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What nobody told me about grief

Louise has shared this fantastic blog with us – you might relate to some of the things she says she wished she had known before experiencing grief for the first time!

How do you explain grief? How can you not see someone for so many years yet still think and dream of them every day?

My questions are endless, I don’t know the answers. I don’t think anyone ever does. My story with grief started nearly six years ago, when I lost my mum to cancer; I was just 17.

So much has changed in the past six years of my life. I have finished school, graduated university, moved out, watched my sister give birth… the list is endless. In a way I feel like I have lived a completely different life since that day on June 20th, 2015; everything is still and will always be strange.

There are so many things that come with grief which you are not prepared for. These are my top three.

Pity and sympathy

This is a big one for me, not so much now but more at the beginning. If you are like me and your grief is deemed as ‘tragic’ (all grief is tragic), but you know what I mean, then you will feel all eyes on you, quite literally. My mum was 48 when she passed. She was so young, and it did attract a lot of attention.

For one, no one even knew my mum was dying, not even her own children. My mum was stubborn and showing signs of weakness was not in her nature, so much so that she hid that her cancer was terminal from all of her family for two years. Of course, we knew the cancer had returned, but we thought she would beat it like she had before, plus you NEVER think this will happen to you and I stand strongly by that.

I found out my mum was definitely going to pass on the last day of my final A Level exam, two days before she did. I was in denial until the very end. My sister and I received an almighty amount of sympathy and condolences, especially around the time of the funeral. Whilst it is really lovely that people care, we found this extremely overwhelming. To be honest that whole time of my life is one massive blur; it had not sunk in. I really can’t remember much of that whole summer. Fast forward six years and everyone else has moved on with their lives and have forgotten about my mum. It is sad but I don’t blame them. It is not their grief to carry.

The awkward conversations

Where do I even start. This one crops up so much, mostly with work and dating. The oh ‘what do your parents do for a living’ line, or ‘I bet your mum loves that you do lots of cooking!’ are just a couple. What makes this awkward is not me, it is the other person. It instantly dulls the conversation and they don’t know what to say. You can feel the awkwardness, usually followed by some pity. What I have learnt the most from these situations is just to be bold and talk about it. If you are not awkward then they will soon loosen up. I will say with confidence ‘Thank you. I am comfortable talking about it, it is a big part of my life!’ and will continue our conversation. I actually love talking about my mum as it keeps her alive. I want people to know how great she was.

I have learnt to not let things like this bother me too much, it is just that dread when you can feel it coming or they’re mid-sentence and you’re just thinking, here we go again! I found this a lot with dating too. You never know when the right time to mention it is. I am not someone who will randomly declare this to anyone – but when is the right time? Fortunately, I have been with my boyfriend for three years now, and whilst I still remember our first awkward conversation, he is really good with it, and respects all of my do’s and don’ts surrounding grief.

The little things – good and bad

Lastly, no one prepares you for the little things – good and bad. No one prepares you for that drive home from a relatively good day at work, and a song comes on the radio that just makes you burst into tears. I have weirdly quite grown to like this one. I think it’s a time thing, sometimes a good cry is all you need! I also like seeing a white feather. One fell into my lap once on my first day at my new job on a train – like how does that happen?!

On the flip side, no one prepares you for the floods and floods of Instagram posts on Mother’s Day that you have to bear – I really hate this one!! Or the random things. The things you would NEVER even think of. My mums email address was hacked after she was inactive for so long, and every now and then I get an email from her account (with a different end of address every time so I can’t block it), and every single time this shatters my soul and ruins my day. Have I not been punished enough?!

My biggest and only piece of advice for grief is just to learn to ride the wave. It is so cliché, but it’s true. Take every day and every emotion as it comes. Every time one of these things happen you get that big stronger, so embrace them! Surviving grief is one of your greatest strengths.

Louise Lawrence

Lockdown lessons

Nimisha wrote a fantastic blog in December about the power of resilience in grief. In this blog, she reflects on 2020, and what grieving during lockdown was like.

2020. Well, it was a slight shitstorm to be frank… I think it’s safe to say that for all of us, last year was a crazy one. Since March, we have been plunged head-first into a world of lockdowns, masks and social distancing. ‘Normal’ life as we knew it seems to have changed for the foreseeable future.

For me personally, life in lockdown has been an incredibly daunting and humbling experience. Amidst the backdrop of global catastrophe, I lost two precious lives within a week of one another. You literally can’t make this up and every time, it serves as a reminder – showing me the full glory of life, its tremendous beauty and sadness.

It really doesn’t help trying to deal with grief in the middle of a pandemic. Grief is messy at the best of times but navigating your way through a tsunami of emotions during a lockdown just makes it more complex. At a time when you can’t go and physically meet friends and family just to pour your heart out; or the freedom to go somewhere just so you can see someplace different other than the four walls of lockdown, it really puts things into perspective.

