When thinking of what to write for my first post, I had a few ideas swimming around in my head.
I felt like I wanted to write about something more personal, something that I can share with you all that will let you know a bit more about me. I want to write about something which I’m coping with at the moment, and its something that I feel in society we still struggle to speak about. It’s loss, and the grief that follows.
We will all experience loss and grief at some point in our lives, its all a part of the deal of life. But for some reason with death, we still struggle to speak about it. Even just writing the word “death” gives me a reaction, I feel like I shouldn’t say it and I feel bad. When having a conversation with someone and it gets mentioned that they have just had a bereavement, it can make us feel awkward, and unsure of what to say.
Likewise, if you have just lost someone, it can be hard to express how you feel, either as you find it too upsetting, or you anticipate the awkwardness that will follow in the conversation from mentioning it, and many find it easier to just lock away the grief and try to move forward.
When I recently lost someone close to me I searched the internet, trying to find something to read that would help me understand what I was feeling, and to see if anyone else felt the same. I mostly came across the articles about the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) and while it was interesting to read about them, I didn’t feel like they fully explained how I was feeling at the time. So I thought why not write down my personal experiences with grief and loss, and share what I’ve learned and whats helped me through? I hope in sharing these experiences it can help you if you are grieving too, and if you have never lost someone close to you I hope I can help you understand how it feels.
My first experience of grief came when my Dad passed away. I was 14 years old, and my biggest concern was how to get my mum to let me straighten my hair (I finally won the battle at 16 and inevitably ended up damaging my curls. Shock! Mum was right).
It was a Friday morning and I was getting ready for school when Mum came into the room. Straight away I knew something was wrong. Her face was all puffy and teary, and my heart dropped down into my stomach.
As she delivered the news that my Dad had died in the night due to heart failure, my world exploded. I felt like I couldn’t see or hear, and in that moment time seemed to stop. I was in shock. He was only 48.
As time passed, after the funeral and the well wishes had started to die down, I had to deal with the hardest part. That this was it, he wasn’t coming back. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that he was no longer here, which I think is the hardest part with grief.
Now while that might sound obvious, I feel that until you lose someone who is such a large part of your life, you just cannot comprehend how it feels to not be able to see or speak to that person. It changes your whole world. Living in this age where everything is so accessible to us, where we can have whatever we want at the click of a button, we still cannot get to that person. Its frustrating, weird, heartbreaking.
Another fact I found hard to face was that life moves on. You want to stay in the time you had with them forever, but unfortunately you cannot. (Unless they maybe invent time machines, I wish they would hurry up with that!) I missed my Dad every day and I of course still do, but when he died I was in some of the most transitional years of my life, leaving secondary school, starting to go out with my friends, going on girls holidays, and then starting at dance college. Soon I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and I was in my early twenties.
Life was carrying on whether I wanted it to or not and I just had to go with it. And while it hurt and I missed him, I do also have some amazing memories from those years.
Then when I was 24 the unbelievable happened. My best friend of nearly 20 years suddenly passed away. I never thought I would lose a friend, especially someone so close to me, more like a sister.
It doesn’t feel natural or right for a young person to pass and I am still in disbelief. I just never ever thought that would ever happen. So once again I am dealing with a sudden loss, and the grief that comes with it. It has now been over a year, and while it still feels raw and fresh and like no time has passed at all, here is what I’ve learnt along the way, and whats helped me through.
You may feel numb for a long time.
When my friend passed, in the first week after it happened I was in a cycle of crying, talking about her, not talking at all, sharing memories and trying to understand why. Why?! It felt like the grief was all around me, consuming me. I was lost in it. I couldn’t eat or sleep.
It was devastating and exhausting but it also felt like that was what I should have been doing in that time, I felt like my friend deserved all of my heartbreak and tears, and the sleepless nights. Then the following Monday, I had to go back to work, and there was a shift. It almost felt like nothing had happened. The feelings got buried whilst I had to get on with the job and after that I was very numb for a long time. I struggled to cry about it, and when I tried to think of memories of me and her together, there was a blank space in my head. I had blocked them, as they were too painful.
I was worried at the time, as I’m usually very open with how I feel and am able to show my emotions, but I felt like a robot. Would I be this numb robot forever? Is this my new personality? I also felt guilty. Would people see me out, trying to still do things, and think I didn’t care? That I had gotten over it? I had read about the denial stage online but this seemed to be going on much longer than expected.
The mind is so powerful, and if you are feeling like this, it’s okay. I now know that its our minds way of protecting us from the full brunt of the loss, which can be too much to bear. If a lot of time has passed and you are still struggling to face the loss, you can try and seek therapy, which I have now done.
I’ve started Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as I want to start to face it, and even though I hadn’t necessarily been able to access my emotions, I had felt the affect of them in other ways; feeling tired all the time, and noticing that my anxiety about random things was starting to get worse.
I have also had strange, vivid dreams, which would make me feel weird all day. I’m still in the early stages of the therapy, but already I can feel that being active about the situation, and trying to work through the feelings has made me feel more calm, like I’m taking back control.
Talking about your feelings can really help.
