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.

“What is grief if not love with nowhere to go?” – a haunting grief and a friendly ghost

Nithya, who attends our Nottingham meet up, has written this incredible piece about the loss of her friend Jessica. If you have a story to share with Let’s Talk About Loss, email us on blog@letstalkaboutloss.org to get in touch with us.

She died about four weeks after her 18th birthday. Beautiful, gentle, radiant Jessica. Gone.

I felt hollow, as though someone had physically removed some of my organs. I struggled even more when I moved away from home to start university. I couldn’t find the words to tell people about Jessica, let alone reach out at the times I was hurting the most.

There was also the fact that I was studying medicine, a decision I had made months before Jessica had died. Her death changed everything in a way I could not have prepared myself for. My grief was messy.

Haunted by her memory

I felt haunted by Jess. I couldn’t listen to professors talk about sarcoma and metastasis without thinking of the tumour in her leg. I couldn’t learn about chemotherapy drugs without wondering which ones were the ones that made her vomit, which ones made her the most tired, which ones she hated the most. I never asked her. I saw her in the faces of patients in hospital, even in the elderly patients.

The first time I was on a ward a doctor told me to listen (with a brand-new stethoscope I barely knew how to use) to the chest of a dying 75-year-old patient. Even with my untrained ear I could hear crackles accompanying each laboured breath she took in and out. Tears blurred my vision. Those crackles were an indication that her cancer had spread to her lungs and I wondered if this was what Jessica’s lungs had sounded like too.

Birthdays and the pain they bring

I vividly remember what should have been Jessica’s 19th birthday. I didn’t go to lectures, I didn’t eat, I didn’t talk to anyone all day. It’s strange how much weight a date can hold. On this day a small part of me wondered if I could ever practise medicine, when it felt like Jessica’s ghost was constantly by my side.

After all my exams from first year were done and dusted and I was back at home for the summer, I saw Jessica’s parents at a charity event they had organised. They asked me how medicine was going and I smiled and said fine, and her dad hugged me tight and said “Jess would be so proud of you”.

He went on to tell me how much of an impact Jessica’s doctors had on both Jess and the family. Even though they had not been able to offer a cure, they were kind and dedicated until the end. I’m not sure if her parents remember this conversation but it was a turning point for me. I had forgotten that Jess was one of my biggest cheerleaders when she was alive. I had forgotten that even when the drugs and surgeries fail, medicine is not futile. I had forgotten that love is a powerful force when life feels almost unbearable – and what is grief if not love with nowhere to go?

My friendly ghost Jessica

The 16th of May 2019 will mark 5 years since Jessica died. I still see her in patients on the wards, mostly in young patients with wide eyes and shaven heads. It still aches, it still hurts, but I don’t mind as much anymore. It pushes me to be kinder, braver, and better than I could ever imagine. As I write this, it is just a few days before my next set of exams and I am smiling imagining what she would text me: “Why are you so nervous? You know you’re going to do fine!”. Through the long hours in the library her memory is a reminder of why I am studying.

It is hard accepting that there is no finish line when it comes to grief. I think she will always haunt me, but that’s okay. She’s a friendly ghost.

Nithya Ezhilchelvan

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“What is happening to my body?” – the anatomy of grief

Bethany has written a fantastic blog about a topic we’ve not covered before: what happens to your body, physically, after you are bereaved. Everyone has different symptoms, whether they are physical, mental or emotional, and this is just one example of the pain a bereavement can cause and it’s life-changing effects.

I am no doctor, but I am someone who lost their father very suddenly at twenty-four and who experienced the consequent emotional and physical fallout of it.

When you lose someone – in sudden circumstances or not – your body reacts to the emotional wound that has been afflicted and it can be a bit wild trying to a. Make sense of a life without someone whilst b. Making sense of what on earth is happening to your body.

The fight or flight response

My mental and physical state was very much in neutral in August 2018. The sun was shining, my life was all pub-gardens and enjoying the company of friends in London’s parks. My dad died on the August Bank Holiday and it was such a shock that my body’s equilibrium was shaken up for months afterwards.

In the same way you retract your hand after touching something hot, my body’s instinct to protect me from the trauma of my dad’s death was to enter in to what has been called the ‘fight or flight’ response, or the ‘stress response’.

The sudden thwack of heartbreak and pain sent me in to high-alert. My body’s instinct was to protect me from any more danger and pumped me with adrenaline so that I was ready to fight impending threats whilst simultaneously turn and run away.

