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From denying death to living life after loss

Chloe is 16 years old and lost her grandad in March 2017. Here, she shares her story of living with grief.

My first bereavement was one of the hardest things in my life I’ve ever experienced. After I lost my grandad I was on a downwards spiral. I wouldn’t open up about my emotions and if I did I’d always find it as wrong. I didn’t open up and I just sat hiding away and having the worst temper ever, sometimes I’d be super happy and then I’d change and be angry.

My parents and friends usually got the brunt of my anger and it wasn’t fair. I used to get mad about anything really easily, but my friends and parents were the ones who saw me through it in the end. They stuck by me then and now and I am so thankful for them. At first, grandad’s death felt like something was missing all the time and that grandad was just on holiday.

The scary language of death

I stayed in denial for a long time and then when it did hit me, it was followed with a long stage of depression and anxiety about losing anyone else or me being killed. I was having nightmares about death and I hated the words ‘loss’ so instead I used the word ‘passed’ or ‘left’. Now I can say those words and understand what they are. I hope to one day educate my own children or other people about these terms and help them see that they do not need to be afraid to use them.

It’s amazing how much showing and accepting your emotions can do for you

One day it all got to much and I opened up to the lady that helps run my choir – one of the most amazing and inspirational people in my life. She helped me and put me in touch with a couple who run a mentoring scheme for people up to the age of 18. I had an assessment and they said I did need help and that I’d get it as soon as someone was going to be placed with me.

Luckily it only took two weeks for them to find someone to support me and she’s amazing. She has taught me that how I’m feeling is completely normal, and now for our last few weeks together I’m making something to remember my grandad by. It’s amazing how much showing and accepting your emotions can do for you. This lady is the person that has changed my life and I’m so thankful.

Moving on and making grandad proud

This year I got my GCSE results and I’m sure I made my grandad proud. I got into college and despite losing grandad just six weeks after sitting my Health and Social exam, I passed it with flying colours – one of the happiest moments last year. My Nan has also told me it’s okay and we always talk about him and it’s helped lots too.

The first birthday, Christmas and the first year have been so difficult for me but I remembered the times I’ve had with him. Now I’m helping people I know cope with a death of a loved one. I’m telling them to accept their emotions and remember how proud their loved one is of them.

My message to anyone would be this: there is a light at the end of the tunnel and although the road may be rocky, you’ll make it and be stronger from it. I’m now nearly two years on and I’ve never felt stronger. I’ve learned to accept my emotions and feelings, and never to forget the good times with my grandad.

Chloe Hayes

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Feeling everything and nothing at the same time

Jenny wrote to Let’s Talk About Loss to share her feelings, eighteen months into her journey of grief. We hope you find this post helpful. Get in touch to share your own story.

Some days I feel everything, every emotion you can imagine. Other days I feel nothing.

I’m eighteen months into this whole grieving process now and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that your mind finds a way of protecting you sometimes. There will be days you don’t feel like the pain is overwhelming you anymore.

Some days, like today, I wake up and the tears will just flow, I’ll feel the horrible pain and realisation that you are no longer here, that the one person I thought I’d have by my side through life is gone. On other days I will feel numb, nothing, just emptiness. It’s these days I know my mind is protecting me from the pain.

After too many of the numb days, I’ll feel guilty I haven’t cried for a while. I’ll do anything I can to try and make myself feel something. I start to think about the most painful memories. I see the image of you in tears, trying to come to terms with that fact you have had your future taken from you, you won’t be able to do all those things you wanted to do.

I’ll picture the last time you were wheeled from your flat into the ambulance. I’ll think about the worst journey I’ve ever been on, taking you to the hospice. I’ll remember running down the corridor in the hospice when I was told you were taking your last breaths. I want that feeling of grief to hit me again like I’ve just been punched in the chest, because somehow, that makes me feel closer to you still.

It’s hard to let ourselves be happy when such a big part of life is now missing but it’s important to know those days you feel nothing or feel numb are ok, it allows us to cope and keep going.

Eighteen months ago I would have struggled to believe that there would be a day I wouldn’t cry, but the grief has become less overwhelming for me over time. I’m not saying it goes away completely, but you find ways of living with it.

I always try and keep in my head one of the last things my brother said to me – ‘live the best little life you can Jen’. So I will, for me and for him. It’s taken me some time to allow myself to start doing this again but I’m getting there.

Grab the happy days with both hands and allow yourself to feel happy again. I will be as I know my brother would want me to!

