Talking about death and loss is a sensitive and often taboo subject. In my life I’ve experienced two great losses, the death of my best friend from cancer aged 18 and more recently my wonderful Grandad. Death is unfortunately something we face every single day, but often there is that detached feeling seeing something that isn’t happening to you. When it’s some your close to it’s often harder to comprehend. Grief isn’t simple.
As someone who’s currently dealing with loss and has in the past, I thought I’d share my personal experience with coping with two completely different deaths.
Joel was my best friend. We’d been friends since we were kids and had been pretty inseparable ever since. I found out he had cancer not long before I went to New Zealand in ’09 and within 6 months he was gone. He had stomach cancer, which spread and unfortunately he passed just before his 19th Birthday. I saw him the night before he died… All skin and bones. I kept telling myself I didn't want to go, before my friends physically made me go. It's not that I didn't want to see him, I did with all my heart. I just couldn't face the reality of seeing someone I loved so close to death. It was shocking to see someone who you shared your whole life with like that. I made myself never remember him like that though. He was the tallest person I knew and the most gentle and kind soul. I got up and spoke at his funeral, it was unplanned but I just felt like I had to. Like that was what he wanted me to do. Seeing my friends cry and sob their heart out at his funeral was one of the most distressing and heart warming things I’ve experienced. The boys in our friendship group were incredibly close and they were sobbing uncontrollably.
My Grandad on the other hand was an old soul. He was a traditional man who appreciated good manners, and his family and a fart joke. He’d been sick for a very long time. He had Altzimers and had recently gone into a care home. He forgot who we all were, and often he’d ask the us the same question over and over. It was frustrating and upsetting in equal measures. Once he asked my poor Granny “where’s my wife?”, she told me she just cried her eyes out. I can’t even imagine how heartbreaking it would be to lose a partner let alone someone you’d spent your whole life with. The idea of losing your mind is up there with the most upsetting things I can think of. My mum told me he wasn't able to eat earlier in the week and his time was going to come soon. In some ways maybe it was better knowing he was going to pass than it being so sudden. Needless to say it’s absolutely devastating, but I think we’re all in agreement he’s in a better place right now. But that doesn’t mean we all don’t wish he was here.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at first with both deaths I felt nothing. Maybe it’s because I knew both were going to happen. Neither were sudden, and I avoided that punch to the stomach. Maybe it’s because a part of me wanted to believe it wasn’t going to happen. I found that I had no outward bursts of sadness, no tears. Just pure shock and desensitisation from what had happened. Like they hadn’t really gone... I hadn’t seen them for a bit. Although in my heart, I knew I was and still am deeply troubled by mortality and the loss of people around me - but on the outside I was 100% stone cold. Nothing. I felt like I wasn’t normal because I wasn’t experiencing the same grief as everyone else.
Grief is of course one of the most gut wrenching, confusing, and horrific human emotions. But everyone handles things differently. When Joel passed, I withdrew completely. I didn’t eat, I exercised constantly and did whatever I could to keep busy. I didn’t see my friends, argued constantly with my boyfriend and completely disconnected. I just wasn’t me. While I wasn’t crying or shaking my fists at the air hollering “WHYYY” - Deep down was battling with the concept of death. I think as humans we're all afraid to die, but I worry more about the people around me than myself. There were times when I was so upset and afraid I couldn’t deal with myself but never did I let this out. There were times when I felt soulless because I felt like I should be more unhappy than I was. Like I was guilty of not being sad enough.
The turning point for me with Joel was when I realised love never leaves you. You can love someone despite them not being there anymore. They didn't stop loving you, so it would be wrong to stop loving them. You may lose a part of your life, but it’s only going if you let it. I sought comfort in the fact because I still loved these people with all my heart they were still there with me somehow. Maybe not in the real world, but spiritually.
Grief is never easy. But a huge and the woeful learning curve, we will all have to deal with in our lives. As I say all the time with everything, it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to scream and cry. It’s okay to be not okay. While nothing will ever be the same again you’re allowed to experience loss and grief in your own way. I think about Joel and my Grandad every single day, and while it does bring me sadness I remind myself of the good times and the love we’ve shared.
So this post is for them really, and for anyone who might be going through a loss in the family or with a friend. Remember how important these people were and still are in your life. If you're experiencing anything similar right now then my thoughts are with you and your families. No words make it better - trust me, I know - but there is something comforting in small words of condolence and sharing the memories with others.