Blog

Book Review: Grief Works by Julia Samuel

In this blog, Ruth reflects on a book, Grief Works, which has helped her to understand and process her own grief, as well as helped her to support others going through it.

Grief Works by Julia Samuel contains stories of life, death, and surviving which is all separated in defined chapters. In the first chapter, Julia goes into depth about her understanding of grief, which validated all of my thoughts and feelings. She was realistic and I loved how she didn’t sugar coat the grieving process.

Exploring grief

Our own grief consumes our minds easily, but this book gives you the option to explore when a partner, parent, sibling and or child dies. It also includes people facing their own death. It was clearly listed so you could easily skip a chapter if you wanted to. I was actually interested to explore grief from another perspectives, as I was exhausted of my own. It helped me to empathise with others and see a strength I hadn’t seen in myself yet.

Within Grief Works Julia explains the ‘7 Pillars of Strength’ which is a system of support that can help grievers every single day. The relationship with oneself was one of the seven pillars; this really helped me to stop hating myself and to avoid self-criticism. She emphasises the importance of self-compassion and how we need to listen to our own needs and thoughts.

Is this thought normal?

Before reading Grief Works, I had this dark intrusive thought of my loved one’s body lying in the morgue. It wasn’t me that had to identify their body, but my imagination made it feel real. Julia explained that “the shock of the event, even if imagined, is so intense people have flashbacks”.

I thought I was insane; how could I be traumatised by a thought that I just imagined? I couldn’t tell anyone because I was scared that they would have thought I was insane. After reading that section, I burst into tears; it was sheer relief. Others felt the same as me, I’m not insane- I am processing a traumatic death.

The physical impact of grief

Before reading this book, I also remember saying to my boyfriend “you can’t break my heart, the death of my loved ones already did”. I learnt that people who are bereaved have higher rates of heart disease than the general population. We are six times more likely to suffer from heart disease than the national average. Unknown to me I was right… in a sense. Now having this knowledge, it has emphasised the importance of maintaining a healthy body.

Supporting others

Some people presume that if you have experienced loss yourself you are a guaranteed grief counsellor. This is not true. I still don’t always know what to say to someone who has lost someone. Thankfully, within the book it has a dedicated section about how friends and family can help. I loved this section because it can help me when I’m supporting others who are grieving themselves.

This book impacted me so much, it helped me to understand my own grief and know that my feelings were and are valid and normal. It has helped me understand grief in general and has given  me practical advice in helping others who are struggling with grief.

I can’t emphasise enough how much this book meant to me during a dark and confusing time in my life and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to you.

Thank you, Sarah, for buying me this incredible book.

Ruth Marshall

Would you like to write a blog, or review a book, for Let’s Talk About Loss? Get in touch now, we’d love to hear from you.

Standing still

One of the Newcastle meet up Hosts, Amy, reflects on the familiar feeling of lockdown and her top tips for self-care.

A familiar feeling

Where we find ourselves in the midst of this coronavirus lockdown, it is uncharted territory for us all. We can no longer go about our daily lives, follow our normal routines, spend time with people we love. Everyone is realising how much they took for granted and is counting down the days until they can have it all back.

I, for one, am seeing how much of my daily life was taken up by doing. I was always thinking about the next thing in my day- whether that be working on an essay, going to the gym, or going over to my friends for a glass of wine. No longer able to exist in this constant state of moving from one thing to the next, I am being forced to stand still. Listen to my thoughts and not be able to run away from them by distracting myself with the next thing on my to-do list.

For those of us who are bereaved, this feeling isn’t entirely unfamiliar

Since the lockdown, I’ve found myself having similar feelings to those I felt when my Mum took her own life, over two years ago now. When she died, I felt entirely paralysed. I didn’t know what to do next. Even though I wasn’t under government instruction to stay at home, that’s what I did.

I couldn’t bring myself to make plans that went beyond being surrounded by my family where I felt safe. I was shocked, sad, and scared of what my life was now going to look like without her in it. As I graduate from university this year, I find myself feeling the fear all over again, as I step forward into a new stage of life- one that is going to be even harder to transfer into due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Survival kit

This post has been all doom and gloom so far – and I would be lying if I said I planned it to be full of sunshine and rainbows! But what I’m realising, and what I want to share with you, is the importance of recognising that the uncertainty, sadness, and anxiety that is dominating our world right now is bound to feel more difficult for those of us that have experienced the death of someone we love, especially at a young age.

