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

What to do when you start crying at the bank

On Saturday 7 July, we held our first official Let’s Talk About Loss fundraising event – a black tie ball at St Nic’s church, Nottingham. The aim was to build on the incredible success of our recent Crowdfunder (where your support helped us raise over £1000!) and raise more funds so we could register as a charity. If you’re not familiar with the lengthy legal process, to register as a charity requires lots of things in place – one of which is £5000 in your bank account. So I was hoping to raise £2000 from the Ball.

I can reveal that thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the 100 people who joined us at the Ball, we absolutely smashed that target and once the money raised was split with the other charity beneficiary, Child.org, we had raised £4500 for Let’s Talk About Loss. So I’m feeling pretty proud right now – and very excited for all that is to come.

The low that follows the high

Anyway, none of that has much to do with the title of this blog post, but it sets the scene. As you can imagine, I had a fair bit of cash on my person following the Ball and so the obvious job, first thing Monday morning, was to go to the bank – and that’s where the crying happened.

There are probably a few reasons for the tears but at first they shocked me – I couldn’t work out why I was crying. I hadn’t counted the money, and the staff member who served me said I should have. I felt guilty, but I didn’t really need to cry. I was also exhausted – completely drained after pulling off the event that had taken months of intense, stressful planning. I was also on high alert, worried about how much cash I had and whether I would get there safely. But nothing suggests tears as an acceptable response.

Crying in public is awkward

The cashier was shocked. I was shocked. The people in the queue were shocked. Why on earth was I crying? I needed to stop, quickly, but my body was LOVING releasing the tension and stress of the last few months and it wasn’t going to stop. Instead I was ushered away, given a private side room and some coin bags and left to cry and count in peace.

So what do you do when you cry in public?

If you have a mental health condition, you’ll know how completely horrible it feels when you can’t cope. You feel helpless, isolated, vulnerable, and you wish that there was someone around who understood. Except, if someone approached you and tried to help, you would probably feel even more mortified and want even more to run and hide – I know I would.

So what on earth do you do when you are crying in a bank? I know how scary and embarrassing that is so here’s my tips from experience:

  1. Don’t panic – no one is annoyed, angry or staring at you. Stay as a calm as you can.
  2. Take a deep breath – this will help calm you down and stop the crying.
  3. Ask someone if you can go somewhere more private. The bank staff were only too happy to find me my own private office – it is much better customer service than to leave someone crying!
  4. Make plans to get home – or to a safe, calm place – as soon as possible. I had loads more admin tasks to get done that day but I knew that nothing was more important than getting back home. It was a relief to get home, put my pyjamas on and not have any more social pressure to contend with!
  5. Don’t beat yourself up. Mental illness strikes at the most inconvenient times and it happens to all of us! I could think “I failed, because I cried at the bank”. Instead I thought “I cried at the bank today because I was understandably overwhelmed. Despite that, I still managed to deposit the money so that was a successful trip”.

Believe me, you are not the first person to cry in the bank – or at work, out shopping, at a friend’s house, and all the other “inappropriate” places. Join the crying club with pride and accept that it’s a natural human response to pressure.

Be proud of yourself – you are so brave.

Enjoyed this post? Let us know by leaving a comment or get in touch if you want to share your story.

Remembering everything.

No-one is perfect. We all know that, although many of us – myself included – fall into the trap of idealising others and seeing perfection where it does not exist. We all have flaws and quirks that make us amazing, unique humans and I am learning (note: I’m still learning, I haven’t got there yet!) to love and celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly in both myself and others.

Authentic memories

As grieving young adults, there is one person we do idealise, and it’s not always healthy to do so. That person is the loved one we have lost. I am often tempted to make my mum sound even more amazing, loving, hilarious or confident than she was. Don’t get me wrong, my mum was my best friend and the most brilliant mum I could have hoped for. But the reality is, like everyone, mum had her flaws.

My mum was beautiful, but she wasn’t self-confident. Mum was kind, but she had a wicked temper. Mum, like all of us, was tired, grumpy, and angry at times. I loved going shopping with her but I hated driving with her in the car – she was such a backseat driver! I knew never to push it with mum – she was in charge and talking back to her would not end well. I resented house cleaning days – she always made hoover, even though she knew I hated that chore.

When people ask me about mum, of course I share happy memories. Those times of joy that I will treasure forever. But I think it is really important to note that just because someone is gone from this Earth doesn’t mean we can’t remember them authentically. I want to remember all of mum, not just her best side. I want to continue to get to know her as a woman, as a wife, as a mother – and to do that I need to protect all of my memories of her.

The good times and the bad

I can smile now about the time I broke my toe, and after weeks of limping she decided her patience with me had run out, and she shouted at me so angrily to walk properly that the limping disappeared overnight and the pain in my toe suddenly wasn’t important anymore. My brother remembers his favourite Action Man toy being thrown to an early death from the top of the stairs as mum finally lost her temper with three kids winding each other up (RIP action man, we miss you still).

That was my mum. She wasn’t perfect but she was perfect to us. She had flaws and quirks that meant she annoyed me a lot, but the love we shared was pure, endless, full of forgiveness and grace. These days, without mum to phone and ask for advice, I still know what she would say. I can hear her pride and her concern. I can still hear the annoyance in her voice when I had done something stupid. I know she would be angry when me and my siblings bicker and fight. She is still here, still present and still flawed.

Loving mum endlessly

If you have lost someone close to you, take a moment to remember who they really are. Love knows no bounds and judges none. Remember their weaknesses, the things that irritated you about them, the times you fought and then were reconciled. For these are the things that you may erase from your memory and lose forever if you only remember the positives. Remember them for who they really were and you will keep a fuller, richer, more real version of them with you always.

And mum – thanks for making me pose for that photo with you on the first day of university. I was so ashamed, I couldn’t believe you were making me take a photo with you, my mum! How wrong I was, I laugh now at the embarrassment I felt, and the way you mocked me for my futile attempts to be too cool for my parents. For that photo is now one of my most treasured memories and it reminds me of who you really were – my embarrassing, annoying, wise, beloved mum.

Want to share your story with us? Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com to start the conversation.