Losing a parent – and what happened next

3rd April 2016.

Mum: I’m outside where we usually pick you up from uni, can you come to the car?

Me: What’s happened? You’re worrying me…

Mum: Just come to the car now.

I ran to the car as quick as I could, bearing in mind I was on the other side of campus. I rang several people, including my dad to see if anyone could tell me what was going on because I was freaking out. I rang him 3 times: your call can’t be connected.

I got to the car.

Mum: It’s your dad… he’s been in a motorbike accident.

Me: Is he alive?

She shook her head.

I was in so, so much shock and couldn’t get my head around what had happened, and this was before I even knew any of the details. Out of anything that I could have thought of at the time, the first thing that come to my head was, “I don’t wanna get depression.”

It’s been nearly two and a half years now, and I sit here and think to myself ‘how on earth am I dealing with this?’ I can’t believe I’m still at uni, still at work and generally getting on with my life and feeling like I’m coping relatively well. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a lot of times when I have massively struggled and felt I would never come to terms with this, but those feelings do pass.

Everyone’s experience with grief is different and there is no right or wrong way to deal with things, but this is what I’ve learnt:

You never really get over it

There are situations everyone finds themselves in that you can ‘get over’, whether it’s breaking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, falling out with a friend or overhearing your colleague bitch about you for the copious amounts of tea you drink. However, after losing my dad I’ve realised that you don’t get over it, and you never will. You could see the same car they had drive past and for a split second you’ll wonder if it’s them. You could be out shopping and see a can of the deodorant they used to wear and it’ll remind you they’re not here anymore. I remember being at work once and seeing someone who had similar jeans to what my dad wore and I could not stop crying!

Trust me when I say it will hit you at the most random times, and as soon as you think you are getting over it, you feel like you are straight back to square one. But instead of getting over it, you just slowly learn to accept what’s happened and try to adapt to life without them. You will have those random reminders that get to you, but they do get easier and you do get used to them.

There’s no right way

Since the accident happened I have made a lot of friends and spoken to a lot of people who have lost parents, and I’ve learnt that everyone’s experiences and ways of grieving are different. Some people (me) will pretend it never happened and block it out, some will use social media to vent about how they feel and others might throw themselves into the gym or another hobby. But just because you aren’t dealing with it the same way as other people might, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it ‘wrong’. I was at university when my mum told me and I decided not to come home and just stay with my friends because I knew they would take my mind off it. At first I felt I maybe should’ve gone home, but my family understood I wanted to be surrounded by people who could take my mind off it.

After a year

Once you’ve gotten through the first year, you would’ve experienced many ‘firsts’ – your first Christmas and birthday without them, first Mother’s or Father’s day – and you will get a lot of people sending their condolences. As the years go on and more special occasions without them go on, you get less and less people who ask how you’re doing. At first it seems like because it’s been more than a year, people expect you to have gotten over it and be fine. It seems as if their life has gone on and therefore yours has as well and you should be okay. Which is not the case.

There isn’t a time limit on grieving. There isn’t a deadline in which you should be okay by. Just because your sibling may seem okay, it doesn’t mean you have to be the same. I had this problem quite a lot in the beginning and I felt like people had expectations of me to be fine to the point where I stopped telling people if I felt down about it, but I was just being stupid. My friends and family understand and will always always be there for me, even if it’s in 10 years’ time.

Jess Saunders

Jess writes: If you are struggling to talk to people about it, then there are a lot of people you can get in touch with. I’m part of a Facebook page called Way Teens & Pre-teens where people of similar ages who have lost parents can all talk to each other. 

Read the original post and more from Jess here.

If you need support, Let’s Talk About Loss is here to help. Get in touch today or find your local meet up here.

Life after death: the concept of time after losing someone

We absolutely love this post from Madeleine, which talks about the weird concept of time after a bereavement, and how you can be doing so much, and yet doing nothing at all. Read on for some serious wisdom for an amazing grieving person who we are so proud to know! 

When I think back to the ‘early days’, the days seem to slide into one another. Thinking back, there is not much distinction between ‘night’ or ‘day’. Dawn and dusk look and feel the same. Weekdays and weekends are interchangeable. There is no distinction between morning or afternoon or evening.

I was definitely doing a lot of stuff. Funeral plans, photograph hunting, shouting at Starbucks baristas. There was a lot of movement. Train stations, bus stops and relatives’ cars. I was doing anything and everything. And nothing at all too:

  • Sugary teas made by kind others, because they proved that even in this new version of reality, other people were still alive.
  • Disney films, because they took me back to the pristine confines of childhood, and held me close to past comforts
  • Peep Show, because it’s bloody hilarious.