Being kind to yourself, giving yourself the biggest break you possibly can, is what you deserve. Just getting through each day, and rewarding yourself for doing so, is what matters. Prioritising doing things that you find soothing is important.

I for one, am finding myself much more anxious than usual, so I’ve finished this post with a few things that are in my survival kit for getting through the days in this unsettling time, especially for us young grievers.

Exercise

I know everyone bangs on about it, but it really does make you feel good (not necessarily during, but afterwards!). I vary what kind of exercise I do, and usually it isn’t particularly intense. There are loads of free home workouts on YouTube and Instagram Live. Yoga and Pilates are especially relaxing for me and I often do it outside if the weather is sunny, as fresh air is important too.

balance-body-exercise-female-374101

Watching comforting movies

I’ve been re-watching lots of my favourite Disney films. Sometimes I find watching films I haven’t seen, or new TV shows uses too much concentration, and right now I need the feel-good feeling to be guaranteed at the end!

man-holding-remote-control-1040160

Reading/audiobooks

For me, absorbing myself in someone else’s life- whether they exist or not- takes me out of my own for a while. Books and audiobooks are great for this!

blur-book-girl-hands-373465

Cooking

I’ve never particularly loved cooking, but at the moment I’m finding it a great thing to immerse myself in. Following simple recipes is the best way if you’re a bit unsure where to start. Plus, this ensures you’re eating fresh food, which will help you with feeling better, energy levels, and your general mood.

cast-iron-skillet-on-table-with-species-1435909

Sleeping

I LOVE to sleep but making sure I go to bed and wake up at a similar time every night is helping me ensure I’m getting enough sleep as well as making sure I’m not being too much of a sloth. Oversleeping often makes me more tired and less motivated for the day. Apple Bedtime is very useful for getting into a sleep routine!

photo-of-person-holding-alarm-clock-1028741

Losing my Mum has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced. But it has made me into an infinitely stronger human being. As young grievers, we are constantly finding our way through the most difficult of life’s challenges. If anyone can handle this situation, we can!

Amy Coppel

Get in touch to share your own story or advice for others.

Grieving during COVID-19

In this blog, Amy reflects on grieving for her Dad during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown. Get in touch to share your own story or advice for others.

I am sat in my garden, the sun is shining on my face, my husband and son are playing a game (amicably for once) behind me, so why do I feel so dark inside? Why do I feel as if there is a pit in my stomach that is full of despair? Why do I feel guilty for enjoying this moment?

Life as we knew it stopped.

Because on Friday 20th March 2020 we held my Dad’s funeral and on Monday 23rd March, Britain went into ‘lockdown’ due to the Coronavirus. Life as we knew it stopped. No more meeting my sister for coffee, laughing at my nephew, no more gym classes and volunteering.

All of the things that I had been relying on to get me through my grief, all of the things that had been helping me to get up in the mornings, giving my day a purpose, I could no longer do.

I had got into a daily routine of the school run, exercising, then going back to school to help the children with their reading. I enjoyed keeping my mind busy as I’d recently made the decision to quit my job to keep my mental health intact. This routine had stopped me from falling.

Lockdown

Now we’re on lockdown, the dark days have started slowly creeping in and there doesn’t feel like there is an end to this pandemic in sight.

Some days I’m in such a terrible mood; there is nothing my husband can say to me to cheer me up, literally everything he says or does grates on me and I know it is not his fault but I need to be angry at someone, I need to let this emotion out. I’m angry at my Dad too for leaving us, for leaving me feeling this way!

The other morning I watched my wedding video twice over, tears streaming down my face, I just wanted to see my Dad again, laughing, smiling and healthy and as heart breaking as it was to see his face, I must admit it helped ease my sorrow slightly.

It’s so difficult to grieve during this time, when the world has literally been turned upside down, when the news of death and despair is everywhere we turn. I feel silly for mourning the loss of my Dad, when thousands of people are dying every day.

Finding the good

But through all the darkness, I’m lifting my head towards the light; I’m trying to find the positives, the goodness and the joy in every day. On our bike ride yesterday, we cycled down an extremely steep hill; I closed my eyes, let my feet dangle off of the pedals and gave into the moment. It was exhilarating and I was so happy I had done it, just to have those blissful few seconds of freedom… no feelings, no grief, no sadness.

I’m eternally grateful for my husband and son for asking for Coco Pops and coffee every morning and making me get out of bed with a smile on my face. I’m grateful for being able to spend so much time with them; time we never would have had prior to the lockdown. For technology, allowing me to see my nephew and laugh as he learns new words every day. For an incredible sense of community, smiling and greeting neighbours I hadn’t known existed until now. For having the time every day to write and practise yoga, two more things that have helped me an immense amount.

