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Losing a parent – and what happened next

3rd April 2016.

Mum: I’m outside where we usually pick you up from uni, can you come to the car?

Me: What’s happened? You’re worrying me…

Mum: Just come to the car now.

I ran to the car as quick as I could, bearing in mind I was on the other side of campus. I rang several people, including my dad to see if anyone could tell me what was going on because I was freaking out. I rang him 3 times: your call can’t be connected.

I got to the car.

Mum: It’s your dad… he’s been in a motorbike accident.

Me: Is he alive?

She shook her head.

I was in so, so much shock and couldn’t get my head around what had happened, and this was before I even knew any of the details. Out of anything that I could have thought of at the time, the first thing that come to my head was, “I don’t wanna get depression.”

It’s been nearly two and a half years now, and I sit here and think to myself ‘how on earth am I dealing with this?’ I can’t believe I’m still at uni, still at work and generally getting on with my life and feeling like I’m coping relatively well. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of times when I have massively struggled and felt I would never come to terms with this, but those feelings do pass.

Everyone’s experience with grief is different and there is no right or wrong way to deal with things, but this is what I’ve learnt:

You never really get over it

There are situations everyone finds themselves in that you can ‘get over’, whether it’s breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, falling out with a friend or overhearing your colleague bitch about you for the copious amounts of tea you drink. However, after losing my dad I’ve realised that you don’t get over it, and you never will. You could see the same car they had drive past and for a split second you’ll wonder if it’s them. You could be out shopping and see a can of the deodorant they used to wear and it’ll remind you they’re not here anymore. I remember being at work once and seeing someone who had similar jeans to what my dad wore and I could not stop crying!

Trust me when I say it will hit you at the most random times, and as soon as you think you are getting over it, you feel like you are straight back to square one. But instead of getting over it, you just slowly learn to accept what’s happened and try to adapt to life without them. You will have those random reminders that get to you, but they do get easier and you do get used to them.

There’s no right way

Since the accident happened I have made a lot of friends and spoken to a lot of people who have lost parents, and I’ve learnt that everyone’s experiences and ways of grieving are different. Some people (me) will pretend it never happened and block it out, some will use social media to vent about how they feel and others might throw themselves into the gym or another hobby. But just because you aren’t dealing with it the same way as other people might, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it ‘wrong’. I was at university when my mum told me and I decided not to come home and just stay with my friends because I knew they would take my mind off it. At first I felt I maybe should’ve gone home, but my family understood I wanted to be surrounded by people who could take my mind off it.

After a year

Once you’ve gotten through the first year, you would’ve experienced many ‘firsts’ – your first Christmas and birthday without them, first Mother’s or Father’s day – and you will get a lot of people sending their condolences. As the years go on and more special occasions without them go on, you get less and less people who ask how you’re doing. At first it seems like because it’s been more than a year, people expect you to have gotten over it and be fine. It seems as if their life has gone on and therefore yours has as well and you should be okay. Which is not the case.

There isn’t a time limit on grieving. There isn’t a deadline in which you should be okay by. Just because your sibling may seem okay, it doesn’t mean you have to be the same. I had this problem quite a lot in the beginning and I felt like people had expectations of me to be fine to the point where I stopped telling people if I felt down about it, but I was just being stupid. My friends and family understand and will always always be there for me, even if it’s in 10 years’ time.

Jess Saunders

Jess writes: If you are struggling to talk to people about it, then there are a lot of people you can get in touch with. I’m part of a Facebook page called Way Teens & Pre-teens where people of similar ages who have lost parents can all talk to each other. 

Read the original post and more from Jess here.

If you need support, Let’s Talk About Loss is here to help. Get in touch today or find your local meet up here.

There is strength in weakness

It’s February – far past the socially acceptable time for me to write a reflection on 2018. This week was #TimeToTalk day but I’ve missed that, too. In fact, this blog has been sorely neglected in the last few months, and for those of you who have submitted pieces, or have been waiting expectantly for new posts, I am sorry for my silence.

The thing is, I have been feeling dangerously, scarily weak and unable – so I’ve slowed down. Not because I consciously recognised my suffering and decided to be kind to myself and accept my weaknesses (I wish!), but instead because I have felt completely unable to tackle the to-do list. To put in long hours behind the screen and work on Let’s Talk About Loss.

That is not because I’ve lost my passion (will I ever stop being ridiculously passionate about and dedicated to supporting young people who have been bereaved?) – it’s simply because I have had an incredibly hectic few months with lots of change, and I can barely catch my breath. In December, I got engaged, in January I moved to Bristol and started a new full-time job with the incredible charity The Prince’s Trust, and have been finding my feet with a new city, new friends, a new church, a new bus route – all at the same time as desperately missing those I have left behind in Nottingham. Oh, and the small task of planning a wedding!