Innocently asking about dad

There was the stunned silence from people on the peripherals. The vet who treated the cat, after she’d shown a little bit too much of an interest in the lilies sent from well-meaning others: “I won’t let this cat die on you too”. The dentist who innocently asked how my dad was getting on these days.

There was the deafening roar of the grief itself which howled into me, bellowing ear-to-ear at bass frequencies, coursing through my veins and vibrating through my bones. Nowadays it sounds more like a hymn, most of the time, like a quiet hum knocking around. It sometimes upgrades to an anthem, particularly on birthdays, death-days, Christmas days. But it can transcend from gentle melody to full-scale harmonic orchestra at the slightest reminder:

  • A bird soaring through the sky
  • A news story about a flight disaster
  • A father reaching for his daughter’s hand

There was the unwavering, flawless support from a few close companions. They came with me to some of the darkest of places I’d ever seen, with unflinching compassion. If my grief was a dark room into which I retreated and slammed the door closed behind me, they were the patient bystander at the other side, gently pushing food, and water, and love, through the crack between the door and the floor. Until the crack became wide enough for me to open it again.

Allegations of time

Two years has allegedly passed since I lost my dad. The concept of time in grief still fascinates me. I think when someone close to you transcends the constraints of the time as most people experience it, you in some ways do too.

I now experience weekdays, and weekends, like a ‘normal’ person. My body follows the concept of day-times and night-times in a similar way to before my dad died. I observe my birthdays, nowadays with more gratitude than guilt, at having had another year. I celebrate his birthday with a Guinness. I talk of him with unapologetic and uninhibited abandon. He comes with me through every day, and we face it together.

I’ve come to see that as much as I’d love to stop the clock and turn it back, I can’t. But I’ve come to believe he no longer experiences time in the same way as before, so I don’t either. It could be 2 minutes, 2 years or 2 centuries – he is my dad and I am his daughter, and that is that.

Madeleine B

Have a story to share? Email hello@letstalkaboutloss.org and we’d love to feature your work.

Five things I wish I had known about grief

The amazing Charlotte Bufton shares five things that she wishes she had known about grief before she experienced it. This is a really powerful post – get in touch if you found it helpful, or if you would like to share your own post on our blog!

1. Grief is personal.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with losing someone you love. It will vary hugely from person to person depending on how long you knew the person, what the relationship was like etc. I think the best possible advice I could give is simply to be kind to yourself.

2. It is okay to ask for help!

This cannot be stressed enough. Not long after my Grandad passed away, I left work one afternoon and, on my way, to the tube station, started to cry and just could not stop. I knew then that I needed to get some help, so after some searching I found a counsellor; it was so incredibly helpful just to have someone to talk to and process how I was feeling. There is absolutely no shame in seeking some outside help during such a difficult time.

3. The people you thought would be there, might not be, the people you didn’t expect, may just surprise you.

Grief can be quite an isolating experience. Losing a parent in my mid-twenties is not something I ever expected to have to go through. For those who may be trying to support or care for a friend I would encourage you to please just reach out, even if you don’t know what to say. One friend sent a card explaining that she wasn’t sure what the right thing to say was but that she would always be there and that meant everything to me!

You are not superhuman, it’s okay to be struggling

4. Take your time to heal and grieve.

There is no schedule for the grieving process. Personally, I feel there is a real issue with the way we address loss in our society; often grief is a subject some can feel uncomfortable with and we expect people to be fine after just a few weeks.

It’s been over two years since I lost my Grandad and 21 months since my Mum died, as time goes by the overwhelming sadness and loss has given way to thankfulness for the memories that I have… However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have days where those feelings surface again, when I would give absolutely anything to speak to them again. Be patient with yourself and your emotions.

5. Grief does not always express itself as sadness.

Especially because losing Mum was so sudden, at first, I was just in shock and then came anger. I was losing my temper over the smallest of things and generally just irritable for months on end. For everyone who put up with me during this stage, thank you for your patience!

Grief can take a toll on you physically and mentally in ways you might not expect. Take each day as it comes and make sure you give yourself a break. You are not superhuman, it’s okay to be struggling, it’s okay to need some time to process your feelings and at the end the people who truly love you will always be there for you.

Read more of Charlotte’s writing on her blog here. Email hello@letstalkaboutloss.org to submit your story to us.

Riding the wave

Sophie writes this beautiful piece inspired by her own journey through grief in the hope that it will help others and show you that there is always a break in the waves – however scary they can seem.

In the hours, days, weeks – even months – following the loss of my mum, I often wondered: does it get easier? Will I feel like this indefinitely? The death of a parent is unimaginable for most people and it is something that we can never be fully prepared for.