I know there will be many more dark days to come and I do not look forward to them but that is a natural part of grieving. I know that once life goes ‘back to normal’ I will have to start thinking which direction I want my career to go in, get a job, and maybe even explain to new colleagues that my Dad died at 50 years old after a year long battle with cancer.

But for the time being, I’m concentrating on the right now. I’m concentrating on the sun rays, the bird song, my son’s laughter, and the hope that my Dad is looking down on me, smiling saying “You can do this.”

Amy Hardy

To follow Amy’s journey through grief, you can read her blog “My Dad, Cancer, and I” here.

The world has realised what the bereaved already knew: the future is not certain

The world is grieving. We have lost so much. Loss of connection. Loss of normality. Loss of control. Loss of predictability. Loss of understanding. Loss of safety. Loss of the future we imagined.

You’ve lost control. Except, you never had control.

With so much changing, it’s not surprising that we are experiencing feelings of grief. But for those of us already in the club, who already understand bereavement, everything is weird, yes, but it’s familiar. We’ve been here before and we already know what so many are learning and coming to terms with: the future is not certain, we cannot control it, it can be snatched away in a moment.

The illusion of control

So many of us have plans for the future. We have a bucket list, a to-do list, dreams and ideas. We put dates in the diary and RSVP to invitations. We plan our meals, our hairstyles, what we’ll buy on pay day. And all of that leads to an illusion of control.

We start to feel, with so many plans set in stone, that we can control the future. That we know exactly how life is going to go. That’s why it’s so frustrating when you get stuck in traffic, your date cancels or you feel unwell. You’ve lost control. Except, you never had control.

Everyone needs to listen to Mo Gawdat

Is Mo Gawdat the wisest man on the planet right now? I have been listening to the incredible podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, and this recent episode with Mo Gawdat is easily the most helpful thing I’ve heard since this pandemic started. Go listen now! Go on! Now! You can read the rest of this later…

For those of you still reading and not listening, Mo talks powerfully about the fact that we have never had, and will never have, control over our future, and this is a lesson learned quickly when you’re bereaved. I imagined my mum would help me into my wedding dress on my wedding day. I believed she would be a grandma to my future children. I thought I’d have to sort out care for her as she got older and frail. But I didn’t get any of that – the future I had planned was snatched cruelly away from me, and I had to accept that there is nothing you can do to control the future, you can only live in the present and be grateful for what you have.

Welcome to the grief club

For those of you who haven’t experienced grief before, welcome to the club. It’s a weird one. I’m not saying here that losing the ability to walk outside twice a day is the same as losing a loved one. But the feelings you’re experiencing, the loss you’ve suffered, is grief. There are many feelings associated with grief that are helpful to explain. You might have heard of the 5 Stages of Grief, a theory proposed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, which are: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. We’ve certainly all been feeling many if not all of those emotions as we process the pandemic and come to terms with the shock that came from sudden announcements and fast developments.

Denying the virus, anger at the rules, bargaining over limits, sadness of isolation, acceptance of the new normal – all familiar feelings across the world

However, it is widely misunderstood that these five stages are meant to be a neat, ordered, linear process. Grief is complex, chaotic and unpredictable, and the feelings of grief that Kubler-Ross and Kessler outlined are not experienced one at a time, or in any order, or in any way. There is no real control or order to the stages of grief – be prepared to feel them all within the same five minutes, or to think you’ve reached acceptance only to be back in denial the next morning. It’s all completely normal – we’ve been there and got the t-shirt, believe us!

What is helpful when you’re grieving

Now you’re getting used to these new feelings of grief, and the loss of control of your future, it’s helpful to give you ways to live with grief. Please note that I did not say here “get over grief”, “get through grief” or “move on from grief”. While it is probable that in this case, there will be a time when everything goes back to a sense of normality, it will never be the same again, because even if it’s just in the past, Covid-19 still happened, it still affected us and we still changed because of it.

It’s the same with any grief – you never move on from it, you just reshape around it. This incredibly helpful Twitter thread about a ball in a box analogy is so helpful to read. We also love Mum’s Jumper, a book by Jayde Perkin and published by Book Island Books, which is all about a little girl who grows into her grief, just like she grows into her mum’s jumper. You can buy it here – genuinely such a helpful book.

