Joy & laughter, sadness & pain: Coming to terms with the loss of both parents

In this blog Sarah describes the loss of both parents and the loneliness that can follow.

I screamed like I have never screamed before

I had just finished playing a netball match when I had a missed call from my sister. When I called back, she said “Its mum…she’s dead”.

I managed to pull the car over and screamed like I have never screamed before. If I think about it now, I can still hear myself and it’s awful.

My mum, who was 52 years old when she died in March 2014, had an alcohol problem for many years and, over time, as me and my siblings left home, things got worse. Our relationship had its ups and downs due to her illness, however she was such a kind and gentle person who would help anyone out.

Some memories I have with my Mum make me laugh out loud. One year, she dressed up as the Easter Rabbit for my sister’s playgroup. We howled with laughter and had tears running down our faces, I often still think back to this day with happiness. My mum at her best.

“Thanks for being there”

On the 12th June 2016, two days before my 27th birthday, my dad passed away. He was 62 and had early onset dementia and had been unwell for several years.

While there wasn’t the indescribable and unexpected shock I had experienced when my mum died, there was an element of relief for him, but such sadness that this cruel disease had taken him so young. Why him, such a big character and life and soul of the party?

When I think of him now, I try to remember the big, tall Welshman that he was. And not the hunched, thin, shell of himself who often became very distressed as the dementia progressed.

My dad would always finish off a phone call by saying “Thanks for being there” and I’m so thankful that he was there for me and was able to see me off to university and see me graduate. I know he was very proud.

The loneliness of pain

Two months after my mum died, I continued with my planned move to Scotland to live with my now husband. I had a new job to move into and it felt like a good distraction from the pain, guilt, sadness and total emptiness that I felt at losing my mum.

In many ways I still continue to use distraction as a way of coping with my loss. I often find myself saying “I’m fine” and powering through the hard days, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day without telling people that I’m not okay.

Occasionally I feel jealous of people who still have their parents and can enjoy family time. I can’t help but feel jealous of friends who can call their mum or dad just to say “How long do I cook this for?” or “My car is making a funny noise”.

However, I find it difficult to speak about my sadness and jealousy. I feel like there is no one else who really understands. It can be a very lonely place to be.

Living between the past and the future

Grief is always there and there isn’t a day that goes past when I don’t think about them both. However, I take comfort that they would have been very proud and somewhere up there are watching over me.

Like my sister, I hope that one day that I will have my own children to love and experience the parent-child relationship once more, from the other side.

Sarah Linklater

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27. Male. Bereaved.

Liam, one of our meet up Hosts in London, has written this piece about his experience of being bereaved at a young age.

This blog is about my personal experience with grief and being a bereaved male in a world that expects us to ‘man up’. I promise to be as honest as possible, and if I can help just one man relate to something and feel less isolated then I have achieved my goal.

Boxing Day, 2011, I got the news that my best friend had cancer. At the age of 20, you never imagine that something like that could happen to your closest friend, and my reaction initially was one of denial. He will recover. He is my best friend. He is too young to die. Isn’t he?

A new reality

After a heroic six year battle, Matt passed away two years ago. You would think that knowing what was coming should have made it easier, but when that day arrives there is nothing that can prepare you for your new reality without that person and their presence in your life.

I have never been married but Matt is my Best Man. A once in a lifetime friendship gave me the privilege of being his best friend for 15 years. We have a great group of friends and I know I speak for us all when I say that his presence is missed every single day. No social occasion has felt quite right since and I don’t think it ever will.

The unpredictability of grief

Grief is a journey and a rollercoaster; one that will never stop. It is different from day to day, week to week and month to month. Sometimes raw and painful, other times lighter and less intense, but one thing that never changes is that it is always there in some capacity. This used to bother me but over time, I’ve learnt to accept it and embrace it.

It is almost two years to the day since Matt died, and needless to say the emotions are still raw and difficult to manage. Although grief is unpredictable, my experience has taught me that time goes a long way towards learning to accept the bad with the good and ride the wave.

There are landmark dates: May (his birthday), September (the date of his death), October (my birthday and his funeral), Christmas and New Years Eve (his diagnosis). Although painful, the inevitable emotions that come with these dates provide something of a much needed cathartic release.

I am personally very guilty of allowing feelings to bottle up and keep them under wraps, and this is not sustainable. 

