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What to say to your friend who has just been bereaved

I’m sure you’ve been there. You get a text, a phone call, a Facebook message with the horrible news that someone you know has just experienced a loss. Whether it was sudden or to some extent expected, it can be impossible to know what to say to them.

Should you message them? Ignore them? Never speak to them again in case you accidentally upset them?

Now, I’m no expert but I’ve experienced my fair share of people “putting their foot in it” and saying the wrong thing, so I’m going to attempt to pass on a few pearls of wisdom about what to say – and what not to say – when the unthinkable happens.

Don’t ignore me, please

There is nothing worse than when you’ve just been bereaved, the time in your life when you need support and love more than ever before, and people start to ignore you. It really hurts! I know it’s uncomfortable for you, but it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable as it is for the person who has been bereaved, so do try and say something, even if it is only “how are you?”.

Losing someone close to you, at any age although especially at a young age, is one of the most traumatic things that can happen, and I’m really passionate about making sure that no one is left alone, isolated, vulnerable and struggling when their reality is so unbearable. It is known that experiencing a loss can significantly impact someone’s mental health and can cause or increase feelings of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Something as small as being noticed, being valued, and being spoken to can make the world of difference to someone who is really struggling (note – this is actually just great advice for anyone suffering, not just those whose situation is bereavement), and we all have a part to play in helping our friends.

Offer help – but make it specific

I just read a fantastic article by Emily Price on Lifehacker – you can read it here – all about how to offer specific help to your friend who is grieving, so that you can alleviate the burdens on your friend. Here’s what Emily has to say…

Death is awful. The weeks following my mom’s death were awful. While I definitely needed the help, I didn’t have the energy or the time to coordinate with friends to handle things. If someone had asked “Would you like a sandwich?” The answer would have most certainly been “Yes. I haven’t eaten in 2 days.” But when faced with no sandwich and a hundred people offering to help, I’m not going to text anyone and ask for food, or a ride to the funeral home, or help buying flowers. That’s weird. It’s uncomfortable. For a traditionally independent person, it feels like begging even though it’s something your friends are generically offering to do. I mean, technically I can drive myself places and find my own sandwich.

When people ask me, “how can I help”, I never know what to say! I’m just as new to this grief game as you, so I don’t always know how to respond, and one of the best things you can do is offer clear, specific assistance. The person can always say no if they don’t need it, but the chances are they do.

Some ideas for what to offer

Food

Be it dropping round a loaf of bread and some milk, to delivering a piping hot apple crumble, food is ALWAYS appreciated. The last thing the bereaved person is going to be thinking about is cooking good, healthy meals, and the likelihood is that they either won’t eat at all or they will eat easy, fast food that won’t make them feel any better at all. It’s particularly important if this person is living alone to make sure that they are eating well.

Top tip: don’t want to face your friend yet or think it might be a bad time? Leave the food on the doorstep and leave – when they open the door and find the food waiting for them, they will be so grateful and feel really loved, even if they didn’t know it was you!

Time

Do you have a few hours spare? Why not send your friend a message, asking if they need you to bring them some shopping, look after their dog/children/house, or just drop in for a coffee? Avoidance is the easy option but I know that you are a brave and confident friend who wants to help, so why not give up a few hours to practically help your grieving friend? Remember not to cause them more stress or give them another thing to do – so if you invite them for a walk, make sure you offer to pick them up and drop them off, too!

Top tip: don’t be offended if you don’t get a response or your friend asks you not to come round – they might have had hundreds of offers like yours and are feeling a bit overwhelmed by kind people! The fact that you offered is good enough and will have been really helpful.

Car

I’ve touched on this in the previous points, but when your mind is trying to process the death of a loved one, literally EVERYTHING feels like a huge effort. Believe me, just showering can seem overwhelming some days. Our brains are wonderful things, but it’s sort of obvious that when something as massive, life-changing, confusing, shocking and terrifying as death shows up, our brains can’t really cope! One thing that is far too much effort can be driving, and when our brains are distracted and emotional, it’s probably not a brilliant idea to be doing loads of driving around. So you could be really helpful by offering to drive your friend to the shops, to the funeral directors, to the florist – wherever they need to go, if you could take them, the task becomes 100 times easier and less scary.

