In the last ten years, Ruth has lost her dad, brother, mother-in-law, Nan and uncle. The losses of so many people so close to her have had a profound impact on her life. Here she writes in her own words what she has learnt about death and grief.
The losses of my dad and brother, both to cancer almost exactly eight years apart, have hit me particularly hard. My dad was 61 and he died on 12 December 2011, less than four weeks after his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. My brother, Matt, was only 44. He died on 2 December 2019 after a ten month battle against an aggressive, rare form of kidney cancer which, towards the end, seemed to spread through his body like wildfire.
Losing two people who meant so much to me (as well as the other bereavements) has had a profound effect on my life. As a culture, we can have a strange attitude to loss and grief. There’s almost a perception that you are supposed to live and act like they didn’t exist and feel no emotion or connection to them.
As a grieving person (and I will grieve forever, it’s not a passing phase), I often don’t feel comfortable talking about my losses for fear of people thinking I’m stuck or dwelling. This needs to change and it will only change if people like me open up and be honest.
"In the last ten years, I’ve lost my dad, brother, mother in law, Nan and uncle. I’m 39 years old and feel like I’ve already been through a lifetime’s worth of heartache and sadness."
Love does not die and so the feelings you had for that person don’t just vanish with their death. It's quite the opposite.
I've found that out of sight is most definitely not out of mind. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt through grief:
- You never really get over losing someone you love. Losing my brother unleashed grief I’d hidden after my dad died, grief that I thought I’d dealt with long ago. The truth is, you never really completely deal with it; it’s always there inside you, waiting to surface, triggered by a memory, song, sight, smell or noise. There are days where it doesn’t feel real and days where it’s all too real, brutal and painful. Having said that, you do learn to live with the pain and it does lose its sharpness over time.
- Watching someone you love take their last breaths and die in front of you changes you forever. I feel like a vase that has been broken and glued back together again. I’m still inherently me but with deep scars that have changed my very make up, both visible and invisible.
- I didn’t deal with the loss of my dad very well and buried my grief deep inside until it all came spilling out three years later. I had counselling at that point which helped immensely. There’s no shame in asking for help. At the same time, everyone deals with grief in their own way and what works for one won’t work for someone else. Grief can be a shared experience with common emotions but it’s also very personal.
- Though they mostly mean well, people can say some really unthinking things. Most people don’t know what to say and nothing they can say will actually take away your pain. Do things at your own pace. You’ll also be surprised at who steps up to be there for you and who takes a step back. Some find the rawness and the fact that you’re facing most people’s worst nightmare to be too much whilst others will be there no matter what. The ones who stick around are worth their weight in gold.
- Both my dad and my brother were too young to die (61 and 44 respectively). Both had so much to live for and both loved life. My brother married four weeks before he died and left a wife and a four-year-old son. I feel an overwhelming urge to make them proud. They were both so brave. My dad only had 4 weeks from diagnosis to death, my brother had 10 months. Matt’s attitude was truly inspirational, so positive. I will always carry that with me.
Time softens the edges and soothes the rawness
I always thought grief and loss would harden me to the world but it’s actually softened me. I love more freely and take nothing for granted. I’m more willing to do things I’d have previously shied away from.
Grief is the price you pay for love and I would hate to live without love. I’m currently waiting to start the next level in training to be a bereavement counsellor and I’m hoping to be able to help people through similar. Losing them has given me the courage to live my life in the way I want to - it really is too short to do anything but.
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Real stories like Ruth's help us to break down barriers around dying and death. We’re sharing our experiences so that anyone experiencing grief feels less alone. Will you share yours?