One year ago today, I was told my dad was gone. It was almost 6 months to the day after I lost mum. This means I have somehow gone 365 days without hearing his voice, without receiving his daily voicemails that used to drive me mad, 365 days without seeing him take off down the street when his Parkinson’s meant his legs couldn’t keep up with his body, 365 days since I saw him sobbing uncontrollably as he tried to come to terms with a life without his wife. I have had 365 days to learn how to live without my parents. Some days it doesn’t feel like living, but I know it is. This time last year, I was sat shaking uncontrollably not quite believing the level of devastation that had torn through my life in such a brief amount of time. One year on, the thing that hits me every day is that, I survived.
Most people think it’s the anniversaries that are the hardest to deal with. I have managed all the “firsts” and have had the messages of sorrow roll in from people, on birthdays, holidays, special occasions. These days are hard, of course they hurt, but they are the ones I’ve seen coming, the times that I’ve had opportunity to prepare for. On mum’s one-year anniversary there was one thing I kept hearing – “at least you’re past the worst now.” When I hear those words it’s like an unintentional punch to my gut because, for me, I will never be past the worst. The hardest moments are the ones we don’t see or can’t expect, the moments when tears just appear, or a flash memory leaves me shaking and nauseous. Yes, the fog of sheer devastation has cleared slightly but what I really wish people understood is that grief isn’t staged, it doesn’t pass with time. We don’t get over it, we just learn to manage it. This is the thing that’s been hard for me. It’s like everyone saves up their sympathy for the “big” days, so when you suddenly break down out of nowhere, you’ve not given them time to prepare their response. I find that my random sad days often result in people telling me I should consider medication or anti-depressants, as if to say I shouldn’t be breaking down anymore. Yet for me, I’ve accepted these sad days. These moments are part of my life now, and I expect to incorporate them into my future. I don’t want medication to stop them. I don’t want to numb them out forever. Don’t get me wrong.. I know with time they may get fewer and further between, but I will never not mourn my parents. There is no cure for grief, it’s a way of life.
I have always been an emotional person. I feel things strongly, I attach easily and I have always cared deeply. This is something I grew up ashamed of having frequently been told to “not take things to heart” or “stop being so emotional.” As humans we get to feel joy, jealousy, love, shame, happiness, embarrassment, sadness, anger, frustration. Except, after my parents died, I realised that there are days when, despite all the dips and spins of life, I feel nothing. I often take a step back and look around and see people laughing, screaming, and enjoying life, and I long for my previous life. This feeling of nothingness isn’t a constant, it comes and goes. Some days I’ll be laughing and finding joy in my children, and others I’ll struggle to find anything worth getting up for.
I put these feelings down to the trauma I have survived, and believe it is my bodies way of protecting me. Somedays I just can’t afford for my heart to hurt. It feels truly awful to feel nothing, and I am lucky that I don’t live with this on a daily basis. Despite everyone saying that we “expect” our parents to die one day, it never feels natural. I didn’t class myself as an adult until after my parents died. Life loses a lot of meaning when you realise that you’ve lost your two main constants.
One way I deal with this is by trying to find more meaning in life by forcing myself to feel. I force myself to walk along the beach regularly and I stare at the horizon wondering how many other people are starring back from somewhere. I have started reading about astronomy because it helps me take in the fact that we are such a small piece of a huge picture. In order to survive my grief I knew I had to leave Belfast. Every day was a constant reminder of what I’d lost. My mum was a big member of our community and I’d see her friends everywhere I went. I’d see her car drive past and my heart would jump for a second before I remembered. My dad was a musician, so I’d be in Tesco and suddenly a song he used to play over and over would come on and I’d burst into tears. I thought leaving Belfast would help and to some extent it has. Being abroad puts a distance between me and my grief in some ways. Some days, it feels like I’m just… living away from home. My parents are back home and I’m just … away. Other days, the reality that I’m in entirely foreign land, with no support network, is a lot harder.
In this past year, I have come to realise that grief leaves an unfillable hole within you. I thought leaving Belfast would help fill that hole with other exciting opportunities. Grief leaves you with this overwhelming desire to find happiness so I spent the past year trying to seek change in new opportunities, however that hole is still there, and I’ve come to realise that it always will be. This was an important realisation for me, because it has forced me to find comfort in the present. In the people around me, and in my current circumstances. No amount of distance, change or excitement can fill that hole, so it’s important, for people grieving, to take that deep breath, and trust that you will eventually learn to live again.
Meeting and befriending people who understand my grief has become a huge part of my journey. These people get it, they understand how grief has changed us to the point that we will never again be the people we once were. These people have become one of my greatest comforts because they know my pain without trying to understand it. Unfortunately, there is a horrible peace in knowing you’re not alone.
That is why this blog exists. I truly hope that if you are a member of this morbid “club” that you know you are not alone. One year on, I want to say to anyone currently grieving — even if right now it feels unrelenting, overwhelming and all-consuming— I promise that you will survive, in your own way, too.