All of a sudden, he was gone.

Kate shares her honest thoughts following the loss of her dad just under a year ago. If you would find sharing your story a helpful and cathartic process, you can send a blog post to hello@letstalkaboutloss.org and we would love to share it to show others who are struggling that they are not alone.

I never know whether to say I lost my dad, that he passed away, or simply that he died. I wish I could manage to say “he died” more but I always end up telling others that he passed away because it sounds softer and not as stark. Easier for them to hear and for me to say.

We will never know

His death was extremely stark. He died suddenly on 2nd May 2018 at home. He was only sixty one. I was only twenty eight. He’d been a bit off colour those last few weeks but nothing to make anyone think it was anything other than a normal bug. He was a retired fireman. He was strong. Maybe he was keeping how he felt to himself. We don’t know.

He’d be fine. Dad was always fine

I was 21 weeks pregnant and had just been to an antenatal appointment. I needed to go to the shops after and had just parked my car when I checked my phone. I always keep my phone on silent, it never rings anyway – I’m a texter. But as I checked it a call came through from my sister. Being a family who never actually phone each other (and certainly not at nine in the morning) I knew it must be important. She said our mum had phoned to tell her dad had collapsed and was being taken to Salford Royal Hospital. Mum asked her to pick me up and meet her there. So I went home, sat in my living room and waited for my lift. Lorraine Kelly was on. He’d be fine. Dad was always fine.

My sister and I laughed and joked on the car ride, we don’t panic unless we have to. It was busy in the car park and was a bit of a faff to sort the ticket out. We walked quickly to A&E but laughed again as I was pregnant and struggling to keep up. We walked to the desk and told them who we were. And then I began to know.

The obvious gentleness

The nurses were so gentle with us. One came from behind a door; “come on, girls” she said kindly and motioned for us to follow her. The sign above us in the corridor read ‘resus’ and my stomach dropped. She led us to a little room (just like you see on tv) and opened the door for us. A couple of doctors awkwardly walked out as we went in and there was my mum, broken. I remember saying, “he’s not died?” to her and her reaction told us that he had.

Where was our time to say all the things you’re meant to get time to say?

It was a blur then of crying, hugging, numbness, doctors asking questions and passing his rings to us. It was such a heavy sadness that he had gone without saying goodbye. Where was our time to say all the things you’re meant to get time to say? How could it be over just like that? Can life really change that suddenly?

It was a beautiful sunny day. Dad had been sitting in an armchair, red leather. He was quiet and felt clammy. Mum made a note to keep an eye on him. He was due at the doctors anyway in a couple of hours for some blood test results. She chatted to him about their grandchildren. She heard him suddenly make a funny noise from the kitchen and ran in to find him changing colour. Then he leant back and closed his eyes. She called 999 and performed CPR all by herself until the ambulance came. She thinks he had already gone before she even dragged him from the chair.

The shock and the jealousy

The shock of that morning has been huge. I can’t describe it to you. It’s ten months on and I still feel the shock. I get breathless and panicky. My husband has to just hold me and wait until I can find a breath again. I sob. I feel so sad at all that has been taken away. Our tight, happy family has lost so much.

This is too early. I’m not even thirty. How can I turn thirty without my dad?

I struggle with a bitterness that he has gone so soon. I wasn’t meant to lose a parent until I was at least in my fifites. This is too early. I’m not even thirty. How can I turn thirty without my dad? I see others my age walking with both their parents and I feel jealous that it can never be me.

I have had my new baby to care for, along with my toddler, so my grief has had no choice but to be shoehorned into my life whenever there is a bit of space or time. This is often when I’m driving or in the car park of the supermarket in the evenings. I think about it all and struggle that my dad has never met my baby girl. I struggle that his grandchildren won’t know him.

My sister and I feel grief on behalf of our children. We don’t have any contemporaries in the same position. We are conscious of a need to take care emotionally of our heartbroken mum. We struggle to find time to deal with our own grief and dream of freedom to travel away somewhere to sleep and think and be quiet. We are exhausted.

Now I know grief

When my dad checked out grief checked in and we have lived inside each others pockets ever since

To the outside world I’m doing great. You find that people don’t ask anymore or will ask how my mum is. Adult children get forgotten about. You’re an adult, everyone knows your parents don’t live forever. I understand.

But out of all of this has come my lesson in grief. I didn’t know grief before. When my dad checked out grief checked in and we have lived inside each others pockets ever since. It’s with me when I shower, make tea, go shopping or watch the telly. It can be kind or cruel. It goes quiet sometimes but it’s always in the background and it always, always reminds me of its still there by creeping up on me and taking me by surprise.

