There’s no rulebook for grief, no clear guidance to navigating you through the hazy maze that follows the loss of a loved one. This is my personal experience of grief. I hope it helps you in your own journey, or in supporting that of someone you treasure.
If I close my eyes and concentrate I can take myself back. I can hear the grandfather clock ticking in the hallway, the way the floor felt under my bare feet. The exact layout of my mum’s office, the pictures hanging on the wall, the view out of the window across the garden… If I close my eyes and really focus hard enough, it’s almost like none of this ever happened.
But it did.
16 months ago I received the phone call I never wanted to hear. My mum was gone. Without warning, I found myself thrown into a whole new reality that, quite simply, I didn’t know how to deal with. Nor did I want to.
There’s no rulebook for dealing with grief, no way of knowing what’s normal or what to expect. All too often we find ourselves navigating blind, progressing one moment and falling back the next. Whilst the experience of grief is different for everybody, this here is my story.
My instant response was shock. Pure disbelief at what had happened.
For the first time in my life I found myself losing control of my body. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t even think straight let alone figure out what to do. When I received the news I was walking through a park in Cardiff, on the way to catch a bus back to London after my friend’s birthday party. It was through the kindness of strangers stopping to help me, and M and my dad’s coordination, that I got back to my dad’s house.
Those first few days were, quite simply, bizarre. Death throws you into a whole new system of bureaucracy that nobody every really seems to talk about. We had to get a death certificate, the appropriate permits, plan a funeral and wake, tell the relevant people and plenty more. All this whilst trying to process what the hell had just happened.
The Same, But Different
Somehow, I was back in the office just seven days later (I’d also done some work from home inbetween funeral planning). I think this was a sign of my desperation for some form of normality, some form of routine. It was a weird sensation, with everything feeling so totally different whilst looking completely the same.
I’m eternally grateful for the silent thoughtfulness of friends during that time. For instance, one friend came round to cook me dinner after my first day back in the office, whilst others met me and M for a walk shortly after the news broke. It’s funny how the simplest acts can mean so much. Just to have someone there, talking about anything and everything, can be so incredibly comforting.
A New Kind of Loss
On the flip side, I was surprised by the reactions of some friends. I think some people struggle with what to say and shy away from situations that may make them feel uncomfortable. At the time I really struggled to comprehend this, I felt let down and like I’d lost even more. I’d lost my trust in those handful of people.
I remember one friend messaging me to say how sorry she was, and that she didn’t know what to say. And that was enough. Just to know that she was there, offering her thoughts and support, was all that she could do and all that I needed. It really can be that simple.
The Daily Rollercoaster
As I tried to settle back into London life, I found myself facing a rollercoaster of emotions each day. For moments I would forget what had happened and, for a moment, normalcy resumed itself. Then, like a tonne of bricks crashing down on me, I would remember my new reality and feel pangs of guilt for having dared forget, even just for a moment.
Guilt was an emotion that I felt all too frequently during this time. I still do sometimes. Guilt and regret at words left unsaid, not being the person that I perhaps ought to have been. I wished that I could go back in time, just for one more day together.
I’d often come home and just break down. I’d walk through the door and crumble into M’s arms. Words can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am to have had him during that time. He was, and still is, my rock who picked me back up and pieced me back together time and time again.
Remembering How To Laugh
I remember the first time I laughed again. Truly laughed, belly aching, eyes watering, filled with joy.
My dear cousin and I had gone to see the new Bridget Jones movie and for a few hours I was transported into Bridget’s world. It was pure escapism and just what I needed. I still listen to that soundtrack now when I need a little boost, just to remember that moment.
Tiredness was probably the feeling that continued the longest. Some days, most days at the beginning to be honest, getting up, getting dressed, going to work and coming home again felt enough of a struggle. Even now, over a year on, I’m only just starting to get back into some form of fitness routine. Before, this felt nigh on impossible.
I’d often find myself feeling overwhelmed with indecision. What to eat, where to go, what to do. These seemed like impossible questions to answer. I felt lost and so confused. It seemed to me as though everybody else had moved on and forgotten what had happened, whilst I was still very much in the thick of it.
When I asked my counsellor about it all she explained my feelings so perfectly. “You’re carrying a backpack filled with emotions around with you” she told me, “it’s no wonder you’re exhausted”. And so acceptance became a new priority of mine. I’m still working to accept these feelings when they arise, it’s a work in progress but taking a more accepting approach certainly helps.
The last year or so has been the hardest of my 26 years so far, an experience that I was never prepared for and one that I hope never to have to go through again. But, at the same time, I can’t help but feel proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve learnt a lot and most definitely grown as a person, cliché though it may sound.
I’ve now gotten to the point where I can remember my mum without the pain of the early days. I can sit with my memories and observe them, and still feel close to her. Some days are still difficult and I sometimes find my grief bubbling up when I don’t expect it to. But, most of all, I know that it’s okay and that I will be okay too.