Please don’t say nothing. Please don’t be scared of my grief.

In this blog, Anna reflects on what support helped when she was caring for and grieving for her Dad and explores how we can better support friends and family to support those who are grieving. 

The hardest experience

My dad died just over a year ago, in May 2019. He had been diagnosed with cancer 11 months earlier and had only been terminal for 8 weeks before he died. I was 25 years old.

Losing my dad is easily the hardest experience I’ve ever been through. Watching him get sicker and sicker, and trying to care for him and make the most of our time together while still keeping hope, was incredibly difficult. Living each day without him now gets easier, but is still painful. Sometimes I miss him so much that I can’t breathe.

I want to tell them not to be scared of my grief

Support from friends and family

The thing that has made all of this easier are the amazing people who have been wonderful throughout my grief. I try and focus on the people who have supported me and comforted me.

Those who have sat with me, who have listened to me, who have taken me for walks and cuddled me while I shook from crying so violently. The friend who let me use her bath when I needed some relaxation time, because my flat only has a shower. The amazing people who sent care packages and letters, and someone who has let me use their Disney+ login for solo movie marathons. I even have a friend who found me a part time job because she knew that funds were tight due to me helping to care for my dad!

Of course, there is a tiny minority of people who haven’t been there for me. Those who are so scared of making my pain worse, that it paralyses them. I think that maybe they don’t understand how unbearable and lonely grief can be. They don’t know that their inaction accidentally makes it worse. I want to tell them not to be scared of my grief. If I get upset when we speak, it’s because I lost my dad, it’s almost certainly not because of something they said or did.

Learning together

The pain is always there, and I am learning to live with it. I want to say to those people: Will you learn with me? Will you support me in a way that works for you and your personality?

My brother and I are creating a website for people (particularly young adults) who have not experienced grief, but who want to do their best to help and comfort those of us who are grieving. We want to provide concrete advice and resources of all the different ways to speak with, spend time with, and support someone who is grieving, whatever stage of their grief journey. We have found that it is quite hard for our friends and family to say or do the wrong thing, but the worst thing they can do is nothing because that multiplies our loss. We want to encourage them- Don’t Say Nothing.

We want to highlight all of the ways that people can support someone who is grieving, to help the friends and family of grieving young people understand how they can be loving and supportive- no more ‘deepest condolences’!

If you’d like to share your experiences of ways that people have supported you through your grief, please do get in touch at contact@dontsaynothing.org , or fill in this form. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Twomlow

Losing a parent at a young age

In this blog, Jess reflects on losing her Dad at a young age and how this has impacted her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. 

“For me, this was normal”

Losing a parent at a young age is a very difficult experience. On the one hand, you don’t know any different so having the one parent is completely normal and functional, but on the other hand you always feel different, slightly awkward about it, with a constant feeling of worry/loss (or as I call it ‘impending doom’) that you’re unable to explain.

I only have one memory of my dad, which I would honestly much rather forget. He is being carried out on a stretcher by paramedics with an oxygen mask on. He says nothing, doesn’t smile or even wave – he can’t as he’s too weak.

I think about this memory a lot and when I was little, I would dream about it over and over again, each time with a different scenario playing out. I would get up and go over, hug him, blow him a kiss, or smile and wave to him as he is carried off, never to be seen again. Then I have to remind myself that I was three, dad had been poorly since I was 18 months old, and for me this was normal. I was unaware of the severity of the situation or that I wouldn’t see him again.

Well into my teenage years I would dread people asking me ‘what does your dad do?’ because if I told the truth they would be awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable. Sometimes this ended the conversation, as it was so out of the realms of their own universe.

Another major downside to having one parent is the tremendous fear you feel if something was to happen to that one precious parent you have left. My extended family did not live nearby or take a proactive approach to mine and my brother’s life which left a great sense of fear that at any moment we could become orphans, which caused a huge amount of anxiety growing up and even now.

The Why’s and What-If’s?

Losing a parent young means that as your grow up, mature, and go through new experiences you are constantly thinking; ‘Am I like Dad?’ ‘Did Dad do things like this?’ ‘Would Dad be proud of me?’ ‘I wonder what Dad would say in this situation’.

This type of thinking led me down quite a dark path during my university years whereby I was constantly trying to hit a standard that would make him proud without having any real idea who he was or what he stood for – meaning inevitably I would always feel like I had failed. I also felt angry at the world – why did this happen to me? Why couldn’t I have been a bit older to remember him properly? Why didn’t he leave a letter?

This caused me to be temperamental, confrontational, emotionally unstable, and led to some odd behaviours; overeating, undereating, over exercising, over drinking, and not working hard enough on my degree.

