I’ve tried to write this three times. I don’t know where to structure each thought, which bit is the most important takeaway from this post or why I’m making myself write something that makes me feel sad. But since experiencing losing a parent at the age of 18 when no one else around me seemed to understand what grief really felt like or what to do about the girl who’d just lost her Dad, I feel it’s really important to speak the truth about grief and its nature. Speak from a personal, yet sadly, shared experience we’ll all face. Because if I’m honest, I don’t really find enough open chats about this kind of thing in society. So, I guess that’s a semi-formed introduction to this blog post. Basically, this may not be the cheeriest thing I’ve written, but I think it’s paramount for anyone also struggling with loss, or for anyone that’s trying to support someone or just wants to understand why I’m still very much struggling four years on.
I’ve been dying (ha) to write this for a while because it feels important to do so. My thoughts are very much in a jumbled mess, as this week marks 4 years since my Dad passed away, so I’m not very with it right now. But below I’m going to break down some of the emotions I’ve felt about grief and loss, four years on, to help break down society’s bullsh*t that we’re just supposed to ‘get over’ grief and keep trudging forward through life without the past’s events affecting us. So here goes:
It doesn’t get easier – you just learn to block it out more
The thing that really gets me riled up with the whole grief thing is when people say ‘it’ll get easier over time’. I can only speak from personal experience, and maybe it does ease for some, but I haven’t found that to be the case whatsoever. And I think the very fact that this ‘time passing, grief leaving’ mantra is so embedded in society is what makes it so bloody difficult for people to open up and say, ‘I’m not okay. I don’t know if I will ever be okay.’
If I sat and let myself think about the hole within me that has felt gnawed at since my Dad passed away, I’d never be happy. Time isn’t an antidote that heals grief. Grief’s a gaping hole that you attempt to plaster over – but it rips back open when you’re least expecting it. And I very much expect this to be the way for the rest of my life.
I have, however, got better at blocking out the pain. It’s basically like when you first get a stitch when exercising. That shit hurts, but you’re told to keep running through it and persevering, and the stitch will become a little more bearable, because you’re used to the pain. If you stop running and concentrate on how much that stitch hurts, it will damn hurt. Just block out the grief and keep going – and then it’ll undoubtedly hit you out of nowhere at some point and become unbearable, but at least you managed to put it off for a little while. It gets easier over time? My arse.
Sadly, no one seems to understand it until it happens to them
I’ve had someone tell me recently they didn’t realise exactly what I’d went through until they themselves had lost a parent. I’ve heard of friends that remarked they were shocked I was still struggling two months after my Dad died. That one’s an extreme case, as I do believe most people would understand you’re not right as rain in two months, but it’s still a marker of the fact that people generally don’t tend to either try and understand, or literally can’t comprehend grief – until it happens to them.
I don’t begrudge people this. I’m, frankly, really glad that people don’t understand the pain until they unfortunately have to. It’s just, this inability to comprehend can really isolate you when you’re in the midst of grief. When I lost my Dad at 18, I didn’t know anyone that had lost a parent at my age in my little village and high school. I didn’t let myself open up to anyone except my family, my boyfriend, and my best friend. I really did drift from high school pals purely because I didn’t want to be the one at the fun party who ended up crying after two drinks, because the alcohol exacerbates the emotions you’ve been trying to put a lid on. I still find it very hard to be utterly myself with some of those people now – no fault of theirs, it’s just that whilst time has moved on, I don’t really feel like I’m the same person after grief than I ever was before.
You get angry at the world – and you’ve just got to let that anger happen
And this is when the anger flares up. Anger that you can’t just ‘let yourself have fun’ like everyone else sometimes, when grief is hitting you hard. Anger that people don’t understand. Anger that just because time has passed, it doesn’t mean I’m ‘normal’ again. Anger when you see adverts on television or films featuring nuclear families and realising that your own Dad won’t be around at major milestones in your life. Anger that the tiniest, most pathetic thing like a song I actually used to like before Dad died, now makes me cry if it catches me unawares. Anger that my complete world view has changed and I don’t have the same priorities or mindset as everyone else my age. Anger that I’m fricking angry when I don’t want to be angry. Inevitably, I just think these feelings are part of grief’s waves and it’s just something you’ve got to ride out.
Your thought processes change completely
This is one of the biggest things that has hit me now we’re four years on. My whole mindset changed irreparably after Dad died. For one, I’m overtly anxious about things others wouldn’t give a second thought to. I worry excessively about the health and happiness of my loved ones, I panic way too much about ‘doing well’ in life and making him proud, I get way too emotional over other’s tales of unwell loved ones or deaths in families. I honestly don’t think straight or normally sometimes. I fully know that. But I also fully don’t quite know how to change it. Sometimes it’s fine, because I can get through periods of my life where these thoughts don’t come to bite me, but then I often have consecutive weeks at a time where my thoughts are bombarded with processes such as these. I honestly feel like experiencing acute grief genuinely rewires your brain, and I don’t think it’s possible to say you’re ever the same person after it as you were before.
You feel you don’t want to leave periods of your life behind
The last thing my Dad knew about me was that I was going to be studying English & Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. And I know that made him really happy. Since leaving university, the hardest part about leaving was knowing I was leaving behind the last thing he ever knew about me. Sometimes I think back to things I’ve done in recent years, and for a second I think that Dad was there with me, and then I remember that actually that happened after he died, so he doesn’t know. When going through the anniversary of his death this week in Bristol, it felt horrible because he didn’t know I’ve even moved here. I can’t show him around my new city. Tell him about my life now. See if I’ve made him proud. See how he’d slot into the jigsaw of my life now I’m an adult. Time just goes by differently when you’ve lost someone. I still feel like I’m stuck in 2016 when it happened.
You get flashbacks that really hurt
Something in the present will often trigger a painful memory about his last few days with us, or the aftermath of him passing away. This is the thing that people don’t seem to realise when you’re ‘years’ on from something; they think you’re healed. But it’s so hard to heal when you’re constantly reminded.
But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I want to try and use my life experiences to build my future and live a more positive present, because I know my Dad would want that for me. So in light of trying to be more positive, here are some reasons why this grief has informed my life after his death:
- I have different priorities to perhaps others my age. And whilst that can be a massive hinderance, I also find it to be something I can positively capitalise on. I feel like I’ve realised what I want out of life, that life is too short to do things you don’t want to do, and I’m focused on the people I love to be around and the things I know make my life fulfilling.
- After his passing, I genuinely feel like I was hit with a greater determination to do things to try and make him proud. That determination has propelled me through a degree I didn’t particularly enjoy to achieve a result I was proud of, it’s led me to persevering with my blog and with finding a creative job, and it’s made me work damn hard at everything I do. This has wavered in periods where I’ve been struggling, but on the whole this new determination has carried me through.
- After going through the worst, I now know not to let the little things get me down on the whole. I know what’s futile, and what’s worth letting affect me. I keep those I love very dear to me, and I surround myself with things that make me truly happy.
Life after grief will never be ‘easy’. But I do hope that as time goes on, I’ll be able to add more positive things to the above list, and the world will continue to feel like an inspiring place to keep trying to make my Dad proud. For anyone that’s struggling with grief, or for anyone that’s just trying to work out how best to support someone else, my dms are always open. We need a more open conversation about grief and its effects – perhaps that way, people won’t feel as alone and we’ll be able to process such emotions ‘easier’.