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Projecting Grief: Using creativity to help heal

In this blog, Jo describes a project that she and her writer, Faye, have been working on to better understand and capture how creative pursuits may help those of us who are grieving. 

“My brother took his own life in November 2017. Real grief was not something I had really had to face until that point, and for a long time it was completely overwhelming.”

Jo Ritchie is a photographer. When she lost her brother, she started to search for others in similar situations feeling the need to connect. She was fascinated – and uplifted – to discover how many people channel their grief through creativity.

“Sometimes the last thing I wanted to do was pick up my camera and attempt to be creative, so I was intrigued to meet people whose grief was the catalyst of a creation.”

In 2019, Jo began searching for those that had used a creative skill as a distraction, a relief, or an expression and taking their portraits.

She has met comedians, actors, crafters, writers, and cooks.

“I am honoured to have met these people and been allowed to take their portraits. It’s interesting that what started as a need to connect has now gone full circle and Projecting Grief has become my creative outlet.”

Jo felt that the portraits required context so decided to team up with a writer to bring the stories and images together. She teamed up with Faye Dawson, a Communications Consultant, whose own grief had taken her down another path.

“When a whole host of otherness decided I wouldn’t have my own child, the thing that upset me most was ‘what will I leave behind?’”

This is the opening line to Faye’s writings. She had two miscarriages in the space of nine months and says she did not understand her grief.

“I thought ‘how can you grieve for someone you never met/never knew?’ There were people suffering far worse than me; I shouldn’t have left it too late to try; it was my fault.”

She decided to not try again.

“I could have continued trying, I was offered support, but I chose not to and fundamentally I am ok with my decision. But it did leave me wanting to make sense of ‘family’, and so I started writing about my own which is blended and bonkers!”

The pieces were very well received, and she wanted to do more, believing it would be her ‘something to leave behind’.

“I decided to set up as a freelancer with the idea of giving myself more time to write and in 2017 I set up my own Communications Consultancy. I haven’t touched my writings since! But what that decision/life change has led me to do is connect with some amazing people that I probably would never have met. Jo is one of them and I’m delighted to be working with her on Projecting Grief.”

Together Jo and Faye are looking for anyone who wants to share their story around grief and creativity, specifically people who created something as a result of their loss.

“Grief has no prejudice”, Jo concludes.

“We want a wide range of voices.  Any creative process is valid – from cooking to sewing, dance to pottery, embroidery to writing; anything that has/is helping you deal with the grieving process that you’re happy to talk about.”

     

If you want to take part in the project email: projectinggrief@gmail.com

To see the story so far visit www.projectinggrief.com

You can find them on Instagram at @projecting_grief

To see more of Jo’s photography visit www.joritchiephoto.com

To read Faye’s story visit www.fayedawsonpr.com/fayesbook

Growing So Well // Sunita and Amelia

22-year-old student Sunita was bereaved in 2019. She has created a poetry book exploring her experience of grief, as she found it difficult to always find the words to express how she was feeling. 

After her boyfriend died in 2019, Sunita captured those emotions and translated them into poetry – the result is a wonderful book, Growing So Well. Illustrated by Sunita’s friend Amelia, and self-published during lockdown, we are privileged to share some of the poems here.

If you wish to buy a copy of this book, you can do so on Etsy here.

You can follow Sunita on Instagram at @sunita_e and Amelia at @ameliadhtovey.

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