What is normal?

Robbie is one of our new meet up hosts, and will soon be hosting in Brighton. In this blog, Robbie describes his experience of losing his mum and the search for a sense of normality after a sudden loss. If you’d like to join one of the meet up groups, find out more here.

Questioning your feelings

A candle burns there, it’s light flickering in the darkened room, providing warmth against a backdrop of utter silence.

The death of someone close, someone you truly love, someone you would do anything to bring back, never leaves you completely. Whatever the situation in which you lose them, grief will likely hit you in numerous forms.

At times you will ask yourself. Is this normal, am I ok?

Whatever feelings you have, let grief take you on that ride. Don’t resist or push yourself away from it. Instead, see it as waves on the shoreline which will come and go as does the tide.

Shock

I had just come back from holiday with my parents in the late summer of 2013. Everything seemed well and my last year of college was just around the corner. And then it happened… the diagnosis; my mother’s cancer had returned.

Six weeks later she was gone, with me sitting by her bedside at home, asking how had this happened? The woman I adored more than anything in the world, suddenly disappearing from my life altogether.

To this day, the immediacy of the event is something that I still find difficult to comprehend. The sheer pain of it all, the beautiful person that I loved so much, gone just as with her last breath, then silence.

I think at the start your mind and body don’t really know what is going on. It’s as if you’re spaced out slightly, unsure which direction you will be taken in next. As the funeral passed the days, weeks, and months rolled on by, each a different story and set of emotions, almost walking through a fog, a daze even.

A new normal

The constant question hammered away, will my life ever be normal again? The answer to this one is tricky.

Things will be different now, that’s for sure, but that doesn’t mean happiness, joy, and love can’t still flourish. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts, the stark realisation of things never being the same again. But trust me, once that first step is taken in accepting your new reality things do become that tiny bit easier.

While no one can ever take the love, memories, and experiences you had with that person away from you, in your heart you know that they would want to see you carrying on with life. Of course, it’s crucial to allow moments of sadness, pain, anger, and the tears the space they deserve; it’s part of a gradual journey. But don’t let them consume you, as life still has so much to offer.

Grief is an unpredictable rollercoaster, one that can’t be rushed or bypassed. Nothing is right or wrong and there are no set answers or rules.

Re-doing the jigsaw of life

The compassionate thing is to allow yourself to be taken on this ride with no resistance against grief. From what I have learned, loss is a puzzling emotion at times, one which I choose to flow with. Like a jigsaw puzzle, slowly but surely pieces start to be put back into place, albeit now in a slightly different arrangement than before.

One should never feel that they must move on and bury this painful experience; instead I try to view it as moving forward with my life. With family and friends there to support me, I am able to negotiate the difficult times and the brighter ones too.

As of late I can almost picture my mum pushing me forward, her proudness and love clear to me. Although I still have many moments of tears, I can say I feel stronger from this experience.

Grief can make no sense at times and then it can also glow with absolute clarity. One thing is for sure, your love with that person can never fade and this loss will never extinguish what you had. I can blow out that candle, but it can always be relit whenever I choose.

Loss can be confusing, but it’s your experience, you create an individual journey from now.

Robbie McCallum

Got a story to share? Talking about loss is a powerful, brave thing and helps us all feel less alone in our grief. If you want to tell your story, email us at blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.

“I didn’t know what death was”

In this blog, Shelley writes about her experience of loss as a child and as an adult. She shares how her experiences of grief have given her strength and resilience and a deeper appreciation of life and cherishing the special moments. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

I was three years old when I had my first heartbreak; it was when my Grandad passed away. I remember waking up one morning and my mother breaking the news, although I don’t remember what was said. I remember the funeral and my confusion as to why this was happening.

I didn’t know what death was

I remember running up to a man in the supermarket because I thought he was my Grandad. I remember the relief and excitement when I saw him, as I wrapped my tiny arms around his big protective legs. I remember the shame and the embarrassment when my mother gently pulled me away and told me he wasn’t my Grandad.

