Lots of the emotions connected with grief are still seen as taboo and we don’t talk about them. In this amazing blog, Hannah discusses how grief made her selfish, and how she responded.
I used to think of myself as a good person. Not always a friendly, or easy-going person, but a good person. Motivated by altruism, progressive politics, and improving lives. I liked to think of myself as someone who would always be there for my friends and family, and would even be there for people that I didn’t like that much.
That changed on July 6th 2019, when I found out my dad was going to die. He died on July 12th.
Grief made me selfish.
Existing in a bubble of sadness
For the first few days and weeks, I clung to my family and my partner at the time. I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my friends’ lives at this point. So many people reached out with love and compassion, and I could just about bring myself to respond with a thank you. People showed up, and messaged, and checked up on me, and I just existed in a bubble of sadness. I think this is normal, or as normal as it can be when you lose your dad as a 23-year old.
After the initial shock and sadness, the pain began to manifest in different ways. I was angry. I was angry at my dad for leaving us, I was angry at myself and my family for all the ways I thought we could have helped, I was angry at doctors and nurses for having been slow or not having done enough. (There really was nothing any of us could have done to prevent or cure his cancer, but anger doesn’t always like logic).
I was bitter. When people around me talked about their lives, and their worries, I didn’t care like I used to. I began comparing every experience to my own. You’re having a hard time at work? I don’t care, I just lost my dad. You’re having relationship problems? That’s not as bad as my dad dying. You’re stressed about exams? Big whoop.
Things that are hard to accept
Initially I didn’t realise I was doing it, and then I did but it didn’t stop. When you’re currently existing in a world of sadness, pain, and grief, it can be hard to accept that other people’s lives are continuing and being experienced totally differently.
Even once I managed to move on from this hostile mindset, it didn’t lead to the change I wanted. Once I managed to get my head around caring about other people’s lives again, I found that I didn’t have the emotional energy to actually do anything about it.
I think we don’t talk enough about how exhausting grief is. How exhausting it is crying all the time. How exhausting it is trying to put on a brave face, and go to work every day, pretending your heart isn’t aching. How exhausting it is, trying to push the thoughts and memories of a loved one out of your head, because it’s too hard to think about them.
People can be understanding when you’ve just lost someone, or when you’ve just attended a funeral, but grief keeps on simmering away under the surface for… well for I don’t know how long.
It’s not wrong to be selfish in grief
It’s at this point that some of my very best friends were here for me. People that really knew me. They knew the pain I was feeling; the sadness in losing my dad, but also the sadness in losing a part of myself. They knew I couldn’t stand the changes I saw in myself, and it was them that made me recognise – it’s okay to be selfish sometimes.
When you go through something as traumatic and life-changing as suddenly losing a parent, it’s okay not to be doing as much as you were before. It’s okay not to message your friends as frequently. It’s okay not to get as emotionally invested in every aspect of other people’s lives.
When you’re experiencing the worst of grief, getting through each day can be hard work, so anything above and beyond that really is a bonus.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try. I know that I feel so much better in myself now that I’ve managed to reconnect with people, and now that I’m doing more of the things I care about. I also know that my friends, family, and people around me are better off when I’m the best version of myself. But I’m also learning not to beat myself up for the part of me that needed to hide away and curl up to survive.
I still wish I’d handled things better when my mental health was at it’s worst, but I’m trying to forgive myself for the things I couldn’t help. I also know that grief is going to be a part of my life from now on, and I’m slowly learning how to live with it. It’s up and down, and unpredictable, and affects me in different ways on different occasions, but I’m learning every day.
Grief is messy and tough, and so am I.
Want to share your own grief story? We’d love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.