The pressure to ‘man up’

In society, there is a dangerous pressure on men to ‘man up’. Men shouldn’t get upset. Men shouldn’t cry. Men shouldn’t get depressed.

But we do, and the world hasn’t accepted that yet. Fortunately, these views are (slowly) changing and us men are beginning to fight the stigma, but we are a long way from where we need to be. 

I promised I would be honest. It’s clear that being open and honest is something that I and my fellow bereaved men don’t do enough, because opening up and asking for help is scary. I thought keeping quiet and getting on with life would benefit my relationships with those closest to me. I was wrong. 

Grief changes us, it’s inevitable. In some ways the changes are obvious, in others only my friends and family were able to notice.

I’ve gone weeks at a time barely speaking to anyone. Is it because I don’t want to, or don’t care? Of course not. It’s because of the fear of bringing others down with me and being a burden. If it was as simple as ‘just talk about it’, we might not have half of the problems we currently do with mental health issues in men.

Finding a balance

If there is any advice I can offer to people living the bereaved life: be good to yourself. If you need to lie in until midday at the weekend, do it. If you want to stay at home alone and watch Netflix with ice cream, binge the series and finish the tub.

Everyone has their own happy place. Mine is going for long walks listening to Country music (Matt would never let me hear the end of that one). When your thoughts start to run away with you, take deep breaths, practice mindfulness, do whatever you need to do to ground yourself. It really works.

And talk to someone. Please, please talk to someone. Reach out to those close to you and ask for help. If nothing else you’ll learn who your real friends are.

I’ll finish by sharing one of my favourite quotes which sums it all up beautifully:

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” 

Liam Butcher

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.

My rock, my hero, my confidant

In this blog, Sam writes about her personal experience of grief , the different stages and how she has eventually found a way to move forward and live her loss. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

From the day I was born until the day she left, it was always me and Mum; we did everything together. She was my rock, my hero, my confidant. She brought out the best in me and taught me everything I needed to know – except how to live without her.

In November 2015 my whole world turned upside down when my mum passed away suddenly in hospital. We had no warning, no time for goodbyes. One minute she was here laughing and joking and the next she was gone. In a blink of an eye my life had changed, and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to get through it.

You find strength

I don’t know how, but you find the strength to keep going. Even when you’re crippled with grief you will find strength to make it through each day. Each anniversary that passes, each milestone, you will get through it. You will look back and realise how far you’ve come. You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

Remember it is natural

It is natural to feel guilt following a loss, with all of the what if’s and buts, and all the things you wish you had said. I felt guilty for carrying on living when my mum wasn’t. I felt guilty for all the things my mum will miss, moving in to my first house, my engagement, my wedding. My future children will never meet my Mum, but I will make sure they know everything about her. I will let them know they have the most beautiful guardian angel in heaven. 

You are not alone

Following the death I felt so alone and lost. I had so much love and support around me and couldn’t understand why I felt so isolated in my grief. I took comfort in speaking with people who had experienced similar losses, I reached out to people through Facebook groups and blogs which helped me feel less alone.

Grief lasts as long as love does, forever

Reading books was an outlet for me, to understand grief and to help rationalise my thoughts and feelings. I would encourage you to speak to your family, friends or a therapist, don’t let things build up – you’ll feel better for it. Your support network is there for you, they want to help you, so let them in. 

Allow yourself time

Allowing yourself to grieve is so important. Don’t put a timescale on it, the truth is you will never stop grieving. Grief lasts as long as love does, forever.

In school we are taught the essential skills but who teaches us about grief? Who tells us what to expect and how we should act? Death can be a taboo subject which we are all guilty of avoiding. Let’s face it, no one wants to talk about it but in reality it is something that will affect us all (morbid but true).

Time allows us to heal; it allows us to adjust to our new normal, to come to terms with the loss. You will never get over it but you will learn to live through it.

Moving forward

It’s been three and a half years since my mum passed away and I can say things do get easier. I will always grieve for my mum, I will always miss her, but I have now made it my purpose to live for her. I will live the life she was sadly denied.

My mum gave her everything to me and my sisters; everything she did was to ensure we had the best life. I don’t want all her hard work to be for nothing. She will always be with me, in everything I do. Every single day I have made it my mission to live in her honour. 

My mum gave me life and made me the woman I am today, for that I will continue to make her proud.

Sam George

Enjoyed Sam’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.

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.