Personal posts, Well Being & Mental Health

Death is A Four-Letter Word

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. I’m sure you all know my story by now, and why I started this blog after my Mum’s death in 2012. If you’re new to the blog you can see here, here, or here.

One of the things which I noticed most in the weeks and months following Mum dying is the reactions of other people.

Friends and acquaintances were all quick to tell me to let them know if I needed anything.  I don’t entirely know what that means, as I didn’t really know what I needed during that time, or how to ask for anything. Nonetheless I knew they were well-intentioned. Then there were the reactions from strangers/people I barely knew. I remember one day in January or February, having gone back to uni to try and complete my final year, I was sat in a novel writing class. We were asked to split into small groups and talk about our inspirations/motivations to write. I took a breath and told the people who I’d never really talked to before (my friends were all off that day) that my Mum had inspired me to write. I also mentioned that she had died. One of the girls turned to her friend and said, almost as if I wasn’t there, “oh my god I don’t know what I’d do if my Mum died!”

Yeah, thanks for that…

I spent the rest of the class trying not to cry, sitting quietly in the back of the room. I didn’t go back to that workshop the following week.

In fact, over the next few weeks I slowly stopped going to uni at all, worried about how my classmates would react if I mentioned my Mum, and feeling like I couldn’t cope with interacting with so many people. It turned out to be one of the best things for me to re-do my final year, but at the time I was devastated. I felt so alone, and ended up pretty much shutting myself in my room for a few months watching YouTube videos and sleeping during the day because I was too scared to sleep at night. It was my way of coping at the time, and having a bit of space helped me in some ways, but talking to someone probably would have helped more.

I’d tried to reach out for help and support just after Mum died.

I remember calling my school office at uni the next day, dreading having to tell them this piece of news which still hadn’t really sunk into my brain, but hoping they’d offer some sort of support. I was literally alone travelling to Bristol and trying to figure out what on earth to do next. The woman I spoke to on the phone was dismissive, telling me that I’d have to inform all of my individual lecturers myself. She didn’t ask if I had anyone to be there for me, or tell me about the counselling service. The subject of death clearly made her uncomfortable, as it does for most of us. I don’t blame her really, but it’s not good enough that I was dismissed to fend for myself when I was pretty much at crisis point.

The one certain, uncomfortable truth in life is that we’re all going to die at some point.

I know, it’s icky and weird to think about too much. But the fact we shy away from it means that when somebody experiences a loss they’re woefully unequipped to deal with the grief and emotions that they are hit with. I say hit because bereavement is like being hit in the face with a bucket of iceit’s shocking, it stings, and it can leave you feeling like you’re paralysed. If we make conversation on death a bit more open, we allow grieving people the space to talk, and the knowledge that they don’t have to deal with their grief alone.

In the almost 3 1/2 years since my Mum died, I’ve met many more young people who have lost a parent at a relatively young age.

When you’re a kid you never expect to be without your parents. As you grow up a bit you become aware that some day they will die, but it still seems a distant future event you don’t have to worry about. When they pass away, either after an illness or unexpectedly, whilst you’re still growing up the sense of loss and confusion can be intense. Somebody who was at least partly responsible for raising you, for loving you and supporting you, looking after you when you were ill, and cheering you on when you accomplished stuff, is gone. That’s a pretty life altering thing, especially when you’re still developing and forming as a person. (Let me make it clear that I’m in no way trying to diminish anyone else’s experiences with loss. Each of our grief will look slightly different, and to compare one person’s grief to another is stupid. I’m simply using my personal experiences to share my perspective.) The fact that so many others have gone through similar experiences to me was somewhat comforting, but also made me really sad. If that many people have lost parents (or other family members) at a young age, and we’re still not talking to kids about death then how are they expected to process the situation?

Some people say that death is the last taboo, and I sort of agree.

We will freely talk about a lot of stuff nowadays. There are tons of sex positive/sex education blogs, vlogs, and sites. LGBTQ+ rights are being highlighted more and more. Mental health is slowly becoming a more commonplace conversation topic. The one thing that’s still not talked about that much is dying.

For too long I was afraid to talk to friends about my Mum for fear of making them uncomfortable.

I didn’t want to upset them or weird them out by admitting that I missed her, or sharing memories from when she was alive. Because of this I felt that my grief was something bad that I shouldn’t talk about. I bottled it up, and made a lot of bad decisions because of that. Even to this day I haven’t had counselling or therapy to help me deal with it, though I went through the initial process at the end of last year before I moved away. I shouldn’t have been the one who felt bad or guilty when I was the one going through the hurt. It’s taken me a couple of years to realise that, and for others it could be even longer. I have a friend whose Mum died when they were younger. Almost 10 years on, after suffering a mental breakdown they finally went to the GP and were diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and referred for intensive counselling. They’d felt like they had to hold it in for so long that it caused serious mental and physical damage. It’s not ok.

The entire reason I started my blog, long before I realised it, is that I needed a place to talk about my grief.

I could pour my heart out onto the screen and didn’t feel guilty for sharing with the virtual world in the same way I did face to face. In fact, real world me at that time was using it as a defense mechanism. I’d go out to the student union, get a bit drunk and then proceed to tell almost anyone I talked to that my Mum had died. It was an easy way to get them to back off. I felt like I was too much of a mess for anyone to be my friend, so I pushed everyone away before they could do it to me. This blog was the place where I could actually talk about my feelings, though to be honest for a long time I still held back. This month since re-branding and refocusing I’ve been making a conscious effort to be real, honest, and open with you all (if anyone is even reading!)

If you are going through grief, please know that you’re not alone. 

I know my experience will be different to yours, but I’ve probably had some similar thoughts and feelings. I’ve felt sad on Mother’s Day, and weird around Christmas time. I’ve cried randomly when something reminded me of her. I’ve laughed at a dark joke about the whole thing, because she would have found it funny. It’s ok to laugh. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be really angry. What’s not ok is feeling like you have to keep it all hidden and appear ‘fine’. So let’s create a space where you can talk about it.

Every day is the chance for a fresh start, the rest of your life hasn’t been written yet.

Have a great day,

Jenny

x

2 thoughts on “Death is A Four-Letter Word”

  1. What a brave subject to write about – that must of been an incredibly difficult time for you especially if you weren’t offered support when you needed it most. It’s really great that you want to get death and bereavement talked about more. I know I found writing a great therapy after a bereavement even though no one else has saw what I wrote. I’d love to know if there was anything that anyone did that helped you at the time or helps you now?

    Eleri
    Spameaway.wordpress.com

    Like

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