Even when I gained my PhD, I still had the same ‘impending doom’ feeling, 4 years of study in Molecular Cell Biology completed. But was he there on my graduation day? – no. Did I know if he was proud? – no. Do I even know if he is ‘seeing’ any of this? – no.

Time moves on…

Lastly, this brings me onto the living without a parent during momentous life occasions; graduation, getting engaged, getting married, and becoming a parent myself. Dad did not give my husband his blessing to marry me, he did not walk me down the aisle and he did not give a father of the bride speech on my wedding day.

At every single life occasion, dad is and always will be missing. The hole he has left behind has not ‘healed’ or ‘fixed’ and is very much there every single day of my life and I’m sure it will remain for the rest of it.

So I know the next steps of life are not going to be easy, the feelings of losing a parent evolve with time and I have no idea where the next stages of this path will take me, but the experience has left me determined to enjoy each day, as life really is too short!

Jess Scott

Please don’t say “I’m sorry for your loss”

In this blog, Amy reflects on people’s reactions to loss, where sometimes just being present is better than saying anything. She draws on her own experiences of grieving for her Dad to give advice to others.

What to say?

How do you react when your friend has just found out that their loved one has a terminal illness or that a member of their family has passed away? Do you say?

“Just try to enjoy every moment you have left with them”

“Think positive, there may be hope yet”

“I’m sorry for your loss” 

Loss? I didn’t lose my Dad, he’s not an item I have misplaced, a rogue sock that hasn’t reappeared from the washing machine. He’s died. Gone. Period. 

To me, the ‘sorry for your loss’ reaction sounds empty, slightly meaningless, but that’s human nature. How are you supposed to react when the person in front of you is completely broken? When they’ve had their whole world ripped from underneath them and turned upside down? 

“You don’t need to say any words”

The simple fact is that you don’t need to say any words; you just need to be physically present, be reliable, be someone who they can call when sobbing in the middle of the night, be a person of light when the whole world around them feels dark. 

The morning my Dad died, before we had told anyone else, my friend sent me a simple message containing a love heart emoji, no words. I replied saying that my Dad had passed away. She was mortified for having text me at that moment but had just wanted to let me know that she was always thinking of me. I was so grateful, I knew from that little heart emoji that she was there for me whenever I needed her.

Being there

Grief is a strange thing, especially early on. You may see your friend one day and they will be a complete mess, sobbing on the floor uncontrollably, the next day they may be laughing and messing around, seemingly having a good time. This is normal. Just know that that person is not over their grief. The loss of a loved one is something they will carry with them forever, like a heavy weight chained to their ankle.  

When you check in on your friend, send them a funny meme, a lovely poem, a meaningful quote. Invite them out for lunch or coffee, if they want to talk, trust that they will. 

All they need from you is to actually be there for them, not just to say the words you think they need to hear. 

Amy Hardy

There’s nothing cool about loss: Why grieving at university is such a social dilemma

In this blog, Grace reflects on her experience of grieving whilst at university. Get in touch to share your own story or advice for others.

An ominous silence filled every crevice of my 19-year old existence, as I sat clutching Dad’s hand and we received the very news we had convinced ourselves would never come. The abstract nature of time came crashing down, as the future of our father-daughter relationship suddenly morphed into a mere 12 months.

The year after I lost my Dad is a blur, as I proceeded to barely exist; living mostly within a repressed recess of my brain. Life, however, doesn’t bow down and offer to stand still for you whilst you grieve – not only was I waking up to the daily silence of not hearing Dad’s voice, but also the realisation that the final year of my undergraduate degree continued to loom ahead of me.

The girl whose Dad just died.

Losing a parent whilst trying to complete a degree inevitably presents itself with extra battles for you to tackle on top of your heartbreak. For example, how to overcome the hours of missed lectures or the inner conflict of wanting to be in two places at once.

Home; a safe haven where the comfort and security of my family allowed me to process my grief with no boundaries, (something which the very limited support resources I found told me was important).

And then University; this idyllic social bubble, where I could immerse myself under the false pretence of still being just a regular third year student. Faced with the fear of not graduating with my friends, I decided to return to university. But really, I wasn’t simply returning as the girl who left; I was returning as the girl who just lost her Dad.

Who wants a sobbing girl at their house party?

I compensated for this new aspect of my identity by always striving to be the most flamboyant version of myself; barely would I be absent from a house party or a night out. On reflection, it was a great way of distracting myself and I look back on that year of my life as holding some of my fondest memories. I was very lucky to have already met my best friends at university before I lost Dad and their support was invaluable.