Jenny Bannister

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Wake up call

Simone shares her story of her brother’s unexpected death on her birthday and explains the whirlwind of the day. If you have a story to share with Let’s Talk About Loss, we’d love to share it and help break down the taboos of death and grief. Email us to tell your story.

When my alarm woke me up at 6.30am on 19 May 2015, I saw a flurry of text messages, WhatsApp notifications and missed phone calls on my phone. I half smiled to myself thinking how quickly people fired out the annual ‘happy birthday’ message to me before cracking on with their day.

These weren’t birthday wishes, though. My mum and dad had tried calling countless times, I had missed calls from numbers I didn’t even recognise. Fear hit me. Desperately I tried calling my parents. My boyfriend then text me, saying ‘I’ve woken up to missed calls from your parents, is everything OK?’.

Eventually, my dad answered. The knot in my stomach got tighter and tighter, I was crying my eyes out, I could barely speak.

My elder brother, Liam, had been in a motorbike accident. He was in a bad way and my dad said his arm was a ‘real mess’.

Far away

At the time I lived in Southampton, so my boyfriend drove for two hours to collect me. I was in no state to drive, and that was the last thing my parents needed to worry about. I had two hours to sit, think and worry with barely any information to process. That’s when my best friend called me and filled in the time and silence.

I packed a bag – how many days would I be ‘home’ for? How long would I be visiting Liam in Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital? – and before Adam (my boyfriend) and I set off to the hospital, I grabbed the birthday cakes I was planning on taking to work with me that day. What on earth was I thinking?

I don’t know what we spoke about in the car. In fact, there is so much of that day that I don’t remember, but so much more of it that I relive a lot and it’s crystal clear.

Intensive care unit

We waited ages for Liam to come out of theatre. The accident had happened around midnight, but it wasn’t until gone 1pm that we heard he was back on the intensive care unit (ICU) and that we were able to see him.

His girlfriend and her family saw him, so did my mum and dad, before Shaun (my eldest brother) and I finally sat at the edge of the bed.

What do you say to someone on life support? It felt odd. Forced. On television everything seems so profound and not a word is wasted. It got too much for Shaun, he left the room and Adam came to sit with me for a while.

I didn’t want to spend too long next to Liam because I didn’t want to ‘hog’ him.

As we walked into the corridor, Adam broke down. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen him like that. Despite seeing Liam hooked up to machines and noticing the extent of his injuries, it wasn’t until Adam broke that I absorbed how serious this was.

Long road ahead

In the family waiting room, we sat and waited, we spoke to the police and we filled the time. All day my phone notifications were kept busy with messages saying, ‘happy birthday’, ‘have a great day’, ‘hope you’re doing something amazing’ and so on.

We knew it was going to be a long road ahead of us, the recovery for Liam was going to be tough. We presumed he’d be in a wheelchair for a while and perhaps he might lose his arm – we all knew how much he’d hate being told he couldn’t ride his motorbike any more.

Eventually, my parents, brother, Adam and I decided to drive to my parents’ house, get showered and come back later in the evening. When I got home, I was even encouraged to open my birthday presents.

Then, we were told to get back to the hospital.

Last words

We were getting updates from the doctors and nurses. I ran out of the family room crying. Then a doctor who had been on duty when Liam was initially brought to the hospital, just 24 hours earlier, came into the family room. She mentioned ‘catastrophic’ injuries.

At 3am on 20 May, we stood with Liam as he passed away.

He was 28 years old. He had a partner and a four-year-old son. I can’t even remember the last words I said to him, but I remember stroking his hand trying to keep him warm.

Why am I telling you this? Well, this is the shortened version of my story and if bereavement has taught me anything it’s that telling your story is one of the most important parts of coming to terms with the death of a loved one.

It gets to a point when you’ve told your friends, extended family members and maybe even some colleagues, but if you still haven’t processed it and you run out of people to share your story with, it becomes almost torturous.

So, share you story. Write it down. Speak to a therapist and reach out to others in the same rocky bereavement boat as you because by telling your story, you’re coping and you’re remembering those final moments with your loved one.

Simone Corgan

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All of a sudden, he was gone.

Kate shares her honest thoughts following the loss of her dad just under a year ago. If you would find sharing your story a helpful and cathartic process, you can send a blog post to blog@letstalkaboutloss.org and we would love to share it to show others who are struggling that they are not alone.

I never know whether to say I lost my dad, that he passed away, or simply that he died. I wish I could manage to say “he died” more but I always end up telling others that he passed away because it sounds softer and not as stark. Easier for them to hear and for me to say.

