Grief: A Journey we are all on
It’s been a funny old 12 months hasn’t it. Sometimes it feels like it’s gone so fast and other times its felt like its dragged, felt like I hadn’t got anywhere and its only when I looked back on the photos I remembered just how much I had achieved. It felt like 2020 was an apocalyptic movie we were all living such a surreal existence and it’s so easy to forget the good. For me on the most part the good outweighed the bad. Yes there were challenges, yes I felt extremely stressed at times but I got through it and learned from it and I got so much wonderful bonus 1-1 time with my boy.
Grief seemed to affect everyone on some level in the last year, whether it was losing loved ones, grieving smaller losses like holidays, birthdays, trips out, a social life or just feeling lonely. We all felt it in some shape or form. Loneliness can be so entirely consuming and it will chip away at the strongest of people. I remember in lockdown 1.0 when Tom would have Zak all weekend and I used to sit outside in the garden going insane, my thoughts would rattle out of control as I overthought every single thing and the boredom consumed me. It’s part of the reason I took up running because I needed something to focus on, I am a strong person but I could see the affect it was starting to have on me. At least lockdown 1.0 gave us great weather this lockdown 3.0 is bloody freezing!
I personally have experienced grief a few times in the last year. I lost my only 2 grandparents at the start of 2020 and whilst terribly upsetting both offered a bit of comfort in that they were in their 80s & 90’s, had lived long lives and neither was unexpected or due to Covid-19. Being only able to attend 1 of the funerals was odd as the other was when we were in lockdown. That funeral will forever haunt me I think, it came with a lot of personal family baggage and we all had to face a few demons that day but I will forever be grateful that not only did it go smoothly and give her the send-off she wanted, we pulled together and supported each other through it. She would have been proud.
I am known for often seeing things very black & white and we all know I have no filter. To me it’s a simply fact that we all die at some point and particularly old people, they are on borrowed time. At least if they have made it to old age they have had a long and hopefully happy life. What I personally struggled with is seeing the affect it had on those around me. At risk of sounding like a cold hearted bitch I was glad Granny was at peace, that she wasn’t suffering anymore and that my parents had a bit of freedom back. She was so loved and so adored but it wasn’t a secret that the woman had just about every health condition going, she had beaten the odds on more occasions than I care to count and she was a stubborn sassy woman most of the time! This ultimately brought challenges for my parents, auntie & cousins that we all took on without hesitation but I feel a little ashamed to admit that I felt relief when Granny passed as its one less thing for them to worry about. It means they can go on holiday or out for dinner and have a drink for once as they aren’t worrying what if something happens to her? What if the care people call? We all know my sister is enough to worry about and that’s certainly not going to change anytime soon, so seeing them relieved of a big worry feels rewarding and selfish. At the funeral it was seeing everyone else around me that was overcome with emotion, seeing my dad mourn his mum. I can’t even comprehend what it is to lose a parent, my mind literally won’t process it. I did a reading at the funeral and I was fine till I read the last line Granny had written and it said ‘I hope I am with Denis now’ That got me. Denis was the love of her life and from what I hear she wasn’t the same when he died. How cruel of life to bring Granny someone she adored and loved and she only got 17years with him. One of my favourite memories of Granny was when my cousins and I were interviewing her for a ‘This is your life’ type video and we asked if there was anything she was looking forward to and she said yes Tasha’s baby. At the time I was 8 months pregnant and she had known about my struggles to conceive even though we never spoke about it in great detail, when I told her I was pregnant she cried. She adored Zak as he did her. It was so surreal to watch life at such different ends of the spectrum. They brought each other so much joy, she was always so excited to see him and watch him. He never saw her pain or suffering he just saw love. In actual fact it was often her he sought out in a room, he always wanted to sit on her lap and often took toys over to her. It almost felt like she clung on the last couple years just to see him. A few months ago I ordered a canvas of a picture of the 2 of them and when I showed Zak he said ‘Granny’ and kissed it. Children are wonderful at reminding us of the simple pleasures and seeing the good.
