t really know what it was, it was all masked. But looking back, I realise that when he died I was hit with massive depression.

My father, who was a much-loved general medical practitioner in our area, died 27 years ago, at the age of 75, from a massive stroke. He was a very hospitable man, and when he died the community took part in a massive celebration of his life.

And even only recently when a Facebook tribute was put up to him, people from everywhere paid tribute to him and what a wonderful man he was.

He was with us one day, then spent five days in a coma and he never came out of it. It was a massive shock.

My mum died five years ago. At 80 she went in to hospital for surgery for breast cancer. Her doctors weren’t particularly concerned about the cancer but in the hospital she contracted a staphylococcus infection, developed organ failure and nearly died.

She died seven years later and for the last five of those years she lived in the house next door to me. We had a long build up to her dying. While she could still chat, she was happy and life remained interesting for her, although she was much changed. She went from being a very active woman who’d run a horticulture business to a hospital induced invalid.

When she died, at 87, there was not the shock we suffered when my father died. But it still hit me. I didn’t realise how much I went in and out of her house, how often we chatted with each other. So the grief was still as real, although different.

What has grief taught you?

Grief has taught me that it is absolutely critical to spend time reflecting on the life that has gone. When Dad died, people kept trying to distract me and change the subject when I talked about him. Talking about him was a process I needed to go through but a lot of people didn’t realise that.

So I learned from that that when someone else is grieving and talking about the person who has died, immerse yourself in it. Listen and ask questions about the person. My grief literally taught me that. Really allow people to make sure a life is acknowledged.

Robin Low is an active member of her community and sits on a number of boards, including the board of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.

What has Covid-19 taught you?

There’s a lot of ‘Covid-kindness’ being talked about and that’s really reassuring, since there are so many people struggling. Covid-19 is showing us the need to look out for people more. I’ve got an elderly neighbour and suddenly she’s contained to her own, much smaller world.

We need to look after these people. Get their phone number, see whether they need any groceries, check that they’re okay.

Grief over what is happening all over the world now is a very human response. Apart from the sorrow over deaths, there’s a very real grief that our world won’t ever be the same.

Some things will get better but we’ll lose a lot and that will be sad. So we need to protect the good things we have, like the little shops in our communities.

Covid-19 has really shown me the importance of us all supporting each other.

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