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Grief and guilt

In this blog, Jodie reflects on the loss of her sister and shares how finding communities of support, with people who share similar experiences, has been helpful for her.

Losing someone you love is heartbreaking. Losing someone you love to suicide adds an extra layer to the heartbreak with the never to be answered question – “why?”

Coming to terms with a loss

When my sister died, I found it incredibly difficult to come to terms with what had happened and why. I know that it wasn’t a choice, but a moment of complete despair which made her feel that she couldn’t go on. In the early days, I found it impossible to stop myself from feeling anger and guilt. Guilt that I didn’t know what she was going through and anger that she didn’t feel that she could call.

As the oldest sibling, you feel a sense of protection over your siblings and we had such a close relationship that I always thought she would talk to me if she ever needed anything. When she died, I felt as though I had let her down in so many ways.

It’s torture to think about every aspect of what she could have felt. Sometimes I put myself in her shoes and feel like I’m living her last day. The pain feels so real, it can really break you and leave you feeling incredibly low.

There still seems to be so much stigma around suicide and mental health, as well as the assumption that for someone to end their life, they must be depressed or have extremely low mental health. She was not like that, at least I don’t believe she was and I think I knew her well.

From my understanding now, after a long time of analysing so many details of what could have happened, she had a weekend where she felt her world has been ripped apart. She felt alone and upset and made the decision impulsively and suddenly. I know I will never fully know why, and that’s the hardest part to accept because the only person who knows is her.

“She would hate me to feel this way”

As the years are passing, I still have times where I feel this sense of guilt, but I have to remind myself when I feel like that that my thoughts are irrational, and she would hate me to feel this way. I remind myself of how complex what happened is and how the only thing I can do now, is continue to live life the best I know how so when I see her again, I can share every moment.

Grief throws you into this new life you never expected. We all know that life comes to an end, but never do you think you’ll lose someone you love so much so young. I’ve found a community I never wanted to be a part of, but I couldn’t be more grateful for.

I’m learning to be more comfortable talking about what happened and not feeling this sense of burden to others when I do. I’ve also found it useful giving myself projects and things to do that allow me to feel as though I’m doing something to raise awareness of suicide and support those who have lost someone to suicide too.

Finding your community

Learning how best to express your grief for you is important to make the days manageable and the pain bearable. Communities of those who understand, are for me, more valuable than they are given credit for. It’s incredible how someone who knows nothing about you but one of the hardest parts of your life can listen and support you in ways you didn’t know were possible. There is this underlying understanding of the pain and hurt; no judgement, just kindness.

And as we know only so well, in a world where you can be anything, be kind – it’s the easiest thing to do.

Jodie

You can follow Jodie’s grief journey on Instagram: @living.with.loss_

What to expect at a Let’s Talk About Loss meet up

We know that it’s really scary to come along to a Let’s Talk About Loss meet up for the first time. What if they’re weird? What if they ask too many questions? What if I can’t find them? What if everyone is crying? But it’s not as scary as you think, we promise! We’ve asked some people who come along to our meet ups to share what you can expect…

“I knew right there and then I was in the right company”

Georgia, Bristol:

“The first face I saw happened to be a girl who was also a first timer to Let’s Talk About Loss and it happened to be the first meet up of the year. I did the decent thing and asked her if she had a nice Christmas and she said “not really, it was shit”! I knew there and then I was in the right company. “And don’t get me started on New Year”, somebody else said.

It’s funny because I had spent the whole morning wondering whether and how much makeup to put on, what to wear, whether I should expect people to talk about their loved ones or not, but it’s like our grief instantly united us without me having to do or say anything much at all. I was instantly relieved. In fact, after the really tricky first Christmas without my Mum, I didn’t want to leave the place where I’d felt the most understood in WEEKS.”

Will, Nottingham:

“The group is full of people who know the feelings you have experienced – so they can support you. It is always nerve-racking when you turn up to somewhere for the first time, but the Hosts are always happy to meet beforehand and grab a coffee or just arrive with you to the meet up so you’re not walking in alone.”

“I was instantly relieved”

Livvy, Bristol:

“For me, it was really reassuring to find it wasn’t an intense and emotional therapy group. It was a fun social group, that would just happen to talk about some really sad things sometimes! I expected I’d cry at the first meet up, but somehow the shared grief experience was comforting rather than upsetting. Also nice to know that if I had cried, that would have been totally fine with everyone too!”

Anonymous, London:

“I had no idea what to expect from the evening in all honesty. Grief can feel so lonely, but seeing so many other people when I arrived was so comforting. Relating to grief is difficult when you haven’t been through it and luckily my friends and boyfriend haven’t had this kind of experience – I’ve behaved in ways that were a shock to me and totally unexplainable but hearing that I’m not alone in this really helped.”