I was four years old when I had my second heartbreak, it was when my dad passed away. I remember him falling down the stairs a lot and then being in a wheelchair, and I remember when he had his bedroom moved to the living room. I remember the funeral, I remember my sister was crying and I thought I should too. I remember being confused as to why everyone was so sad.

I realised I would never see my dad again

I remember I spent years looking for my dad in the street, in the park, in the shop. I remember when I was fourteen, I was looking out of the car window for him, my sister had a flour filled balloon and it burst. I turned my attention away from looking for my dad and I looked at the burst balloon and what a mess it had made, flour all over the car seat. In that moment, I realised I would never see my dad again.

I finally knew what death was

When I was twenty-six my step-dad passed away suddenly, while I was with him.  I tortured myself for a year with the belief that had someone else been with him, perhaps he would have lived. I convinced myself my family thought the same.

I was diagnosed with mild post-traumatic stress disorder and was offered counselling, but I found my own therapy in reading, running and meditation. The diagnosis helped me to understand why I was feeling the way I was and I found that educating myself about PTSD made me dissociate the disorder from a part of me, to a thing temporarily latched on to me.

It became an achievement to sleep in the dark and without waking from a nightmare. It’s an achievement when I recognise the crippling onset of an anxiety attack and gently reassure myself in order to control it. My coping mechanism is my faith, I have developed an absolute belief that when the body dies, the spirit lives on in some form or another. I believe loved ones send us lots of signs to show us they are OK.

Supporting children through bereavement

I think it’s so important that we teach children about death, they need to grieve as much as adults do. We should enable children the confidence to ask questions about their bereaved loved ones and give them honest answers. Children are incredibly resilient and more emotionally intelligent than some may realise. I believe it is better they are given the resources and support to grieve early into bereavement rather than to be left with years of confusion and fear.

As I mature into my late twenties I am grateful for my experiences of death, it has given me a resilience and a strength many people don’t have. I am more aware of the limited time we have on earth and the importance of cherishing every moment and every person we love in our lives. My recent trauma with my step-dad has taught me to be gentle and kind with myself, it has taught me to love myself more than I ever have.

Shelley

Enjoyed Shelley’s blog? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts. Have a story of your own to share? Email us to get in touch and share your advice.

The impact of being bereaved as a teen

In this blog, Ella writes about her experience of being bereaved as a teen. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

I was 17 when my dad fell ill. After a 2 month battle between him and his failing organs, sadly he lost his fight. While it wasn’t a shock that he had passed away, it hit me hard all the same.

I suppose it’s partly because I hadn’t really experienced death yet. Being 17, typically you don’t really worry about your loved ones dying. Grandparents maybe, but not parents, or siblings. That’s why I was so unprepared, I didn’t know what it was going to be like.

I was old enough to understand, I knew what death was and what it meant. I knew that it meant I would never see my dad again, he wasn’t coming back, he wasn’t just on a holiday.

He was gone.

Losing the one you rely on

I think realising he was gone was hard enough to come to terms with. As a teenager you typically rely on your parents for everything, they’re supposed to be there when you have nowhere else to turn and don’t know what to do next. So when you lose them it really is like you have been thrown in at the deep end.

Being a teenager can be difficult enough as it is already, let alone suffering bereavement as well. My dad passed during the summer between my first and second years of sixth form, which I had once been thriving at. I was doing well in exams and getting positive feedback from my tutors.

When my dad died, it all changed. His death didn’t properly hit me until maybe two months into my second year. I started to get anxious about going to class, scared what people would say if I cried, scared they would ask me questions I didn’t want to answer.

I stopped turning up as often and missed out on a lot of my studies. Even when I was there, I couldn’t concentrate. My mind was always elsewhere, something would remind me of my dad and my trail of thought would be lost. After a while my grades started dropping and I ended up failing one of my subjects and barely passing the other two.

Being bereaved as a teen is something no one can really prepare you for. Grief isn’t a straight line, and it’s different for each person.

My advice to other teens

My tip for teenagers who are grieving is to just take each day as it comes – don’t dwell on your mistakes if you have other things going on too, it’s normal to not know how to cope with your feelings and there’s always support available for you.

If you are grieving and feel like you can’t cope, don’t hesitate to get in contact with someone – anyone. Just let someone know. I know it sounds cliche, but I promise it doesn’t stay as bad forever!

