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.

Changing our age range: an update from Let’s Talk About Loss

It’s a very exciting day for Let’s Talk About Loss. After a long time of deliberation, consultation and (let’s be real) a little bit of it’s-really-scary-so-I’m-avoiding-it-procrastination, we’ve announced our new age range and I’m excited/relieved/a bit terrified…

We now support 18-35 year olds

Yep, that’s right. From today, 17 June 2019, Let’s Talk About Loss supports young people aged 18-35 who have been bereaved. It doesn’t matter when you were bereaved or who you lost, if you’re between 18 and 35 you can come along to one of our meet ups and connect with other young people who have also lost someone close to them.

We hope that this age range update will align us better alongside all the fantastic charities that exist to support bereaved adults and children, and help us grow and reach more young people who desperately need to start talking about their loss and getting the right support.

We’re working on updating our website so that it contains fantastic signposting information, so that we can work with and alongside all the fantastic bereavement charities and services that already exist, recommending the best support to people who need more than our peer-to-peer meet up support. We’re also in conversation with some of the UK’s leading bereavement charities to look at how we can work with them, so watch this space as lots of exciting things are to come.

Why this age range?

I’m sure lots of you are thinking – what was wrong with 16-30? Why have you changed the age range to 18-35? Fair questions! I’m going to try and answer them as best I can here.

Why we’ve moved from 16 to 18: There are two reasons for raising the minimum age for our meet up from 16 to 18. The first is to protect the young people that we at Let’s Talk About Loss are supporting. When we started out, we were just a group of friends meeting up and chatting about loss. Now, as Let’s Talk About Loss grows, we are running groups across the country and both our volunteers and our attendees need to be safe, secure and supported. With little resource and funding, we are unable to put into place a full safeguarding policy and train our volunteers. Therefore, our groups can only be for adults and not children, as the law dictates. If you are aged 16 or 17 and are currently in a meet up group, please do make your age known to your host or email me so we can best support you.

The other reason to change to 18 is to recognise the wealth of support available for those under the age of 18 from a whole host of fantastic bereavement charities. There are children’s bereavement services offered across the country and all doing amazing work to support those aged 18 and below who have been bereaved. We can’t replicate their phenomenal work, so instead we would like to sit alongside it and refer those younger than 18 to another service that can provide them the support they need. We’ll be updating our signposting information on the website very soon to include a list of the charities we admire and work alongside.

Why we’ve moved from 30 to 35: Lots of you have been getting in touch for many years to tell us that being a young person doesn’t stop at 30. In truth, being a young person doesn’t have numbers attached to it at all – you are only as old as you feel! But we do have to be true to our core purpose which is to support young people who have been bereaved. After extensive consultation with people within and outside of the 16-30 age range, it was decided that “young person” in 2019 did not end at 30, and so the decision to raise the maximum age to 35.

In a group with such a big age range, we need to protect our core purpose and the young people attending our groups, to keep it a safe space for young people. That’s why we’re strict about our age range and may ask you for your age before you attend a meet up. I’m sure any of you turning 36 will be disappointed, but please remember that there are so many amazing charities supporting adults who have been bereaved, that you will not be alone. If you’d like recommendations on who to contact for support, please email us and we can help point you in the right direction for support.

Finally, please remember that when we speak about our age range, it’s only for our meet up groups! Anyone of any age can access our blogs and even write a blog yourself! We think it’s amazingly helpful to hear from people of all ages, especially when you’re young and grieving. If you’re outside the 18-35 age range and would like to get involved, please consider sharing your story with us for our blog. You can email blog@letstalkaboutloss.org to submit!

Why now?

Why change the age range now? Put simply, because you want us to, and because there is no reason to hang around. We want to listen to our supporters and followers, and offer the best support we can to the people that need it. You’ve told us that the age range should be 18-35, and we’ve listened. As we prepare to register as a charity later this year, we wanted to make sure that we were in the best place to do so, and so we’ve made this change before we set out our official charity documentation and set it in stone, so to speak.

What next?

My first job is to find every last nook and cranny where our age range is still published as 16-30. Please bear with me while I do this guys – in three years Let’s Talk About Loss has expanded beyond my wildest dreams and the internet is a wonderful but massive place, so I’ll be digging them all out and updating the age range everywhere as fast as I can.

After that, we have loads more exciting things coming your way. Look out for new meet up groups launching soon in Manchester, Birmingham and Exeter as we expand across the UK, and for more updates about how we plan to grow once we are formally registered as a charity. It’s a busy but really exciting time for Let’s Talk About Loss and I’m thrilled that you’re here cheering us on! Thank you as always for your support and please get in touch with questions, comments, or just cute pictures of your dogs – all are appreciated.