A new default setting

Because of the psychological turmoil I was feeling, a permanent on-edge-ness became my default. I found it hard to sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, I felt anxious and started biting my nails, I was frustrated and tense, had shaky hands, and heart palpitations. I would hug my friends and they’d ask me why I was trembling; I didn’t even realise that I was.

Because of my surging adrenaline, I also started to lose weight – weight loss after a grievance is somewhat normal because you may find that you lose your appetite – but in my case by body actually started burning more calories just to fuel me; ready to attack and protect myself at any moment.

Finding it hard to sleep, and using more energy being on high-alert made me very tired, drained, and ultimately very frustrated and emotional. It felt like I was waiting backstage to give a TED Talk, but for six months. Fortunately, over time my body became accustomed to things and started to understand that I wasn’t about to be attacked, but that the attack had already happened. That’s when things got better.

Popping it back in to neutral

It’s important to listen to your body when you’ve been through a grievance. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel tearful, snappy, tired, and angry. It doesn’t mean that you’re not coping.

When someone dies it’s like throwing a stone in to a calm lake and the ripples go on for a while; the healing process is not linear and the ripples will be around for a few months, if not years, afterwards. And that’s okay.

Here are some ways that I calm myself down and get back in to neutral:

  • Breathing exercises and meditation (The Headspace app is really good for these)
  • Reading takes your mind off things and allows you a break from being on-duty.
  • Running and other exercise tricks your mind in to thinking that you really are running from danger and it expels some tension (again, I’m not a doctor, but it works).
  • Sleeping is really important. Your body is going through a lot and you need to rest it. No judgement for tucking in to bed at 20:30 on a Saturday night.
  • Eating is really important. You have to refuel yourself and replenish your stocks; you may not feel like eating, but your body will thank you for it.

Your body is doing its best to look after you, and although it can feel nonsensical sometimes, listening to your instincts and working in unison with yourself will help you settle back in to the serene August lake that you were before this horrible thing happened.

Bethany Fenton

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From denying death to living life after loss

Chloe is 16 years old and lost her grandad in March 2017. Here, she shares her story of living with grief.

My first bereavement was one of the hardest things in my life I’ve ever experienced. After I lost my grandad I was on a downwards spiral. I wouldn’t open up about my emotions and if I did I’d always find it as wrong. I didn’t open up and I just sat hiding away and having the worst temper ever, sometimes I’d be super happy and then I’d change and be angry.

My parents and friends usually got the brunt of my anger and it wasn’t fair. I used to get mad about anything really easily, but my friends and parents were the ones who saw me through it in the end. They stuck by me then and now and I am so thankful for them. At first, grandad’s death felt like something was missing all the time and that grandad was just on holiday.

The scary language of death

I stayed in denial for a long time and then when it did hit me, it was followed with a long stage of depression and anxiety about losing anyone else or me being killed. I was having nightmares about death and I hated the words ‘loss’ so instead I used the word ‘passed’ or ‘left’. Now I can say those words and understand what they are. I hope to one day educate my own children or other people about these terms and help them see that they do not need to be afraid to use them.

It’s amazing how much showing and accepting your emotions can do for you

One day it all got to much and I opened up to the lady that helps run my choir – one of the most amazing and inspirational people in my life. She helped me and put me in touch with a couple who run a mentoring scheme for people up to the age of 18. I had an assessment and they said I did need help and that I’d get it as soon as someone was going to be placed with me.

Luckily it only took two weeks for them to find someone to support me and she’s amazing. She has taught me that how I’m feeling is completely normal, and now for our last few weeks together I’m making something to remember my grandad by. It’s amazing how much showing and accepting your emotions can do for you. This lady is the person that has changed my life and I’m so thankful.

Moving on and making grandad proud

This year I got my GCSE results and I’m sure I made my grandad proud. I got into college and despite losing grandad just six weeks after sitting my Health and Social exam, I passed it with flying colours – one of the happiest moments last year. My Nan has also told me it’s okay and we always talk about him and it’s helped lots too.

The first birthday, Christmas and the first year have been so difficult for me but I remembered the times I’ve had with him. Now I’m helping people I know cope with a death of a loved one. I’m telling them to accept their emotions and remember how proud their loved one is of them.

My message to anyone would be this: there is a light at the end of the tunnel and although the road may be rocky, you’ll make it and be stronger from it. I’m now nearly two years on and I’ve never felt stronger. I’ve learned to accept my emotions and feelings, and never to forget the good times with my grandad.

Chloe Hayes

Want to share your story on Let’s Talk About Loss, as Chloe has? Email us to get in touch. Together, we’re talking through the taboo.