The unending exhaustion

I am sure many of you who have experienced, or are still experiencing, mental health problems, know what I mean by the unending exhaustion. It’s so hard to describe. My colleagues ask how I am – can I really say “well I’m permanently tired, not because I’ve had a busy weekend but because my brain is battling constantly to process my grief that I still don’t fully understand, that catches me by surprise and sometimes completely immobilises me while at the same time making me more tired than I thought it was possible to be”… Can I say that? It doesn’t seem like a great conversation starter…

Instead, we hide how we are. We talk about our feelings on #TimeToTalk day but we forget to carry on talking, and we start bottling things up. We view everyone else’s 2018 highlights and we feel small, insignificant, like a failure in comparison. And most destructive of all: we think we are all alone. We make ourselves believe that no one else understands, or has ever experienced our feelings. We are weird, different, alone.

Of course that is not the end of the story. I cannot stop there, for it is fundamentally not true. However alone you feel, there are people who love you, care about you and want to listen to you. Despite your feelings of failure, you are hugely successful at being you (the best there has ever been and will ever be, in fact) and you are doing brilliantly.

At Let’s Talk About Loss, we know what it feels like. We’ve been there. We’ve experienced grief in so many forms – nothing shocks us, nothing is weird or strange, nothing is off limits. We’re a supportive, open, honest community of young people just like you who have been bereaved and need some friends around you to help you navigate the darkness and mess. We would love you to join us…

Looking back and moving forward

As I have said already – February is far too late to be writing a round up of 2018, but heck I’m in charge of this blog and if I want to write a 2018 highlights list, then I will! It’s only short though because I’m sure you already know everything that happened last year. Instead, I’ll focus on our big dreams and grand plans for 2019.

George Shelley: Learning to Grieve

When I first saw the email from the BBC about a new documentary they wanted me to be part of, I could not believe it. I was so excited, so terrified. I spent the next few days before the film crew arrived cleaning my house like I’ve never cleaned before. It was an incredible experience, and I am so thankful that Let’s Talk About Loss was profiled on the show in such a sensitive, positive way. George was the most incredible guy and I loved getting the opportunity to share some of my journey with him.

Hundreds of people emailed us after the show aired, and I’m still receiving emails to this day of people who have found Let’s Talk About Loss through the show. If you’re one of those people, welcome! We are so pleased that you have found this community and we hope that together, we can continue to talk through the taboos of loss and grief. As for 2019… BBC Breakfast sofa? This Morning with Holly and Phil? Another documentary? We shall see where life takes us…

Stories of pain, stories of hope

Thank you for all those emails I just mentioned. Thank you all for sharing your incredible stories with Let’s Talk About Loss. Sorry I haven’t been able to respond to them all yet – there have been thousands! I’ve been so inspired by people’s honesty and openness, and have felt constantly overwhelmed by how much strength and resilience young people have despite their weakness and brokenness.

In 2019, we want to think outside the box when we say we “talk about loss”. Not everyone is a natural writer – for many, writing a blog post is not their cup of tea or it feels really scary. So we’re thinking creatively about how we tell our stories of loss, and will be trialling different communication methods in three ways. Firstly, we’re holding a photography exhibition in Nottingham (we won funding from an amazing fund called Hard Heads and Hang Ups in 2018 to put it on!), where we invite young people across the country (and world?!) to submit images that tell their story of bereavement. There will be plenty more information about this coming really soon, so look out for that!

Secondly, we have big dreams to start a podcast! We’ve got a few ideas in the pipeline, and will be thinking about how this could practically could work, but we hope that in 2019, we will be able to start talking out loud, into your earphones and your airwaves, about what living with loss is like! And finally, we are launching our own range of bereavement cards! (eh up we’ve got a budding entrepreneur over here!) We know these cards will be an amazing way of supporting our friends who are really struggling, and need some genuine, heartfelt support – not a rubbish grey countryside scene or a cuddly bear with a heart eyes! Stay tuned for more updates as we develop (and then attempt to sell!) these bereavement cards.

Meet ups

Finally, because this blog post is getting quite ridiculously long, we want a little plug for our meet up groups! The Nottingham group continues to go from strength to strength, with new people joining every month, and in March they will celebrate their one-year anniversary (hopefully with a party!!). Our London groups, North and South, launched in style last year and held their first official meet up in January which was a roaring success. I am so proud of the amazing hosts, and can’t wait to see these groups grow! And at the end of February, a new group will be starting in Bristol, led initially by myself and hopefully by some amazing hosts as we grow. Exciting times!