Let me share what I’ve learnt during lockdown…

Acceptance

I’ve always liked a plan and knowing which direction my life was moving in. It gives me a sense of control in the otherwise chaotic nature of life. This year has come down in a crash, reminding me that life may have other plans in store. I couldn’t have predicted that we would be caught up in the middle of a global pandemic, just how I couldn’t control Dad’s illness or the life that had been growing inside of me. It took me a while to accept these things but as soon as I did, I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, pushing me forward so I can get on with re-making my life.

Gratitude

Being able to say that I’m grateful for this year is quite something. Despite my two personal tragedies, I am grateful for love. Having spent lockdown at home with my husband, we have helped navigate each other through every predicament. We’ve laughed, cried and survived together. I’m grateful for the love and support around me, my incredible mother, sister and father in spirit, magnified against the smaller, more isolating moments of lockdown.

Resilience

Lockdown or no lockdown, I have come to realise that I need to keep showing up for myself. By that, I mean realising I have what it takes inside of me to push myself forward, so that even if we are plunged into yet another unknown, it may faze me but only for a moment. The other moments I’ll spend processing, feeling my feelings and understanding what I need to do next. I know that it’s OK to cry, to grieve and to reminisce but that it’s also OK to laugh, to look ahead and to move on knowing this year hasn’t got the better of me.

And with that in mind, thank you for the lessons 2020.

Nimisha Sharma

Would you like to write a blog for us? We’d love to hear from you! Email blog@letstalkaboutloss.org to get in touch.

Happy Crappy Christmas from Katie and Let’s Talk About Loss

Today, Saturday 19th December, Let’s Talk About Loss is running a day of events called ‘Happy Crappy Christmas’. For young adults who are grieving, Christmas is not always a joyful time, and we want to create a safe space to acknowledge that.

If you’d like to join any of our Happy Crappy Christmas events today, from 2pm – 10pm, click this link for all the details.

In this blog, our Norwich co-Host Katie writes a short letter about her relationship with Christmas.

Despite my lengthy relationship with grief, Christmas 2020 feels unwelcomely difficult.

During lockdown, the world was in a familiar state of grief; millions of people separated from loved ones, longing for a sense of normality. Whilst everyone carried the sadness that comes with missing relatives, I finally felt connected. I no longer felt on the outside. Although temporary, everyone was closer to understanding what living with loss was like.

This year, with Christmas pending and lockdown lifting, I feel a growing sense of anxiety and dread. As families prepare to unite and share the magic of togetherness this Christmas, I wonder how many of us feel on the outside again?

As a 30-year-old orphan I’ll be alone on Christmas day. I have opted to work the night shift in my local hospital as I’m thankful for the company it brings. Selfishly, on boxing day morning, when I am driving back home, I hope to feel a sense of relief that its over. This year, as Boris sets to unite families, it is a reminder that no one can unite mine, and that is painful.

Christmas is hard for all who have experienced loss. Fellow young orphans and all of us in the grief community, HAPPY CRAPPY CHRISTMAS!

We are in this corner together.

Katie, Norwich Let’s Talk About Loss co-host

The remaking of life and the power of resilience

Nimisha has written this amazing blog. Her father recently passed after a four-year battle with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout his illness, Nimisha found writing blogs helpful to make sense of his illness, capturing how her family dealt with every challenge and trying to look for the silver linings. Nimisha has travelled to the Houses of Parliament with her story, and uses her blogs as a platform to engage with a larger community, particularly the South Asian community, where there are stigmas attached to unseen illnesses such as dementia. 

Life is made up of moments, small and large. There are moments of breath-taking beauty and then moments of heart-breaking sadness. Each moment begins to come together, creating a plethora of memories, memories which shape and define our very existence. But there are also those moments which the change the very course of life itself. Dad’s passing is one of those moments. I’m very aware that I’m teetering on the edge of remaking of life as I knew it. There’s two parts to life, before and after grief.

A father’s protection

Before Dad became ill, I thought he was invincible. He was never ill, not even a headache. Having Dad around was my go-to safe space, I honestly felt that no matter what happened around me, Dad could resolve everything. You feel no harm can come your way.

There was one thing that Alzheimer’s couldn’t ever steal from us and that was the power of love

Even when Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, for as long as he could, he continued to protect us. I felt safe and loved in his presence, even when the illness eventually stole his speech. There was one thing that Alzheimer’s couldn’t ever steal from us and that was the power of love.

