Personal posts, Well Being & Mental Health

Buckets of ice (on dealing with grief)

Recently, I learned that a friends dad had passed away. Of course I immediately messaged him, reaching out in a way which I hoped would be helpful to him. What he said to me was both honouring and humbling.
“Whatever advice you have I’ll take over anyone else’s”
Those words mean so much. To be able to be there for someone when they’re going through the worst time, and for them to trust me so completely and openly almost brought me to tears. This is what I write my blog for. To let others know they are not alone when going through something terrible. To say that I will stand there next to them, listen, offer advice if they want, and let them know that there’s a future which has happiness in it.
Talking to him made me realise that I’ve never really thought about how I dealt with my own grief. I wasn’t sure what my advice was for others going through similar things, or what to share from my own experience. I have lived through it,  but now is time to reflect, to use my own pain and journey to help others.
When my mum died, I went into what I now realise was a state of shock for several months. The day it happened I cried, and cried, until I was all out of tears, and then had to just get on with it. I had a funeral to organise, having never even been to one before, a flat to pack up, and a life of my own to keep going. I didn’t have time to mope and dwell. I was suddenly an orphan, with no support network, homeless having just broke up with my boyfriend and moved out of the shared house we both lived in, and also completely skint due to the sudden and unexpected trip to Bristol. They say that pain demands to be felt, but in the weeks and months after that horrible day, the main thing demanding my attention was a desire to just be ‘normal’ again.
After the funeral, and a Christmas spent throwing money into my problems to ignore them, I headed back to London and a year of trying to convince everyone (most of all myself) that I was ok. There was drinking, in my room in halls, in friends flats, and countless nights at the student union. There were tears, bad decisions, friendships I pushed close to breaking point, jobs left and plans cancelled. For several months, there was hardly any writing. I lost my creative voice, my passion for writing. I lost my passion for life.
For months I couldn’t sleep properly, plagued with intense fears of dying if I fell asleep, and images of floating in the middle of a cold, dark, vast ocean. I worried that I might die crossing the road, or getting the bus to lectures, or being outside after dark. Staying up all night became a usual occurrence, watching YouTube videos and Netflix until I passed out as the sun was coming up, somehow safer once the dark had left for another day.
I was terrified of dying, but I was also too scared to really live. I didn’t take any risks. In fact, I did the opposite; cutting myself off from friends, staying in my room in my pajamas and emerging only to go out to the student union in the evening. I’m amazed my friends were so patient with me, none of them gave me up as a lost cause entirely, even the ones I unintentionally let down or hurt.
This whole thing went on for about a year, probably longer. By this point, I was convinced that I was fine, and moreover that I had to be as so much time had passed. This is what I call my denial stage. Not about mum being gone, but about my own grieving process. After 2 years, 9 months, and 5 days, I feel like I’ve come a long way from that stage, but the pain isn’t gone, the grieving isn’t over.
Sometimes when I’m doing the best it hits me the hardest. I can be going about my life, completely normal, talking about things as a matter of fact. Then the hundredth time in as many days I have to say ‘when my Mum died’ it’s like a bucket of ice water has been dumped over me. She’s gone, she’s not here any more, and never will be. Just when I’ve got to a point of being quite off hand and normal talking about it, and her, I realise how not-normal it actually is. Most people my age have parents, or at least one parent, or some sort of family around them. I have been through some things which most people can’t even imagine dealing with, and I’m still standing here, moving forward, living. Sometimes I think the only thing which allowed me to do that, at least when I was in the midst of it, was to be totally oblivious to how messed up it was.
Among friends who have lost a close family member, or been carers, or had other similar stuff in their lives, there’s a shared dark humour. The response to ‘your mum’ jokes is usually deadpan, followed by laughter. Talk of people falling out with their parents met with ‘at least you still have parents’. It’s a coping mechanism, and it gets me through some days, when I want to call her and tell her some good news, or ask her a question I never got to ask.
The truth is, I don’t really have any advice. My grief is still a work in progress, and it always will be. I’m never going to stop missing her, she’s never going to stop being a hole in my life that can’t be filled. There’s always going to be days when I wish beyond hope and reason that she was still here, and I know that every big milestone, every happy occasion will be edged with a shadow that I do my best to turn away from.
The ways of ‘dealing’ with it are imperfect, inconsistent, and often conflicting. Be mad, be sad, be grateful for the time I had. Cry, or don’t. Remember a happy memory, imagine one that will never be. Surround myself with friends, my chosen family, or give myself time to be completely alone. Write, lots. Get drunk, eat cake, go for a run, take a shower. Let everything remind me of her, or avoid the things that do.
I am about to start reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and I already know that it is going to be a very important book for me. I know there is no prescriptive answer to loss, no instructions for grief. But the thing I’ve learned is that having connections with other people, knowing that you are not, actually, alone after all, and hearing the things you have been feeling said in ways which you couldn’t quite say, is an important part of the process.
In the week after Mum died, I think it was actually the day after (but that time is quite blurry) I wrote a poem, which I later read at her funeral.
Whispers of The Universe

We are but whispers

in the roar of the universe.

Puffs of smoke

across the stars and the sun

and we spin with the earth.

But then we stop,

and the world keeps on

turning.

We are specks of dust

on the hands of time

a blip in the void

that we call home.

And we spin with the earth.

But then we stop,

and the world keeps on

turning.

We are infinite

in our mortality –

limited only

by a life.

And we spin with the earth.

But then we stop,

and the world keeps on

turning.

We are all memories

inside somebody’s mind.

A laugh and a smile

and a teardrop.

And we spin with the earth.

But then we stop,

and the world keeps on

turning.

I will never be ‘over’ losing my Mum, I will never feel OK that I became an orphan at 21. But that’s part of me now, and I know she would be proud of just how far I’ve come. If I can help anyone in any way with what I’ve been through, then at least it wasn’t all for nothing.

4 thoughts on “Buckets of ice (on dealing with grief)”

  1. Jenny you’ve been amazing, a real credit to your mum and she would have been so proud. Your mum is all around, she’s part of you and always will be. When you feel sad, go to that happy place where you and your mum shared a happy moment. As long as you remember her memory lives on.

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  2. Hi,

    I just wanted to let you know that everything you have said mirrors my life and it makes me feel better. My mum died last year (I was 23) and I’m still working out how to get back to my normality. Thankyou for writing this, I hope someday I can help someone else too.x

    Like

    1. So sorry to hear about your loss, though I know that doesn’t really mean much.
      I think you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ because nothing is the same. But that’s ok, and after a while, you’ll find a new kind of normal that is bearable for you.
      Sending love and wishes xx

      Like

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