We want meet ups everywhere in the UK. So many of you have got in touch from every corner of the country to ask for a local group, and some amazing people have offered to host. Could you host? Might you like to be in a meet up group in your local area? Get in touch! We will launch groups as soon as there are two hosts and two attendees in each area, so drop us a line today and let’s get talking about loss all over the UK.

Beth x

Thanks for reading this small essay and for sticking with me despite my inability to answer emails promptly. You’re all amazing and we are all in this together. For more regular updates from Let’s Talk About Loss, please follow us on social media – we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Have your elf a merry little crimbo

Is anyone else sat in complete disbelief that it is once again Christmas? I cannot believe that it is *that* time of year, so soon after I’ve recovered from last Christmas! I’m sure some of you are feeling the same, and for many people, this is a time of the year filled with dread.

At Let’s Talk About Loss, we know only too well how challenging Christmas can be. It’s a time spent with family and friends, but when there is someone significant missing in your life, it is a period tinged with loss and sadness. We have some tips for any of you struggling this festive period, from people who have been there and experienced it all before.

Remember them, on your own terms

Just because someone is not around in person at Christmas, doesn’t mean they are gone completely. Lizzie offers great advice for remembering the lost loved one:

“Remember some of their traditions and quirks, as it will help remind you of them throughout the day. Schedule some time in the day to think about this so they can still be part of your day. My mum always said robins were people we missed coming to see us. She had them on her Christmas cards and around her house. I know it’s silly, but now I still decorate my house with them at Christmas, and her friends always expect a robin Christmas card from me! And obviously you smile when you see one on a December walk!” – Lizzie

You can, and you will, get through this

Don’t be alone

We know, it’s easier said than done, but it’s all too easy to think you’re alone when there are lots of people around you who care for you. Don’t forget there are friends and family who are there for you, and will chat to you when you need some time. Beth knows exactly what it feels like when you feel like you’re all on your own:

“Christmas is such an intense time of year – whether you love it or hate it, you cannot get away from it. For those who are grieving, it can be hard to find joy when your thoughts are consumed by the people you have lost. This will be my third Christmas without my mum and although it is getting less strange to not have mum around, it is still one of the worst times of the year as I am forced to remember past Christmas memories, and not able to make any new ones with her.

My advice – to anyone grieving, and to myself – is to have the Christmas you want, whatever that looks like. Prioritise yourself and your mental health, and remember that you are not alone. If you’re lonely, check out Sarah Millican’s awesome Christmas Twitter chat using the hashtag #joinin, and reach out to friends and family, and tell them if you’re struggling. You can, and you will, get through this.” – Beth

Enjoy Christmas exactly how you want to

Make new traditions

Another important tip is to try your best to make new traditions, if you’re not able to keep to the old traditions. Oli knows what it is like to spend Christmas without someone important, and how one of the best things to do is try and make new traditions and new memories:

“As I’m writing this I’ve just finished putting my decorations up, with my Christmas-crazy girlfriend, and will be off to get the tree in the next few days. Continuing to celebrate like this really helps me remember my sister Faye and her love for Christmas.

On the day itself, it’s very hard still, my parents and I don’t do an awful lot, but try to go for a long walk to clear our heads. I hope my sister is proud of me for wanting to still celebrate Christmas and I have no doubt she has her tree decorated already up there!” – Oli 

Try and ignore the hype

Isn’t Christmas just the worst, now that it has been hijacked by brands and advertisers. It begins as early as September and you cannot move for the countdowns, the presents, the money to be spent on anything and everything. Our best advice, from all of us here at Let’s Talk About Loss, is to try and avoid the hype, and enjoy Christmas exactly how you want to. It’s your Christmas, and whatever it looks like, it can be a lovely, calm day.

Merry Christmas everyone – we’re here if you need us x

Life after death: the concept of time after losing someone

We absolutely love this post from Madeleine, which talks about the weird concept of time after a bereavement, and how you can be doing so much, and yet doing nothing at all. Read on for some serious wisdom for an amazing grieving person who we are so proud to know! 

When I think back to the ‘early days’, the days seem to slide into one another. Thinking back, there is not much distinction between ‘night’ or ‘day’. Dawn and dusk look and feel the same. Weekdays and weekends are interchangeable. There is no distinction between morning or afternoon or evening.

