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Grief Awareness Week: Reflections on the reality of grief

As we enter Grief Awareness Week, I wanted to share some thoughts and reflections from the past year. All thoughts shared are obviously unique to me and my experiences.

I lost my 17-year-old son Samuel to suicide on 2 September 2020, my mum died on 6 January 2021 and my dad died following a stroke in late March. Grief and loss has pretty much been my life for the past 16 months. I’ve lived and breathed it and continue to do so.

Previously, I assumed you grieved for about a year. You obviously got upset at the death of a loved one, the funeral was sad and then you had a period of readjustment when you gradually just got on with life. How naive was I? I even remember saying to my boss, following Samuel’s death, that once I’d done a year I’d be on the mend and back to my old self. I’m further away from my old self than I’ve ever been. This is the reality of grief.

Grief is a surreal experience

You spend months in a strange bubble. I can only compare it to having gas & air during childbirth and feeling lightheaded, spacey and totally disconnected from your environment. It is like an out-of-body experience. You are looking down the lens at a badly acted soap opera and you’re the lead. However, my story of losing a child and both parents in 7 months would never make a suitable script. How outrageously unrealistic, no one goes through that much in a short time frame.

There is no fairness, natural order or gentleness

I hadn’t lost anyone significant for many years. Grandparents and an uncle had died 10+ years previously. Then, out of the blue I lost three of my closest family. I quickly learned there is no natural order to loss and nothing to say it won’t hit you in brutal succession. A teenager died before both fragile grandparents and I attended both of my parents' funerals within four weeks. Death and grief is not gentle or kind.

The legacy of this shock is you waiting for the next tragedy to happen, feeling everything is unsafe. Bad things can happen to good people. You lose trust in the fairness of life.

I find it hard to comprehend that my son’s suicide is and will forever be the most significant event in my life. Even on my death bed, possibly 30-40 years from now, I will recall with utter clarity the moment my life changed forever.

Social media brings both comfort and torment

Facebook memories, there to taunt you or brighten your day? The first year after losing Samuel was spent obsessively looking at them, at just past midnight. I’ve now done them all for the calendar year so what now? There will never be anything new…

Posting your favourite Christmas photo of all four of your children. It’s from 2019, suspended in time. Knowing you will never be able to update it. When will it start to look dated?

Seeing your friends on a night out on social media. Trying to work out if you are upset that you weren’t invited or relieved that you didn’t have to make an excuse not to go.

Being uncomfortable company

Not being able to relax in company. People not mentioning your loved one or, when they do, not hitting the right tone and leaving you upset for days.

Knowing I make people uncomfortable by my many losses. Having to overcompensate and put on a front, especially at work and feeling totally exhausted. Having power naps while working from home to survive the day.

Finding joy in strange places

Finding a photograph of your loved one that you’ve never seen before. Soaking in every detail and realising you have been staring at it transfixed, with a gentle smile on your lips.

Discovering a football programme from a cup game when your child was a happy 9 year old and it flooring you.

Locating a toy that has fallen down the back of their wardrobe and placing this precious item in the memory box of treasured pieces. Watching your son in the crowd at a Crystal Palace game with his brother on an Amazon Prime documentary, aged 12. Freeze framing the picture and taking in the living, breathing image of him.

Saying hello to the squirrels each day and imagining Samuel is one of them, scampering around, causing chaos and having fun with his buddies. Strange though it sounds, it brings much comfort and squirrels often appear at hugely significant times so who knows….

Managing triggers

Walking through a supermarket and seeing Samuel’s favourite foods, Pop Tarts and chocolate Nesquik. Instead of buying them for Samuel I now give them to his siblings on special occasions as small gifts to remember their brother by.

Knowing where I shop, socialise and even dog walk is changed forever. I cannot risk catching the eye of someone who knows me, seeing their discomfort or sympathy. Thank goodness for the anonymity of face masks, hats and sunglasses!

Hearing the music played at Samuel’s funeral and being taken back to that time. Sometimes it floors me, occasionally it puts such a smile on my face and once I had to pull over to the side of the road as it took my breath away. Aimlessly flicking through the TV and rejecting so much. No drugs, alcohol, troubled teens, traumatic injuries, post mortems, coroners, the list just continues to grow.

Imagining a future

Knowing that you need to grab life and make the most of it, alongside feeling like you could stay in bed for a week, if only the pets didn’t need feeding.

Wanting to escape your life and build a new one. Recognising you are restless, nothing makes sense anymore. Feeling there has to be more. Realising your decision making is flawed. Knowing everyone just wants the old you back.

Accepting that you will grieve forever and you will take your loved one forward into your new life of meaning and purpose.


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