I am learning how to live with it, though. We are learning how to live with each other. It could be a long process but I know dad will help me from wherever he is. I know i can do him proud.

Kate Middleton

Inspired by Kate’s story? Leave a comment below or email us with your own story and we would love to share it. Remember – you are not alone.

“Things will never be the same”: eight months of grief and what is next

Caitlin shares her thoughts about what she has learnt in the first eight months since she lost her mum. It’s an amazing blog post full of honest truths about what loss is like. If you’d like to share your story, email us on hello@letstalkaboutloss.org.

What I’ve learnt so far

It is approaching eight months since I lost my mum. It feels like even longer- she was ill following a severe stroke for four months before she died.  Several milestones have gone by in that time: Christmas, what would have been her 68th birthday, and me starting a new job. And there are more to come: Mother’s Day, my own 25th birthday and the first anniversary of her death.

When I first lost my mum, I frantically googled the process of bereavement and the stages it would entail. I’ve always been one for structure. I gathered from my research that apparently grief comes in five stages; denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’ve certainly experienced each of these emotions, not necessarily in that order and not necessarily individually. Yet what I’ve learned so far is that there is no framework for how you will be affected by grief.

Different people may experience different emotions at different times. The emotions are not always obvious and sometimes overlap. It is possible to jump between stages in an instant- one word, one memory, one trigger. I also learned that the grieving process lasts, on average, eighteen months. As time goes by I have a suspicion that after that time has passed things will not magically revert to ‘normal’ and the process will continue in the background for the rest of my life. Things will never be the same as they once were, and death has altered my life forever.

It’s okay not to be okay

One of the key factors in me writing these thoughts down was a realisation that, although on the surface I seem fine to the outside world, I am not. I cry about everything that has happened in the past year, and the tears come unexpectedly. Her death and the months preceding it still play on my mind every day, without fail. I can be out for a walk, commuting to work or in a room full of people, and the whole story replays in my mind. I wonder why it happened, what I could have done differently and imagine my ideal world where nothing changed.

The loss of my mum is the first and last thing on my mind each day. There have been numerous occasions where the grief has caught up with me and I’ve broken down in public; at a Caffe Nero when all I could see were mothers and daughters catching up, when I saw Mamma Mia 2 and Meryl Streep’s character died, after a weekend at my boyfriend’s house when chatting to his mum had highlighted how much I miss my own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting upset like this, but it does show that this is a monumental event that I will not simply recover from.

It is very easy to think that you’re alone in the world now and you can’t go on, but you’re not and you can

A message to anyone who has felt the same way: don’t be embarrassed, it’s fine to be upset or break down in public, the people who see you crying in the train carriage will not remember it tomorrow. In the very early stages I had one session of bereavement counselling to try to help me get through these feelings which I struggled to cope with, but as time went on I realised the best form of therapy for me was sharing my thoughts with the people closest to me, or writing them down on good old pen and paper. Grief is an overwhelming process and however you choose to deal with it is fine. I thank every single person who has listened and been a shoulder to cry on, these are the people you want to surround yourself with.

More positive thoughts…

On tougher days I find it useful to remember the positives. I want my memory of my mum to be happy, and not blurred by the difficult final few months of her life. Initially these can be hard to access but I’ve found that day by day, memories of my mum before her stroke slowly make their way to the forefront of my mind.

10 things I love about my mum:

  • Her kindness
  • How happy she was when it was Spring
  • Her love of animals and nature
  • How proud she was of me and my achievements
  • Her commitment to giving me the best life she could
  • The way she liked to gossip
  • The way she drank ten cups of tea a day
  • The long walks we used to take the dog on
  • Her selflessness
  • She was my best friend

A future without her

When you lose someone close to you, the days and weeks following their death are filled with confusion, plans and difficult decisions, and lots of tears. As the days and weeks turn into months the bigger picture starts to present itself in your mind. You realise the ways in which your life will be different without them in it; the things they won’t see, the people they won’t know, the special things you won’t get to share with them.

It hurts me so much to think that my mum, the person who was most important to me in the world, won’t get to hear about holidays, won’t be at my wedding, won’t get to meet her grandchildren. She became ill when I was 23 – still so much of my life to live. I need her help, her guidance. It is very easy to isolate yourself and convince yourself that you’re alone in the world now and you can’t go on, but you’re not and you can. I promise.

