It’s tough discussing personal circumstances.
The default setting is to bottle things up: no one wants to hear it, you’re just going to burden them, best to keep it inside. Don’t let the world see you’re struggling. I’ve brainstormed ideas, drafted, deleted an entire document and then redrafted, frustrated over the best way to address this issue. A generic ‘how to deal with grief as a young person’ advice list was the first idea, but I deleted it as it felt too detached – the kind of advice that someone who hadn’t experienced grief first-hand might try to console you with. My bottled-up draft. But grief isn’t a prescribed bullet-point list that you can follow step-by-step to reach closure, it’s a mind map with arrows shooting off in lots of different directions, without any concrete conclusion. It’s personal to you, and that’s what makes dealing with grief so, so hard. That’s why I’m opening up.
When I lost my Dad last year, I was 18 and in my final year of A Levels. It was unbearable. It sometimes still is. Writing this article is frustrating, because there aren’t the words to express how rubbish it feels. Words fail this situation and ‘rubbish’ doesn’t touch the surface. Losing a parent at any age is the worst thing to face, but losing a loved one at a young age is particularly tough. Your youthful view of an innocent world where parents are invincible beings that will forever cheer you on through life is shattered. Your peers offer as much support as they can, but they can’t fully comprehend what they thankfully haven’t had to experience. You don’t want to open up to your family, because you don’t want to deepen their sadness. You feel alone. Don’t get upset in front of your friends; they don’t want to hear you going on at them. Don’t cry in front of Mum; she’s dealing with all of this too. Add into the mix the pressures of keeping up in school, being angry at the world for what has happened and an inability to wrap your head around the fact that you’re not going to see your Dad again, and you feel like you’re spiralling into a suffocating pit of sadness that’s impossible to climb out of. And every time you try to get a grip on things, grief comes back along and shoves you, tumbling, back into the dark.
Through documenting, authentically, how grief has affected me, I hope it can help you understand what a friend is going through, or if, God forbid, you’ve lost a loved one yourself, all the jumbled-up emotions might start to make some sense. There’s such a pressure on young people to just get on with things, but I want you to know that it’s okay not to be okay, sometimes.
The week of his death
Everything is a whirlwind of funeral arranging, concerned, sensitive looks and sympathy cards. Nothing feels real. It’s like your house has morphed into the set of a soap; Eastenders without the Cockney accents, someone’s passed away and you’re the actor that’s supposed to be the picture of mourning. You don’t understand why you’re not crying yet and you half feel in the world, but at the same time you don’t, because you don’t understand why everyone’s asking if you’re okay and why Sally next door just gave you a hug when she saw you on the drive.
Your friends are being so supportive, trying their best to help you even though they’re not sure how to tackle the situation. But you almost want to shrug off everyone’s sympathies and run away, because then you can stay content in your little bubble of disbelief. He’ll be coming back; he’s just still in hospital for a check-up. Just a check-up. Always a check-up. He’ll walk through the front door soon, cracking a joke like usual and telling you to give him a smile, because everything was fine all along. Sympathy just makes reality crash down. And you don’t want reality.
Reality has hit, now. Every bad day and every bad mood ends up with you crying. You’re crying because you miss him and because you don’t know why you’re still like this. Why can’t I stop? Time has passed now; shouldn’t I be a bit better at this? It takes one little thing to set you off, and grief comes back to haunt you.
You start worrying if this is normal. After all, the friends that were so supportive at the beginning are obviously still amazing friends, but as people do, they get back on with their lives and never think to check how you’re doing anymore. It’s understandable, people have busy lives to lead and how are they to know how you’re really feeling? They probably think that 6 months have gone now; you should be pretty much healed from the initial waves of grief. They know you’ll never get over losing him, but you seem pretty good at handling things from their perspective, because you always bottle it up and never actually ask for their help.
But it’s only now that you’re finally starting to grieve. The first few months didn’t feel real, but now it’s finally hit you that he’s not coming back and this is when you need support the most. The anniversaries start coming: his birthday, your birthday and Christmas and New Year will soon be rolling around. You can’t even remember what you got him for his birthday last year. You wish you’d recorded down every single word he said to you on your 18th, so you can cherish the sound of his voice forever. You hate yourself for working last Christmas Day instead of spending his last weeks with him. You want to take back the petty family arguments and eternally experience the happy memories; relive your life again.
Now, things are easier, in that the waves don’t come so frequent. When they do come, you still find yourself sobbing, feeling like you’re never going to move on, but another day rolls around and you do start to feel okay again.
You’ve started to look back on fond memories and can laugh at funny moments you had together, without the crippling pain. You still hate the prospect of the future, how he won’t get to see you walk down the aisle, or meet the grandchildren that would have loved him dearly, but you try not to think about that.
You feel this energy inside to work the hardest you ever have, whether that be at university, at work, or at your dream goals, just to make him proud. Everything you do, you’ll do it in his name. You’ve just got to keep going, because that’s what your loved one wanted you to do. For want of a less over-used cliché, they’re looking down on you with immense pride, and it’s their love that will get you through this.
If you ever need to talk about how you’re feeling, please do. Opening up is honestly the best way to deal with this. I spoke to my school counsellor when I was in Sixth Form, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Grief counter offers an e-counselling service, which is free of charge to young people dealing with the loss of a loved one. As well as that, Hope Again has a Vlog Pod, where young people share their stories of dealing with grief.
I promise you, you’re not alone.
Words by Maddie Bourne