IMMEDIATELY I feel anxious as I begin to write this blog post, but I know I’m meant to do this.
With that being said, I can’t lie and say I’m not worried about coming across as an attention seeker for writing about something so personal and taboo. I guess this is just my way of controlling and channelling my grief.
I’m determined to make something positive out of my experience, no matter how dark it has been and still has the potential to be.
Everyone grieves differently though, which is why I want to make it clear that this isn’t a ‘guide’ to grief — it’s simply just an insight into what I’ve learnt from my experience whilst grieving as a teenager.
My mum died. My mum died. My mum died. No, I’ve not accidentally copied and pasted the same thing three times, I’m just getting used to typing it out. It feels foreign.
“How do I let people know?”
Write a blog post about it? Just kidding. I mean you can if you want, but let’s be real, talking about death is awkward. As soon as someone mentions that a loved one has died, the automated response of “I’m so sorry for your loss” usually slips out of your mouth, because what else can you say? Trust me, as futile as the phrase is in my opinion, even I say it.
For me, some situations are a no go when it comes to talking about my mum, but others not so much…it’s weird. Soon after my mum died, I shared the news with a small number of people I felt needed to know, including close friends and my college tutor. However, word spreads.
In my experience, it felt as though it became unspoken knowledge that my mum had died. Despite initially feeling angry that people had found out without me explicitly telling them, it made the whole situation easier — to some extent.
There’s always going to be an awkwardness when trying to work out how to ‘break the news’ that someone you loved has died. I mean it was only a few months ago that someone said to me, “your mum loves you”, leaving me to awkwardly laugh it off because she didn’t know.
What I’ve learnt is, each situation is different and I just have to gauge the environment and do whatever feels comfortable. Whether that be letting someone know or not.
With that being said, I’ve realised you sometimes have to let people know — especially at the beginning. For example, telling your form tutor or your manager, because grief doesn’t have the courtesy to wait around for you to be alone.
“You act older than my mum!”
Learning that your mum has stage three cancer tends to make a 13-year-old grow up a little; bereavement ages you even more so. Which is why it irks me when ignorant comments like the one above — a personal favourite of mine — are made.
My bereavement has made me more sensitive than usual — especially in the first few months. You’ve probably heard about panic and anxiety attacks, but have you heard of grief attacks? Well, they exist. Crisisnetwork.org states that when someone has a grief attack “they are struck with a sudden, vivid reminder of their deceased loved one.”
I can relate to this. Camila Cabello famously sang, “ain’t no crying in the club”, well how about the cinema? Obviously it’s the norm to sometimes get a little teary during an emotional scene of a film, but back in January 2018 — four months after my mum had died — I was left somewhat embarrassed whilst watching Maze Runner: The Death Cure.
Well Newt dies, doesn’t he? He also leaves a letter behind for Thomas to read in the event of his death. A common convention in film and TV that leaves me rolling my eyes at how overplayed it is.
Nevertheless, in this case, I was left reeling with jealousy and sadness. Unlike everyone seems to do in films and TV, I didn’t get that finalising letter that confirmed that everything was “going to be okay” and at the time I was desperate for one.
As a result, I found myself being judged by a group of teenage girls who kept looking back to see who was making the ugly sobbing sounds throughout the rest of the film.
At the time, I laughed it off with my friends, but now I look back and recognise that me crying was in fact a grief attack.
“Grief is like glitter. No matter how much you try and tidy it up, you’re never going to get rid of it all.”
Don’t get me started on the whole ‘five stages’ of utter bullsh*t. Grief isn’t a checklist that you can complete in the space of a week, in my eyes, it’s for life.
Although I’m unaware of the analogies origins, George Shelley rightly said in his documentary that grief is like glitter. It’s messy and you’re always going to be burdened by it, but some days it’ll be more prominent than others.
Some days my grief is like background noise, I can acknowledge it but it’s not deafening. On other days it’s all I can focus on, it’s like my head is pressed against a surround sound speaker without noise cancelling headphones — if that makes any sense?
Acknowledge it, don’t whack-a-mole it
After counselling — even typing that is weird — I’ve learnt that acknowledging your grief is vital, because suppressing it will only let it disappear…until it decides to make a reappearance later in life.
In some sense, social media has been a platform for me to acknowledge my grief. Before experiencing grief myself, I would question why people felt the need to put ‘Mum’ or ‘Grandad’ in their Instagram bio, alongside an angel emoji, but I can empathise with that decision now.
Like I said earlier, everyone grieves differently. It’s individualised and so are people’s coping mechanisms. Someone might find comfort in acknowledging their loved one online, whereas someone else might not mention their bereavement at all — online or offline. It’s all subjective.
So, what now?
Well earlier today — at the time of writing this — I heard Louis Tomlinson’s new song ‘Two of Us’ debut on Radio 1. If you don’t know, Louis’ mum Johannah died in 2016 and the song centres around his loss. Surprisingly I didn’t cry listening to the song, but the lyrics still hit home.
“Swear I’m gonna make you proud. I’ll be living, one life for the two of us.”
And this is what I strive towards, being a person mum would be proud of.
Mum and I, in Turkey, in 2016
1. George Shelley: Learning to Grieve. Available on BBC iPlayer until September 2019.
3. A playlist for those times when you just need to grieve. Available via: https://open.spotify.com/user/missemmaboys/playlist/65FYkL9Aa76KD132d2pQ8Z?si=vDL0Po_9R26qpmV3Ek8yhQ