In anticipation of Christmas mourning…

In this blog, Loraine reflects on her experience of grief at Christmas and how she tries to balance the good with the bad, and the pain with the hope at this time of year.

As I gaze out of my window here in sunny California, I don’t see snow, or even clouds today. They do come and go, as does the rain, but on this particular day, the sun has conquered, and streams of sunlight flood my living room.

Holding onto Summer

It is two days into December and I am blasting Bob Marley instead of my favourite Christmas songs, and contemplating replacing the Douglas Fur with a planted palm tree. I am holding onto summer. This is mostly an internal power-struggle, as I could never disappoint three wide-eyed children begging to decorate a Christmas tree. Still, the sun has been my best friend of late. For now, I evade the inevitable feelings of loss that await me. It is my first Christmas without my Mom.

I know that I’m not the only one balancing joy and grief this Christmas. In fact, it seems like nearly everyone I know is missing someone this year. So, in pondering this new way of celebrating a season marked by joy and gladness, I can’t help but ask the question…

How?

I never claimed it was a deep question. Still, it begs for a complex answer; one that I’m not qualified to give. I can, however, share my own experience with loss.

I’m 32 years old and I’ve lost both of my parents in a period of four short years. Grief upon grief, I’ve found myself mentally and emotionally exhausted more days than not. Within those same four years, however, I also recall countless beautiful days filled with laughter, adventure, and love. How is it that I can remember the same few years as being joy-filled and grief-filled?

This is the concept upon which I’ve built my method of surviving this “year of firsts” following my mom’s death. As one well-acquainted with grief, I know what stands before me as the days begin to grow shorter and shorter.

After my father’s death, I spent many December nights sipping wine with a sleeping infant on my shoulder. I would drive my kids around to look at Christmas lights because they couldn’t see me crying while strapped into their car seats. I embraced grief so tightly, I missed out on the blessings that were still with me that year.

I could resolve to do that again, and perhaps it would be justified. But maybe I could approach the holidays in a less agonizing manner – one in which I am able to be a grieving, broken-hearted daughter AND a fun, loving mother, just as my history is marked with both pain AND gladness.

“A beautiful mosaic of memories”

“How?” Well, I still don’t have an answer, but I know that there are definitely some God-given gifts that can weave themselves together with our own grief to create a beautiful mosaic of memories to cherish, if we let them… even during a painful holiday season.

I believe peace is there, seeping through the cracks of our hearts as we experience holiday traditions without our loved ones for the first time. Gratitude is definitely a part of it, gliding between precious moments, as we take time to acknowledge them.

Grace, a lot of grace, especially for ourselves as we set tasks aside to shed tears of pain and remembrance. And lastly joy, which, if we allow it to, infiltrates every part of our being and enables us to, one day, reflect upon this season with gladness.

This year I am mourning great losses, and that is ok, but that’s not all. This year, I will also rejoice, because there is still adventure, there is still laughter, there is still life. Truthfully, Christmas is about the birth of hope, and that hope is something worth holding onto.

Loraine Meek

Loraine regularly posts on her family adventure blog. You can connect with Loraine and read more of her writing here: https://www.blessedarethemeeks.com

You don’t have to suffer in silence; Talk!

In this blog, Ann describes her experiences of grief ten years apart and the differences in both her approach and the support available. This time around, she’s found a number of support groups which have helped her to talk about her grief.

At 14 I lost my Mum – pain and silence. At 24 I lost my brother – more pain, less silence.

Putting on a brave face

My brother and I were raised by loving Irish parents. Just like most people 10-20 years ago, we never spoke about our feelings. We put on brave faces and got through life’s struggles… including the biggest heartache of all.

My Mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when I was in primary school. We were grateful when Mum got through it and had the all clear for a few years. Unfortunately, it resurfaced and was terminal. I tried hard not to let Mum know how scared I was, so I put on a brave face.

A few months after re-diagnosis she took a turn for the worst and so began a world of pain, darkness, isolation and grief.

There is no rule book for loss. I didn’t know what was acceptable to feel or do. Mum was strongly focused on my schooling. So, what do you do when your loving, but hard working, Mum passes away? You go back to school the next day.

