What nobody told me about grief

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Louise has shared this fantastic blog with us – you might relate to some of the things she says she wished she had known before experiencing grief for the first time!

How do you explain grief? How can you not see someone for so many years yet still think and dream of them every day?

My questions are endless, I don’t know the answers. I don’t think anyone ever does. My story with grief started nearly six years ago, when I lost my mum to cancer; I was just 17.

So much has changed in the past six years of my life. I have finished school, graduated university, moved out, watched my sister give birth… the list is endless. In a way I feel like I have lived a completely different life since that day on June 20th, 2015; everything is still and will always be strange.

There are so many things that come with grief which you are not prepared for. These are my top three.

Pity and sympathy

This is a big one for me, not so much now but more at the beginning. If you are like me and your grief is deemed as ‘tragic’ (all grief is tragic), but you know what I mean, then you will feel all eyes on you, quite literally. My mum was 48 when she passed. She was so young, and it did attract a lot of attention.

For one, no one even knew my mum was dying, not even her own children. My mum was stubborn and showing signs of weakness was not in her nature, so much so that she hid that her cancer was terminal from all of her family for two years. Of course, we knew the cancer had returned, but we thought she would beat it like she had before, plus you NEVER think this will happen to you and I stand strongly by that.

I found out my mum was definitely going to pass on the last day of my final A Level exam, two days before she did. I was in denial until the very end. My sister and I received an almighty amount of sympathy and condolences, especially around the time of the funeral. Whilst it is really lovely that people care, we found this extremely overwhelming. To be honest that whole time of my life is one massive blur; it had not sunk in. I really can’t remember much of that whole summer. Fast forward six years and everyone else has moved on with their lives and have forgotten about my mum. It is sad but I don’t blame them. It is not their grief to carry.

The awkward conversations

Where do I even start. This one crops up so much, mostly with work and dating. The oh ‘what do your parents do for a living’ line, or ‘I bet your mum loves that you do lots of cooking!’ are just a couple. What makes this awkward is not me, it is the other person. It instantly dulls the conversation and they don’t know what to say. You can feel the awkwardness, usually followed by some pity. What I have learnt the most from these situations is just to be bold and talk about it. If you are not awkward then they will soon loosen up. I will say with confidence ‘Thank you. I am comfortable talking about it, it is a big part of my life!’ and will continue our conversation. I actually love talking about my mum as it keeps her alive. I want people to know how great she was.

I have learnt to not let things like this bother me too much, it is just that dread when you can feel it coming or they’re mid-sentence and you’re just thinking, here we go again! I found this a lot with dating too. You never know when the right time to mention it is. I am not someone who will randomly declare this to anyone – but when is the right time? Fortunately, I have been with my boyfriend for three years now, and whilst I still remember our first awkward conversation, he is really good with it, and respects all of my do’s and don’ts surrounding grief.

The little things – good and bad

Lastly, no one prepares you for the little things – good and bad. No one prepares you for that drive home from a relatively good day at work, and a song comes on the radio that just makes you burst into tears. I have weirdly quite grown to like this one. I think it’s a time thing, sometimes a good cry is all you need! I also like seeing a white feather. One fell into my lap once on my first day at my new job on a train – like how does that happen?!

On the flip side, no one prepares you for the floods and floods of Instagram posts on Mother’s Day that you have to bear – I really hate this one!! Or the random things. The things you would NEVER even think of. My mums email address was hacked after she was inactive for so long, and every now and then I get an email from her account (with a different end of address every time so I can’t block it), and every single time this shatters my soul and ruins my day. Have I not been punished enough?!

My biggest and only piece of advice for grief is just to learn to ride the wave. It is so cliché, but it’s true. Take every day and every emotion as it comes. Every time one of these things happen you get that big stronger, so embrace them! Surviving grief is one of your greatest strengths.

Louise Lawrence