This post is sort of a sister post to my post last week – I promise no more morbid posts after this. I’ve mentioned numerous times that 2014 was a difficult year in which a number of people close to me died, three of whom were very young (22, 25 and 28). I’ve unwillingly learned a few things about coping with grief; I am a slow learner, but I’m getting there.
This year, two of my friends have in turn lost friends of theirs. I thought I’d write this post, not because I have the answers on how to deal with grief but just to pass on what helped. Grief is always going to be an incredibly personal and intimate experience, coloured by your relationship and contextualised by all sorts of nonspecific events. If I’m honest, my grief is something I’m still processing, and perhaps I will always be reeling from last year. But here is what I’m learning.
Allow Your Memories
All the deaths immediately sparked off a flood of memories for me – memories that had been long forgotten came zooming to the surface. I couldn’t stop my brain if I tried. I literally stared into space for a week whilst my brain regurgitated all sorts of random moments I’d thought I’d forgotten. I jotted everything down as fast I could – not because I wanted to go back and read them, but because I wasn’t sure if I’d remember them again. This also led me to..
I also wrote down how I was feeling every day. I was so aware that what was happening was bizarre and strange and uncalled for, especially with those who died young. I wanted to document that time, how I felt, what was happening to me and to us. After Pete died, some of what I wrote down made it out into the first three blog posts I wrote after his death. I’m not sure why I didn’t blog about the previous people I lost; I think I just needed a new outlet other than my diary by the time Pete died in November and I was so frustrated and exhausted from the people I’d already lost that year.
Don’t Question The Dead
Another knee-jerk, subconscious reaction was questioning the relationship I had with these people, especially the friends I was closest to. I started questioning what they thought about me, if they really cared, times we had bickered, times I had failed them. I wondered if we really were close or if I was making things bigger in my brain, and I questioned if I was entitled to my grief and deep sense of loss.
It was awful. I’m not at all anxious or neurotic normally but it was inescapable, thoughts spiralling out of control and my mind reminding me of all the bad times. After the fourth death and the fourth spiral into Paranoid Land I eventually (to my shame) approached a family member of the deceased, who I was on friendly terms with. He essentially took pity on me, told me I was being ridiculous and to not doubt my friend for a second, saying that I had been dearly loved and if my friend was still alive he would have chosen me all over again. I echoed these words in my post last week, as they have been one of the most enduring pieces of advice (if you can call it advice) that I received.
The final thought on this horrific line of self-analysis is that when you doubt somebody’s love, you undo all the things they did to SHOW their love for you whilst they were alive; you ignore all the pints they bought, lifts they gave, times they shared, hugs and kisses and compliments and all the rest of it. It’s insulting to the efforts they gave to you and a terrible way to recall them.
There were quite large parts of me that just wanted to curl up and avoid everybody after my friends died. I think that is important at times, but I also think you will have more than enough time dwelling in your own thoughts without purposely isolating yourself. It’s SO important to stay connected with your friends, even if you’re justing sending a text that says “:(” and even if it’s just to one person. Even the tiniest effort can inspire a friend to make the tiniest effort back, and eventually that turns into all of you helping each other out.
Turn It Into Something Else
For me processing these deaths has taken the form of a 12 song album and multiple blog posts. Songs and writing is what I do anyway, so it was no surprise really. Other friends talked about drawing pictures, getting tattoos, writing poems, cooking huge meals and even just pointlessly chopping logs to try and turn the grief into something else.
With each death, I found that almost everybody else immediately asked what happened. Not how I knew them, or what our relationship was, or how I felt, but straight off: how did they die? One person actually messaged me to say I’d “forgotten” to mention how Pete died in my first post. It is very rare for somebody to die in their twenties, so people are bound to be shocked and curious, and I understand that. But I can tell you now the cause of death seems very superfluous. The fact that my friends were no longer there was the real crux of the matter, and however they died does nothing to diminish the simple and overwhelming fact that they died.This sounds strange but another one of the things that most bothered me after the first friend of mine died last year (which was a suicide) was the number of people who could not relate. Whilst I’m incredibly grateful to the people who offered to talk or listen, I also felt like I had such a conflicted and nuanced set of feelings that I couldn’t possibly open up to somebody hadn’t lost someone in a similar circumstance. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to relate and you don’t have to say. A lot of people had an opinion on suicide without having experiencing it. I found it hard to articulate to people that I didn’t want to endlessly question my friend’s decision because I needed instead to just cope with the pure fact that he just was no longer there.
Death has always been a part of life and therefore people have always had to deal with grief and bereavement. This means there are millions of thoughts about death, about grief, about coping and about loss out there. There are films and books and documentaries and symphonies and songs and you can study them all and see how other people coped and I promise it helps.I’ve made a list of some of the films, books, music and TV that helped me begin to process my grief, and I will post about it separately at some point. By all means please add your own coping mechanisms below. I very much hope none of you have cause to read through this, but if you, then I send you all my love and I hope there may be something in this post for you.