I was definitely doing a lot of stuff. Funeral plans, photograph hunting, shouting at Starbucks baristas. There was a lot of movement. Train stations, bus stops and relatives’ cars. I was doing anything and everything. And nothing at all too:

  • Sugary teas made by kind others, because they proved that even in this new version of reality, other people were still alive.
  • Disney films, because they took me back to the pristine confines of childhood, and held me close to past comforts
  • Peep Show, because it’s bloody hilarious.

Innocently asking about dad

There was the stunned silence from people on the peripherals. The vet who treated the cat, after she’d shown a little bit too much of an interest in the lilies sent from well-meaning others: “I won’t let this cat die on you too”. The dentist who innocently asked how my dad was getting on these days.

There was the deafening roar of the grief itself which howled into me, bellowing ear-to-ear at bass frequencies, coursing through my veins and vibrating through my bones. Nowadays it sounds more like a hymn, most of the time, like a quiet hum knocking around. It sometimes upgrades to an anthem, particularly on birthdays, death-days, Christmas days. But it can transcend from gentle melody to full-scale harmonic orchestra at the slightest reminder:

  • A bird soaring through the sky
  • A news story about a flight disaster
  • A father reaching for his daughter’s hand

There was the unwavering, flawless support from a few close companions. They came with me to some of the darkest of places I’d ever seen, with unflinching compassion. If my grief was a dark room into which I retreated and slammed the door closed behind me, they were the patient bystander at the other side, gently pushing food, and water, and love, through the crack between the door and the floor. Until the crack became wide enough for me to open it again.

Allegations of time

Two years has allegedly passed since I lost my dad. The concept of time in grief still fascinates me. I think when someone close to you transcends the constraints of the time as most people experience it, you in some ways do too.

I now experience weekdays, and weekends, like a ‘normal’ person. My body follows the concept of day-times and night-times in a similar way to before my dad died. I observe my birthdays, nowadays with more gratitude than guilt, at having had another year. I celebrate his birthday with a Guinness. I talk of him with unapologetic and uninhibited abandon. He comes with me through every day, and we face it together.

I’ve come to see that as much as I’d love to stop the clock and turn it back, I can’t. But I’ve come to believe he no longer experiences time in the same way as before, so I don’t either. It could be 2 minutes, 2 years or 2 centuries – he is my dad and I am his daughter, and that is that.

Madeleine B

Have a story to share? Email hello@letstalkaboutloss.org and we’d love to feature your work.

Five things I wish I had known about grief

The amazing Charlotte Bufton shares five things that she wishes she had known about grief before she experienced it. This is a really powerful post – get in touch if you found it helpful, or if you would like to share your own post on our blog!

1. Grief is personal.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with losing someone you love. It will vary hugely from person to person depending on how long you knew the person, what the relationship was like etc. I think the best possible advice I could give is simply to be kind to yourself.

2. It is okay to ask for help!

This cannot be stressed enough. Not long after my Grandad passed away, I left work one afternoon and, on my way, to the tube station, started to cry and just could not stop. I knew then that I needed to get some help, so after some searching I found a counsellor; it was so incredibly helpful just to have someone to talk to and process how I was feeling. There is absolutely no shame in seeking some outside help during such a difficult time.

3. The people you thought would be there, might not be, the people you didn’t expect, may just surprise you.

Grief can be quite an isolating experience. Losing a parent in my mid-twenties is not something I ever expected to have to go through. For those who may be trying to support or care for a friend I would encourage you to please just reach out, even if you don’t know what to say. One friend sent a card explaining that she wasn’t sure what the right thing to say was but that she would always be there and that meant everything to me!

You are not superhuman, it’s okay to be struggling

4. Take your time to heal and grieve.

There is no schedule for the grieving process. Personally, I feel there is a real issue with the way we address loss in our society; often grief is a subject some can feel uncomfortable with and we expect people to be fine after just a few weeks.

It’s been over two years since I lost my Grandad and 21 months since my Mum died, as time goes by the overwhelming sadness and loss has given way to thankfulness for the memories that I have… However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where those feelings surface again, when I would give absolutely anything to speak to them again. Be patient with yourself and your emotions.

5. Grief does not always express itself as sadness.

Especially because losing Mum was so sudden, at first, I was just in shock and then came anger. I was losing my temper over the smallest of things and generally just irritable for months on end. For everyone who put up with me during this stage, thank you for your patience!

Grief can take a toll on you physically and mentally in ways you might not expect. Take each day as it comes and make sure you give yourself a break. You are not superhuman, it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to need some time to process your feelings and at the end the people who truly love you will always be there for you.

Read more of Charlotte’s writing on her blog here. Email hello@letstalkaboutloss.org to submit your story to us.