Life is short, and it is precious. I know you’ve heard the clichés before and not given them much thought but please believe me; life can be so cruelly short. I want to tell you my story of love, loss and laughter to ease the pain.
When I was 20 years old, my mum died. She fought cancer of the bile duct for two years before it suddenly spread, aggressively, to her kidneys. I was left reeling – we’d been laughing and joking in Sainsburys on the Sunday, she died at home on the Thursday.
Instantly, my world changed. It had a new meaning, a new perspective but in the moment, I was surrounded by pain. I describe the first few months of bereavement as like being sucked into a black hole. There was a profound emptiness to my life, a darkness that followed me around and affected everything I did.
Despite a loving family and well-meaning friends, I felt completely alone in my bereavement. I felt that no one understood or had any words that could ease my heartbreak. With hindsight, I can see that those who hurt me by saying the wrong thing were only doing their best and trying to help, but at the time I couldn’t understand why people were so mean. They said things like “she’s in a better place”, “she would want you to be happy”, “you’re so strong, just like she taught you to be”. All so unhelpful for a young woman finding her way in the world, struggling to see how she can possibly exist in a world without her mother and best friend.
Life Is Short Let’s Talk About Loss
“If it’s not nice, don’t say it”
My mum had a fantastic saying that I try to live by – “if it’s not nice, don’t say it”. She used it frequently when I was fighting with my younger siblings, and when I would come home and moan about people who had hurt me. It was advice that wasn’t always easy to follow, but it made me appreciate that harsh words didn’t help anyone, and that there is immense power in kindness.
The same rings true for supporting family or friends who have experienced a bereavement. Think carefully about your words – for someone left alone and bewildered by a bereavement, harsh words can be very unhelpful.
To Live & Have Lost
However, I would also point out here that I don’t believe there is such thing as the “right” thing to say to someone who is grieving. Each person’s experience of loss is so unique that many avoid saying anything rather than being brave and saying something of comfort. Don’t fear the “right” thing to say. Whatever you can say in support, even if only “I’m so sorry”, is enough to let that person know that they are not alone, and people continue to care for them.
Hope From The Heartbreak
Just eighteen months after mum died, I wrote a blog about how I was feeling. Many observed me and believed me to be “fine” as I remained strong, didn’t cry in public, and was coping well with my university degree. It was refreshing to be able to write down my thoughts and feelings and let my friends and family know that I was really struggling, and that I felt utterly alone and abandoned in my grief.
Out of my heartbreak I started Let’s Talk About Loss, the UK’s first support organisation for young people who have been bereaved. I wanted to show people that it is ok to talk about how you’re feeling, especially if you are young and it’s not normal to be bereaved. We run an online blog for anyone to talk about their experiences of loss, and monthly meet ups in Nottingham, London and Bristol, which are social support gatherings for young people aged 16-30 who have been bereaved of any one at any stage.
I feel so privileged to run Let’s Talk About Loss, and I get to meet amazing young people who like me, have been bereaved and are attempting to navigate a world that is not good at talking about death, grief or mental health. I’m passionate that together we can talk through the taboos, and make this country a more supportive, cohesive and kind place to be.
For more help, reach out to:
@talkaboutloss (IG and Twitter)