We will never know

His death was extremely stark. He died suddenly on 2nd May 2018 at home. He was only sixty one. I was only twenty eight. He’d been a bit off colour those last few weeks but nothing to make anyone think it was anything other than a normal bug. He was a retired fireman. He was strong. Maybe he was keeping how he felt to himself. We don’t know.

He’d be fine. Dad was always fine

I was 21 weeks pregnant and had just been to an antenatal appointment. I needed to go to the shops after and had just parked my car when I checked my phone. I always keep my phone on silent, it never rings anyway – I’m a texter. But as I checked it a call came through from my sister. Being a family who never actually phone each other (and certainly not at nine in the morning) I knew it must be important. She said our mum had phoned to tell her dad had collapsed and was being taken to Salford Royal Hospital. Mum asked her to pick me up and meet her there. So I went home, sat in my living room and waited for my lift. Lorraine Kelly was on. He’d be fine. Dad was always fine.

My sister and I laughed and joked on the car ride, we don’t panic unless we have to. It was busy in the car park and was a bit of a faff to sort the ticket out. We walked quickly to A&E but laughed again as I was pregnant and struggling to keep up. We walked to the desk and told them who we were. And then I began to know.

The obvious gentleness

The nurses were so gentle with us. One came from behind a door; “come on, girls” she said kindly and motioned for us to follow her. The sign above us in the corridor read ‘resus’ and my stomach dropped. She led us to a little room (just like you see on tv) and opened the door for us. A couple of doctors awkwardly walked out as we went in and there was my mum, broken. I remember saying, “he’s not died?” to her and her reaction told us that he had.

Where was our time to say all the things you’re meant to get time to say?

It was a blur then of crying, hugging, numbness, doctors asking questions and passing his rings to us. It was such a heavy sadness that he had gone without saying goodbye. Where was our time to say all the things you’re meant to get time to say? How could it be over just like that? Can life really change that suddenly?

It was a beautiful sunny day. Dad had been sitting in an armchair, red leather. He was quiet and felt clammy. Mum made a note to keep an eye on him. He was due at the doctors anyway in a couple of hours for some blood test results. She chatted to him about their grandchildren. She heard him suddenly make a funny noise from the kitchen and ran in to find him changing colour. Then he leant back and closed his eyes. She called 999 and performed CPR all by herself until the ambulance came. She thinks he had already gone before she even dragged him from the chair.

The shock and the jealousy

The shock of that morning has been huge. I can’t describe it to you. It’s ten months on and I still feel the shock. I get breathless and panicky. My husband has to just hold me and wait until I can find a breath again. I sob. I feel so sad at all that has been taken away. Our tight, happy family has lost so much.

This is too early. I’m not even thirty. How can I turn thirty without my dad?

I struggle with a bitterness that he has gone so soon. I wasn’t meant to lose a parent until I was at least in my fifites. This is too early. I’m not even thirty. How can I turn thirty without my dad? I see others my age walking with both their parents and I feel jealous that it can never be me.

I have had my new baby to care for, along with my toddler, so my grief has had no choice but to be shoehorned into my life whenever there is a bit of space or time. This is often when I’m driving or in the car park of the supermarket in the evenings. I think about it all and struggle that my dad has never met my baby girl. I struggle that his grandchildren won’t know him.

My sister and I feel grief on behalf of our children. We don’t have any contemporaries in the same position. We are conscious of a need to take care emotionally of our heartbroken mum. We struggle to find time to deal with our own grief and dream of freedom to travel away somewhere to sleep and think and be quiet. We are exhausted.

Now I know grief

When my dad checked out grief checked in and we have lived inside each others pockets ever since

To the outside world I’m doing great. You find that people don’t ask anymore or will ask how my mum is. Adult children get forgotten about. You’re an adult, everyone knows your parents don’t live forever. I understand.

But out of all of this has come my lesson in grief. I didn’t know grief before. When my dad checked out grief checked in and we have lived inside each others pockets ever since. It’s with me when I shower, make tea, go shopping or watch the telly. It can be kind or cruel. It goes quiet sometimes but it’s always in the background and it always, always reminds me of its still there by creeping up on me and taking me by surprise.

I am learning how to live with it, though. We are learning how to live with each other. It could be a long process but I know dad will help me from wherever he is. I know i can do him proud.

Kate Middleton

Inspired by Kate’s story? Leave a comment below or email us with your own story and we would love to share it. Remember – you are not alone.