Suffering in silence

From then on, we continued as a family of three. All struggling inside, but not really talking; doing what we could in order to keep afloat. Inside I blamed myself, like most children do at that age when everything revolves around you. I didn’t realise the impact that would have in years to come.

All the while my grades started dropping, I felt overwhelmingly responsible for everyone else’s wellbeing but also felt so alone. My family and friends were definitely there for me, but I didn’t know how to open up. The closest person to me had been taken away just as I had started to navigate who I was.

A few years later, I left home for University, where I realised the years of suppressing my grief, had manifested itself into my own anxiety. I searched for support but there wasn’t much, or the support didn’t last very long. After eight years or so, I started to believe I had come out the ‘other end’ but then came part two.

Part Two

I remember the phone call from my brother so clearly; he had cancer, but he thought it was going to be okay. Over the next few short years it went from curable, to controllable, to terminal.

This time we did things a little bit different. We made that visit to Ireland one last time, we said our “sorry’s”, “I love you’s” and “goodbyes”. My brother had clearly noticed the things that would have helped him with Mum’s passing and planned those for us. He insisted on taking photos, he got me talking to his hospice counsellor, and then the most incredible thing; he wrote us letters to open after he passed that I can treasure forever.

Since his passing, it’s not been easy at all but I definitely haven’t suffered in as much silence. I continue to talk to a counsellor and I try to listen to what I need and not what I think I should be doing or feeling. Ten years had passed since last searching for support and this time around there was a lot more out there.

Seeking support

I found an online sibling support group through the Compassionate Friends Charity. This opened up a supportive world to me of people who had been through something similar. It created a language I could use to describe how I was feeling.

Through this group I saw GrabLife by AtALoss. GrabLife is an activity weekend for young people who have been bereaved. I met amazing people who talked so openly about grief.

Finally, I discovered Let’s Talk About Loss and attended a fabulous meet up group that I can now continue to attend once a month.

Cancer and grief are a big part of my life and they previously had no outlet. These groups have given me a space and a time out from pretending I’m okay. Grief is isolating enough when you can talk to people about it so don’t stay silent. Talk in the way that suits you best and if you aren’t sure about it, give it a go, it might just help!

Ann O’Malley

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Widowed at 26 years old

In this blog, Olivia shares her experience of grieving for her husband. She reflects on her experience of the journey of grief and starting this process early – grieving before a loved one has passed. 

From a night out to a life changed

The 18th of March 2019 is a date that has been etched into my heart forever, a permanent scar in my memory which will never fully heal. On that day I watched the love of my life, my best friend, my everything, die. After a nearly three-year battle (and I know some patients think that word is clichéd, but trust me, life had become exactly that) with chondrosarcoma, a rare cancer, my husband drew his final breaths.

Dave and I met aged 18, working at a supermarket. We didn’t actually talk that much at work, however one evening bumped into each other on a night out with our friends. We made the most of the evening’s Dutch courage with a dance and a kiss, swapped numbers, and I suppose you’d say the rest is history.

Fast forward seven and a half years and I am widowed at 26. Life, changed forever.

The first few days after Dave’s death are somewhat blurry. I remember barely eating (not like me!), crying in the supermarket because I couldn’t decide what to buy, and having a meltdown about getting in the shower. It was probably because I just didn’t feel motivated – what was the point in doing anything at all now that Dave was dead?

Grieving early

Nearly eight months on and every day still hurts, but the levels vary. Grief is a very personal journey, and everyone’s experience is different.

I started grieving for Dave when he was still alive, and other widows and widowers have told me the same of their terminal partners. I believe it’s partly because I started this process “early” that I’m coping relatively well, better than I expected.

There are other factors which help. I have an amazing network of family and friends, I’m in touch with my emotions and how to manage them, I’m an open person and don’t often bottle things up. Most importantly, I’m comforted knowing that Dave isn’t suffering any more, trapped in a body which by the end only enabled him to exist (and in agony at that), not to live. Even coping well, though, has its own issues – feeling guilty and the fear of being judged (I’ve learnt these feelings are quite common amongst widows and widowers).

