***TRIGGER WARNING*** This post talks in detail about grief and the feelings that spawn from this painful experience.
You find yourself on this page because you’re experiencing grief, and although I’m so glad you found this page, I’m incredibly sorry that you’re here.
I get it. Hopefully it will help to know that you are staring in to the face of a person who knows grief and wrote this page to try and make your journey easier. I know it’s just a screen for you, but the person on the other side is real and understands.
So you’ve met with grief and you’ve noticed that grief likes to stick around. Grief shows up at the New Years party, or the summer BBQ. Grief can’t wait to spring up on you at your most joyous moments. And the memories grief gives you coupled with the twanging pain in the pit of your stomach make it impossible to hold it together. Life is just much heavier. Those 2 seconds in the morning as you wake up are the only moments you get to experience unburdened peace.
You are most definitely NOT alone.
I’m a cryer. But you might go to the gym, visit a friend, bake a cake, listen to a vinyl album, watch a film, pop out shopping….or maybe you’re just like me, and you need to FEEL it for reasons you don’t understand. Whatever stage you’re at, whatever you grieve for…
I get it.
We are the ones CARRYING the grief. Cradling the pain and worry for something or someone that is no longer with us. Maybe you struggle to show or discuss it. Maybe you’re desperate to discuss it but don’t know where to go. It’s new to you and you feel like you haven’t found someone who listens or understands. The only other version I know is experiencing TOO MUCH grief noise. You want it to stop and get a break from your journey on the grief train. Too many people, too many opinions, no way of it stopping until eventually….
There are many of these ‘grief scenarios’ and the ONLY thing I know for certain is that none of the emotions felt are wrong. None of them. We just all have to manage in different ways, and the way we obtain and engage with support needs to be just as flexible.
I had a conversation recently where just two of us pondered the question “What is best? To have time to say goodbye, or for a sudden unprepared loss?”. We both had experience of each, we both had feelings in favour of each and we both had feelings against each. It’s a complex question and the few people who have shared their grief with me often wish they’d had the option they weren’t given. It is, without a doubt, an impossible riddle.
***TRIGGER WARNING*** Discussion of cancer and mortality
With 10 years of retrospect available, when I think about my Mum passing, I’m now glad we knew about the cancer and had 9 months of love and new memories before she left me behind. The 9 months were often difficult and it’s taken me years to see a fraction of positivity in that section of my life. I’m sat typing these words in a safe space right now, but I still feel a gut-wrenching sadness that I have to talk about her in the past tence.
I’m sure many of you can relate to that feeling.
My own poor mental health journey has spawned from my multiple experiences of death. For someone with no siblings and no wider family, I have somehow ended up with what feels like a heavy burden of multiple griefs, multiple sadness and multiple memories. When all of that was swirled, smooshed and squeezed together it became the difficulty I live with today. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and hopefully some of it will help or resonate with other people living the grief journey, at whatever stage.
Maybe it will help you?
***ADVICE*** If you want to skip the stories and opinions, i tot ally understand. There is advice at the bottom of the page. Places to go and links to websites are waiting for you. Just scroll straight down.
Not everything I mention or suggest here will actually be my own memories, but for privacy I’ll narrate it all as myself and omit any personal information.
***TRIGGER WARNING*** More talk of Grief will follow…
Before I dive right in and give as much information as I can bear to reveal and bake as many honest grief biscuits as my oven will allow, I will start by saying the one thing I know to be true of every ‘Grief Encounter’;-
Every grief is different, every period of time spent on each stage is different, every survival method is different, every style of support that works is different, every circumstance is different, every death is different, every PERSON is different.
There is no right or wrong way of managing grief.
Grief quotes of the famous part 1…
“I have learned that mourning someone, mourning, is personal. Mourning is individual and experiencing your own journey is what can lead to healing. This is different from someone else’s journey. The most important thing you can do to help another when they are in mourning is to allow them to live it and not complicate it with yours. That’s my experience.”John Travolta following the death of his wife, Kelly Preston, Esquire Spain Magazine, 2021
John Travolta didn’t want anyone to compare his grief, judging by this quote. He needed his mourning to be uncomplicated. I think I want that too, but I’ve found it hard to achieve.
