Released On 6th May 2021
Linda's Blog: Let's talk about grief
Trigger warning: grief
In a few weeks it will be the 5th anniversary of my mum’s death. Writing that, even now, feels strange and wrong. My mum died suddenly and unexpectedly. I had a child at nursery and a babe in arms. The grief, combined with the shock, was crippling.
Since the pandemic began I’ve thought a lot about all the additional people who have lost loved ones and are grieving. I know it's hard enough in normal circumstances. In an environment of tiny funerals, no hugging, no wakes, no travelling and limited face to face social contact, the pain must have been taken to another level.
It’s hard to talk about grief and I hope that by sharing some of my own experience, this may help someone. Everything that follows comes with an important caveat: grief is personal and unique, even where family members are suffering the same loss.
If you are grieving
1. Be kind to yourself: getting through the day, whatever that means, is an achievement. In the early days there’s a lot to organise: don’t feel obliged to respond to all the letters and cards. I couldn't even open them for weeks after the funeral.
2. The grief comes in waves and can overpower you when you're least expecting it. All the firsts and special days will obviously be hard but the grief can also be triggered by a random sight, smell or sound. Sometimes I find myself being snappy with my children or husband and realise that another wave of grief has lapped up and consumed me.
3. The grief is everywhere. It can feel overwhelming, even when the children make you smile and laugh. It's in the sadness that sits at my Dad's core, the things we were looking forward to, the life we were expecting. My youngest child’s birthdays mark the length of our loss.
4. With grief comes exhaustion. With two young children I was already tired and I found it impossible to sleep. I found myself questioning if I could still be the mum I wanted to be, now that my mum wasn’t here.
5. Even the most well-meaning people say the wrong things. I was regularly stunned by comments I found insensitive. Remind yourself no one knows what you’re going through unless you tell them. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it easier to share how you’re feeling.
6. Telling your children and dealing with their grief is really hard. I hope I never again hear the wild animalistic howl of my 4 year old when we told her Grandma had died. Ask for help: our nursery was hugely supportive.
7. Even close friends, even those who show incredible kindness in the early days, may start to drift away after the funeral. It was painful to realise their life had moved on when mine had not.
8. Grief is unpredictable. The stages of grief are well documented but they don't happen in order and there is no set time frame for each stage. It took two years for me to have any interest in making any changes to our house. I remain sad and disappointed: for my Dad left a widow before his retirement, for my children who lost a loving, giving and fun grandmother and for me, longing for the support and wise words of my caring and thoughtful mum.
9. Talk to people who listen well. It may be a friend or family, it may be a counsellor. I saw a couple of counsellors and found one extremely helpful.
10. By sharing facts and memories of a loved one you can make them part of your family. It pains me that my youngest child has no memory of Grandma and can talk bluntly about her having died but they do understand the kind of person she was.
If you know someone who is grieving
1. Get in touch. Contact them and keep doing it, even if they don’t respond. I found it helpful when people wrote "no need to reply" as it removed another thing from the to-do list.
2. Don't ask what happened and don’t ask how old they were. It doesn't matter. We have a habit of classifying things as tragic or less sad. I used to do that myself. Instead, focus on the fact that the bereaved has lost someone really important to them.
3. Think twice before sending flowers immediately or send a pot plant. A house can quickly become like a florist and the need to find a vase and later deal with dead flowers can feel like a burden.
4. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has died. It was all I could think of and I wanted to talk but found it hard to bring up so I was grateful when someone else did. No one could make me sadder by raising it. I was already sad.
5. The grief is always there and you learn to live with it. Do not tell someone they’ll “get over it” and “move on” or say they’re “looking better” or “doing well”. My grief is like a deep wound: no longer raw but it can be re-opened and start oozing at any time. Don’t assume that because they seem ok, they are ok.
6. Be specific when asking how someone is and refer to “today”. When my world had collapsed, “How are you?” felt like a stupid question – I was grieving and felt dreadful but some days were less bad than others.
7. Think about the relationship someone had with the deceased rather than the name of it or the fact there was a blood link. My husband suffered greatly when my mum died: they got on well and he too was in shock and grieving but this was rarely acknowledged.
8. Provide practical help: pick up their kids, feed them, invite their kids for a play date, arrange for a cleaner to clean their house. When people asked me what they could do, I couldn’t think what to suggest. Finding a meal on my doorstep was the biggest help.
9. Don't start any sentence with "at least", compare situations or say what the deceased would have wanted. I was told “at least it was quick”, ”at least she wouldn't have known”, “at least she won’t get dementia”. None of that helped.
10. Listen. Don’t offer solutions because you can’t fix this. Just listen.
Linda is a lawyer who has two primary school age children. She and her husband work full time and juggle the school run and everything else between them.