The difference between coping and happiness

Coping well and not being fundamentally happy, though, are not mutually exclusive. Because I’m able to socialise, go out, and have fun doesn’t mean that I don’t live with pain in my heart every single day. Because I’m able to enjoy doing nice things for myself doesn’t mean I don’t constantly miss and think about Dave. Because I’m able to find another person attractive doesn’t mean I wasn’t and won’t forever be deeply in love with Dave; we’ll always be together. Because I’m able to genuinely smile and laugh doesn’t mean there aren’t nights when I cry myself to sleep. Because I don’t feel completely broken all of the time does not mean I feel whole.

I have felt married, widowed, and single all at the same time.

I hate dreaming of Dave because waking up is awful – but at least in dreams I get to be in his company. I can’t bring myself to watch Bake Off or Gogglebox if it can’t be with him. I dread future Easter seasons (his birthday, our wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his death all fall around then). I can’t bear the thought of Christmas without him. I experience triggers, and have flashbacks to his dying moments, out of nowhere and then feel I could cry forever.

“Everyone you have loved is still loved”

Some of these things may change over time, some may not. The unpredictability of grief can be hard to process. It’s also horrible having to accept that my life will now contain moments of indescribable pain, and that nothing I can do will ever change that, because Dave is gone.

But he is only gone in person. It feels appropriate to end this blog post with a quote from his funeral:

“Everything you have done is still done. Everyone you loved is still loved. You will live on in our hearts, and in stories that will be told for generations to come.”

Olivia Meheux

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Grieving through song writing

In this blog, Rachel reflects on how song writing has helped her through her experience of grief. The driving force behind Rachel’s music is her desire to evoke compassion toward ourselves and one another by sharing vulnerable experiences with the hope of encouraging connection & authenticity. She hopes that her songs provide hope and a source of connection for those who listen.

Pain and beauty

My grief journey has felt like the most profound combination of painful and beautiful. Kristoff and I crossed paths when we sought healing from our own personal battles, mine being depression-related, and his relating to the tragic loss of his son to suicide in 2017. We were lucky enough to seek healing in the same place and found tranquillity in each other’s support and kindness. Kristoff had a beautiful willingness to vulnerably share his struggle and created a safe and empathic space for mine.

His unexpected passing on the morning of February 3rd, 2019 flooded me with shock, disbelief and deep sadness. It felt beyond unfair. He remained so kind-hearted, loving, and hopeful, despite the immense emotional pain he had to encounter in his life.

“I stand in awe of life”

Wanting to connect with his memory, I picked up my phone to revisit our last text exchanges. It felt like he somehow knew those words would be his final goodbye. He possessed such admirable optimism, writing, “I stand in awe of life. However brief, it is magical.”

He ended the text with these beautiful words, reflecting on our time together: “I felt your pain, & revelled in your happy moments. I am here if you need me.” It feels as though he was telling me he would look out for me even when his physical presence was gone.

Feeling helpless, I sent a text message to his phone, unsure if anyone would ever see it. A portion of it read, “If anyone can receive this, I just want you to know how incredibly impactful Kristoff was on my life. He had to endure such pain & somehow still provided the rarest of light to those he crossed paths with. I’m so grateful to have known him.”

To my surprise, his 15-year-old daughter replied, thanking me. She said that my text was the only one she answered, and she didn’t know why, but she felt drawn to me and my message. That in itself felt like the first of many synchronicities Kristoff would leave for me.

Sitting at the piano

My overwhelming grief was the driving force behind what drew me to the piano on the day he passed. I allowed my sadness to flood over me as I sat at the piano and played. Somehow, as if on autopilot, Kristoff’s last words were woven into a song.

In all other circumstances, the song I wrote for him wouldn’t have left my notebook pages, but I felt the undeniable need to bring it to life in the recording studio as a gift to his daughter.

“Warrior” was the first song I ever recorded, and my life has changed in so many ways since then. I realised that there can be a beautiful purpose in sharing my songs publicly (something I never thought I would do).

