In my last blog I said I would share in more details some of the things that have help me manage grief, loss and life since my mum passed away in 2013. Surprisingly I have found this much harder to write than the previous blog. I am not sure why, but I think it boils down to feeling unworthy of dishing out advise or guidance. Whenever I read blogs or books where the content is about self help or improvement I have always assumed the authors are somehow more superior and more successful in their life than myself. Or they have studied psychology, trained as life coach or a therapist or something similar, all of which I am not. So I write this with only my personal experiences to draw on.
These are things that helped me and continue to help me and hope they maybe useful to someone else.
Talking, Talking, Talking:
I am very lucky to have a great man in my life and many close friends. So straight away I was just very honest with them, I talked openly about my shock, my sadness, my feelings, fear of how the future would unfold, for myself and my family. I was able to be myself, cry, laugh and be inappropriate making jokes about the fact that my dad was determined to plan the nitty gritty of mum’s funeral via email and that whilst it was lovely receiving so many cards and well wishes I found it utterly weird. I mean how long do you keep sympathy cards up and is it disrespectful to throw them away. (They are now in my loft with an array of her things that I don’t want around day to day but for some unknown reason to me I can’t throw away).
As a new family of three my dad, my sister and myself maintained lots of contact despite all living in different towns. My sister and I spoke openly, shared and supported each other. Regardless that no two peoples grief is the same, having the very sad shared experience of losing our mother bonded us. I am sure we are even closer as a result. We both supported our dad. I felt that his grief was so all consuming that for a very long time I was just there for him, in whatever way he needed, to listen, to give him space and to support the choices he made for himself to cope without mum. I did this for a very long time without burdening him with my grief as I was sure that was just too much for him to bare. But with passing of time we have been able to talk and still do.
I wrote to her
As strange as it sounds I talked to my mum. I did this by writing to her in a journal at anytime I would have normally pick up the phone for a natter, which was most days. I found this really useful. Being able to flood my heart out to her in the way I would if she was here and I was going through something difficult or upsetting. I was able to address some of my confusion about her illness, that I had been unaware her cancer was terminal and that she had such a short time after her diagnosis and how I was completely unprepared when palliative care had started. By writing to her I was able to say all the things I had wanted to, but chose not to say in her dying days. As wanted to respect her choice to avoid discussion about the fact she was dying. I really believe talking to her via this journal helped me massively. It was also a way of talking to her about the things that were happening as a result of her death planning her funeral, how our family were coping, how I was coping. To talk through things with her in the way I had been doing for my entire life. Also by writing my journal I was allowing myself time to deal with my grief. When I had finished, it made it easier to close my journal and carry on with my day. I still have conversations with her and draw on things I know she would say. I no longer have a need for my journal, instead I tend to talk to her in my head these day.
Seek help for yourself – its easy you have already faced the hardest thing,
I absolutely believe that all this talking is the thing that has helped me most. It hasn’t been endless hours of deep discussion, sometimes it was just saying to Stuart “today I just cant get a grip of missing her”, or to a friend “today is just shit”. This has allowed me to be true to how I was feeling and therefore cope with it. I can’t recommend it highly enough and if you do not have anyone in your life that you can truly talk to there are so many grief support groups, grief counsellors. Seek them out, make time and circumstances where you can talk. My dad saw the grief counsellor and joined the support group at the hospice in his local area. Now four years on he has many new friends who has lost loved ones, and now not only do they support each other they have built friendships, relationships and a very full social life. Hard as it is you have to seek out help for yourself and if you are lacking confidence in to do this, just remind yourself you are already facing the hardest thing, the lose of your loved one, everything else is small in comparison. For me this has actually become a bit of a mantra, when I am nervous or worried about something. It is the thing I used to walk in to an art class with complete stranger when I felt absolutely not good enough as an artist to be there.
Distraction, Distraction, Distraction
I made sure I kept my life full the day to day, spending time with my family and friends. I also gave myself a goal to focus on outside of work. I had done some fundraising five years after my stroke so I just decided to do the same again to mark my 10 year milestone which was a year after my mum died. I asked talent crafty friend Sharon Tilley to join in. Together we made Avis and Tilley and spent three years selling Sharon’s handmade fabric craft and my paintings to raise money for the Stroke Association, The Life After Stroke centre in Bromsgrove in the Midlands UK. This was the great distraction as I felt I was doing something with purpose, but I could also lose myself in painting or in the internet marketing our stuff. I now know why people get straight into fundraising after the loss of a loved one. It has so much more to do with distraction, keeping busy and having something for your mind to focus on, rather than just making money for a good cause. Now I am not saying everyone should fundraise, but I am definitely saying you should submerge yourself in something you love. So if you have a hobby or an interest you have not made time for maybe now is the time. We made a nice amount with our fundraising but I gain so much more, confidence in my painting, recognition that people thought it was worthy of buying and an absolute passion to learn more and pursue my art after we had finished fundraising for my year 10 milestone.
Finally the thing that people never get round to, or feel is too self indulgent, not needed or there simply isn’t the time for, I prioritised helping myself.
- I attended the amazing and eye opening course with Mags O’Brien called You can heal your life. It helped to work on acceptance, forgiveness, managing your internal voice, setting life goals and being positive.
- I read blogs and books and internet links on anything that pushed me in the right direction on a positive and happy life style
- I spend time trying to master the art or gratitude
- I found a physical activity that I liked and did it even when I couldn’t really be arsed and was always grateful for the and endorphins afterwards. For me this was swimming. Being in a body with limits did limit my choices, but you can always find something that works for your body if you look hard enough.
- I continue to work hard on all elements of my wellness. Something that is hard enough when life is good so I don’t beat myself up when things slip or it all when to pot.
There is no one solution or easy fix. The main thing is to carry on embrace the good moments and be kind to yourself in the bad. Love your loved ones and understand that whilst you may have lost the same person you may be experiencing their loss and life without them very differently. Whilst family and friends can be an amazing supporting, you have to decide you want to help yourself through it. Recognising that you may have to work hard to achieve this.
You can heal your life course