The first wave is always the worst

I lost my mum in 2013. She was an incredible, strong woman and a single mother; when she passed my whole world came crashing down. Her death was unexpected and sudden. I was two months into my first year at university when my sister phoned telling me to come home as soon as I could because mum was in hospital. We spent a week in hospital and she passed away two days before my 19th birthday.

I felt like the overwhelming grief I was feeling would never subside

Following mum’s death, I went straight back to university. I went to class. I went out with friends. I suppose I did everything in my power to distract myself and try to function normally. I tried to do all the things I had done before – except now with the occasional spontaneous public crying session. As much as I tried to continue with university normally, the grief was still there and it demanded attention.

On nights when I couldn’t sleep I would sometimes google other people’s experiences of grief, just wondering how on earth they got through it. I felt like the overwhelming grief I was feeling would never subside. One story that stuck with me was the story of an old man reflecting on the people that he had lost in his lifetime and his journey through it.

He described grief as a wave.

Shipwrecked by grief

At first, you feel like you’ve been shipwrecked, you’re drowning, struggling for air and you keep getting dragged under. The waves are 100 feet tall and 10 seconds apart – you can’t catch your breath. All you can do is float and try to hold on. This is the worst part, and you’ll think you’re going to feel this way forever – but you won’t.

After a while, the waves might still be 100 feet tall, but they’ll come further apart. Sometimes things might trigger waves unexpectedly – a photograph or a song on the radio. They still knock you down when they come, and they can still be crippling. But in between blows you can breathe and you can function.

I’m reassured in the knowledge that the wave of grief will not last forever

It’s not plain sailing and there’s no specific formula to it. But as time goes on, the waves will seem smaller and they’ll come further apart. You begin to see them coming – knowing that specific dates or times will be harder than others. You can, to some extent, brace yourself for impact.

Learning the rhythm and riding the waves

You learn that that once the wave has hit, you will surface again because you’ve done it before. You will be able to catch your breath. The old man says the waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to stop. You learn that you can survive them, and that is enough to keep you going on.

In my experience, he has it completely right. I couldn’t picture any possible break from the grief and heartache immediately following mum’s death; you might have to wait a little while, but it will eventually come.

Of course there will be waves that hit that you don’t see coming. This week, four years on, I’ve been caught off guard by waves I didn’t anticipate. They can still hit just as hard as they did the first time around, but I’m reassured in the knowledge that the wave of grief will not last forever.

Grief isn’t something we automatically know how to deal with, but we continue to learn about it as time passes. It can be a rough sea out here, but we can all learn to ride the wave.

Sophie Message

Do you have a story to share? For young people who have been bereaved, just a blog post from someone who is struggling too – or has struggled before – can let them know that they are not alone and how they are feeling is totally normal. We all need to get better at talking about loss, so get in touch today and we can talk together. 

Mothers’ Day // A poem by Georgie Tennant

Another fantastic poem has been submitted – Mother’s Day may have passed but Georgie’s poem is raw, beautiful and emotional. 

Mothers’ Day

Last year,
My sister took the early slot,
Taking flowers and chocolates to Mum,
Mid afternoon,
Chatting casually
Over coffee,
A Mothers’ Day like any other.
Her words scrawled in the card,
One of many down the years,
A relic now.
I went later,
With a now-forgotten gift,
For a glass of wine
and child-free conversation,
A luxury.

This year it’s just me.
I can never be enough,
Feel enough, write enough,
Say enough, do enough,
To plug the gaping hole now left,
One we hadn’t even seen coming then,
That ordinary Mothers’ Day last year.

Mothers’ Day looms.
I’ve survived it before,
The times it has threatened to suffocate me,
As a Mother, minus a child,
Taken too soon.
I’ve learned to live with that.

This time round I have a Mother and a child – two, in fact.
But Mothers’ Day threatens to swallow me whole in a different way,
As I face my own Mother,
With one child less and a pain
No gift from me can dull.

And it threatens to swallow me whole
When my niece crawls onto my lap
Motherless,
Adapting, adjusting,
But with parts missing that will never be whole.
I cry as I imagine her,
Surrounded by classmates,
Gluing tissue paper to make-shift bouquets,
Wondering in her six-year old way
If Mummy still sees,
Somewhere out beyond the stars.

Mothers’ Day.
I’ve learned to live with the pain
And the kick-in-the-teeth,
It doles out, once a year,
Learned to count up the blessings as well as the cost.
Countless armies of others join me,
Teeth gritted through Facebook outpourings.
I’m not on my own.

But this year,
Is harder than ever.
I lock my hands for the ride,
in the tightest of grips
As the Mothers’ Day rollercoaster plummets again,
Wondering if anyone will hear my screams.

-Georgie Tennant

Want to submit a poem or other piece of creative writing to the blog? Email me at letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com