Grief: expect the unexpected

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A curved railway line bordered by trees basked in the evening sun

People say grief strikes anywhere. But what does that actually mean? Today I had a sudden stab of grief as I looked at a pot of Vaseline – so yes, grief really can show up at any time.

I used to think that grieving meant crying, or at least being sad. But the two are not synonymous and I have learnt, with the help of others, that grief is a beast with many faces, and it can disguise itself as many different emotions. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is impossible to recognise.

Grief as it looks now

As I write this, on 2nd June 2018, it has been 1,065 days since mum died. Exactly one month from the three year anniversary. Yet still, a pot of Vaseline causes a lump in my throat and the familiar stabbing pain of grief in my heart. Because this is what grief looks like to me now. It is less intense than it was three years ago, when I would howl into the night sky and rage at the loss of the woman I loved so dearly. Now, the grief is quieter, calmer, and less predictable. It shows itself as it did this morning, in the most unexpected places.

Every girl has their lip salve of choice, and mine is Vaseline. I’m somewhat addicted to it and for a few years when I was younger, I collected the tins, and so I had every flavour of Vaseline available. Mum loved it too, and neither of us went anywhere without our Vaseline. It seems such a stupid, trivial thing now but it was a commonality we shared and one of many things that made up the bond between mother and daughter. This morning, as I applied my Vaseline, as I do multiple times a day, every day, I suddenly remembered that mum loved Vaseline too. It was a new tin design, one mum hadn’t been alive to see, and that small, seemingly ridiculous fact was enough to cause a moment of intense grief and longing for mum.

Journeying and learning

As we journey further with grief, it seems that the shock of loss presents itself differently. Gone are my nightmares about mum dying (apart from the occasional one every six months or so), instead I grieve for the things she never got to see. Big things, like the love of my life who will never get to make my mum laugh, or the weddings she won’t attend. But the little things set me off too, like reading a book that I can’t pass on to her even though I know she would have loved to read it. Or like the Vaseline she never got to buy, or the picture of ‘Susan’s Cafe’ that I’m not sure why I’ve taken because I can’t show her.

You’re not alone

Grief is scary and confusing. If you are new to the grief club, expect the unexpected. But take solace in the knowledge that you are not alone with your random, bewildering, ridiculous triggers. We all experience them and the whole nature of grief is that it is not something you can prepare for or control. We’ve all been there and we know how you feel – and it’s normal.

If you are feeling alone, why not connect with Let’s Talk About Loss and meet other young people who have been bereaved. At the moment, we run meet ups in Nottingham every month, and will soon be launching in London and Bristol. They are relaxed, informal gatherings where you can come along and meet other young people who have been bereaved. There is no pressure or expectation to talk about your loss, just come along and get to know us, and see that you are not alone. Email for more information or drop us a message on Facebook or Instagram.

Grief doesn’t have to be isolating – let’s work together to talk through the taboo.