“It was really reassuring to find it wasn’t an intense and emotional therapy group”

Anonymous, Manchester:

“It sounds weird but the group is so fun! Not what you would expect from a grief-related group, but we really have a laugh and hardly ever talk about “the sad stuff”. I’ve found a group of friends who I can be totally myself with – and that is awesome”

What to expect when you arrive at a meet up

  1. The Hosts will be wearing Let’s Talk About Loss t-shirts, so you can always spot them and know you’re approaching the right group.
  2. We will never ask you to share about your loss unless you want to – there is no pressure!
  3. You’re unlikely to be the only new person – every month we get new people joining our groups, so it’s not like everyone else will have been there for years and you’re the only new person.
  4. In our bigger meet ups, we often separate into smaller groups to chat, so you won’t be sat in a circle with everyone, you’re more likely to be chatting to a couple of people in a smaller group.
  5. We talk about lots of things – not just grief! Our meet ups are not therapy or professional grief support, it’s just a group of friends hanging out. We’ll talk about a variety of topics, but it’s always a safe space to talk about grief.
  6. Everyone else there has been bereaved and is aged 18-35, so we’re sure you’ll find you have lots in common.
  7. If you’re nervous, you can email the Hosts beforehand and let them know you’re coming so they can look out for you. Each meet up has it’s own email address, which is [location]@letstalkaboutloss.org.
  8. Finally, each meet up has a closed Facebook group you can join which is a great way to start chatting to people in the group before a meet up. Find your local meet up page here and then feel free to introduce yourself on the Facebook group!

Beth French

Any more questions? We’re always happy to help. Just drop us an email for more information!

“I kept my battles and struggles to myself”: Joe Bellman

Recently, we connected with Joe Bellman on Instagram (@joebellman), and we loved his honest videos about grief. In this blog post, we’ve linked just a few of his YouTube videos and we would hugely recommend you head over to Joe’s channel and watch/subscribe for more amazing grief content!

Head over to Joe’s YouTube channel here.

Understanding grief: an honest conversation

In this video, Joe introduces his grief, and talks about the fact that he was “lonely and lost in [his] head, and needed someone to talk to”. He says he didn’t reach out because he didn’t think people “would understand”. Such a great video – as Joe says, this is important stuff so please give this video and watch and listen to what Joe has to say!

Male mental health: an honest conversation with Raphi Auret

In this incredible video, Joe sits down with Raphi and they chat about mental health. As Raphi says at the start, he can’t think of any other YouTube videos he has seen of “two men sitting down, face-to-face, talking about emotions and feelings”. There is a huge need for more of these videos – well done Joe and Raphi for such an important and inspirational conversation.

5 things not to say to someone who is grieving

In the final video we’re featuring today, Joe – who lost his mum 8 months ago – thinks about some of the things people have said to him that have been unhelpful for his grief. Everyone has different experiences of grief, so you might disagree with some of Joe’s thoughts, but it’s still so helpful to hear what he has to say and think about how we can all get better at saying the right thing to our grieving pals.

Subscribe to Joe’s channel here

That’s just a few of the videos Joe has on his YouTube account, so do subscribe and follow his conversations. It’s so helpful especially that Joe, as a guy, is talking about his loss so openly and we are huge fans. Thanks Joe!

We love sharing stories from grieving young people to show that you are not alone at this time. If you have a story you’d like to share, please get in touch.

Please don’t say “at least…”

When someone you love dies, a lot of people around you want to say “the right thing”. They want to cheer you up, distract you from your loss and protect you from the crushing reality of bereavement (more on those problems later). So a lot of them say, “well at least…”

If you’re bereaved, I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before:

  • “At least she wasn’t in pain.”
  • “At least he held on until after your exams.”
  • “At least they haven’t had to experience Covid-19.”
  • “At least she wasn’t your only sister.”
  • “At least you still have your mum.”

They sound ridiculous, written here. Yet they are an all too familiar response from someone trying to help a bereaved friend or family member. Everyone wants to fix you.

“I will try to fix you” sings Chris Martin in everyone’s favourite sad song

The problem with “at least”, is that it reduces your pain and suggests that you shouldn’t be grieving. The trauma of bereavement needs to be socially acceptable. We need to be ok with the fact that people are hurting, and should be able to wallow in that grief for as long as they need.

The fact that often one of the first things people hear after a bereavement is “well, at least….” fundamentally shows that that person is not willing to accept their sadness and is dragging them immediately out of their grief and back into dangerous “I’m fine” territory. Aren’t our British taboos just great?!

