You don’t have to suffer in silence; Talk!

In this blog, Ann describes her experiences of grief ten years apart and the differences in both her approach and the support available. This time around, she’s found a number of support groups which have helped her to talk about her grief.

At 14 I lost my Mum – pain and silence. At 24 I lost my brother – more pain, less silence.

Putting on a brave face

My brother and I were raised by loving Irish parents. Just like most people 10-20 years ago, we never spoke about our feelings. We put on brave faces and got through life’s struggles… including the biggest heartache of all.

My Mum was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when I was in primary school. We were grateful when Mum got through it and had the all clear for a few years. Unfortunately, it resurfaced and was terminal. I tried hard not to let Mum know how scared I was, so I put on a brave face.

A few months after re-diagnosis she took a turn for the worst and so began a world of pain, darkness, isolation and grief.

There is no rule book for loss. I didn’t know what was acceptable to feel or do. Mum was strongly focused on my schooling. So, what do you do when your loving, but hard working, Mum passes away? You go back to school the next day.

Suffering in silence

From then on, we continued as a family of three. All struggling inside, but not really talking; doing what we could in order to keep afloat. Inside I blamed myself, like most children do at that age when everything revolves around you. I didn’t realise the impact that would have in years to come.

All the while my grades started dropping, I felt overwhelmingly responsible for everyone else’s wellbeing but also felt so alone. My family and friends were definitely there for me, but I didn’t know how to open up. The closest person to me had been taken away just as I had started to navigate who I was.

A few years later, I left home for University, where I realised the years of suppressing my grief, had manifested itself into my own anxiety. I searched for support but there wasn’t much, or the support didn’t last very long. After eight years or so, I started to believe I had come out the ‘other end’ but then came part two.

Part Two

I remember the phone call from my brother so clearly; he had cancer, but he thought it was going to be okay. Over the next few short years it went from curable, to controllable, to terminal.

This time we did things a little bit different. We made that visit to Ireland one last time, we said our “sorry’s”, “I love you’s” and “goodbyes”. My brother had clearly noticed the things that would have helped him with Mum’s passing and planned those for us. He insisted on taking photos, he got me talking to his hospice counsellor, and then the most incredible thing; he wrote us letters to open after he passed that I can treasure forever.

Since his passing, it’s not been easy at all but I definitely haven’t suffered in as much silence. I continue to talk to a counsellor and I try to listen to what I need and not what I think I should be doing or feeling. Ten years had passed since last searching for support and this time around there was a lot more out there.

Seeking support

I found an online sibling support group through the Compassionate Friends Charity. This opened up a supportive world to me of people who had been through something similar. It created a language I could use to describe how I was feeling.

Through this group I saw GrabLife by AtALoss. GrabLife is an activity weekend for young people who have been bereaved. I met amazing people who talked so openly about grief.

Finally, I discovered Let’s Talk About Loss and attended a fabulous meet up group that I can now continue to attend once a month.

Cancer and grief are a big part of my life and they previously had no outlet. These groups have given me a space and a time out from pretending I’m okay. Grief is isolating enough when you can talk to people about it so don’t stay silent. Talk in the way that suits you best and if you aren’t sure about it, give it a go, it might just help!

Ann O’Malley

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The evolution and repetition of grief: a reflective account

In this blog, Katie talks about grief being a personal journey that evolves, repeats and grows with you. She reflects on her own story and how she has taken control of her grief so it no longer defines her. Together, we’re talking through the taboos of loss and death. Get in touch to share your story.

My dad died when I was 9 and my mum died when I was 21 and this was not the narrative I imagined. Grief is a personal journey that evolves, repeats and grows with you. Like a never ending pass the parcel, wrapped up in papers of emotion and bounded by a suffocating cellotape. As you slowly unwrap the tape and release the emotion, you find yourself faced with different unravelling emotion, whilst you just want the game to stop.

Before my mum died, I was at University in Edinburgh, living my best life and discovering a new city 400 miles away from home. I remember my mum saying cancer would not stop her attending my graduation, but sadly I had to leave my studies during my second year. Life was tough, whilst my friends graduated, I was getting used to life as an orphan.

Feeling stuck

Whilst my dad’s death taught me to embrace life, my mum’s death was dictating my opportunities. I spent many years trying to create a happy narrative, despite having respectable jobs and a life that was moving on, I felt stuck. I was resentful and angry with my circumstances.  

It wasn’t until I married Jak, that I realised despite our wonderful marriage, our beautiful home, respectable jobs and fantastic holidays, none of this was fulfilling the life that my mum’s death denied me.  I came to realise that fulfilment and satisfaction come from within.

Taking control of my future

I spent so long living in the past that I was never catching up with the present. I decided to no longer let my past dictate my future. Grief consumed me, it dictated my emotions and led my decisions. Whilst desperately trying to create a happy narrative, I lost myself in the story.

The optimist in me will do anything but admit that life has been tragic, but I needed to accept my past in order to move forward. It’s a scary decision to stop the conveyor belt of life and change the direction you travel in but it’s one I urge you to do.

2018; 19 years after my dad died, 7 years after my mum died and 10 years after I initially went to University, I’ve changed the direction of my life and no longer feel like a product of my circumstances. I’m in control again and grief doesn’t define me. I’m a proud first year Occupational Therapy Student at UEA.  

Doing it for me

In three years, it will be graduation day, when friends are surrounded by loving parents and despite it being another reminder that mine are absent, I can’t wait!  A scene I once avoided is the exact scene I’m longing for.  I’m doing this for me, and that is something special.

Katie Mansi

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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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