Oh, I thought I might add… it’s now been 2 years since my dad died and I am now currently enrolled at University, studying for my dream career as a forensic psychologist and so far I’m doing great!

Remember – without the rain, we would never see rainbows.

Ella Burrett

Enjoyed Ella’s blog? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts. Have a story of your own to share? Email us to get in touch and share your advice.

Becoming an adult without my mum

In this blog, Emma writes about her experience of grief at a young age, after her mum passed away when she was 18. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

Back in 2013, I had the news that my Mum had passed away. Something I never thought that I would have to go through at the age of 18.

If you knew me, you would know that I’m not exactly shy, but behind the scenes it can sometimes be a different story. This was a hard article to write, but this is my experience of suffering a loss very close to me and by writing this, I hope it can help even just one person going through something similar, to feel a little bit better about it.

Immediate chaos

The first few weeks after losing someone close to you is very chaotic. People come to check on you all constantly, your Facebook Messenger will be constantly flashing up and you’ll be bored of hearing your text messages ping, but you will need this. You may not realise it straight away, but all of the support is very much needed. You probably won’t even need to cook for weeks because of all the food people will bring you (which was a good thing for me as I really can’t cook!).

Going through the milestones gets harder and harder. I started university last year and, like most people, the first person I wanted to tell was my Mum. If I’ve had a hard or stressful day at uni (which as any student will know, happens a lot!), I still go to pick up the phone. It’s just one of the triggers that occur during the days, weeks, months and years that pass. This can be anything from, seeing an old TV show, recalling a funny moment or weirdly for me, when the compare the meerkat advert comes on TV! Everyone is individual and it’s ok to show emotion when they come.

Emma, her mum and her sister in 2000

One of the hardest things for me was people avoiding conversation with me in the weeks after and I completely get it. People don’t know what to say to you. But that is hard to accept.

You’re not the only one

It’s easy to absorb the feeling that you’re the only one who has gone through the stages of grief and feel isolated. You may not always know anyone close to you that has been in the same position.

For me, I still find it easier talking to people that have been in the same situation as me and even reading online about people’s experience.

Prince William was only 15 years old when Princess Diana died, and in a recent interview during the making of a BBC documentary Mind Over Marathon, he described grief as, “The shock is the biggest thing, and I still feel it 20 years later about my mother. People think shock can’t last that long, but it does. It’s such an unbelievably big moment in your life and it never leaves you, you just learn to deal with it.”

Everyone goes through this

Some people just don’t know what to say during times like these. They don’t want to accidentally say something insensitive and insult or upset you. You have to remember that they feel helpless and find the ‘first conversation’ awkward too.

If they ask if you’re ok, don’t be annoyed! Of course you’re not ‘ok,’ but they just want to know how you are, even if the answer is obvious.

For me, the hardest part of losing someone so close is the process after the chaos. When the people stop visiting, when the cards stop coming, people stop asking about you and life has to carry on as normal. The house becomes quiet and that’s when you start to think about what has actually happened.

Trust them and talk to them

The best advice I could ever give is to find a friend, a family member or anyone you trust and just talk to them. If you’re upset, tell them. If you’re annoyed, vent your anger to them. If you’re worried, let them help you. I have made friends at university in the last year that have helped me more than they’ll ever know. It can take just one or two people to help you through the hard days.

Always talk about the memories because they’ll always be with you. The funnier the memories, the better! My favourite memories include all the shows my sister and I used to put on for my Mum and Dad as kids and all the family holidays! Nothing and no one can take that from you, so don’t be afraid to talk about them and laugh about all the good times.

Finally, it’s ok to feel guilty; it’s natural. I have had many days over the last four years that I have been having a laugh with my family and friends and later feel guilty for it. You have to remember that you can’t change the past, you can only look to the future. So, have a laugh and make new memories is the best advice I could give!

None of us are equipped to handle things like this on our own, at the risk of sounding like Bill Withers, you need somebody to lean on.

Emma Tattum

Enjoyed Emma’s blog? Leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts. Have a story of your own to share? Email us to get in touch and share your advice.