Top tip: time alone in the car is a great time to talk to your friend and see how they are getting on. Be gentle and don’t ask too many questions!

Words

Whether you post a card, send a Facebook message or speak to them in person, use words to convey to the person that you are thinking about them. Don’t write an essay, just a simple “I’m thinking of you at this time” is enough. Yes, we don’t often have the right words, but that doesn’t mean we should have no words. Communication is key when grieving, and if from the start of the bereavement they never speak to anyone, everything is only going to get harder. If you and your friend share a faith, you could always add in that you are praying for them, as this is hugely reassuring when someone is feeling like no one cares.

Top tip: choose the right card – there are plenty of horrible ones! Keep your eyes peeled on our social media, as we are working on our own, not-terrible bereavement cards, which will be just the right thing to send to your bereaved friend.

You’re an amazing friend and I believe in you!

It’s scary (even when you’ve been on the receiving end of both good and bad support, it’s still hard to know what to say and what to do, believe me!) but you can do it, I promise. Supporting our friends when death happens is one of the most challenging aspects of a friendship, but also the most important. My favourite humans on the planet are those that know exactly how to treat me and look after me when I’m at my worst, and as a result, they also get to see me at my best!

I really hope this article has helped you in some way, and now – go out with confidence and let’s talk about loss.

Beth x

What to do when you start crying at the bank

On Saturday 7 July, we held our first official Let’s Talk About Loss fundraising event – a black tie ball at St Nic’s church, Nottingham. The aim was to build on the incredible success of our recent Crowdfunder (where your support helped us raise over £1000!) and raise more funds so we could register as a charity. If you’re not familiar with the lengthy legal process, to register as a charity requires lots of things in place – one of which is £5000 in your bank account. So I was hoping to raise £2000 from the Ball.

I can reveal that thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the 100 people who joined us at the Ball, we absolutely smashed that target and once the money raised was split with the other charity beneficiary, Child.org, we had raised £4500 for Let’s Talk About Loss. So I’m feeling pretty proud right now – and very excited for all that is to come.

The low that follows the high

Anyway, none of that has much to do with the title of this blog post, but it sets the scene. As you can imagine, I had a fair bit of cash on my person following the Ball and so the obvious job, first thing Monday morning, was to go to the bank – and that’s where the crying happened.

There are probably a few reasons for the tears but at first they shocked me – I couldn’t work out why I was crying. I hadn’t counted the money, and the staff member who served me said I should have. I felt guilty, but I didn’t really need to cry. I was also exhausted – completely drained after pulling off the event that had taken months of intense, stressful planning. I was also on high alert, worried about how much cash I had and whether I would get there safely. But nothing suggests tears as an acceptable response.

Crying in public is awkward

The cashier was shocked. I was shocked. The people in the queue were shocked. Why on earth was I crying? I needed to stop, quickly, but my body was LOVING releasing the tension and stress of the last few months and it wasn’t going to stop. Instead I was ushered away, given a private side room and some coin bags and left to cry and count in peace.

So what do you do when you cry in public?

If you have a mental health condition, you’ll know how completely horrible it feels when you can’t cope. You feel helpless, isolated, vulnerable, and you wish that there was someone around who understood. Except, if someone approached you and tried to help, you would probably feel even more mortified and want even more to run and hide – I know I would.

So what on earth do you do when you are crying in a bank? I know how scary and embarrassing that is so here’s my tips from experience:

  1. Don’t panic – no one is annoyed, angry or staring at you. Stay as a calm as you can.
  2. Take a deep breath – this will help calm you down and stop the crying.
  3. Ask someone if you can go somewhere more private. The bank staff were only too happy to find me my own private office – it is much better customer service than to leave someone crying!
  4. Make plans to get home – or to a safe, calm place – as soon as possible. I had loads more admin tasks to get done that day but I knew that nothing was more important than getting back home. It was a relief to get home, put my pyjamas on and not have any more social pressure to contend with!
  5. Don’t beat yourself up. Mental illness strikes at the most inconvenient times and it happens to all of us! I could think “I failed, because I cried at the bank”. Instead I thought “I cried at the bank today because I was understandably overwhelmed. Despite that, I still managed to deposit the money so that was a successful trip”.

Believe me, you are not the first person to cry in the bank – or at work, out shopping, at a friend’s house, and all the other “inappropriate” places. Join the crying club with pride and accept that it’s a natural human response to pressure.