Sharing the love

I started a project called #lovethroughlyrics where I share my music along with the knowledge that has helped me through my darkest times. Each song touches on different areas of mental health and I have begun showing younger generations how to express themselves creatively and therapeutically through song writing.

I wholeheartedly believe that Kristoff has had a hand in all of this and that he is ever-present throughout my days. I will be forever grateful to him and strive to approach life in a way that he would be proud of.

The lyrics to Kristoff’s song, “Warrior,” are included below.

You can listen to “Warrior” (original & acoustic) on any music platform by going here: https://fanlink.to/rachelleycroft_warrior

Rachel Leycroft 

You can connect with Rachel & follow the #lovethroughlyrics journey via Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelleycroft/

Warrior lyrics

The brightest light touched on everything you crossed 
despite the fight you battled into the dark.
You gave your soul with little left for you behind 
and held your hope with such little left to find.
And in a moment, nothing’s the same.
And we are left to endure the pain
of all that’s missing, starting today.
And it’s the greatest feat.
Your passion, love and peace…made the world change.
Chorus
You said life holds magic, even if brief.
You said we establish our own journey.
You told me I’m a warrior, as long as I believe. 
You said you’re here if I need. I wish it were that easy. 
‘Cause not a soul was ready for you to leave… 
And I know you weren’t ready to leave.
We’re luckiest if we feel an empty space; 
the silence, the void that only you’d erase. 
Because with this, we had the gift of having you. 
We’ll try to live the way you tried your best to do.
And in a moment, nothing makes sense,
and we are left to make sense of it.
And all that’s missing is forever missed.
And it’s the greatest feat,
but when we dream, we’ll meet…and you’ll be your happiest.
Chorus
Bridge
I know your girls are desperately missing you; 
and all the world, too, but maybe Julian needed you. 
And just like him, you left us all too soon…
but it’s impossible to forget you.
Chorus
(But you’re a warrior on your new journey.)

The evolution and repetition of grief: a reflective account

In this blog, Katie talks about grief being a personal journey that evolves, repeats and grows with you. She reflects on her own story and how she has taken control of her grief so it no longer defines her. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

My dad died when I was 9 and my mum died when I was 21 and this was not the narrative I imagined. Grief is a personal journey that evolves, repeats and grows with you. Like a never ending pass the parcel, wrapped up in papers of emotion and bounded by a suffocating cellotape. As you slowly unwrap the tape and release the emotion, you find yourself faced with different unravelling emotion, whilst you just want the game to stop.

Before my mum died, I was at University in Edinburgh, living my best life and discovering a new city 400 miles away from home. I remember my mum saying cancer would not stop her attending my graduation, but sadly I had to leave my studies during my second year. Life was tough, whilst my friends graduated, I was getting used to life as an orphan.

Feeling stuck

Whilst my dad’s death taught me to embrace life, my mum’s death was dictating my opportunities. I spent many years trying to create a happy narrative, despite having respectable jobs and a life that was moving on, I felt stuck. I was resentful and angry with my circumstances.  

It wasn’t until I married Jak, that I realised despite our wonderful marriage, our beautiful home, respectable jobs and fantastic holidays, none of this was fulfilling the life that my mum’s death denied me.  I came to realise that fulfilment and satisfaction come from within.

Taking control of my future

I spent so long living in the past that I was never catching up with the present. I decided to no longer let my past dictate my future. Grief consumed me, it dictated my emotions and led my decisions. Whilst desperately trying to create a happy narrative, I lost myself in the story.

The optimist in me will do anything but admit that life has been tragic, but I needed to accept my past in order to move forward. It’s a scary decision to stop the conveyor belt of life and change the direction you travel in but it’s one I urge you to do.

2018; 19 years after my dad died, 7 years after my mum died and 10 years after I initially went to University, I’ve changed the direction of my life and no longer feel like a product of my circumstances. I’m in control again and grief doesn’t define me. I’m a proud first year Occupational Therapy Student at UEA.  

Doing it for me

In three years, it will be graduation day, when friends are surrounded by loving parents and despite it being another reminder that mine are absent, I can’t wait!  A scene I once avoided is the exact scene I’m longing for.  I’m doing this for me, and that is something special.

Katie Mansi

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