In this blog, Shelley writes about her experience of loss as a child and as an adult. She shares how her experiences of grief have given her strength and resilience and a deeper appreciation of life and cherishing the special moments. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

I was three years old when I had my first heartbreak; it was when my Grandad passed away. I remember waking up one morning and my mother breaking the news, although I don’t remember what was said. I remember the funeral and my confusion as to why this was happening.

I didn’t know what death was

I remember running up to a man in the supermarket because I thought he was my Grandad. I remember the relief and excitement when I saw him, as I wrapped my tiny arms around his big protective legs. I remember the shame and the embarrassment when my mother gently pulled me away and told me he wasn’t my Grandad.

I was four years old when I had my second heartbreak, it was when my dad passed away. I remember him falling down the stairs a lot and then being in a wheelchair, and I remember when he had his bedroom moved to the living room. I remember the funeral, I remember my sister was crying and I thought I should too. I remember being confused as to why everyone was so sad.

I realised I would never see my dad again

I remember I spent years looking for my dad in the street, in the park, in the shop. I remember when I was fourteen, I was looking out of the car window for him, my sister had a flour filled balloon and it burst. I turned my attention away from looking for my dad and I looked at the burst balloon and what a mess it had made, flour all over the car seat. In that moment, I realised I would never see my dad again.

I finally knew what death was

When I was twenty-six my step-dad passed away suddenly, while I was with him.  I tortured myself for a year with the belief that had someone else been with him, perhaps he would have lived. I convinced myself my family thought the same.

I was diagnosed with mild post-traumatic stress disorder and was offered counselling, but I found my own therapy in reading, running and meditation. The diagnosis helped me to understand why I was feeling the way I was and I found that educating myself about PTSD made me dissociate the disorder from a part of me, to a thing temporarily latched on to me.

It became an achievement to sleep in the dark and without waking from a nightmare. It’s an achievement when I recognise the crippling onset of an anxiety attack and gently reassure myself in order to control it. My coping mechanism is my faith, I have developed an absolute belief that when the body dies, the spirit lives on in some form or another. I believe loved ones send us lots of signs to show us they are OK.

Supporting children through bereavement

I think it’s so important that we teach children about death, they need to grieve as much as adults do. We should enable children the confidence to ask questions about their bereaved loved ones and give them honest answers. Children are incredibly resilient and more emotionally intelligent than some may realise. I believe it is better they are given the resources and support to grieve early into bereavement rather than to be left with years of confusion and fear.

As I mature into my late twenties I am grateful for my experiences of death, it has given me a resilience and a strength many people don’t have. I am more aware of the limited time we have on earth and the importance of cherishing every moment and every person we love in our lives. My recent trauma with my step-dad has taught me to be gentle and kind with myself, it has taught me to love myself more than I ever have.


Enjoyed Shelley’s blog? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts. Have a story of your own to share? Email us to get in touch and share your advice.

4 thoughts on ““I didn’t know what death was”

  1. Your story shows just how very long it takes to process loss and highlights that we can go on doing that for the rest of our lives in one way or another. I used to look out for my dad on the street, even though I knew he was gone. I never did see anyone who looked quite like him, nor my mum, though I have seen one or two people who resembled her in some way. The great thing about your story is how you show you have taken so many positives from so many negatives and learned valuable lessons from your losses so early in life. So many people spend their days stressing about such trivial things and attaching far too much importance and drama to things that really mean very little and matter even less. Well done you for recognising now the things that really have value in life and in death. It will stand you in good stead to go through your own life focusing on the things that do matter. That strength you have gained from the worst times in your life is the last gift to you from the loved ones you have lost. Well done for treasuring it. Sandra x

  2. This blog resonates in so many ways especially the timings and ages of significant bereavements and also PTSD . I am starting up a small project soon to have some books available for young children about loss and grief to help them with some of their feelings . When I was younger grief wasn’t really talked about with children . But times have changed .

  3. A very brave thing to do is talk about death. I lost my Dad when I was 24, he collapsed in front of me with a massive heart attack, I performed CPR for the minutes it took for the ambulance and Dr to arrive. I have had counselling. It never goes away, 18 years on, I would give anything for one last hug, one last chat, one last ‘i love you’. I’m not scared of death, I know my Dad is with me and gives me direction. It’s just hard not having the actual person there anymore.

  4. Thank you for this incredibly insightful piece. I was born in 1965 into a family that had lost a son at birth just 18 months before. Within two years of my own birth, my mother was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer dying two years after that. In those days there was little or no recognition that a child might need to grieve and be properly supported in that grief. The effects of that experience and my father’s chaotic life in subsequent years, have marked my own life deeply. Now in my fifties, I am grateful for some of the things that those experiences have given me, but I’m also aware of the high price I and those nearest to me have paid.

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