Because it hurts.
Death. Why does it hurt so much?
If you want to care, like, enjoy, smile, love, hug, kiss…if you want to do anything that involves an emotion, expect to pay the price of mourning when it disappears or leaves.
That’s a harsh way of looking at things, but it’s true. Death and taxes, as they say. The only certain things. So we all have to live with the horrible fact that one way or another, death will find us. And when she does, she’ll leave a negative feeling, she’ll leave pain, she’ll leave questions. She’ll leave you with Grief. What that negative feeling is, the level of pain, the difficulty understanding, depends entirely on the person feeling it.
My first REAL grief was my Mum (as i mentioned earlier). She was in her 50’s when we found out and it was already too late. She had cancer and it had spread. She immediately started chemo and radiotherapy and it destroyed her body. Hairloss, thin skin, pain all over, bleeding non-stop, weak nails, eyelashes gone, tiredness. As if cancer wasn’t bad enough – it has to make patients feel terrible too.
My grief started at that moment – the moment I found out. And almost instantly, the person my mum had been prior to that second was now gone. She wasn’t the mum I’d complain to, or gossip with. She wan’t the mum whose calls I missed because I was busy with a social life, she wasn’t the mum who lived 200 miles away and I only saw once every few months. (BTW, saying all this feels awful, because even now, I realise I was a terrible daughter prior to The Big C, and I’ve never made my peace with it). And relentless grief hasn’t stopped since. That was 12 years ago.
What does it feel like? For me its been an ever changing feeling. When I found out mum was terminally ill my focus on life changed and I did everything I could to be with her, by her side, as often as possible. I think this is a situation that happens for many children, friends and relatives of a terminally ill person. You drop everything to help, to raise a smile, to get rid of their concerns. It means you feel useful, you’re busy, you’re distracted and you’re helping. So all the time I was doing that, I wasn’t focussing on how long we had left. I was trying desperately to ignore the pain inside and my fear of the future.
My life stopped mattering (despite Mums protestations). I dropped it all in an instant. I wish I’d done it sooner.
But I was in pain. I lost sight of myself and moved on to trying desperately to be a great daughter and thank her for the life she’d given me (without saying a word about it). The pain of all this was real. It was bashing my brain and bruising my body.
She went downhill suddenly and stopped being…well without revealing painful details I can’t manage…she stopped being Mum. The decision was made to move her in to hospice care. I moved in with her because I didn’t know what else to do.
Two weeks later she was gone.
Then I couldn’t ignore it any more. The feelings, scars and agony kicked in, rushing over me like a tidal wave and forcing the oxygen in my lungs to disappate with no warning. I’ve been suffocating ever since.
That’s my pain. I need to stop there because I feel it’s too self centered.
But I hope you understand this is my virtual way of trying to shake you by the hand and say “I understand”. You can’t know that through a screen without at least some honesty on my part, so there it is.
I’ve had several other griefs. Big ones. But lots of information about that exists in my blog. You’re welcome to look there if you want to know more, but again, if you’re done with my stories that’s totally understandable and absolutely fine.
I look at others and the grief they’ve had, people who gave me the privilege of telling me their own tourtuous stories and their personal pain. It’s difficult not to compare when you are trying to help others, but it’s a simple mistake I think everyone makes. When I try and listen and leave my stupid self-centered version of me behind, I hear many different translations of pain. Some people have described it to me as…
- Like a rock that the grief places inside you. It’s heavy and difficult to function with. You drag it around and it makes you feel sad and hopeless. But gradually the stone gets smaller until one day the weight of it is managable and you find a way to live around it, whilst still remembering it’s there and what it means to you.
- Like a soap opera, with multiple storylines happening at once. It’s hard to keep up with and you’ve been thrown in to the story with no time to prepare. You have to learn the different storylines and understand them really well before you can move to the next episode. The plot is always hectic and overwhelming and it includes the life and death of the person you grieve. Sometimes you don’t want to be part of it, but you have no choice.
