27. Male. Bereaved.

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Liam, one of our meet up Hosts in London, has written this piece about his experience of being bereaved at a young age.

This blog is about my personal experience with grief and being a bereaved male in a world that expects us to ‘man up’. I promise to be as honest as possible, and if I can help just one man relate to something and feel less isolated then I have achieved my goal.

Boxing Day, 2011, I got the news that my best friend had cancer. At the age of 20, you never imagine that something like that could happen to your closest friend, and my reaction initially was one of denial. He will recover. He is my best friend. He is too young to die. Isn’t he?

A new reality

After a heroic six year battle, Matt passed away two years ago. You would think that knowing what was coming should have made it easier, but when that day arrives there is nothing that can prepare you for your new reality without that person and their presence in your life.

I have never been married but Matt is my Best Man. A once in a lifetime friendship gave me the privilege of being his best friend for 15 years. We have a great group of friends and I know I speak for us all when I say that his presence is missed every single day. No social occasion has felt quite right since and I don’t think it ever will.

The unpredictability of grief

Grief is a journey and a rollercoaster; one that will never stop. It is different from day to day, week to week and month to month. Sometimes raw and painful, other times lighter and less intense, but one thing that never changes is that it is always there in some capacity. This used to bother me but over time, I’ve learnt to accept it and embrace it.

It is almost two years to the day since Matt died, and needless to say the emotions are still raw and difficult to manage. Although grief is unpredictable, my experience has taught me that time goes a long way towards learning to accept the bad with the good and ride the wave.

There are landmark dates: May (his birthday), September (the date of his death), October (my birthday and his funeral), Christmas and New Years Eve (his diagnosis). Although painful, the inevitable emotions that come with these dates provide something of a much needed cathartic release.

I am personally very guilty of allowing feelings to bottle up and keep them under wraps, and this is not sustainable. 

The pressure to ‘man up’

In society, there is a dangerous pressure on men to ‘man up’. Men shouldn’t get upset. Men shouldn’t cry. Men shouldn’t get depressed.

But we do, and the world hasn’t accepted that yet. Fortunately, these views are (slowly) changing and us men are beginning to fight the stigma, but we are a long way from where we need to be. 

I promised I would be honest. It’s clear that being open and honest is something that I and my fellow bereaved men don’t do enough, because opening up and asking for help is scary. I thought keeping quiet and getting on with life would benefit my relationships with those closest to me. I was wrong. 

Grief changes us, it’s inevitable. In some ways the changes are obvious, in others only my friends and family were able to notice.

I’ve gone weeks at a time barely speaking to anyone. Is it because I don’t want to, or don’t care? Of course not. It’s because of the fear of bringing others down with me and being a burden. If it was as simple as ‘just talk about it’, we might not have half of the problems we currently do with mental health issues in men.

Finding a balance

If there is any advice I can offer to people living the bereaved life: be good to yourself. If you need to lie in until midday at the weekend, do it. If you want to stay at home alone and watch Netflix with ice cream, binge the series and finish the tub.

Everyone has their own happy place. Mine is going for long walks listening to Country music (Matt would never let me hear the end of that one). When your thoughts start to run away with you, take deep breaths, practice mindfulness, do whatever you need to do to ground yourself. It really works.

And talk to someone. Please, please talk to someone. Reach out to those close to you and ask for help. If nothing else you’ll learn who your real friends are.

I’ll finish by sharing one of my favourite quotes which sums it all up beautifully:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” 

Liam Butcher

Got a story to share? Talking about loss is a powerful, brave thing and helps us all feel less alone in our grief. If you want to tell your story, email us at blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.