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Grief Awareness Week: "I felt cursed."

With 2-8 December marking Grief Awareness Week, Lucy shares the story of losing her dad this time last year...

This week (2-8 December) marks Grief Awareness Week, and Solent Mind's peer recovery worker Lucy shares her story...

On December 6 2022, my dad passed away peacefully in his sleep. He was only 48 years old and had struggled himself with his mental health. He was my best friend, and the grief that followed was cruel and confusing.

For Grief Awareness Week, I wanted to honour my dad on the anniversary of his death and talk about the aftermath of coping with my mental health, in the hopes that others can feel less alone in the unspoken feelings of loss.

The memory of my mum calling to tell me dad had died still makes my chest ache. I remember falling apart in my kitchen - crying, screaming, throwing things, sitting on the floor with my best friend feeling like I was just imagining it all.

I remember worrying if the cake I had baked would be okay to leave in Southampton while I went back home to Slough, and I remember worrying about work and the food that would go off in the fridge while I was gone.

In those first few hours I laughed and bawled with my best friend and boyfriend as they packed me up to go home, as all the memories and realisations of what I had lost hit me. That was the reality of grief for me – there was no steady denial followed by anger followed by each stage. I bounced painfully back and forth that day, and in all the months that followed.

The way my mental health was shaped in grief was frightening. Having lost my granddad and our childhood dog earlier that year, I felt cursed. I felt alone in my persisting paranoia – feeling like at any moment my boyfriend or mum would crash on their way home.

I would compulsively check the times they were last online and whether there were any traffic accidents on their route, refreshing the pages until I knew they were safe.

I felt too embarrassed to just call and see if they were alright. I told my mum she could only call me on WhatsApp and nothing else unless it was ‘scary news’ – one time she forgot, and my heart jumped into my throat and my legs started shaking and I was back in the kitchen being told that my dad had died.

I didn’t recognise this part of myself and that scared me. I didn’t know how to be me anymore without my dad. No one had ever spoken about grief like this.

I spent months struggling. I had made up this idea in my head that everyone was expecting me to be over it already, but the pressure of it felt so real. At the time, I worked a soul-crushing job where I was punched and kicked most days, so I was forced to push down the grief just so I could make it through each day and afford to live.

I never truly allowed myself to grieve because it was inconvenient, and it just hurt too much. I didn’t realise how horrifically it was impacting my mental health until I felt bald spots in my hair from stress, and I was having panic attacks most weeks.

Eventually, I found a job vacancy for Solent Mind. I had always wanted to work in mental health, because I saw how it had affected my dad. I wanted to do something where I could help people, so they never had to go through what he did.

At the same time, I finally made the decision to refer myself to Steps2Wellbeing. My counsellor helped me overcome the fear of leaving my dad behind and encouraged me to do things that meant I could bring him with me into the future.

I started writing a cookbook with both of our recipes, and I started writing a list of all the things I remembered about him – he loved watching Gilmore Girls, his favourite colour was pink, and he used to scream the house down when a crane fly got in.

I started to manage my mental health better when I realised that my loved ones wanted to help me, and I let them. I opened up more about how I was doing and told more stories about dad, and it felt cathartic to feel like the love I have for him was still alive even if he wasn’t, just by hearing others laugh and smile about the way he used to be.

I rewatched shows and movies and played all the games we used to love. I started focusing on my new job role and found that it gave me purpose to move forward, and I found a new love for crochet that relaxed me and made me happy.

I don’t know what recovery is supposed to look like, but I’d like to hope I’m getting there. I know this grief will never pass, and I know that time won’t necessarily heal. My boyfriend told me once that the waves can’t be 6ft forever, and I still find that very comforting.

The waves will still come – they will come every time I see the Funko Pops he loved to collect and when the final season of Stranger Things comes out and he’s not here to watch it with me.

The waves will still come, and they’ll still pull me under and sometimes it will still feel as suffocating as it did before, but it’ll be easier to swim back to the surface and see the horizon ahead.

It will be easier to find comfort in the happy memories and funny stories. I know that I’ve got a lifeline in my family, my boyfriend, my friends.

If I could go back and talk to myself that day, I wouldn’t tell myself that it’ll be okay. I know I wouldn’t have believed it then, and truthfully sometimes I don’t believe it now. Instead, I would tell myself that the road ahead will be painful and rough, but that it doesn’t have to be walked alone. There’s no judgement in falling back on loved ones just to make it through the day.

I’d tell myself there is nothing wrong with all the painful emotions and thoughts and that I’m allowed to feel and talk about all the nasty things that come with grief. Most of all, I’d tell myself that dad is still in our hearts as much today as he was when he was alive, and that grief will never take that away from me.

Are you in need of mental health support? Solent Mind offer a variety of support, and lived experience is at the heart of everything we do. Please head to 'Our services' page to find out what support could help you.

To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123.  If you would prefer not to talk but want some mental health support, you could text SHOUT to 85258.

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