- Like the start of a new life, because the old one is gone and the ache that losing it has caused won’t go away. The ache is part of the ‘new you’. You are grieving, when you lost this person, the old you travelled away with them. You are broken. Your new life is greyer or empty because you’ve lost something so precious and a love and/or care that is so important, so profound, is now one-sided. You are different.
The person who said this quote was like me, decades had passed and they continue to struggle.
It hurts because we care.
Why am I finding it so hard when ‘Karen‘ finds it so easy?
Let me tell you something – if ‘Karen’ seems to be managing her grief like a walk in the park, the chances are that she has a tidal wave of hidden emotion in the pit of her stomach. For some reason ‘Karen’ doesn’t want to talk about it…and, to be honest, that’s fine for her because that’s her coping mechanism. Everyone has a different way of managing, and Karen isn’t bad for making it look easy.
When we have to mourn the loss of someone or something we love, it creates a longing for clearer memories, for questions that are unanswered, for love that wasn’t shown enough, for reasons, for hugs, for time. You can feel all or one, but there is no longing for NOTHING.
‘Karen’ might have a therapy session every Friday at 5pm before she goes out and gets drunk with the girls. ‘Karen’ may be great at hiding her feelings. ‘Karen’ may be someone who doesn’t like to burden others.
In reality some people prefer to hide it. It’s not a ‘some people hide it BETTER than others’ situation because keeping it ‘hidden’ isn’t always positive.
We spend so much time and resource on projecting the message that we ‘shouldn’t bottle up our feelings’ and ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’. But when we talk about grief, and maybe compare one sister to another about the way they are dealing with the death of their mother, I heard a comment that went something like this…
“Yeah, Sarah seems to be coping really well. Her husband has been supportive. But Chloe? No, she’s struggling to hold it together. You can tell. She looks terrible. She’s been so upset. It’s a shame she can’t hide it as well as Sarah”
There are so many things wrong with that comment that I can barely bring myself to acknowledge them, but the bottom line is…
If you need to sob, then sob
If you want to slob around in joggers because looking prim isn’t on your agenda anymore, then slob out
Lately I’ve been crying in the Bathroom to Adeles songs. If you want a recommendation then ‘Hold On’ will give you tears of sadness and hope in equal measure. The song is heartfelt with a message to keep going because better things lay ahead, just what my mum would have said. You have to ‘keep on keeping on’ in whatever way is healthy for YOU, NOT ‘KAREN’!
Death quotes of the famous part 2…
“Grief is the price we pay for love.”Queen Elizabeth II, in condolence of the 250 british victims of the 9/11 terror attacks
Why do I grieve other things?
A support worker said to me recently that the grief of my parents and children were not the only things I was carrying around with me. She suggested that my reduction in mobility and agoraphobia were causing a grief for the old Steph, a past life that is now over and I’m struggling to let go. The same can happen with a career (a lost job or exam failure), physical ability (such as strength or no longer being able to run) and friendship groups (people who have moved on, giving you a feeling of being left behind).
Losing a pet has the same effect. Countless furry lives around the world, bringing owners comfort that non-pet-owners can never appreciate. It’s always excruciating when it’s their time to leave us. The gap they leave can be just as big and sometimes bigger than that of a human. It’s also just as difficult to fill that hole.
Our pet, a dog, has been with us for nearly 9 years. She has, without question, saved my life. She is probably my main shoulder to cry on. I know that seems bleak, but she knows when I’m struggling and she gives me some licks and sits next to me. On a difficult grief day she offers me her love because somehow she knows she can help.
I dread the day I have to add her passing to my grief cake.
Think about The Queens quote above. Although this speech was aimed at the tragic loss of Brits during the 9/11 terror attacks, the sentiment is the same for mourning anyone or anything.
“Grief is the price we pay for love“.
