Let's Talk About Grief...
It was National Grief Awareness Week last week, so I thought we’d change direction a little and talk about something that doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Grief.
Now Christmas is galloping towards us like Rudolf, I'm finding it harder to continue without crippling moments of grief. I am simply, desperately, missing my parents. What makes it worse is I don't know how to talk about it. It’s not that I don't know what to say because at points it's overflowing. It’s awkward, brings down the mood, leaves people shuffling in their chairs, searching rapidly with their eyes for the door.
One night, not feeling able to talk about my grief led to me completely blowing up - not helpful, or attractive. Afterwards, one brave flatmate calmly pointed out, "it's hard to know what to say or do as we can't relate". He’s right. No-one gives you a guide book on how to talk to someone who’s grieving. No-one signposts what your next move should be when they’ve gone from laughing to sobbing at lightning speed. So, after talking to sadly too many of my friend who have lost parents or family members before they're 30 and seeing that I'm not alone in feeling awkward about asking for what we need, I thought I'd write about it here. It's important to note, everyone's grief is different. Even the same person’s grief can be different each time they lose someone. These are just a few that I've felt deeply and my friends have felt the same. I hope that this may help those who know someone grieving but don't know what to say.
Grief Comes in Waves
The month Mum died, I threw myself into to-do lists and practice, I didn't even miss a blog deadline. I didn't really cry that much and tried desperately to just keep going. Somehow pausing to process my loss was just too big a challenge for me, I felt that if I let it in it would swallow me whole. Grief comes in these most ridiculous waves. Some days you're absolutely fine and your grief is not at the forefront of your mind. It doesn't mean you're over it, cold or unfeeling, it's just that life that particular day or week can proceed as normal. Then just like that, you can fall apart with no warning and in the strangest places. Loading the dishwasher has resulted in many an uncontrollable sob. We have very little control over where we are in the waves. Take us as we come, we know we’re unpredictable and we absolutely know it’s not your job to make it all better, we’re absolutely not expecting you to. But when we’re having a good day and we’re laughing and joking, please don't take our emotions as a measure of how much the person meant to us.
You Don't Have to Say Anything
"Are you okay"
“Yeah, I’m great thank you!” – Crap, did that make me sound unfeeling about my Mum?
This is me, every time I’m asked. I’ve realised my response to that question is very automatic and saying “I’m fine” makes for an easier conversation. In truth, when I am really riding a low grief wave, there's really not much to say. The cause is never changing. "I miss my Mum". Usually saying that brings me to tears but what on earth are you supposed to do with that? No words can make that statement better and frankly is bloody awkward! So instead, (if you're comfortable) just wrap your arms around me, or hold my hand and don't say anything*. If that doesn't feel right, pop the kettle on. I stand by the claim that tea fixes everything, especially if its Yorkshire! *Now, some people really don't like being touched but chances are, you know who those friends are already so if in doubt, go for the supportive hand on the back.
Now this is where I hear a chorus of my friends screaming at the screen saying "we do but you don't reply"... True... But let me explain. If I'm fine, I reply. If I can't reply chances are, I just can't bring myself to do it. But to see your name flash up on my screen means the world to me, it reminds me I'm not on my own and that you're thinking of me. Speaking to my friends, this has been something we all agree on. Knowing that there are people thinking about us, letting us know they're there is a huge support.
It's Okay to Bitch About Your Parents
This one is a common sticky wicket. You're pissed off at something they’ve done and before you know it you've offloaded then; you stop dead in your tracks (if you'll pardon the pun). You've just remembered your talking to the friend who's just lost her parents, how insensitive. Wrong! Personally, for me I love it. You ranting about your parents reminds me how infuriating they can be some times. Grief makes everything very rose-tinted. My teenage years were filled with rows with my Mum. I could be a bitch. Life was obviously, totally unfair and I’m surprised she put up with my mood swings! But at the end of the day, she was the person I could tell everything to, partly because of how ugly she’d seen me and she’d never left. So never feel guilty for ranting, I think it’s amazing!
It's Not A Competition!
Now in fairness this rarely happens but it’s been a unanimous thorn in our sides. We've all had a tough year. Especially musicians. We've lost so much work and it's really taken its toll on us all. If you're down, if you're worried about work, sad about a breakup or are struggling to stay positive, I want to be there for you. My friends mean more than I can say and to help them when they’re down is what I really want to do. It's on the odd occasion when someone speaks to you like you couldn't possibly understand how awful their life is. That their life is so much worse than anybody else's, cue screaming into a pillow! Be considerate! How bad someone's feeling should never be a competition! I want to be there and I want to help but that's hard to do if I'm pissed off at your selfishness.
In a year that's been the roughest ride of my life, I've still got a lot to be grateful for. I'm hugely lucky that I had a fantastic relationship with both my parents, I told them everything, talked multiple times a day, and when they died, I wasn't filled with regrets. Odd little things like not answering my Dad’s last phone call bother me on dark days but it’s not a regret. Life is short, sometimes unfairly so and it’s taught me to never take anything for granted. I have the most wonderful brother and Step Mum (she hates that term but I don’t know what else to call her to keep her anonymity). This woman has stepped in to play mother of four, protected us from Goblins, and let me maintain the most ridiculous habit of calling parents minimum, twice a day. I think I speak for both my brother and I when I say grateful doesn’t even begin to cover how we feel. I've got a handful of truly wonderful friends that have never left my side, something that in my undergrad I never thought I'd have. Just in case I don't say it enough, you mean the world to me and I couldn't have gotten through the truly dark parts of this year without you. So, as I go off to spend Christmas (safely and Covid result pending) with those I love the most. Hold your loved ones close this Christmas and if your friends grieving, send them a text to let them know you're there.
I hope this has helped. If you're struggling with your grief, the NHS website here has proved useful to me. Merry Christmas!