Be proud of yourself – you are so brave.

Enjoyed this post? Let us know by leaving a comment or get in touch if you want to share your story.

Remembering everything.

No-one is perfect. We all know that, although many of us – myself included – fall into the trap of idealising others and seeing perfection where it does not exist. We all have flaws and quirks that make us amazing, unique humans and I am learning (note: I’m still learning, I haven’t got there yet!) to love and celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly in both myself and others.

Authentic memories

As grieving young adults, there is one person we do idealise, and it’s not always healthy to do so. That person is the loved one we have lost. I am often tempted to make my mum sound even more amazing, loving, hilarious or confident than she was. Don’t get me wrong, my mum was my best friend and the most brilliant mum I could have hoped for. But the reality is, like everyone, mum had her flaws.

My mum was beautiful, but she wasn’t self-confident. Mum was kind, but she had a wicked temper. Mum, like all of us, was tired, grumpy, and angry at times. I loved going shopping with her but I hated driving with her in the car – she was such a backseat driver! I knew never to push it with mum – she was in charge and talking back to her would not end well. I resented house cleaning days – she always made hoover, even though she knew I hated that chore.

When people ask me about mum, of course I share happy memories. Those times of joy that I will treasure forever. But I think it is really important to note that just because someone is gone from this Earth doesn’t mean we can’t remember them authentically. I want to remember all of mum, not just her best side. I want to continue to get to know her as a woman, as a wife, as a mother – and to do that I need to protect all of my memories of her.

The good times and the bad

I can smile now about the time I broke my toe, and after weeks of limping she decided her patience with me had run out, and she shouted at me so angrily to walk properly that the limping disappeared overnight and the pain in my toe suddenly wasn’t important anymore. My brother remembers his favourite Action Man toy being thrown to an early death from the top of the stairs as mum finally lost her temper with three kids winding each other up (RIP action man, we miss you still).

That was my mum. She wasn’t perfect but she was perfect to us. She had flaws and quirks that meant she annoyed me a lot, but the love we shared was pure, endless, full of forgiveness and grace. These days, without mum to phone and ask for advice, I still know what she would say. I can hear her pride and her concern. I can still hear the annoyance in her voice when I had done something stupid. I know she would be angry when me and my siblings bicker and fight. She is still here, still present and still flawed.

Loving mum endlessly

If you have lost someone close to you, take a moment to remember who they really are. Love knows no bounds and judges none. Remember their weaknesses, the things that irritated you about them, the times you fought and then were reconciled. For these are the things that you may erase from your memory and lose forever if you only remember the positives. Remember them for who they really were and you will keep a fuller, richer, more real version of them with you always.

And mum – thanks for making me pose for that photo with you on the first day of university. I was so ashamed, I couldn’t believe you were making me take a photo with you, my mum! How wrong I was, I laugh now at the embarrassment I felt, and the way you mocked me for my futile attempts to be too cool for my parents. For that photo is now one of my most treasured memories and it reminds me of who you really were – my embarrassing, annoying, wise, beloved mum.

Want to share your story with us? Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com to start the conversation.

Grief: expect the unexpected

People say grief strikes anywhere. But what does that actually mean? Today I had a sudden stab of grief as I looked at a pot of Vaseline – so yes, grief really can show up at any time.

I used to think that grieving meant crying, or at least being sad. But the two are not synonymous and I have learnt, with the help of others, that grief is a beast with many faces, and it can disguise itself as many different emotions. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is impossible to recognise.

Grief as it looks now

As I write this, on 2nd June 2018, it has been 1,065 days since mum died. Exactly one month from the three year anniversary. Yet still, a pot of Vaseline causes a lump in my throat and the familiar stabbing pain of grief in my heart. Because this is what grief looks like to me now. It is less intense than it was three years ago, when I would howl into the night sky and rage at the loss of the woman I loved so dearly. Now, the grief is quieter, calmer, and less predictable. It shows itself as it did this morning, in the most unexpected places.