Seven years

Jo is one of our London meet up Hosts and has written this amazing blog about losing her dad. It’s a beautifully written blog that busts the myth that grief has a time frame. If you’d like to join one of our meet up groups, find out more here.

A half-marathon with no training

I’m running a half marathon in October for the British Heart Foundation and as the event draws closer I think “f*** I haven’t done enough training”. And then I hear my dad’s voice in my head say “Oh it’s all part of growing up and being British”, his response to any sort of moaning or grumble.

As I near the event I think about him a lot. I’m doing the run for him, because despite the fact that he had a heart attack and died suddenly (and understanding heart disease or research into heart problems probably wouldn’t have helped him), I still feel this affinity to doing something relevant to my dad; to remember him, feel closer to him, or whatever.

Sadness in front of the salmon

I’ve never written about losing him although I have tried countless times, which has left me bawling my eyes out in front of the salmon in Sainsbury’s after my commute home. So here goes…

This is for those who have lost someone, who will never be alone; for those who have seen me through it all, who I can never thank enough. This is for those who simply didn’t know the details because we aren’t close friends, but I’m sure were always curious (it’s human nature don’t worry), and for those who don’t know anything about me but like to read sad blogs. Oh and this is for future me. I hope you’re feeling more settled and stable. Therapy was a good shout.

Here’s the story of the death of my father when I was 18, still figuring myself out, still finding out what I wanted my life to be like. At 18, I was on the cusp of having an adult relationship with my parents, understanding them and their choices better. I was asking questions to help me understand my future as a person and a parent, one day, I hope… I wish I asked more questions.

“Very odd for him to miss a meal”

It was a normal morning in Spain at Nana and Terry’s, and we were prepping for the arrival of my sister Fran and the Wilson clan the next day. Dad had gone to do the walk around Ruta de los Acantilados, driving down Carretera a la Cala. We all went about our day, but dad didn’t come back for lunch. Very odd for him to miss a meal. We ate regardless and a couple more hours passed. An air of concern settled around the villa.

I stay, potentially already knowing something wasn’t right

Mum, my sister Lou and Sam, my now brother in law, decided to do the walk, but the opposite way round hoping to bump into him. I stay, potentially already knowing something wasn’t right. They returned having found nothing. Mum takes Lou and I to the point at which you can see into the valley and there’s a search party and police in amongst the trees looking for my dad.

Mum and I are sitting on the pavement and a feeling overwhelms me and I begin to sob. I think I knew. A blacked out grey van drives down the hill. The police tell mum to send Lou and I home. Sam stays. I’m sitting dangling my feet in the pool and I hear Queen playing from the kitchen; ‘Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy…’ I see a helicopter fly above with a stretcher dangling below. I would later find out that it contained my dad’s body.

Howling like animals in the night

It’s 9pm on 20th July 2012 and Lou, Nana and I are in the kitchen washing up. Mum comes around the corner followed slowly by Sam. We meet on the veranda and mum tells us that dad is dead. I throw up. We all howl into the night likes animals unable to do anything apart from give into what our bodies are telling us to do. Gut reaction, literally.

Mum makes phone calls. I methodically unpack dads rucksack and organise everything into rows. I don’t sleep at night anymore. I can only sleep in the day when people are around me and the light keeps me safe.

Three days later I see you in a box. The light plays tricks and I think I see you breathing. You come home in a pot. How your whole essence and being can be reduced into one pot I will never understand.

He was there, I knew him

It’s taken me seven years to deal with my grief. To process it. Seven years of asking why, until I finally understand and truly believe that there is no why, there just is. How can an 18 year old begin to understand those feelings. It’s only now when I feel like I know who I am that I can truly process the magnitude of loss.

I think of him every day and I never want that to go away. I like talking about him, I just sometimes don’t know how. I wish with all my heart that he could see my future, but I shall be content knowing that I have his eyes, he was there, I knew him, he was my dad.

Joanna Wright

Got a story to share? Talking about loss is a powerful, brave thing and helps us all feel less alone in our grief. If you want to tell your story, email us at blog@letstalkaboutloss.org.