When my Grandad died we were in lockdown and him being in Wales also brought a travel complication for my mum. I wasn’t as close to Grandad and it wasn’t uncommon for us to go months or even years without seeing him, but he was still my mum’s dad, still my Grandad. I used to think he was this scary stern man a huge white beard that towered over us all but in old age he softened. He followed me on Facebook, he read my blog and he tried to make more of an effort. He was a gentle giant really, he just so typically like others of his generation could be stuck in his ways. The worst part of losing him was not being able to be with mum or go to his funeral. That was when support bubbles weren’t allowed and I felt completely useless to mum. Even though I often say the wrong thing and don’t know how to act in these situations I would’ve loved to be able to give her a hug or bring Zak round as he brings everyone so much joy. It was almost as if losing Grandad wasn't the hard part but the situation was hard.
Now Zoe was a different kettle of fish. I didn’t see that one coming. Well I did to an extent that I knew she was poorly, I knew she was going for tests and my gut told me what we were probably facing. But just 3 short months after her terminal cancer she was gone. She was 38 years old. 8 years older than me. This one hit me like a train. I cried for weeks and weeks and still cry thinking about it now. I felt sick and confused and for once at a loss for words. How could 1 family be put through so much? How could any of us find the answers for her innocent 12 year old daughter, who in the past 3 years had lost 3 grandparents and a mother to cancer? How could Zoe be so poorly and it not be caught for so long? How can people with terminal cancer live for 10 years but Zoe only got 3 months? How could someone who brought so much sass & love into the world be gone just like that? It’s been 3 months since she died and I still don’t have any answers. I hate not having the answers. I hate not understanding. I hate there is no justice. I hate sitting in that office expecting to look up and see her resting bitch face looking back at me. I hate she’s not here to say I told you so to so many things! I hate the world a little bit for stealing her from us all. And I hate it a little bit more for not allowing us to come together to celebrate her.
Zoe was the life and soul of the party and by no means was I her best friend or closest friend but she was my boss, my ally & my friend. She was someone I confided in, someone who I could show my vulnerable side too, someone who encouraged my sass, always had my back and was never afraid to speak the truth. She was bold, brash and to the point and I admired her so much. I always pride myself on owning my shit, I never shy away from putting my hands up when I’ve made a mistake or saying I was wrong and Zoe was exactly the same. She believed in me. So many people at work saw a filtered Zoe but I was lucky enough to know the dirty Zoe. The Zoe who wanted all the gory details and had the same filthy mind as me. She loved nothing better than a scroll through my tinder and even when she was poorly she wanted the details of my sex life.
So many things remind me of her. Why does life do that? I’ll never be able to wear red lipstick again without thinking about her. On our nights out she used to insist on putting it on for me cos she loved my lips, she said they were made for a red lip. Songs she changed the lyrics too always come on the radio now. Even emails I still get at work say ‘Dear Zoe’. How will I ever escape the grief when life is consuming me with these constant reminders?
In the office I made one of the noticeboards a bit of a shrine to her and I have filled it with pictures of Zoe and the team and even now it gets to me. In the pictures you see the Zoe we all know, the red lipstick, the nights out, the drinks, the food and the laughter. We laughed so, so much. It’s such a positive board full of happy memories. But it continually stirs this shock up in me that she’s never going to strut through the door or even just text me.
There is no doubt her legacy will live on and you don’t forget someone like Zoe. Through the past 12 months she has been my main inspiration for work. I want to make her proud, I want to apply what she taught me and I constantly think what would Zoe do? It hasn’t helped that my other ally & confidante has been on maternity leave!
The strange thing about grief is how it affects us all so differently. I saw people who I thought weren’t that close to her, break down. I saw people who were strong and acted as if it didn’t get to them. I saw people get territorial over their grief, almost possessive over their love for her, like they love her more. I saw people who thought they knew Zoe, whilst knowing that Zoe couldn’t really stand them! Zoe’s wake was held at work which meant I was quite involved in the planning and was often the person in the middle between the hotel management and Zoe’s friend and family. I felt helpless and like I was making the situation more difficult than it needed to be. I felt like all I was saying was no. I felt like I was letting Zoe down, my stress levels were through the roof and it definitely halted my ability to grieve. It wasn’t until her funeral when I watched the video stream that it started to hit me. I felt like I had been on autopilot before that, wanting to scream that she was my friend too. Work were so considerate and supportive and when the COO asked me how I personally was it nearly tipped me over. Watching her funeral via video link felt cold and unjust. She deserved hundreds at her funeral. But a part of me felt relieved I could crumple at my kitchen table whilst Zak napped as I struggled to comprehend we were saying goodbye forever.
