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What I know about grief: Olivia’s experience

Stories from our community of grievers.

This series is about amplifying the voices of grievers. By sharing different experiences and perspectives on loss from our community, our aim is to normalise grief. 

My amazing Dad, Stuart, died unexpectedly on 29th July 2022. He was 62 years old, and it was very unexpected. He was admitted to hospital on 1st July 2022 with a suspected UTI and died exactly four weeks later from what we now know was Cholangiocarcinoma. My Dad left behind me, my younger Sister, and our Mum. They were happily married for 34 years and were INSEPARABLE.

The shock and trauma of losing my Dad are hard to process, and this has been made more difficult as we are now 15 months on and still in the process of getting answers about my Dad’s care and death.

Sadly, my Dad had very few symptoms of being unwell before he went into hospital. Everything was vague and explainable, so we didn’t see the signs and neither did he. Sometimes, I wonder if that is a blessing because he didn’t know what was around the corner, but it’s hard to feel like any of this could be looked at in a positive light.

My Dad was the absolute light of our lives; he was the soul of our family, a lover of disco and classical music, and a huge Doctor Who and James Bond fan. He was a true gentleman and could charm anyone to do anything for him! He was the person who always wanted to stay for one more drink or one more round of quiz questions and always wanted to be surrounded by his “girlies” and our partners. Words can’t describe how life has changed since he’s been gone, and we are trying to wrap our arms around each other and create a new normal without him, but it’s bloody tough.

What surprised me most about grief was how little support there is after a death. I found that after the funeral, the cards and flowers stopped, the messages slowly died down, and everybody’s lives went back to normal. But for us, there was no normal anymore, and we desperately needed support to try and process our grief and build a new life without my Dad. 

People were okay with me having normal conversations, having a laugh and going out for a drink, but they completely ignored the fact that I’d lost my Dad, and that has driven me crazy. I don’t know how to ignore the fact that this has happened, and I don’t want to ignore it because I love my Dad, and these feelings are what I have left of that.

There’s a misconception that we don’t want to talk about the person who has died. I think that people try so hard, not to mention the person who has died, out of fear that it will upset you. But in fact, not mentioning them or giving you space to talk makes you feel very alone. 

I’ve spent 15 months trying to process the fact that my Dad died, but everyone around me seems terrified of acknowledging what has happened, and it feels like people are willing me to go back to normal. I quite often feel alone in my grief because I don’t have the space to talk about my feelings to those closest to me. I can see the panic on people’s faces when I mention my Dad’s name, so it’s easier to keep my emotions to myself, which is so unhealthy.

I want people to know that if someone they love is grieving, you will not upset them any more than they already are by acknowledging their person. You don’t have to say anything; just be there and let them talk. How can grieving people process their loss if we don’t make space in our families and our friendships for them to talk about their loss?!

Grief has taught me to be more patient and understanding with people. I remember driving home with my mum from the hospital the day my Dad died. We hadn’t arrived in time and spent half an hour in a waiting room before a consultant gave us the news. We spent about 20 minutes with my Dad, holding his hand and saying goodbye. We were given some paperwork and his suitcase with all his belongings from the hospital. We wheeled it to the car and left. We obviously couldn’t process what we had just been told, and we were in complete shock. 

My Mum said she had just gone into autopilot and knew she needed to get us home. It was an hour’s drive from the hospital, and she drove slowly to keep us safe. Some cars on the road couldn’t wait. We had drivers overtaking us, beeping and waving their hands at us as they flew past. I remember sitting there thinking, “My Dad has just died, and they have no idea”. Everything felt in slow motion. My world had just completely fallen apart, and people were angry because we were driving at 40 miles per hour instead of 60 miles per hour. My sister had to drive up from Manchester the day my Dad died. She and her partner stopped at a service station, and a man approached them to borrow a lighter. He could see my Sister had been crying, and her face was puffy, but instead of being kind, he told her, “Crack a smile, love, Christ”. 

We are so judgemental and want to monitor people’s every move. But both experiences have taught me that we have no idea what is going on in people’s lives. So, if someone is behaving in a way you don’t ‘agree’ with or can’t understand, please take a step back and consider what they could be experiencing at that moment.

If I could run the world for a day, I’d teach grief awareness and education taught in schools. It should be taught from primary school upwards. There are so many age-appropriate ways of explaining to children how someone might be feeling if they have lost a loved one. Children soak up knowledge and are such caring beings, so if they are taught something, they often understand what it means when they see it first-hand! We should not be growing up in a society as advanced as ours and still making grieving people feel so marginalised and alone. There is no reason why grief and loss should still be such a taboo subject when, ultimately, it’s something every single one of us will experience.

What’s helped?

Accessing counselling as well, this has been my outlet and opportunity to talk to someone without judgement or awkwardness, and these resources have also helped me:

The Good Mourning podcast (obvs!)

The Dead Parent Club podcast

The Grief Gang podcast

Its OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine

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