Love,

Beth x

There is strength in weakness

It’s February – far past the socially acceptable time for me to write a reflection on 2018. This week was #TimeToTalk day but I’ve missed that, too. In fact, this blog has been sorely neglected in the last few months, and for those of you who have submitted pieces, or have been waiting expectantly for new posts, I am sorry for my silence.

The thing is, I have been feeling dangerously, scarily weak and unable – so I’ve slowed down. Not because I consciously recognised my suffering and decided to be kind to myself and accept my weaknesses (I wish!), but instead because I have felt completely unable to tackle the to-do list. To put in long hours behind the screen and work on Let’s Talk About Loss.

That is not because I’ve lost my passion (will I ever stop being ridiculously passionate about and dedicated to supporting young people who have been bereaved?) – it’s simply because I have had an incredibly hectic few months with lots of change, and I can barely catch my breath. In December, I got engaged, in January I moved to Bristol and started a new full-time job with the incredible charity The Prince’s Trust, and have been finding my feet with a new city, new friends, a new church, a new bus route – all at the same time as desperately missing those I have left behind in Nottingham. Oh, and the small task of planning a wedding!

The unending exhaustion

I am sure many of you who have experienced, or are still experiencing, mental health problems, know what I mean by the unending exhaustion. It’s so hard to describe. My colleagues ask how I am – can I really say “well I’m permanently tired, not because I’ve had a busy weekend but because my brain is battling constantly to process my grief that I still don’t fully understand, that catches me by surprise and sometimes completely immobilises me while at the same time making me more tired than I thought it was possible to be”… Can I say that? It doesn’t seem like a great conversation starter…

Instead, we hide how we are. We talk about our feelings on #TimeToTalk day but we forget to carry on talking, and we start bottling things up. We view everyone else’s 2018 highlights and we feel small, insignificant, like a failure in comparison. And most destructive of all: we think we are all alone. We make ourselves believe that no one else understands, or has ever experienced our feelings. We are weird, different, alone.

Of course that is not the end of the story. I cannot stop there, for it is fundamentally not true. However alone you feel, there are people who love you, care about you and want to listen to you. Despite your feelings of failure, you are hugely successful at being you (the best there has ever been and will ever be, in fact) and you are doing brilliantly.

At Let’s Talk About Loss, we know what it feels like. We’ve been there. We’ve experienced grief in so many forms – nothing shocks us, nothing is weird or strange, nothing is off limits. We’re a supportive, open, honest community of young people just like you who have been bereaved and need some friends around you to help you navigate the darkness and mess. We would love you to join us…

Looking back and moving forward

As I have said already – February is far too late to be writing a round up of 2018, but heck I’m in charge of this blog and if I want to write a 2018 highlights list, then I will! It’s only short though because I’m sure you already know everything that happened last year. Instead, I’ll focus on our big dreams and grand plans for 2019.

George Shelley: Learning to Grieve

When I first saw the email from the BBC about a new documentary they wanted me to be part of, I could not believe it. I was so excited, so terrified. I spent the next few days before the film crew arrived cleaning my house like I’ve never cleaned before. It was an incredible experience, and I am so thankful that Let’s Talk About Loss was profiled on the show in such a sensitive, positive way. George was the most incredible guy and I loved getting the opportunity to share some of my journey with him.

Hundreds of people emailed us after the show aired, and I’m still receiving emails to this day of people who have found Let’s Talk About Loss through the show. If you’re one of those people, welcome! We are so pleased that you have found this community and we hope that together, we can continue to talk through the taboos of loss and grief. As for 2019… BBC Breakfast sofa? This Morning with Holly and Phil? Another documentary? We shall see where life takes us…

Stories of pain, stories of hope

Thank you for all those emails I just mentioned. Thank you all for sharing your incredible stories with Let’s Talk About Loss. Sorry I haven’t been able to respond to them all yet – there have been thousands! I’ve been so inspired by people’s honesty and openness, and have felt constantly overwhelmed by how much strength and resilience young people have despite their weakness and brokenness.

In 2019, we want to think outside the box when we say we “talk about loss”. Not everyone is a natural writer – for many, writing a blog post is not their cup of tea or it feels really scary. So we’re thinking creatively about how we tell our stories of loss, and will be trialling different communication methods in three ways. Firstly, we’re holding a photography exhibition in Nottingham (we won funding from an amazing fund called Hard Heads and Hang Ups in 2018 to put it on!), where we invite young people across the country (and world?!) to submit images that tell their story of bereavement. There will be plenty more information about this coming really soon, so look out for that!

