Death is a subject I’ve struggled to speak about openly until very recently. For a combination of reasons, with one being, it’s the fear of the unknown. Whether you believe in a religion, higher spirit(s) or nothing, death is the only thing that is guaranteed in life and something we will all experience. For this reason, it’s a topic I’ve always wanted to write about but in a meaningful and hopefully not triggering way. As a topic that can be hard to explain and find the right time to bring up naturally. Although it may be hard to explain, I’m starting to realise that a huge part of the healing and grieving process is to open up and express your thoughts.
As I mentioned previously, death is something we will all be affected by one day, one way or another. My first experience dealing with death (where I had been directly affected) was in 2013 when a relative of mine suddenly became unwell and passed away shortly after. There is nothing within these circumstances that can prepare you, and for me, everything and my life as I knew it was turned upside down. I’d quickly reached a low point in my life, though looking back on that year there were still some incredible memories made such as holidays, passing my driving test and completing my first year of university though they became ripples in the ocean my life.
When I was younger, the thought of death petrified me and to some extent it still does, though my understanding and ability to process it has developed. I can’t say whether introducing the concept of death to children at a young age is good or not, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this. Being only 19 years old when I first experienced death in my life is something many people will see as fortunate. As dramatic as it may sound to some, I began to feel as if the world had stopped and there was nothing else that matters. Some may feel that a 19-year-old is old enough to cope, but the honest truth is there is no age to prepare you for the magnitude and experience of events that are to come whatever circumstances you find yourself in. My mind works in a way where it likes to process things, logically, thinking about all outcomes, the events leading up to an event and what happens afterwards? Unfortunately, this was something that my mind couldn’t seem to figure out the algorithm to process, how someone or something that once existed could be gone forever and the relationship you held with that person has moved on from a physical experience to something of memories which are only to be held in your mind.
Since 2013, I’ve lost two family members and two friends. Yet, each experience is different though it doesn’t become easier. Unexpected circumstances still make the shock hard to deal with however if its death is something which you have been given time to prepare for it allows you to process your thoughts differently. However, circumstances were you are told to “prepare for the worse” equally result in horrific and painful mind gaming as you know you’re limited on time but what else can you do at this point?
I’m lucky to be part of a close-knit family. Growing up we’ve always had a uniquely special bond, like most families (I assume) we capture and celebrate every moment possible and I know for a fact without having them as my support system I wouldn’t have coped through the various circumstances I’ve been in over the years, and to which I’m forever grateful for. Though I understand not everyone has a support system set up like this that they’re able to confide in, it’s important for your mental health that you find the way you’re most comfortable to express yourself safely too. Whether it’s talking to friends, colleagues or finding a support network you trust opening up to anyone is better than keeping feelings inside.
I’ve always liked to believe that I was a confident person with the ability to tackle whatever is thrown at me. Yet, there are some things you don’t see happening. Naturally, my attitude and status to be sociable changed after my first experience of death. Many things became inevitable, yet as a teenage caught up in other trivial things you can often miss the signs. By the summer of 2013, I was exhausted. I’d just finished my first year of university and to be brutally honest I didn’t really enjoy it. My mind was clogged, and I was more excited to be going back to London to hang out with my family and friends. My Gran paid a huge part in my first year of university, furthermore, my Gran had always played a huge part in my life. Anyone with close Grandparents knows that if you can’t get what you want out of your parents, your Grandparents are guaranteed to save the day. Ever since I was young, my siblings, cousins and I would be slipped extra money for no reason but just because they could. Our weekends were spent eating Saturday soup made by the gracious hands of my Grandmother, endless evenings of chicken and rice, picking growing and picking fruit and vegetables from the garden, running around in their house playing our made-up games and being raised to be kind, polite and gracious grandchildren. At Christmas, we’d recreate our own nativity play but with a modern twist which often ended with my cousins and I singing and dancing to our own rendition of Destiny’s child always with the battle of who would be Beyonce, and still, there is nothing I would change about my childhood.
Losing friends can often feel like losing family, though sometimes it can feel different. From my experience, as both people who passed away were under 25, through different circumstances yet completely different relationships to me at different stages of their life. The reflection here was instant reflection mode, guilt, anger, hurt for all the years of their life they will not get to live. The selfishness of every time I complained about something meaningless, the time I often took for granted and spent harbouring unnecessary feelings. The milestones that they will not encounter on and the families they could’ve created will never cease to be.
With over five years since my first experience of death, I still don’t know what I’m doing. Is it still healthy to cry? How can you bring up the topic of death to others when you’re feeling low? How long can you continue to overthink and mourn a situation? There are no answers but I can promise you that burying your hand in the sand will never be a good thing to do. During the first 18 months after my Gran’s passing, I was still triggered by the easiest memory, mention of her name, word association or even a photograph. Speaking about it wasn’t easy as I presumed people around me had the mentality of ‘time heals’ which wasn’t true. Time can only heal if you allow yourself to be part of the healing process and it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to sporadically burst into tears if you need to (because God knows I still do). Often a lump places itself within my throat and settles there – and yes, my eyes constantly remain watery, I would leave the room to avoid having to hold back the tears. Sometimes I would try to smile through the tears in an attempt to stop them from falling as it felt like a sign of weakness. Crying is natural, I feel like I’m an advocate for crying because it’s just such a natural response for me when I’m stressed, angry, frustrated or even happy! I’m known for crying at such basic films but sadly life isn’t a film, it’s not a dress rehearsal and we don’t get the chance to pause, rewind or fast forward bits we just don’t want to hear or see. We can’t rehearse our emotions and actions, but I hope and pray for anyone who feels they don’t have someone to talk to or is unsure how to cope with any form of change in their life they’re able to find the strength to open up to someone even if it’s to a stranger. Knowing you can reach out to someone is an important factor of grieving, this will only happen in a time and space which is suitable for you. They say time is a healer, but everyone’s wounds are always different.
Looking back, I can see how I was affected, and how I struggled. Everyone I came across had noticed something was different whether it was my attitude, mannerisms or overall look but somehow, I was never too concerned. It may take a while for you to notice any changing signs and sometimes there aren’t any, but you should also try to stick to your normal routine. I’m someone who finds change a difficult concept to deal with at times, but it’s life and we have to roll with the punches through difficulty. Keep active through ways of hanging out with family and friends, going to the gym, participating in new activities/workshops but through all of this still find the time to speak about your feelings.
I’m often comforted through memories I have, such as the 80th surprise birthday party my family threw for my Gran and Great Aunt in March 2013. The details of this day are some of the highlights I have to remind me of the treasured moments we shared. How grateful I should be that she lived a life reaching the age of 80 and was surrounded by people who loved her unconditionally. Little did I, or anyone in that room know it would be the last birthday we’d celebrate with my Gran. I guess that’s the beauty and curse of life you don’t know what moments the ones are you’ll remember and for what reason why. You don’t know what moments you should cherish and why. On the first birthday where my Gran wasn’t present I struggled to understand whether I was celebrating or mourning. She isn’t physically here anymore so why am I celebrating her birthday? But reaching 80 was a milestone, and I just had to accept that her 81st birthday would be celebrated in a different way than I had been used to. As someone who loves birthdays, it was an easy decision for me. It’s still a celebration of life and in effect is the complete opposite of a death anniversary.
And as they say, life goes on yes it does but those truly loved will never be forgotten. Don’t feel guilty for your positive days and adjusting to life without the ones you’ve lost. Remember there isn’t a right or wrong way to deal with death. It’s a personal thing that nobody can tell you how to cope with.
If you want to message me privately to speak more, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org