However, I have come to realise that back then I was suppressing my emotions, in a desperate bid to appear “normal” and save my friends from the all-consuming black hole of my grief. At a time in our lives when we should be our most selfish, I couldn’t help but contemplate how my grief was impacting other people’s university experience…

No place for grief at university

The societal idea of university being “the best three years of your life” doesn’t quite align with being grief-stricken. I believe this notion only forces young people to be even more cautious when speaking of their loss, fuelled by underlying fears of being branded “the party pooper”.

Five years on, there are so many things I wish my 19-year-old self could have understood. The most important being just how OK it is to not always want to be fun, just because you are at university. Life will offer plenty more opportunities to create meaningful memories; there is no need to give into this pressure. It’s of upmost importance to be kind to yourself whilst you are grieving.

You don’t realise how strong you are until you have no option

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, I urge you to fight any feelings you might have of being ashamed to talk about it. I lived in fear of making others feel uncomfortable, which initially led to my experience being shrouded in loneliness.

Opening up about your vulnerability only makes you feel stronger and more in control. I promise you that discussions about your loss will be met with love and admiration. Learning to speak openly has been the most cathartic process of my grief, but one I am still working on to this day. It is the catalyst I believe we all need; let’s never stop talking about loss.

Grace Lakey

Father’s Day: adding digital filters for life’s triggering days

With Father’s Day around the corner and our screen time at higher levels than ever during lockdown, it can be especially trying when we’re bombarded with constant reminders of those dreaded days.

We’ve compiled a few simple ways to minimise triggering topics/dates in your digital life.

  1. Adding filters to your email inbox to move triggering emails elsewhere, before you see them
  2. How to remove yourself from advertising from gift/card companies promoting Father’s Day

We’re sure there are more – if you have anything to add here, please let us know by emailing hello@letstalkaboutloss.org!

Outlook: how to add a custom “rule” to your inbox

Blocking or sorting certain content in Outlook is called a “rule”. This can be found in your inbox settings.

If you’re struggling to find this, head to the help section within Outlook and search “rule” → click “use inbox rules in outlook.com”.

Once you have Email > Settings > Rules open, you can specify the name, conditions and actions for your rule.

NAME

We’ve labelled this “Father’s Day” so it’s easily identifiable to us.

CONDITIONS
  1. “I’m on the To line” – The first condition of our rule is that the email is addressed to us, i.e. “I’m on the To line”. You might not want to include this. This would mean that any email in your inbox will have your rule applied to it, whether or not it’s directly addressed to you or not.
  2. Subject or body includes: fathers, father’s, father’s day, fathers day – This means that any part of any email which is addressed to me which contains any or all of the above keywords will have my action or “rule” automatically applied to it.

Think carefully about what you want here. In our example, our rule is deleting all emails which contain the word fathers. You might not want your rule to be this broad. It might be the case, for example, that you only want emails which have ‘fathers’ or ‘father’s day’ in the subject line (and not the entire email) to be sorted. In this case, go back and change condition 1 to just “subject includes”.

 

ADD AN ACTION

We’ve simply selected “delete” – any and all emails meeting our conditions will be automatically deleted before we read them.

Alternatively, you could create a separate folder in your inbox for these emails to be redirected to instead, so that you can check through for anything you might actually want to read that the rule picks up.

Gmail: Adding a filter to your inbox

1. Click “Settings”

2. Under “filters and blocked addresses” click “create new filter”

3. Enter your keywords e.g. father’s day in “has the words” and “subject” (if you want this to be included in your filter)

4. Click “create filter” and select what action you’d like taken on emails that are filtered.
We’ve selected “delete” but you might want to move them to a new separate folder instead, so that you can check through the emails first.

Reducing sensitive adverts from your timeline

You’re having an okay day, scrolling through friends’ Instagram stories, and out of nowhere comes a glaring reminder of your loss – a Father’s/Mother’s Day advert, screeching at you to make your dead parent smile next Sunday…

This one’s a bit more tricky, and we’re open to suggestions on what more can be done to reduce this from happening.

To begin with, you can ask advertisers to remove you from their targeting pools on social media ads.

SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTS

If you’ve seen an advert you don’t like, it’s your lawful right under GDPR to not see this again should you not wish to. Get in touch with the company and ask either to be removed from all adverts under that topic, or all advertising altogether if you prefer. Don’t forget to include the email address associated with your account, the advertiser will need this.

We hope this blog post was helpful, and it can reduce a little the pain of triggering content around days like Father’s Day. Get in touch with us if you have any other ideas to share, we’d love to hear them!

Stephanie Nicola Miller