I am an only child, and we have a very small family. After losing my mum I felt like my closest link in this world had gone. I broke down a few weeks ago when asked to name my Next of Kin – I didn’t even know who I would turn to now that she isn’t here. But what I’ve realised is that you are never alone, there are always people to talk to, people who understand what you’re going through. And even though my mum won’t be here in person, she will still be part of my future. I consider her in everything that I do, and try to make her proud. The memories of us together are my most treasured possession. Just because someone dies does not mean that they just disappear, someone as amazing as my mum could never do that.

Caitlin Carter

Want to join our monthly meet ups to meet other young people who have been affected by loss? Find out more here.

“It hurts and it goes on hurting” – the pain of loss at any age

Loss is painful, whatever age. Sandra shares her story of losing her mum at 56, and the pain she feels about not being able to talk about loss. 

I’m not young, I’m 57, so maybe I don’t belong here, but I can’t find anywhere else where I can just say what I feel. It’s just coming up to a year now since my mum died. She was 96, so perhaps some would say ‘it was expected; she was old’ or ‘you must have known it was coming, no one lives forever’. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter how old you are or how old the person you have lost was. The effect is the same. It’s a shock and it hurts and it goes on hurting.

The searing pain of loss

I don’t have a family and looked after my mum from 1985, when my dad died. Her health had never been good and it meant lots of hospital visits and finding ways to help her cope with her breathlessness and other health problems as they gradually worsened over the years, but no one else was going to do it. Eventually she suffered a bleed on the brain as the result of being told it was safe to take paracetamol regularly for a torn ligament in the knee, whilst on warfarin, which it turned out it was not. She survived for about six more weeks and then it got too much for her.

She didn’t have a happy death. It was horrible in the hospital. She loved fresh air and the windows were fixed shut so she couldn’t get any. The nurses were nice but terribly over-stretched and the doctors, in contrast, uncommunicative and relentlessly pessimistic. I didn’t have faith that she would be properly cared for at night, so took to staying with her all night during the last week of her life, just to be able to make sure she got whatever help might be needed. This exhausted me however and on the day she died, I went to move the car at about 9.00 am and being so tired, decided to go home and rest for a while, expecting my brother to arrive to be with her around lunch-time. By then the day staff had come on duty and I had more faith in them to look after her better. However, around midday, I got a call to say she would not last long and I should get back. I got another call before I could leave to say it was too late and she was gone.

Living life to the full

Mum may have been 96 and poorly, but she was someone who always lived in the present and looked to the future, never one to live in the past or look backwards. She engaged with life and was still making plans for the future even at such a great age! She did suffer from the ravages of old age in a few recognisable ways. She would mislay things and then blame me when she couldn’t find them and say I must have moved them! Her friends called her a Peter Pan, because she always seemed so young, or ‘Smiler’, because she was always smiling.

I believe that age doesn’t really play any part in grief. It hurts unbearably whatever your own age may be or the age of the one you have lost. It’s the loss that nearly destroys you. You’ll never get used to it, but this is the new normal and you have to build anew without that person in your life. Feeling myself sinking into a pit of misery and despair that I was worried I might not be able to get out of in those early months after she died, I sought to find a way of saving myself. The house was at once painfully empty and yet full of images of her in each room and walking down the stairs or sitting in her favourite chair.

Dancing through the pain

I decided I needed be taken out of myself, needed some kind of relief from the all the misery I felt and decided to take up a new activity that would take me out of the house and make me think about other things. I looked at taking up some new hobby. Mum had always loved dancing and I had always wanted to learn. I had been learning when my dad died more than 30 years ago and stopped after that. It hadn’t felt right to go on, weighed down by the pain of that loss then, but this time I decided it was something I needed to do that Mum would have loved too.

I’ve met some lovely new people there and I forget my troubles for a while when I go and always come home with a smile on my face. I think that’s one of the best things you can do; get out and find something you really enjoy to take you out of yourself and amongst other people and give you an escape – if only for a few hours. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s better than staying in alone with your grief. Walks in the park help too!

One year on, I still cry as I write this and the pain is still there all the time, below the surface, but I am starting to feel like I have a life again and will somehow be able to cope with life without my lovely mum – until we meet again.

Sandra

You can read more stories of loss on our blog – we hope they will help anyone feel less alone in their grief. If you have a story you would like to share, email us on hello@letstalkaboutloss.org and we would love to share it.

Getting through university following a bereavement

Emily shares her story of being bereaved before she went to university, and how she coped with the university experience without her dad. We know that university can be a really difficult time for anyone, especially if you’re grieving. We want to see Let’s Talk About Loss meet ups in all university towns and cities to support students who are struggling with loss. Get in touch today if you want to start, or join, a Let’s Talk About Loss meet up. Together, we’re talking through the taboo.