Every girl has their lip salve of choice, and mine is Vaseline. I’m somewhat addicted to it and for a few years when I was younger, I collected the tins, and so I had every flavour of Vaseline available. Mum loved it too, and neither of us went anywhere without our Vaseline. It seems such a stupid, trivial thing now but it was a commonality we shared and one of many things that made up the bond between mother and daughter. This morning, as I applied my Vaseline, as I do multiple times a day, every day, I suddenly remembered that mum loved Vaseline too. It was a new tin design, one mum hadn’t been alive to see, and that small, seemingly ridiculous fact was enough to cause a moment of intense grief and longing for mum.

Journeying and learning

As we journey further with grief, it seems that the shock of loss presents itself differently. Gone are my nightmares about mum dying (apart from the occasional one every six months or so), instead I grieve for the things she never got to see. Big things, like the love of my life who will never get to make my mum laugh, or the weddings she won’t attend. But the little things set me off too, like reading a book that I can’t pass on to her even though I know she would have loved to read it. Or like the Vaseline she never got to buy, or the picture of ‘Susan’s Cafe’ that I’m not sure why I’ve taken because I can’t show her.

You’re not alone

Grief is scary and confusing. If you are new to the grief club, expect the unexpected. But take solace in the knowledge that you are not alone with your random, bewildering, ridiculous triggers. We all experience them and the whole nature of grief is that it is not something you can prepare for or control. We’ve all been there and we know how you feel – and it’s normal.

If you are feeling alone, why not connect with Let’s Talk About Loss and meet other young people who have been bereaved. At the moment, we run meet ups in Nottingham every month, and will soon be launching in London, Bristol and Coventry. They are relaxed, informal gatherings where you can come along and meet other young people who have been bereaved. There is no pressure or expectation to talk about your loss, just come along and get to know us, and see that you are not alone. Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com for more information or drop us a message on Facebook or Instagram.

Grief doesn’t have to be isolating – let’s work together to talk through the taboo.

Who is looking after you?

We’re all supporting someone who is grieving. Whether it’s a close family member, housemate, colleague, or the friend of a friend – we all know someone who has been bereaved, or is struggling with loss.

However, we can feel at times like we are not close enough to the bereaved person to support them. Perhaps you barely know them, or they are the friend of a friend and it would feel awkward to talk to them? This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and maybe you’ve been thinking about how you could support others who might be struggling.

Who could you support?

Perhaps the only person you could think of, who you know is grieving, is someone who is a friend of a friend. Or a distant relative. And now you’re panicking, thinking – do I have to support them? I barely know them! Well the answer is – no, you don’t have to support them. You’re not the most appropriate person. But you could support someone who is supporting them. Confused yet? I’ve drawn a diagram to explain my point…

There are concentric circles around the person who has been bereaved – the above diagram is merely an example of what this could look like. It will be different for every person, but the reality is, there are always people close to you when you are grieving who you rely on for support. For me, it was my immediate family. I spent two months at home after mum died and so we spent a lot of time together. I did see friends, other family members, and we had plenty of visitors, but it was my close family who I turned to for support in the first few months.

For someone else, it could be their housemates, their partner, their best friends, or even their work colleagues. That first circle of people are the ones who really need to support their bereaved friend as much as they can. Talking with them about their loss, checking in with them regularly, perhaps even helping them practically.

Being there for someone can be hard

Imagine this – your colleague at work tells you that their friend has recently been bereaved. You want to help – so you start thinking about the ways you know how to support a bereaved person. But you don’t know this person, so actually you can’t help at all. Except – you can.

When we are supporting someone who is grieving, it’s challenging. I know that when I have been at my worst, that has been really hard for the people around me. But they love and care for me, so that’s fine! But they need support too. If you’re in one of the inner concentric circles, you need to protect your mental health too and make sure that you are supported.

Supporting the supporters

And that’s where the outer concentric circles come in – the distant friends, the work colleagues, the football teammate. They can’t help the bereaved person – but they can help you. We all have a duty of care and we can all support someone, so I invite you to consider where you might be on the concentric circle diagram, and then look at the next circle in. This is the person you can support. You can check in with them, make sure they are coping, ask if there is anything you can do that will ease their burdens.

Talking about loss, together

I’m a firm believer that the conversation about mental health will only change when we all talk, together. Whether the bereaved person you know is a close family member or someone you simply know about from a friend of a friend, you have a role to play in that story, by supporting them and the people around them. As we reflect on the past week – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – perhaps you could take a moment to consider: who is it that I could support, today?

If you have a story to share, email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com and start your conversation.