Grief isn’t a hot topic and (perhaps rightly so) it never really will be. However, its a normal part of life and some of us will experience it far earlier in life than our peers and it can often feel like a very lonely experience.
Losing my father suddenly in sixth form was totally gut wrenching and is something I wonder whether I’ll ever truly get over. I lost this person at a point in my life where I deeply needed him. I was in the midst of working out what degree to study at university, a life choice that I felt would be my first paving stones into official ‘adulthood’ and a decision that I felt like I couldn’t make confidently without him.
We very sadly never made it that far in our journey of life together and it has taken me up until now to appreciate just how badly his death affected me.
As some of you will know, there is no pain like losing someone you love, especially a parent. It is difficult being an anomaly amongst friends as no one will quite understand the internal demons you’re constantly fighting with every day. Friends can sympathise to a point but they can’t empathise. As someone on the cusp of adulthood, I felt like an unfinished clay pot on a kiln and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to ‘present myself’ to the world -minus the handle and the base!
Outwardly I was vivacious, confident and happy-go-lucky. I had seen enough movies in which after the funeral, life resumed as normal and if anything, life for the main characters seemed to improve drastically! I decided skirting around grief was the best approach to take, trying to avoid it altogether because it quickly became apparent that it made everyone (including myself) uncomfortable. Inwardly my mental health was a mess and these mental demons followed me right across my university years. I rejected the closest person I had in my life who wasn’t a part of my family, which I regret massively to this day and I was constantly second guessing all the choices I was making on a daily basis. My personal life was out of control and in hindsight, I was using unhealthy methods to control the parts of my life that I felt I could.
I attempted ‘group’ grief counselling only once at university and it is to this day one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had to sit through and my best friend came to pick me up before it was even over. I bounced from one long term relationship to another, desperately trying to fill the monumental hole that was in my heart, when actually, trying to love someone new when I was finding it difficult to love myself was doing me no favours.
I left university feeling steadily more lost and I was constantly searching for something I couldn’t find because I wasn’t totally sure what that was. I moved country (dramatic!) in a bid to rid myself of the grief and to continue ‘the search’, believing it wouldn’t hurt nearly as much abroad. It was definitely a distraction and I certainly lived a ‘fast paced lifestyle’ but the problem with trying to hold things under the water, is that they often come back up to the surface much later anyway.
There came a turning point when I decided to face the music and come home and it was these three years that have really counted for me. I actively chose to not pursue relationships in a quest to get to know myself and I became quietly determined in the things that I wanted to achieve –even though I wasn’t initially sure of what these were! I separated myself from people who didn’t make me feel good (this took some time to work out and a lot of trial and error!) and I actively joined courses that I thought would stimulate me mentally. There was no eureka moment in which everything fell into place, where I suddenly shunned going out, for 10k runs, green juices and yoga. Rather it has been a slow and gradual realisation of working out who I am and what I actually wanted.
I’m nearly 27 and I think I’ve come to realise that perhaps that was what I had been searching for all that time, ‘my identity’. Losing a parent in early adulthood when my brain hadn’t quite fully developed (it fully develops at 25) can make for a pretty volatile recipe and it takes time to make sense of life/thoughts/feelings (lest we not forget hormones!). Whilst we can always strive to make positive changes, there will always be some things that we will find difficult. For example, I still can’t openly talk about dad for longer than five minutes as it causes my heart to sit in my throat and I most certainly can’t listen to sad music on the tube for fear of openly bawling to the general public!
Talking about grief is a taboo and it shouldn’t be. We cannot plan with how we will deal with loss, it really is just a process that is different for everybody.
If you’re navigating these unpredictable roads, don’t expect to find what you’re looking for straight away. It takes a lot of time, some wrong turns, a couple speed bumps and fleeting bouts of road rage before you get to the service station that you’re looking for. Your metaphorical sat nav will eventually kick in, you will get to where you’re going and everything will (eventually) be OK.