Lucy shares her story of losing her dad and learning to heal.

As I sit at my Dad’s desk, compelled to write, my mind feels more connected than it has in a while. I’ve just watched the BBC Three Documentary ‘Learning to Grieve’, which centres around the story of the sudden loss of Harriet Shelley, sister to pop star George Shelley, and his journey with grief in his early 20’s. I’ve been meaning to watch this for a while, but have kept putting it off, waiting for the ‘right time’, when the house is quiet and I’m by myself.

There’s many things I feel like this about and have delayed doing, the most overwhelming example of this being when I attempt to absorb my Dad’s archive, for my Dad was a writer, musician, promoter & all round creative. As I sit surrounded by his belongings, one of my Dad’s wood carvings of a kestrel stares back at me, alongside funny cartoons, photographs, rocks, voodoo dolls (he was a Blues musician…) and several quotes, one he hand wrote on a post-it note. It’s as if he were here yesterday, or is still here, even.

And as I sit at my Dad’s desk, I think of how I one day want to be able to write a book as he did, to share my experiences of being on the road, and of being with him, for we played in several bands together, and shared some unique and memorable experiences.

Friday 13th September

As I sit here, I remember what I was doing when I heard the news that was to change my life in a split second, and for my future to come. I was in this exact spot, panicking at the prospect of learning 28 songs for a wedding gig I had just got for the following night. I had less than 24 hours notice and the pressure was on. However, I never got to play that wedding, nor did I have to learn the songs, for another drummer had to stand in for me that night. My Mum’s voice called several times up the stairs. I ignored it at first, but when I detected the urgency in her tone, I knew something was not right. Eventually, the third time, she got through to me. She told me my Dad had been in a cycling accident and we were to go to the hospital right now. It was Friday 13th September (of all dates) and there was a blood orange harvest full moon hanging low in the night sky. I have to work to remember this night, the memories too haunting to visualise.

Without going into the details, after a truly isolating time spent in Intensive Care with my Mum and Brother, by the evening of the 14th September, my Dad, Julian Charles Piper, had left this world; his injuries were not survivable.

I don’t want to confront the reality of my biggest fear coming true, life without my Dad

I’m writing this now, as very soon, I’m to begin a course of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), a relatively new and specialist psychotherapy in addressing trauma. It is designed to alleviate the distress associated with trauma, by facilitating the accessing and processing of traumatic memories. It has been used successfully to combat PTSD, with very encouraging results, and has been recommended to me by several practitioners. Although I don’t truly know what I’m going into, it feels like the right next step.

Whilst I know it’s not going to take away my grief or the pain which I haven’t even began to feel (but which I know is most definitely there), I’m hoping it will enable me to begin the act of processing what has happened. Despite everything that I witnessed, the knowledge of what has happened still doesn’t feel real, as if it’s someone else’s story I’m telling. It’s as if I’m hoping I will wake up from this nightmare, as I don’t want to confront the reality of my biggest fear coming true, life without my Dad.

A new chapter

Due to the traumatic nature of the death, my mind has unconsciously numbed itself. I have tried to connect with and almost coax out the grief: I’ve enjoyed Let’s Talk About Loss meet up groups, had a course of counselling with Cruse, and I even went on a solo trip to one of our favourite family holiday destinations, The Isles of Scilly. But with the second shock of the arrival of Coronavirus in March 2020, just six months after my Dad’s death, living in a world in lockdown for almost a year has further thwarted my attempts at moving forwards, or so it has often felt.

It is said that trauma latches on to the part of your brain responsible for emotions, and the process of EMDR is to redirect the trauma to the memory part of the brain.

Whilst it feels like I’m about to embark on a mountainous expedition I’ve not yet packed for, I’m hoping this may start a new chapter in learning to feel again.

Lucy Piper

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2 thoughts on “First steps

  1. Hello Lucy, Thank you for sharing your story. I think that is always a brave act. Loss is such a personal thing. I wish you luck with the course of treatment, however, as someone who has just been trying to find my own way through the journey of learning to be who I am now I am a grieving person, I would say, don’t try too hard.

    I think your mind only gradually lets you take a step forward when it is ready to do that and for some, that can take many years. I am a little over three years on from losing my mum now and I can see my own journey in stages thus far. The first six months brought me to a point close to complete breakdown. At that point I made a plan for the next year or so and set myself a list of things to do in order of priority and that included doing things that helped me think about something else a couple of times a week and got me out of the house. This did help a lot. It distracted me from my misery and made me think about something else. It gave me something to look forward to and it relieved the pressure of constantly focussing on the grief that filled my every moment the rest of the time. I felt close to sliding into a pit of depression I might not be able to climb out of at that point.

    The next twelve months I spent sometimes thinking I was doing quite well at times only to find some little thing would happen that made me feel I was right back where I started again and had to acknowledge I had not made as much progress as I thought.

    After eighteen months, I really did begin to find it easier to function every day, but I still have good and bad days. However, only in the last few days, three years on, have I found myself really remembering the every day life we had when mum was still here. That is good and bad. I know our life was mostly good and mostly as much fun as it could be, but on the other hand, I still feel I let her down to some extent. We are all so self critical, perhaps rightly, perhaps not. I haven’t decided in my case yet. I do know I did the best I could. It’s more a feeling that maybe that wasn’t always good enough.

    What I’m trying to say is, we all spend time unable to focus on much other than what happened at the end of the life of the person we have lost or see past that. I don’t think you can force the mind to move forward until it’s ready to and then it will do it in tiny steps it can cope with. Grief is not something you can ever really get to a point with and say ‘that’s done now’ or get to a point with it that you feel comfortable with, not in my experience anyway. Grief becomes a fluid aspect of you that is ever present on some level and changes; something you feel differently about at different times. Slowly the good memories seep back into your consciousness, but that can take a long time and you may feel differently about them than you did at the time.

    I hope the treatment helps you. We all find our own way through our futures after loss, but it is never a straight smooth road and it throws up challenges and bumps along the way from time to time, I have found. For some it is a process that takes many years. You learn to live with that. Life can be good in the meantime, but it is not something I feel you ever really finish dealing with. It’s an on-going process that you just have to be patient with and accept is part of you.

    Wishing you well.

    1. Hi Sandra,

      Thanks so much for your message & I’m really sorry to hear about the loss of your Mum.

      I totally get what you’re saying and 100% agree with everything you said.
      However, this therapy is more focused on targeting trauma than grief.
      I definitely agree that you can’t hurry grief / there is no timeline to it. I also had a significant bereavement back in 2012 of a different nature, which has been a totally different grief process.

      Best wishes to you also 🙂

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