If I have learned anything it is that grief is so different for all of us. They say there is 7 stages of grief:
Shock and denial. This is a state of disbelief and numbed feelings.
Pain and guilt. You may feel that the loss is unbearable and that you’re making other people’s lives harder because of your feelings and needs.
Anger and bargaining. You may lash out, telling God or a higher power that you’ll do anything they ask if they’ll only grant you relief from these feelings.
Depression. This may be a period of isolation and loneliness during which you process and reflect on the loss.
The upward turn. At this point, the stages of grief like anger and pain have died down, and you’re left in a more calm and relaxed state.
Reconstruction and working through. You can begin to put pieces of your life back together and carry forward.
Acceptance and hope. This is a very gradual acceptance of the new way of life and a feeling of possibility in the future.
What I think no one really explains is how much we all fluctuate between these stages and they aren’t always in order! There’s also no time frame on them. With my grandparents I felt like I got to acceptance stage quite quickly but I’m still working through it with Zoe.
My Aunty told me when Tom left that I was grieving, I was just grieving a person who was alive. She was right and I definitely went through these different stages and without a doubt I am at the last stage of acceptance and hope when it comes to Tom. But with Zoe it hurts still. Today I think I am at the anger & bargaining stage but tomorrow I might feel different. I certainly don’t feel like I am at acceptance stage. I refuse to accept she is gone. I can’t accept I will never see her again. My brain even tries to rationalise that she has left the company and the business but that she will pick up my texts or facetime. Then I remember and it hurts all over again.
Even when we reach acceptance stage do we forgive and forget? Do we just stop hurting? Do we ever really get over it? Time is a great healer without doubt. It’s been 2 years since Tom walked out and I am past it but if I allow myself to really sit there and think about it, I feel the hurt again. I feel the anger I felt then. There’s a good quote that says people will forget what you did, forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel. Seems so apt to both Tom & Zoe situations.
Then there’s the global pandemic or shit show as I like to refer to it now; that we all seem to still be stuck in. The things it has robbed us off, the time, the people, the holidays cancelled, the celebrations put on hold, the everyday comforts of just being able to pop in for a cup of tea. Another quote: we are all in the same storm but we are not all in the same ship applies here. It’s different for everyone. Some are consumed with fear of the virus. Some don’t give a shit. Some doubt its existence. Some look for someone to blame. Some are angry. But we are all exhausted. British people pride ourselves on our determination, our community and our never ending cups of tea in a crisis but now we are doing it from a distance. We dream of the past and live in fear of the future, is this the new normal?
So just a little plea from me to all of you reading this. Be kind to yourselves. You are allowed to feel however you feel. You do not have to justify it to anyone, including yourself. Cry, scream, shout, run, walk, hide or eat your way through it. Just do whatever you need to do to get through it. Stay safe, follow the rules, pick up the phone to the ones you miss, write letters (maybe we should make these a comeback), post pictures, be honest about how you are feeling and just take it one day at a time. Not every day will be a good day, in fact some days will be really fucking hard but always find a positive in every day. Don’t look too far ahead, don’t overwhelm yourself. Stop watching the news, stop trawling social media, stop comparing yourselves. Start loving yourself. If all you did today was keep your kids alive you’re doing great. If all you did today was sleep, good for you. If the washing basket is still full and the washing up isn’t done so what? They will still be there when you are not. Just please talk. Please speak up about how you are feeling and if you can’t talk then write it down. I don’t care who you talk to, what you talk about, just keep talking. You are not alone, you will never be alone. We will get through this together, socially distanced, hiding our tears and our smiles behind our masks but we just need to get through it. And I’ll see you at the pub in the summer for a jug of Pimms!