“At least she hung on until you’d all finished your exams”

A well-meaning person close to me said those words very soon after my mum died. “At least she hung on until you’d all finished your exams”. My mum died in July 2015, just after I’d finished my second year of university, my sister had finished her A-Levels and my brother had finished his GCSEs. I see their point – mum dying in the middle of those exams would have been a nightmare. But I am also offended by their inability to see that ANY time for my mum to die is a nightmare. There is no silver lining in her dying in July and not June.

Also, please do not suggest that she worked hard to live until July, and then gave up. My mum was fighting for her life until the very end, and never gave up that fight. The idea that people are “strong” and “fighters” if they survive is suggesting that those who die are ‘weak’ or didn’t fight hard enough. That’s not how death works – it snatches life from us however much we want to live. It is a game of luck, not of strength.

What can you say instead?

Instead of saying “at least she wasn’t in pain”, and presuming this is helpful, try to reframe your point by asking the bereaved person – “does it help that you know she wasn’t in pain?”. Give them the space to explain their grief and talk openly about their feelings with you. This validates their grief and shows you are a safe person they can speak to if they are struggling. 

Instead of saying, “at least you still have other siblings”, ask the person how they are feeling having lost a sibling, and allow them to reflect on how the family dynamic has changed. Ask them in particular how their remaining siblings are coping and offer ideas for remembering and celebrating the sibling they have lost. Acknowledge their grief but understanding that sibling loss is particularly traumatic as a young person and the remaining family members could never fill the hole that loved one has left.

If you say the wrong thing, that’s ok!

Being a good grief friend is all about listening, and supporting your friend to understand their grief. Assumptions and “at least” comments can be unhelpful even if you are trying to be kind. Remember that each grief is unique so the best thing to do is ask your friend how they are feeling and to actively listen to the words they are using and the emotions they are expressing. Let them speak without interruption and try to mirror their language so that you are creating a space in which they feel safe and loved.

Finally, don’t worry if you get things wrong, or you don’t know what to say. Grief is unique, so everyone will appreciate different types of support, and if you say the wrong thing, that’s ok! Try and learn from your friend by asking them how you can be more helpful and what they need right now in their grieving journey. Just by reading this blog you are doing amazing, and on behalf of all grieving pals – thank you so much for caring for us, loving us, and trying to better understand our grief.

Beth French

If you’d like to learn more about Let’s Talk About Loss, or attend a meet up to talk about your grief, you can find out more here

Please don’t say nothing. Please don’t be scared of my grief.

In this blog, Anna reflects on what support helped when she was caring for and grieving for her Dad and explores how we can better support friends and family to support those who are grieving. 

The hardest experience

My dad died just over a year ago, in May 2019. He had been diagnosed with cancer 11 months earlier and had only been terminal for 8 weeks before he died. I was 25 years old.

Losing my dad is easily the hardest experience I’ve ever been through. Watching him get sicker and sicker, and trying to care for him and make the most of our time together while still keeping hope, was incredibly difficult. Living each day without him now gets easier, but is still painful. Sometimes I miss him so much that I can’t breathe.

I want to tell them not to be scared of my grief

Support from friends and family

The thing that has made all of this easier are the amazing people who have been wonderful throughout my grief. I try and focus on the people who have supported me and comforted me.

Those who have sat with me, who have listened to me, who have taken me for walks and cuddled me while I shook from crying so violently. The friend who let me use her bath when I needed some relaxation time, because my flat only has a shower. The amazing people who sent care packages and letters, and someone who has let me use their Disney+ login for solo movie marathons. I even have a friend who found me a part time job because she knew that funds were tight due to me helping to care for my dad!

Of course, there is a tiny minority of people who haven’t been there for me. Those who are so scared of making my pain worse, that it paralyses them. I think that maybe they don’t understand how unbearable and lonely grief can be. They don’t know that their inaction accidentally makes it worse. I want to tell them not to be scared of my grief. If I get upset when we speak, it’s because I lost my dad, it’s almost certainly not because of something they said or did.

Learning together

The pain is always there, and I am learning to live with it. I want to say to those people: Will you learn with me? Will you support me in a way that works for you and your personality?

My brother and I are creating a website for people (particularly young adults) who have not experienced grief, but who want to do their best to help and comfort those of us who are grieving. We want to provide concrete advice and resources of all the different ways to speak with, spend time with, and support someone who is grieving, whatever stage of their grief journey. We have found that it is quite hard for our friends and family to say or do the wrong thing, but the worst thing they can do is nothing because that multiplies our loss. We want to encourage them- Don’t Say Nothing.

We want to highlight all of the ways that people can support someone who is grieving, to help the friends and family of grieving young people understand how they can be loving and supportive- no more ‘deepest condolences’!

If you’d like to share your experiences of ways that people have supported you through your grief, please do get in touch at contact@dontsaynothing.org , or fill in this form. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Twomlow