What to expect at a Let’s Talk About Loss meet up

We know that it’s really scary to come along to a Let’s Talk About Loss meet up for the first time. What if they’re weird? What if they ask too many questions? What if I can’t find them? What if everyone is crying? But it’s not as scary as you think, we promise! We’ve asked some people who come along to our meet ups to share what you can expect…

“I knew right there and then I was in the right company”

Georgia, Bristol:

“The first face I saw happened to be a girl who was also a first timer to Let’s Talk About Loss and it happened to be the first meet up of the year. I did the decent thing and asked her if she had a nice Christmas and she said “not really, it was shit”! I knew there and then I was in the right company. “And don’t get me started on New Year”, somebody else said.

It’s funny because I had spent the whole morning wondering whether and how much makeup to put on, what to wear, whether I should expect people to talk about their loved ones or not, but it’s like our grief instantly united us without me having to do or say anything much at all. I was instantly relieved. In fact, after the really tricky first Christmas without my Mum, I didn’t want to leave the place where I’d felt the most understood in WEEKS.”

Will, Nottingham:

“The group is full of people who know the feelings you have experienced – so they can support you. It is always nerve-racking when you turn up to somewhere for the first time, but the Hosts are always happy to meet beforehand and grab a coffee or just arrive with you to the meet up so you’re not walking in alone.”

“I was instantly relieved”

Livvy, Bristol:

“For me, it was really reassuring to find it wasn’t an intense and emotional therapy group. It was a fun social group, that would just happen to talk about some really sad things sometimes! I expected I’d cry at the first meet up, but somehow the shared grief experience was comforting rather than upsetting. Also nice to know that if I had cried, that would have been totally fine with everyone too!”

Anonymous, London:

“I had no idea what to expect from the evening in all honesty. Grief can feel so lonely, but seeing so many other people when I arrived was so comforting. Relating to grief is difficult when you haven’t been through it and luckily my friends and boyfriend haven’t had this kind of experience – I’ve behaved in ways that were a shock to me and totally unexplainable but hearing that I’m not alone in this really helped.”

“It was really reassuring to find it wasn’t an intense and emotional therapy group”

Anonymous, Manchester:

“It sounds weird but the group is so fun! Not what you would expect from a grief-related group, but we really have a laugh and hardly ever talk about “the sad stuff”. I’ve found a group of friends who I can be totally myself with – and that is awesome”

What to expect when you arrive at a meet up

  1. The Hosts will be wearing Let’s Talk About Loss t-shirts, so you can always spot them and know you’re approaching the right group.
  2. We will never ask you to share about your loss unless you want to – there is no pressure!
  3. You’re unlikely to be the only new person – every month we get new people joining our groups, so it’s not like everyone else will have been there for years and you’re the only new person.
  4. In our bigger meet ups, we often separate into smaller groups to chat, so you won’t be sat in a circle with everyone, you’re more likely to be chatting to a couple of people in a smaller group.
  5. We talk about lots of things – not just grief! Our meet ups are not therapy or professional grief support, it’s just a group of friends hanging out. We’ll talk about a variety of topics, but it’s always a safe space to talk about grief.
  6. Everyone else there has been bereaved and is aged 18-35, so we’re sure you’ll find you have lots in common.
  7. If you’re nervous, you can email the Hosts beforehand and let them know you’re coming so they can look out for you. Each meet up has it’s own email address, which is [location]@letstalkaboutloss.org.
  8. Finally, each meet up has a closed Facebook group you can join which is a great way to start chatting to people in the group before a meet up. Find your local meet up page here and then feel free to introduce yourself on the Facebook group!

Beth French

Any more questions? We’re always happy to help. Just drop us an email for more information!

Please don’t say “at least…”

When someone you love dies, a lot of people around you want to say “the right thing”. They want to cheer you up, distract you from your loss and protect you from the crushing reality of bereavement (more on those problems later). So a lot of them say, “well at least…”

If you’re bereaved, I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before:

  • “At least she wasn’t in pain.”
  • “At least he held on until after your exams.”
  • “At least they haven’t had to experience Covid-19.”
  • “At least she wasn’t your only sister.”
  • “At least you still have your mum.”

They sound ridiculous, written here. Yet they are an all too familiar response from someone trying to help a bereaved friend or family member. Everyone wants to fix you.

“I will try to fix you” sings Chris Martin in everyone’s favourite sad song

The problem with “at least”, is that it reduces your pain and suggests that you shouldn’t be grieving. The trauma of bereavement needs to be socially acceptable. We need to be ok with the fact that people are hurting, and should be able to wallow in that grief for as long as they need.

The fact that often one of the first things people hear after a bereavement is “well, at least….” fundamentally shows that that person is not willing to accept their sadness and is dragging them immediately out of their grief and back into dangerous “I’m fine” territory. Aren’t our British taboos just great?!

“At least she hung on until you’d all finished your exams”

A well-meaning person close to me said those words very soon after my mum died. “At least she hung on until you’d all finished your exams”. My mum died in July 2015, just after I’d finished my second year of university, my sister had finished her A-Levels and my brother had finished his GCSEs. I see their point – mum dying in the middle of those exams would have been a nightmare. But I am also offended by their inability to see that ANY time for my mum to die is a nightmare. There is no silver lining in her dying in July and not June.

Also, please do not suggest that she worked hard to live until July, and then gave up. My mum was fighting for her life until the very end, and never gave up that fight. The idea that people are “strong” and “fighters” if they survive is suggesting that those who die are ‘weak’ or didn’t fight hard enough. That’s not how death works – it snatches life from us however much we want to live. It is a game of luck, not of strength.

What can you say instead?

Instead of saying “at least she wasn’t in pain”, and presuming this is helpful, try to reframe your point by asking the bereaved person – “does it help that you know she wasn’t in pain?”. Give them the space to explain their grief and talk openly about their feelings with you. This validates their grief and shows you are a safe person they can speak to if they are struggling. 

Instead of saying, “at least you still have other siblings”, ask the person how they are feeling having lost a sibling, and allow them to reflect on how the family dynamic has changed. Ask them in particular how their remaining siblings are coping and offer ideas for remembering and celebrating the sibling they have lost. Acknowledge their grief but understanding that sibling loss is particularly traumatic as a young person and the remaining family members could never fill the hole that loved one has left.

If you say the wrong thing, that’s ok!

Being a good grief friend is all about listening, and supporting your friend to understand their grief. Assumptions and “at least” comments can be unhelpful even if you are trying to be kind. Remember that each grief is unique so the best thing to do is ask your friend how they are feeling and to actively listen to the words they are using and the emotions they are expressing. Let them speak without interruption and try to mirror their language so that you are creating a space in which they feel safe and loved.

Finally, don’t worry if you get things wrong, or you don’t know what to say. Grief is unique, so everyone will appreciate different types of support, and if you say the wrong thing, that’s ok! Try and learn from your friend by asking them how you can be more helpful and what they need right now in their grieving journey. Just by reading this blog you are doing amazing, and on behalf of all grieving pals – thank you so much for caring for us, loving us, and trying to better understand our grief.

Beth French

If you’d like to learn more about Let’s Talk About Loss, or attend a meet up to talk about your grief, you can find out more 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.

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.