In 2012, when I was almost at the end of my A Levels, my world turned upside down when my Dad passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. When my Dad died, I lost sight of all my goals of going to university to become a (primary school) teacher and it took me well over a year to re-apply. This turned out to be one of the best things I did because getting into Swansea University to study Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting taught me a lot throughout this crazy journey that is bereavement.

Meeting new people when you’ve been bereaved

I started studying at Swansea University a year and a half after losing my Dad and it did not happen without challenges and concerns. To begin with, one of my main worries was whether or not I told people that my Dad had passed away. At the start of Freshers’ week, moving into campus accommodation when all the conversations seem to be about where you’re from, what your family is like, what you’re studying and so on was daunting for me because my thoughts were often “at what point do I come out with the fact that my Dad is dead?” I was worried that people would judge me.

Throughout my time at university, I was fortunate enough to meet other students in similar situations to myself and this made it significantly less awkward. I was also incredibly lucky to make friends with students who made the effort to understand and empathise with what I was going through. What I took away from this is that having friends who are there for you during those inevitable days where everything feels overwhelming and upsetting makes a whole world of difference. Being able to be open and honest about how you’re feeling is important. I was lucky to be able to talk to my friends at university about my Dad, about his life and about his death.

The lack of support for students

University also gave me the chance to explore grief more openly and widely within the student community. In addition to my own experiences of being able to speak about it to friends, as well as to the staff in the Students’ Union Advice and Support Centre who were always friendly and available to listen to me, I also discovered that bereavement and grief isn’t much talked about at university. Three of the friends I made through university had suffered bereavement but there wasn’t much support available specifically to students who had been bereaved ether before they started university or while they were studying at university. This inspired and motivated me to explore this through the students’ newspaper at Swansea, by sharing my own story and inspiring others to share their story regarding bereavement.

Finally, I wish to explain what graduation was like for me. Graduating from university is a massive achievement and something to be super proud of. Personally, for me, it was an emotional day at graduation because I knew my Dad would have loved to have been there, watching me walk across that stage in my graduation robes. However, I told myself that he was there, in my heart, which is where he always has been throughout my university journey and always will be now I’m out in the big, wide world.

Emily Maybanks

Share your story with Let’s Talk About Loss by emailing us on hello@letstalkaboutloss.org. Together, we’re talking through the taboo.

Anticipatory grief

This blog comes from Laura, a young woman who lost her mum after a long illness, and shares her thoughts about anticipating grief, and how it feels when it finally hits. 

One of the hardest things I found when my mum died, was the feeling: ‘I should have been prepared for this’. After years of illness, the doctors had warned us that she would likely die in a few months, so – in some ways – my life had been building up to that moment.

So why did I feel so rotten afterwards? Other family members seemed to have already grieved for my mum while she was ill, a process known as anticipatory grief. While they were understandably upset when it happened, they seemed to have already come to terms with the situation in a way that I had not and could not.

You’re mourning the loss of what you thought your life was going to be

The expectation to be fine

I had lost my mum, I had no other siblings and I felt like people expected to me to be OK just because “it had been a long time coming” or “she’s not in pain anymore”.

I particularly found I was rose-tinting things in my memories, imagining the trips we could have taken and the meals we would have eaten. This was perhaps the hardest thing to get my head around; we had already stopped doing those things a while ago so how could I miss something I didn’t have in the first place?

Losing the possibility

The answer came to me in an episode of the US sitcom about a radio psychiatrist, Frasier. “You are in mourning,” he tells a caller. “But you’re not mourning the loss of your partner, you’re mourning the loss of what you thought your life was going to be.”

What I was mourning was the loss of possibility. While my mum was alive, there was always the possibility she would get better and things would go back to normal. Now she was dead, that opportunity had been taken away.

No longer could I hope she’d help me pick out a wedding dress, hope she’d meet my future children…. I may have known that before, but deep down I was always hoping there would be a chance things would change, a hope I didn’t even realise I was holding onto.

My new reality

I still find things hard sometimes (and have started a seeing a real-life therapist as opposed to listening to the advice of a sitcom one), but that line has been one of the best bits of advice I’ve heard.

I’ve learned to stop comparing myself to others, and stop feeling that I need to hurry up my grieving just because I knew it would happen. Losing a parent is one of the worst things to go through and I’m allowed to grieve for that in my own time, regardless of how much notice I may have had.

Laura Dew

If you’ve been affected by Laura’s story, you might find it helpful to join one of our meet up groups, and get to know other young people who have been bereaved. You can find your local meet up here. Together, we’re talking through the taboo.