Blog

How to be a good friend to someone who has been bereaved – Part 2

Based on one bloggers experiences that she shared in Part 1 of her blog, she would like to offer some advice to friends of the bereaved. You can read Part 1 of this blog here.

You are part of a team

If one friend tried to take a large part of the burden, it would be just as scary for the bereaved person as the friend, because we may already feel like too much and are very careful not to overload anyone. Don’t try to be everything for someone, but also don’t assume that everyone else is there for them, because everyone else may have thought the same thing. If you want to help, just offer what you can, however small, and stick to it. It is the accumulation of small gestures that means the most.

Make specific plans

Your grieving friend may not be able to think clearly and may not have a very good hold on their commitments. Show up and take them somewhere – anywhere – that will allow them to stay out of their own head for a short period of time. Don’t wait for them to suggest meeting up unless they’ve specifically asked for space.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died

They say that a person dies twice: once when they die physically and the second time when they are no longer spoken of. It’s terrible to be alone with your memories, because it can feel as though your loved one never existed. If you knew the person who died, tell your friend your memories of them. If you didn’t, so what? You’d still talk to other friends about their families even if you didn’t know them, so why not talk about your bereaved friend’s family too? I talk about my family as if they were alive, because they are alive to me. You will never inadvertently remind someone that their loved one died; they know that already!

Be kind

Is it really the time to pick an argument? Your friend will be more sensitive to everything around them, and it’s likely that any disagreement will be far more upsetting than it would normally have been. Even if you are not comfortable talking about grief, you can still be helpful by being a calm, steady, presence in your friend’s life. 

Don’t put a time limit on your friend’s grief

There are as many different types of grief as there are people. If your friend still seems to be struggling after what you consider to be too long, do not assume that you know what that means. Grief is not linear, and there is no such thing as too long. Time doesn’t always heal.

Be willing to learn

You may not have experienced a major loss in your life yet, but many people out there have. There are some wonderful podcasts, books, articles, and interviews available online. There are also likely to be plenty of real people in your life who are not afraid of talking about grief. Perhaps, in order to understand what your friend is going through, you could talk to an older member of your family about their experience of loss.

If you have any advice for others or if you would you like to write a blog, get in touch now, we’d love to hear from you.

How to be a good friend to someone who’s been bereaved – Part 1

One blogger experienced lots of different responses from her friends to her grief; both positive and negative. In this blog, she reflects on how her friends reacted over the first year of her grief.

“She didn’t know what to say”

When I arrived home after my bereavement, my housemate (and very good friend) was not there but had left me some chocolate and a card telling me she was sorry for my loss. It was sweet. When she returned, she said to me that she didn’t know what to say, and I appreciated this. Neither did I. We agreed that we had absolutely no idea what to do and carried on as we were, passing as ships in the night.

That week, I spent my free time drinking takeout coffees with friends. I was barely there, and I appreciated the friends who would let me spend time with them with no pressure attached. I sat whilst they talked, occasionally joining in. Someone snapped at me over something small, which made me cry. The tears were nothing to do with what she had said, but they were so readily there that I could have cried at the smallest bit of sarcasm. I noticed that I was most comfortable around people who would just be kind to me, even if they didn’t ever talk about my grief.

My friends didn’t bring the topic up, and I wondered whether they were giving me space out of consideration or fear

The day after the funeral, I went on holiday with a group of friends. It didn’t take me long to get uncharacteristically drunk and sob my heart out. The next morning, my friends told me that everything was fine and then said to each other that I had ‘needed it’. I think they thought that my grief would be diminished by one messy, honest night. I never cried again that holiday, although experiences left me numb. My friends didn’t bring the topic up, and I wondered whether they were giving me space out of consideration or fear.

Friends reaching out

After the holiday, another girl that I knew as an acquaintance invited me out for tea and cake. We talked, went shopping and had a good time. We haven’t seen each other since, but that one day meant a great deal to me.

Someone I barely knew messaged me on Facebook and said that she would always be there for me if I wanted to get together in a bar and talk. We never did, but I was grateful for such a specific offer.

The people who had surfaced very early on with vague promises of always being there for me hadn’t realised that I wasn’t capable of thinking up plans, of asking for help. When I went to dinner with one friend, he asked me how I was and I opened up, saying I felt terrible. I had assumed he was asking about my loss, but it turned out he had forgotten all about it.

She thought that I was doing well with my grief if she didn’t see it, but it was stifling

Tears spilling out 

Occasionally, tears would spill out at home. My housemate would rush to stop me from crying within seconds of seeing me upset, thinking that she was cheering me up. She thought that I was doing well with my grief if she didn’t see it, but it was stifling. Gradually, she started to turn away from me when I spoke, cutting off conversations with short, sharp words.

The day I returned from the burial, holding myself together despite having cried for the whole of my drive home, she picked an argument with me. I started to avoid her, because the way she had been treating me had felt very shaming. It was as though she thought I was making myself worse by deliberately dwelling on things. I discovered that people who were used to seeing me as the strong one did not like the idea of me ever being weak.

Joining Let’s Talk About Loss was a life-saver. We have fun and we’re not scared of dark humour, but we also know how to be honest and vulnerable

Honesty

During the course of the year, only one person said to me that she didn’t think I looked well. We arranged a couple of coffee dates and went for a walk together. I appreciated her honesty. It was refreshing after feeling that the terrible weight on my shoulders was utterly invisible to anyone else. Close friends who live far away have since apologised for not realising how badly I had been affected by the bereavement. They hadn’t seen my grief online, so they hadn’t realised it existed.