Which brings me to my next point. It helped me so much to just talk about how I felt. I know we’re always told to do that, and for some people sharing their emotions is much harder for them than for others, especially it seems for men. In society guys are taught to “man up” and just get on with it but I think we are starting to see that this approach does not work and with male suicide rates higher than ever, we need change.
It can be scary to address your feelings but just saying the words out loud can take the weight and power out of the negative thoughts and make them easier to manage. I’m lucky that I have a very close group of friends that I can talk to and as we were all going through this together, I just wanted to be around them all the time.
It helped to be with people that understood. I also understand that you may be in a position where you don’t have friends you feel you can talk to, but if you can find someone you trust to tell how you’re feeling, it can make the grief a little easier to bear.
Talking to a therapist has been positive for me, as sometimes with my friends I would be hesitant to say things in case they were having a good day and I upset them, or made them feel negative and anxious. Talking to someone with no emotional connection and being able to get everything out of my brain has been a release.
You may not remember the first year after.
It’s bizarre but I literally cannot remember the last year. When I look at pictures taken in 2018, I feel like they are from another year, before everything happened. My memory has been shocking, I would see people I have known for years and could not for the life of me remember their name (sorry if I’ve had a blank look on my face when you’ve said hi to me!) I turned 25 just after it all happened, and when I turned 26 at the end of 2018 I felt like I was just turning 25, like I had missed a year of my life. It’s the shock and while it can be really unsettling I know that a lot of my friends have felt like this too, so if you are feeling like it don’t worry, join the club!
Find a way to calm yourself.
Of course, when you are deep in the feelings of grief it’s not so easy to distract yourself, and it is healthy to allow yourself to feel the emotions, to start to process it all.
In the times when I would start to have negative thoughts, and find it hard to sleep or relax, I would try to find something to calm me. In the beginning, I re-read the whole 7 Harry Potter books from start to finish in the space of about 2 months (yes I’m a Harry Potter geek and proud of it).
Having someone else’s voice in my head and reading their story allowed me to escape to a different world. (confession, I also created a Pottermore account, found out that I am a Hufflepuff and got assigned a wand and a Patronus)
Also, having HAYU, the reality TV app, on my phone has been amazing. I find that its at night time when the anxious thoughts can start to creep in, so in bed I re-watched all six seasons of Jersey Shore.
Everyone is different. Some people like to paint or listen to music (Jhene Aiko is who I always go to) or maybe you like to listen to podcasts. You feel like you’re just laughing about with your mates when you listen to them. If you want to listen to something more related to grief, the GriefCast with Cariad Lloyd is lovely.
Another method I use to help me calm my mind are the mindfulness meditation videos on YouTube. A friend recommended them to me and they have become a part of my routine. You may feel a bit silly at first if you have never done a meditation, and you may already be rolling your eyes at the thought of it but if you give it a go and allow yourself to relax and visualize what they say, it’s great for bringing you back to the moment and to stop all the excessive noise in your head.
Be kind to yourself.
While we’re on the subject of mindfulness, something I’ve been working on recently is how I speak to myself. In this first year of adjusting to this strange new life without my friend, I would find myself stressing about my career, my looks, how much money I was making – feeling like a failure,talking to myself in a way that I never would to someone else.
Why? The last thing you need when your heart is broken is to feel like your being bullied by your own mind. I think for me it came from feeling out of control, like my life was out of my hands.
When something so shocking happens it does feel like everything you knew was wrong, it’s unsettling and shakes your confidence.
I don’t want to feel like that and I realised it starts with how I speak to myself. So now when I get those thoughts, I write down a list of things that I’m proud of myself for. It could be something I’m proud of in my life so far, or something small, even just that I’m making the effort to write the list! It’s simple but reading good things about myself would change my mood and help silence the rubbish in my head.
I also like to make a to-do list, and tick of the list as I go. Again its very simple but it helps you to see what you’ve accomplished in the day, and it’s really satisfying ticking off the list.
Sometimes you just need to feel like shit.
Now it’s all well and good me writing these points, but in reality it’s not as easy as that. There are days when I wanna tell the lists to piss off. That’s okay. Its not going to be all positivity and “being strong”, its natural to have down days!
Allow yourself the day, acknowledge that you just need to be in your feelings, and remember that the next day is a new day. I actually think strength comes from that, from being aware of what you need, and allowing yourself the space to just be.
This is just my experience so far, I’m not healed and I’m not an expert. I still can’t really believe it’s all happened and I haven’t accepted it.
One thing that people say to comfort you is “they will always be with you” or “you will always have the memories”. While this is true and a beautiful sentiment, it can be hard to hear in the beginning, or even a long time after.
I don’t want them in the air around me, I want them physically here! Its been 12 years since my Dad passed away and I suppose I am more at peace with it. I don’t like it, or accept it but I have learned how to live with it.
I can talk about my Dad and laugh at the memories and while I still get sad about it, I’m able to live my life. This gives me hope that eventually I will be the same with my friend.
I’m just trying to trust the process, understand that it all takes time and hopefully reach a point where I can be happy that I can feel her around me and think of our thousands of memories and smile, without feeling angry and hurt. After all, life is both horrible and amazing and you just have to try and get back up and carry on and hope that one day we will all be reunited.
This article was originally published on Georgia’s platform, Love From Georgia.
Read more articles about grief like this in our Memory Box feature.