Grief quotes of the famous part 3…
“I get scared of life without you. The thing is, I’ve always been the kind of person to sugarcoat how I feel. When people asked me how I was, I used to reply that I was great and everything was fine. But now I’m learning to be honest and that if something is wrong I talk about it.”Alexandra Burke, following the death of her mother, Melissa Bell, Hello! Magazine
How do we manage our grief?
If you want to visit a garden once a year and say a prayer and leave flowers, knock yourself out. If you want to spend 30 minutes every day remebering and reminding youself of the past, go for it. If you want to eat a bar of chocolate and cry into a coffee mug, get that kettle on. If you want to go to a hotel for a weekend and have some relaxing time to reflect away from the usual distractions, get on Expedia!
YOU manage YOUR grief the way that works for YOU.
No one can tell you what works. In fact, no one should ever try to force on to you their idea of what works. What works today may be nothing like a solution tomorrow. One friend will have advice that helped, but the next friends advice may seem impossible. The right people to help and support you aren’t always the people around you.
If you have a close knit family (any kind of family) and you can confide in them while feeling safe, understood, supported and comfortable enough to be honest, then talk away. I always say you could consider that your thoughts need to be respected, in a safe space, with the knowledge both you and your feelings will be well looked after. My only real tip.
If your family aren’t the people you can confide in, but you have a best friend who would give anything to support you through your grief even further – confide in the friend.
If silence is what you need. If talking about it has become a pain and emotionally draining leading to tiredness that impacts your mood – close the curtains. Hang on…
But you have to allow the grief to evolve, so you can step away from the darkness you felt and stride confidently forwards to the next stage. And eventually you’ll see that there is a light at the end of the grief tunnel and you should get appropriate support to direct you towards that light.
So if you are at a stage where talking is needed but there is no one around you that you are comfortable to confide in (and it doesn’t matter why) or if you are just on your own with it…there are some incredible organisations waiting to help you.
Note – these organisations are in the UK
Cruse Bereavement Support– Cruse say that “Grief can be overwhelming – you don’t have to deal with it alone” and that is exactly where they fit in. Any grief, for any reason, for people who need to talk in any way, they are on the end of the phone. They also run local counsilling support sessions as well as a helpline and incredibly useful website. As someone that has used their service in the past, I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The Good Grief Trust – This is a signposting service dedicated to finding people in mourning the correct help for their situation. They say on their website that they provide grievers with “Reassurance, a virtual hand of friendship, and ongoing support.”
Child Bereavement UK – A specific charity helping those who are living through the grief of losing a child as well as helping children themselves to cope with grief at such a young age. They have a freephone helpline on their website as well as lots of information, signposting and support if you aren’t able to talk about things yet.
Mind – Although this is an umbrella charity helping people with all aspects of mental health and wellbeing, their website has a comprehensive grief section here which offers a list of the many bereavement charities in the country so you can find something that feels appropriate for your situation. Besides the bereavement section there is also a plethora of mental illness information on their site and if you are struggling with grief it is very possible it’s having an effect on you mind and emotions too. There is no shame in asking for Mental Health assistance if you feel you might need it. They are a useful place to start.
There are thousands of organisations with people ready to listen to your grief story and try to help you find a way of learning to live positively with it, reducing the strain of the burden, and one day being able to remember well, with less sadness.
Wherever you are on your grief journey, I send you my genuine love and virtual support. The truth is I don’t think anyone finds grief easy. Anyone who tells you it is, might be fighting their own grief-monster.
We all manage in different ways.
Your mental health and wellness through grief is super important.
So love youself and care for yourself. Look for the right help at the right time.
Talk, remember, laugh, cry, love.
Just a short note on the picture…yes I drew this one as well. It’s a homage to my own personal depiction of the first grief I ever understood, the same grief my Mum was hurt by as a toddler…Bambi. I hand drew the whole thing (I never trace or mirror) and placed the 3 characters in a friendly woodland scene. I’m sure many of you share that sadness felt at the critical moment of this film, I hope you like my drawing anyway. 🙂
All my care and positive energy, Steph 💜
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