Here’s some things that are helpful to prioritise in this time of collective grief:

  • Nature and fresh air – OF COURSE only one walk a day is allowed, but do try and get some fresh air and beautiful nature when you’re out.
  • Sleep – rest is really important so try and get as much sleep as you can.
  • Talk to your friends and family as much as you can, but try not to dwell on coronavirus too much. Talk about positive things and what you’re enjoying with them.
  • Write stuff down, whether that’s in a journal or a notebook, or on your phone or in letters to yourself. Getting your feelings down on paper, and being in the moment, is important.
  • Maintain your hobbies (if you can indoors) – hobbies, and things to take your mind off things, are hugely important. I’ve been doing some scrapbooking!
  • Prioritise your physical health – exercise when you can and make sure you are looking after your body.

Be kind to yourself

I’ve told you that your future is not certain. I’ve told you that you’re experiencing grief. I’ve told you that you’ll experience lots of negative feelings. I should probably tell you some good news, right?! Actually, as Mo Gawdat says much more eloquently than I could, a lot of healing and positivity is tied to acceptance. When we accept that we cannot control the future, and that things will happen that are out of our hands, we are able to relax into the present and see the many blessings we do have.

This has been a long blog post so I will simply say this – be kind to yourself. Grief of any kind is a horrible thing, and so many of us have lost, and will lose, so much during this time. Let’s Talk About Loss will always be here, and we’ll always talk through the taboos.

Beth French

Have something you would like to share, about grief, loss or bereavement? We’d love to publish your story on our blog. Email Amy, our Blog Assistant, to submit your story.

The First Mother’s Day…

In this blog, Jane reflects on her first Mother’s Day following her mother’s passing last year. Get in touch to share your own story or advice for others.

What to do?

Several friends and family have asked what I plan to do on Mother’s Day, the first one since my mother passed away at the end of June. I was sure of one thing. I didn’t want to be surrounded by other people celebrating and spending time with their mothers.

My husband suggested we go to the cinema watch a few films back to back. It was a perfect idea. I could lock myself away and ignore Mother’s Day. I certainly don’t need another reminder that my mother died and that I continue to live in a state of confusion, bewilderment, and overwhelming sadness. In the end, due to the coronavirus, my wish has been answered. We will be staying in on Sunday.

Am I selfish to say that I am tired of seeing advertisements for Mother’s Day? I laugh at the many ways we can supposedly show our love for mothers. I don’t mean to sound bitter. I promise I’m not. One of my favourites was from a florist who shall remain anonymous – “Mother’s Day Flowers. Delivered. Can’t be with Mum this Mother’s Day? Show your love with flowers”. I wanted to reply and ask if they delivered to Heaven as, unfortunately, I wouldn’t be with my mother this year.

“A personal attack”

I literally want to scream and tell people to stop being so insensitive. Why do supermarkets need a towering stand as soon as you walk in displaying Mother’s Day cards? It almost feels like a personal attack. I know I am being irrational, but it doesn’t stop me feeling this way. Some companies have done it right and have asked their customers if they would like to opt out of receiving Mother’s Day notices and emails. Bravo to them!

I have two younger sisters and together, we are now motherless. An enormous hole has been left in terms of the role that our mother played. My father can fill parts of it as a parent but there are others where only a mother will do.

Leaning on each other

One sister is expecting her second baby in mid-April. She now calls me after every appointment and begins, “I’ve just had my appointment and I would have called Mummy. So, I am calling you”. I don’t have children of mine own so I can’t offer advice on pregnancy or childbirth or raising children. Sometimes I feel rather useless and petrified but I don’t tell her that – I let her know I can listen and remind her that I am here and will help where needed.

My youngest sister calls me with work issues and similarly begins, “I would have called Mummy. So, I am calling you.” At least here I have more experience. I don’t, though, have the eternal optimism of my mother. I live in the constant fear that I won’t say the right thing or offer the right advice.

Mother’s Day also throws up the inevitable question of having my own children. My husband and I married last September, three months to day after my mother died. I am amazed at the number of people who feel it appropriate to ask me when we will have children and reminding me not to leave it too late. The voice in my head wants to cry out, “I am grieving the loss of my mother. I am incredibly selfish at the moment. How can I possibly think about having a child?” Instead, I smile and say, “In time.” Despite my annoyance and anger, it doesn’t help making others feel uncomfortable.

Whilst I am dreading Sunday, I am enjoying not having to face anyone. I think I’ll even stay off social media. It will help me feel less anxious. The only nod to Mother’s Day will be sending my sister a card because I want to celebrate her role as a mother.

Jane Singer