Secondly, we have big dreams to start a podcast! We’ve got a few ideas in the pipeline, and will be thinking about how this could practically could work, but we hope that in 2019, we will be able to start talking out loud, into your earphones and your airwaves, about what living with loss is like! And finally, we are launching our own range of bereavement cards! (eh up we’ve got a budding entrepreneur over here!) We know these cards will be an amazing way of supporting our friends who are really struggling, and need some genuine, heartfelt support – not a rubbish grey countryside scene or a cuddly bear with a heart eyes! Stay tuned for more updates as we develop (and then attempt to sell!) these bereavement cards.

Meet ups

Finally, because this blog post is getting quite ridiculously long, we want a little plug for our meet up groups! The Nottingham group continues to go from strength to strength, with new people joining every month, and in March they will celebrate their one-year anniversary (hopefully with a party!!). Our London groups, North and South, launched in style last year and held their first official meet up in January which was a roaring success. I am so proud of the amazing hosts, and can’t wait to see these groups grow! And at the end of February, a new group will be starting in Bristol, led initially by myself and hopefully by some amazing hosts as we grow. Exciting times!

We want meet ups everywhere in the UK. So many of you have got in touch from every corner of the country to ask for a local group, and some amazing people have offered to host. Could you host? Might you like to be in a meet up group in your local area? Get in touch! We will launch groups as soon as there are two hosts and two attendees in each area, so drop us a line today and let’s get talking about loss all over the UK.

Beth x

Thanks for reading this small essay and for sticking with me despite my inability to answer emails promptly. You’re all amazing and we are all in this together. For more regular updates from Let’s Talk About Loss, please follow us on social media – we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Have your elf a merry little crimbo

Is anyone else sat in complete disbelief that it is once again Christmas? I cannot believe that it is *that* time of year, so soon after I’ve recovered from last Christmas! I’m sure some of you are feeling the same, and for many people, this is a time of the year filled with dread.

At Let’s Talk About Loss, we know only too well how challenging Christmas can be. It’s a time spent with family and friends, but when there is someone significant missing in your life, it is a period tinged with loss and sadness. We have some tips for any of you struggling this festive period, from people who have been there and experienced it all before.

Remember them, on your own terms

Just because someone is not around in person at Christmas, doesn’t mean they are gone completely. Lizzie offers great advice for remembering the lost loved one:

“Remember some of their traditions and quirks, as it will help remind you of them throughout the day. Schedule some time in the day to think about this so they can still be part of your day. My mum always said robins were people we missed coming to see us. She had them on her Christmas cards and around her house. I know it’s silly, but now I still decorate my house with them at Christmas, and her friends always expect a robin Christmas card from me! And obviously you smile when you see one on a December walk!” – Lizzie

You can, and you will, get through this

Don’t be alone

We know, it’s easier said than done, but it’s all too easy to think you’re alone when there are lots of people around you who care for you. Don’t forget there are friends and family who are there for you, and will chat to you when you need some time. Beth knows exactly what it feels like when you feel like you’re all on your own:

“Christmas is such an intense time of year – whether you love it or hate it, you cannot get away from it. For those who are grieving, it can be hard to find joy when your thoughts are consumed by the people you have lost. This will be my third Christmas without my mum and although it is getting less strange to not have mum around, it is still one of the worst times of the year as I am forced to remember past Christmas memories, and not able to make any new ones with her.

My advice – to anyone grieving, and to myself – is to have the Christmas you want, whatever that looks like. Prioritise yourself and your mental health, and remember that you are not alone. If you’re lonely, check out Sarah Millican’s awesome Christmas Twitter chat using the hashtag #joinin, and reach out to friends and family, and tell them if you’re struggling. You can, and you will, get through this.” – Beth

Enjoy Christmas exactly how you want to

Make new traditions

Another important tip is to try your best to make new traditions, if you’re not able to keep to the old traditions. Oli knows what it is like to spend Christmas without someone important, and how one of the best things to do is try and make new traditions and new memories:

“As I’m writing this I’ve just finished putting my decorations up, with my Christmas-crazy girlfriend, and will be off to get the tree in the next few days. Continuing to celebrate like this really helps me remember my sister Faye and her love for Christmas.

On the day itself, it’s very hard still, my parents and I don’t do an awful lot, but try to go for a long walk to clear our heads. I hope my sister is proud of me for wanting to still celebrate Christmas and I have no doubt she has her tree decorated already up there!” – Oli 

Try and ignore the hype

Isn’t Christmas just the worst, now that it has been hijacked by brands and advertisers. It begins as early as September and you cannot move for the countdowns, the presents, the money to be spent on anything and everything. Our best advice, from all of us here at Let’s Talk About Loss, is to try and avoid the hype, and enjoy Christmas exactly how you want to. It’s your Christmas, and whatever it looks like, it can be a lovely, calm day.

Merry Christmas everyone – we’re here if you need us x

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