As Dad’s health deteriorated, I grew anxious and scared in my grief. When life began to get all too real, I honestly felt that I couldn’t live without Dad. Because, that’s all we knew, the power of his love. These are those heart-breaking moments of life. I really don’t believe that ‘things happen for a reason’. I feel life is a series of random moments. There’s no logic or method, life just happens and sometimes it’s ******* hard.

The power of resilience

The beauty of life however, comes from the power of human resilience. We adapt, even in the most difficult of times. Where I once couldn’t see life beyond Dad, here I am, slowly picking up the pieces and learning to live again. I’ve found victories in the smallest of moments, like driving on my own. Right now, being alone pushes my anxiety to breaking point and I’m usually a mess by the time I reach the destination. But after a few moments, I’m able to celebrate this personal victory of mine.

I wake up every day with the grief bearing heavy on my heart and mind but as the day passes, I start to appreciate and celebrate the small wins.

And so, life goes on. And we move forward, with the hope of tomorrow in our eyes and the love of yesterday in our hearts.

Nimisha Sharma

Would you like to write a blog for us? Email blog@letstalkaboutloss.org to get in touch.

Grief made me selfish

Lots of the emotions connected with grief are still seen as taboo and we don’t talk about them. In this amazing blog, Hannah discusses how grief made her selfish, and how she responded.

I used to think of myself as a good person. Not always a friendly, or easy-going person, but a good person. Motivated by altruism, progressive politics, and improving lives. I liked to think of myself as someone who would always be there for my friends and family, and would even be there for people that I didn’t like that much.

That changed on July 6th 2019, when I found out my dad was going to die. He died on July 12th.
Grief made me selfish.

Existing in a bubble of sadness

For the first few days and weeks, I clung to my family and my partner at the time. I couldn’t tell you what was going on in my friends’ lives at this point. So many people reached out with love and compassion, and I could just about bring myself to respond with a thank you. People showed up, and messaged, and checked up on me, and I just existed in a bubble of sadness. I think this is normal, or as normal as it can be when you lose your dad as a 23-year old.

After the initial shock and sadness, the pain began to manifest in different ways. I was angry. I was angry at my dad for leaving us, I was angry at myself and my family for all the ways I thought we could have helped, I was angry at doctors and nurses for having been slow or not having done enough. (There really was nothing any of us could have done to prevent or cure his cancer, but anger doesn’t always like logic).

I was bitter. When people around me talked about their lives, and their worries, I didn’t care like I used to. I began comparing every experience to my own. You’re having a hard time at work? I don’t care, I just lost my dad. You’re having relationship problems? That’s not as bad as my dad dying. You’re stressed about exams? Big whoop.

Things that are hard to accept

Initially I didn’t realise I was doing it, and then I did but it didn’t stop. When you’re currently existing in a world of sadness, pain, and grief, it can be hard to accept that other people’s lives are continuing and being experienced totally differently.

Even once I managed to move on from this hostile mindset, it didn’t lead to the change I wanted. Once I managed to get my head around caring about other people’s lives again, I found that I didn’t have the emotional energy to actually do anything about it.

I think we don’t talk enough about how exhausting grief is. How exhausting it is crying all the time. How exhausting it is trying to put on a brave face, and go to work every day, pretending your heart isn’t aching. How exhausting it is, trying to push the thoughts and memories of a loved one out of your head, because it’s too hard to think about them.

People can be understanding when you’ve just lost someone, or when you’ve just attended a funeral, but grief keeps on simmering away under the surface for… well for I don’t know how long.

It’s not wrong to be selfish in grief

It’s at this point that some of my very best friends were here for me. People that really knew me. They knew the pain I was feeling; the sadness in losing my dad, but also the sadness in losing a part of myself. They knew I couldn’t stand the changes I saw in myself, and it was them that made me recognise – it’s okay to be selfish sometimes.

When you go through something as traumatic and life-changing as suddenly losing a parent, it’s okay not to be doing as much as you were before. It’s okay not to message your friends as frequently. It’s okay not to get as emotionally invested in every aspect of other people’s lives.

When you’re experiencing the worst of grief, getting through each day can be hard work, so anything above and beyond that really is a bonus.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try. I know that I feel so much better in myself now that I’ve managed to reconnect with people, and now that I’m doing more of the things I care about. I also know that my friends, family, and people around me are better off when I’m the best version of myself. But I’m also learning not to beat myself up for the part of me that needed to hide away and curl up to survive.

I still wish I’d handled things better when my mental health was at it’s worst, but I’m trying to forgive myself for the things I couldn’t help. I also know that grief is going to be a part of my life from now on, and I’m slowly learning how to live with it. It’s up and down, and unpredictable, and affects me in different ways on different occasions, but I’m learning every day.

Grief is messy and tough, and so am I.

Hannah Wright

Want to share your own grief story? We’d love to hear from you. Email blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.