Joining Let’s Talk About Loss was a life-saver. We have fun and we’re not scared of dark humour, but we also know how to be honest and vulnerable. I hope, one day, that society will learn to be as open as Let’s Talk About Loss about the topics that people are afraid of.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog where the writer offers advice for friends of people who have bereaved.

A different kind of grief

In this blog, Emily reflects on her experiences of a different type of grief and bereavement, infertility following cancer. If that is a particularly sensitive subject for you, you might want to skip past this blog. If you have a story about grief to share, or advice for others, please get in touch.

I understand full well how it feels to lose someone you love dearly. My Dad suffered with cancer for a few years before he sadly passed away in 2012, when I was seventeen years old. I’ve been learning to deal with the loss of my Dad; not having him be there for special occasions such as graduating University, moving abroad, and birthdays. However, the hardest thing has been not having him there for me through my own battles with cancer.

Emily’s story

Lots of people talk or write about the pain and grief that comes with losing a loved one, but no one really talks about the pain and grief that comes with finding out you are never going to be able to have children of your own. I think it is important to talk about this, and be open and honest about the emotions and feelings that this brings with it.

I had my first ovary taken out in 2017 when I was 22, along with a tumour. Earlier this year, just weeks before lockdown, I had my other ovary removed, again, along with a tumour. Being told that I had ovarian cancer once was hard enough. Having it again and becoming infertile at the same time was crushing. To then have to recover from a major operation whilst coming to terms with everything, without being able to just go and see my friends earlier this year, was challenging to say the least. I found myself wondering what my Dad would have said if he were still alive.

A different kind of bereavement…

It has been hard coming to terms with it all. I’ve felt angry; I’ve felt apathetic; I’ve felt alone; I’ve felt relieved, and I’ve wondered if I’d been going mad with all the emotions I felt. But most of all, I have tried to tell myself that I am lucky to have my health and that not being able to have children of my own isn’t a massive deal breaker because I can still make a difference to the lives of children and young people by being a teacher, and even a foster parent.

Finding out you’re not going to be have children is certainly a different kind of bereavement because it is a type of loss. For me, it sometimes feels like I’ve lost the right to call myself a woman. And I feel awkward when people ask “do you want children in the future?” Because how do I answer such a question, honestly, without making them feel awkward?

I think it is important to keep talking about this openly and honestly because it is a reality for many people and it is a tough, sometimes isolating experience. But, I have also learnt that friends will try to understand and they will be there for you – whether it is a shoulder to cry on, a hug, an ear to listen, or even just someone to sit in silence with.

Emily Maybanks

Making space for grief

In this blog, Emma reflects on losing her Dad, Nanny, Mum, and Brother throughout her twenties and offers advice to others for going through their own grief journey.

‘Adulting’ through loss

Navigating the wilderness that is grief has shaped the majority of my early adulthood. I’m 28 years old now and since 19 I’ve experienced the loss of four very important people in my life. I could write ten thousand pages about each person that I’ve lost, but it still wouldn’t capture everything that I’ve felt. But here is some context.

In May 2011, I was a fresh faced university student. I’d just turned 19 the month before I lost my dad very suddenly to a short-term illness.

Over the next few years my mum, who was the kindest soul I ever met, cared for my grandmother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In October 2014 we lost my “nanny”.

Fast forward to October 2015. It’s almost the first anniversary of my nanny’s passing. I’d just started my Master’s Degree to become a Social Worker. I came home from a day at my placement to the news. If you know, you know. I can still feel the ringing in my ears and the numbness in my chest. That dreaded C. She had stage 4 lung cancer and all that could be offered was palliative care. I lost my mum 3 months later in January 2016.

My brother had always struggled with drug addiction. In July 2018, I lost my brother to an opiate overdose. Another funeral to arrange, another grief to navigate. But this time it’s complex. There were so many feelings; sadness, disappointment, guilt. We didn’t have the closest relationship at times. There wasn’t the same pouring of love from family or friends, but I think they tried their best. If I had a pound for every time somebody said to me “what a waste”. And it hurt. It still hurts. My brother through all his difficulties was never a waste. He was the kindest soul and he deserved to be remembered in that way.

Sharing my ‘story’

I’m sharing my story now at 28 years old and this is the first time I’ve felt ready to.

I’m due to marry the most wonderful man next year and although my twenties have been shaped by so much loss, I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘lost’ my twenties to grief. I used to think that and that’s OK if you do. My view is that my twenties have been my awakening that most people don’t have until much later in life. My friendships mean so much more, my memories are so treasured. My love for my family never leaves me. I’m not saying life is an oil painting, I still have days where I don’t want to leave my bed and the pain is so overwhelming, even brushing my hair is too much.

It’s YOUR journey and we’re all different

I’m writing this to share that even if you’re at the start of your grief journey, it’s to tell you, it’s simply that; a journey that you will embark upon for the rest of your life. But it’s not a straight mile or a winding road. To me it’s a wilderness.

It is not an isolated trauma you will simply “get over”. There is no curing it, nor would I want to cure it. It’s your reminder of the people you have lost who you love and who loved you. They deserve to be entwined in your life story.

It’s to tell you that there are times when you feel that you will never smile again, that no one understands. Your memories and old photographs may soothe your soul but they can also bring you great pain, and that’s fine to feel both. Yes, at the same time.

It’s to tell you that emotions are complex, you can feel so many all at once. And that’s OK. It’s to tell you that you won’t just survive, although you might not feel like it at times, but you will absolutely thrive.

When I walk down the aisle next year, I’m taking my dad, mum, nanny, and brother down there with me. Creating new memories without them still makes my heart ache and it will ache forever. But my grief lives with me and I will give it space; it deserves to sit beside my happiest memories.

Emma

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.

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_