“Things will never be the same”: eight months of grief and what is next

Caitlin shares her thoughts about what she has learnt in the first eight months since she lost her mum. It’s an amazing blog post full of honest truths about what loss is like. If you’d like to share your story, email us on blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.

What I’ve learnt so far

It is approaching eight months since I lost my mum. It feels like even longer- she was ill following a severe stroke for four months before she died.  Several milestones have gone by in that time: Christmas, what would have been her 68th birthday, and me starting a new job. And there are more to come: Mother’s Day, my own 25th birthday and the first anniversary of her death.

When I first lost my mum, I frantically googled the process of bereavement and the stages it would entail. I’ve always been one for structure. I gathered from my research that apparently grief comes in five stages; denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’ve certainly experienced each of these emotions, not necessarily in that order and not necessarily individually. Yet what I’ve learned so far is that there is no framework for how you will be affected by grief.

Different people may experience different emotions at different times. The emotions are not always obvious and sometimes overlap. It is possible to jump between stages in an instant- one word, one memory, one trigger. I also learned that the grieving process lasts, on average, eighteen months. As time goes by I have a suspicion that after that time has passed things will not magically revert to ‘normal’ and the process will continue in the background for the rest of my life. Things will never be the same as they once were, and death has altered my life forever.

It’s okay not to be okay

One of the key factors in me writing these thoughts down was a realisation that, although on the surface I seem fine to the outside world, I am not. I cry about everything that has happened in the past year, and the tears come unexpectedly. Her death and the months preceding it still play on my mind every day, without fail. I can be out for a walk, commuting to work or in a room full of people, and the whole story replays in my mind. I wonder why it happened, what I could have done differently and imagine my ideal world where nothing changed.

The loss of my mum is the first and last thing on my mind each day. There have been numerous occasions where the grief has caught up with me and I’ve broken down in public; at a Caffe Nero when all I could see were mothers and daughters catching up, when I saw Mamma Mia 2 and Meryl Streep’s character died, after a weekend at my boyfriend’s house when chatting to his mum had highlighted how much I miss my own. There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting upset like this, but it does show that this is a monumental event that I will not simply recover from.

It is very easy to think that you’re alone in the world now and you can’t go on, but you’re not and you can

A message to anyone who has felt the same way: don’t be embarrassed, it’s fine to be upset or break down in public, the people who see you crying in the train carriage will not remember it tomorrow. In the very early stages I had one session of bereavement counselling to try to help me get through these feelings which I struggled to cope with, but as time went on I realised the best form of therapy for me was sharing my thoughts with the people closest to me, or writing them down on good old pen and paper. Grief is an overwhelming process and however you choose to deal with it is fine. I thank every single person who has listened and been a shoulder to cry on, these are the people you want to surround yourself with.

More positive thoughts…

On tougher days I find it useful to remember the positives. I want my memory of my mum to be happy, and not blurred by the difficult final few months of her life. Initially these can be hard to access but I’ve found that day by day, memories of my mum before her stroke slowly make their way to the forefront of my mind.

10 things I love about my mum:

  • Her kindness
  • How happy she was when it was Spring
  • Her love of animals and nature
  • How proud she was of me and my achievements
  • Her commitment to giving me the best life she could
  • The way she liked to gossip
  • The way she drank ten cups of tea a day
  • The long walks we used to take the dog on
  • Her selflessness
  • She was my best friend

A future without her

When you lose someone close to you, the days and weeks following their death are filled with confusion, plans and difficult decisions, and lots of tears. As the days and weeks turn into months the bigger picture starts to present itself in your mind. You realise the ways in which your life will be different without them in it; the things they won’t see, the people they won’t know, the special things you won’t get to share with them.

It hurts me so much to think that my mum, the person who was most important to me in the world, won’t get to hear about holidays, won’t be at my wedding, won’t get to meet her grandchildren. She became ill when I was 23 – still so much of my life to live. I need her help, her guidance. It is very easy to isolate yourself and convince yourself that you’re alone in the world now and you can’t go on, but you’re not and you can. I promise.

I am an only child, and we have a very small family. After losing my mum I felt like my closest link in this world had gone. I broke down a few weeks ago when asked to name my Next of Kin – I didn’t even know who I would turn to now that she isn’t here. But what I’ve realised is that you are never alone, there are always people to talk to, people who understand what you’re going through. And even though my mum won’t be here in person, she will still be part of my future. I consider her in everything that I do, and try to make her proud. The memories of us together are my most treasured possession. Just because someone dies does not mean that they just disappear, someone as amazing as my mum could never do that.

Caitlin Carter

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