I thought I was strong, but grief proved me otherwise

CW: suicide, mental illness, death

Photo from www.instagram.com/positivethoughtspositivechange

I made it to twenty three before I lost a close relative. They faded away under the cruelty of dementia and my last memory of my relationship with them was a fleeting visit in a care home, which ended as he walked away from me without a goodbye. I can still smell it now: those piss-soaked chairs in a depressing communal living room; a TV blaring at what must have been full volume.

I wanted to scream but, in the same way his life ended, I was quiet instead. Aside from a drunken outburst on a cheap sofa in a mouse-riddled house at university, I ploughed through. I finished my degree, I got my first proper job, and I started to put that chapter of my life behind me.

It was only years later that the reality of loss made itself known. My life hasn’t been particularly charming and until then I had given myself a lot of credit for my resilience — my ability to keep going in the toughest of circumstances. No such luck this time. Following the loss of my grandmother the week before I was due to move closer to her, I experienced grief at its ugliest.

I spent the following summer fairly unable to walk. I tried to speak, to make sense of how I’d been feeling, but it didn’t work. Instead of asking for help, I pushed everyone away with a barrage of anger and hate. My grief turned into anxiety turned into depression and acted as a trigger for the twenty-six years of trauma, stress and mental illness I’d buried inside me.

As a dramatic teen I’d threatened suicide time and time again, convinced it was the done thing when feeling isolated and low. This time though, it was real. Growing up I had often felt unloved and unwanted, and the loss of someone — perhaps the only person — who had loved me unconditionally for most of my life left me feeling as though there was no point carrying on.

A lot of therapy and a lot of support from the people around me meant I was able to drag myself out of that pit but, for a moment, I didn’t want to live anymore. It’s not as dramatic as you’d think, feeling suicidal: for a time, it just seems like the right thing to do. At times, it was easier for me to embrace it than to try and push it away.

The death of Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit came at a time when I was already struggling with my ongoing grief and the knowledge I was about to go through it all again with another family member. (Let’s save the complexities of anticipatory grief for another day.) Saying it felt like the carpet had been pulled from beneath me when I heard the news just doesn’t seem right. In this case, the carpet was on fire and I was rolling around on top of it in a feeble attempt to put it out.

I didn’t want to allow grief back into my life, particularly not when it was so closely connected to everything I’d felt before. The location of Scott’s death, the Firth of Forth, was somewhere I had only ever associated with happiness — the bridge between the journey from my former home down south to where my family stay(ed) in Fife.

I couldn’t bear the thought of another person feeling like they couldn’t live any longer; nor did I want to acknowledge how I had been feeling only a few months previously. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work and I ended up on the bus to work, sobbing as I listened to Frightened Rabbit’s music. (Thanks, by the way, to the grumpy commuters who politely ignored me that morning.)

One month later, I’ve realised there is no right or wrong way to cope with grief and I am doing my best to live with it. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. There will be days where you think about it only in a passing moment, if at all, and there will be days where it is all your mind can focus on.

I don’t wish those days on anyone.

Samaritans — for everyone
Call 116 123
Email
jo@samaritans.org

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) — for men
Call 0800 58 58 58–5pm to midnight every day
Visit the
webchat page

Papyrus — for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 — Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Email
pat@papyrus-uk.org

Childline — for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 — the number won’t show up on your phone bill

The Silver Line — for older people
Call 0800 4 70 80 90

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