Monday 22 October 2018

Learning to Grieve

*Trigger warning* This blog talks about death and grief which we understand can be upsetting.

In this blog Carys shares her tips on dealing with loss and grief as a young person

Recently, I watched a brilliant documentary on BBC iPlayer by George Shelley talking about loss and grief (you'll need tissues). I immediately realised a huge gap in mental health discussion: why is grief never talked about? Especially grief and loss among young people. Perhaps grief is hard to articulate clearly because it isn't clear at all.

Everyone who comes into this world will experience grief at some point in their life, and it's not something you're ever prepared for. Sometimes you don't even think a death will affect you so deeply, but it does.

In this blog I hope to share some tips that I've used when dealing with the sudden loss of 3 friends before age 21, named MR, DB and AW. All three were amazing people and friends I thought I'd have forever. During these rough, emotional experiences I’ve understood a lot about coming to terms with death and I hope what I’ve learned will be useful for others.

1)  Talk about them:
In the documentary, George Shelley mentioned about not even being able to say his sister's name to begin with, which is something I really related to. Since AW died, it's rare I've called them by the name I knew them as. George said to say the name out loud, so I did, and it helped. I sat there in my ball-pool of tissues screaming "AW!" for a good 20 minutes. It felt freeing! Finally, saying the name felt a lot less painful.

2) Let the emotions roll:
I’m all over the place with emotions - sometimes I don't even know if I'm sad crying or happy crying, but it doesn’t matter. There is no right way to feel: I’m allowed to be sad, angry, lonely or quiet if I want to be. It's okay to dedicate time for it too. If I get triggered, I allow myself to take 5 minutes of deep-howling cries or pillow-punching sessions. I’ll then wipe those eyes and start again. I know I'll feel worse if I bottle up these emotions.

3) Remember them:
Facebook’s “remembering" feature in front of my friends' names pulls at those heartstrings. Cover photos picture a moment I desperately wish to re-live. But the photos - and even more so the videos - I find weirdly calming to look through. When someone asks me about framed memories in my room, and the pictures covering my noticeboard, I feel I can talk happily about it. I can remember those times as funny, good, and happy, which they were.

4) Listen to Music
It's amazing how our minds link songs to certain people or memories. Of the 3 funerals I've attended, I remember the first minute of AW's. It's normal for your brain to detach from reality during distressing times - it's called dissociation. I wasn’t able to cry at DB’s funeral and I used to think about that a lot - it doesn't mean that I'm less sad or not as worthy of being there as others (which is what my brain likes to tell me). When I playback the non-hymn tunes played at the services, sometimes memories come out of them, sometimes I get nothing at all. I put on music that we used to listen to together to feel closer to them, or simply feel anything at all.

5) Meditate
Finally, have a listen to this on YouTube. I use when no one is there to listen, or I don't know how to talk about what is hurting. It makes you imagine a person who you need/want to tell something that you've been holding in, and they take it away from you and disappear until you need them again. I'm not the type of person who enjoys meditating, but this clip has helped me so much in life, and it doesn't just apply to grief.

6) Be patient with yourself, and others.
We all grieve differently. It's been 7 months now since AW passed, but my housemates and I are finally all talking again in person and online. The "elephant in the room" or the empty space is still there, and life isn’t the same anymore, but it's getting less difficult. We’re still allowed to have banter and share Gifs in group chats, even with one of us missing.

Thank you so much for reading and well done for getting through this important topic - writing this has been difficult, so I can imagine reading it will be too. Please remember to take some time to practice self-care and look after you.

I'm Carys, a 4th year Modern Languages student at Durham University. As well as my passion for languages and travel, I love talking about mental health and I am one of the Student Minds editors this year. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments about my work - I love hearing from you!

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