My First Year of Grief - National Grief Awareness Week 2020

26 Nov 2020

My First Year of Grief - By Christine Woodham

 

For this years National Grief Awareness Week (2nd - 8th December 2020) we have been encouraged to share our stories of grief by the Good Grief Trust, who help and support people through bereavement. In 2019, for the first time in my adult life, I experienced grief – here is my story.

On the 1st of December 2019, I received a call to say that I needed to come and say goodbye to my much beloved Nan. I had been dreading this day for a long time and had almost mentally prepared for it given that both my grandparents were and are in their 80’s, but nothing could prepare me for the day when I would actually have to say goodbye.

My Nan was in good health despite having endured some very serious incidents and illnesses over the course of her 84 years. From car accidents, to being hit by a car and breaking both her legs, being thrown off my Grandad’s motorbike and into the path of a truck and two heart attacks. So, I was shocked to hear than she had been rushed to hospital with a chest infection. Going into hospital was a regular occurrence for her, but she always came home and I would tease her over the phone saying ‘I hear you’ve been misbehaving again…’ and I even said that exact same sentence to her just 2 days before she passed.

I live 2 hours away from my family, so when I received the call about coming home, I never moved so fast in my life knowing how long it would take me to get there. As usual the M1 was a nightmare and it eventually took nearly 3 ½ hours to get there. Every minute that passed I became more and more agitated knowing full well my parents wouldn’t call me to tell me she’d passed as I was already in a complete state of panic. However, my family kept talking to my Nan, telling her I was on my way to her as fast as possible, and by some miracle, after 3 ½ hours, she was still with us.

I sat with her for a couple of hours, just talking to her and holding her hand like she was still in the room. When the time came to say goodbye, I completely broke down knowing that this would be the last time I’ll see her. No less than 20 minutes after leaving the hospital, we received the call to say she passed. She waited for me – she might have been unconscious, but she knew I was coming, and she waited for me.

 

What followed these events, is what we all know as grief. I’d never experienced it as an adult, and I had no doubt it would affect me differently to how it did when I was a child. It hit me like a train, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I stopped taking my medication. I knew that grief affects everyone differently, but why was I adding to my pain? Why was I torturing myself inside? I still don’t really know now 1 year on, but if you ever Google ‘The Stages of Grief’ (which I did countless times), you’ll know that everything you are feeling is perfectly normal, even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time. 

Everyone else in my family seemed to be coping with the loss at a completely different pace to me. I arrived at my Grandad’s house the next morning and was greeted with, ‘shall we get on with it then?’ Get on with what? The day? Our lives? No, he meant sorting through her belongings. It had been less than 12 hours since she’d passed, and we were putting her belongings and possessions into black bags like she never existed. Another day went by and the topic of her funeral came up, what music was going to play? What flowers would she have liked? The anger phase of grief took over me at this point, I didn’t want to be choosing her favourite Elton John songs or deciding if we should go with the pink carnations or the red ones – I wanted it to all stop, I wanted her to walk through the door and say ‘hello Chris’ one more time.  When I reflect on that time now, I know my family weren’t doing those things to be disrespectful, they did it because it was their way of coping - I just had a different way of coping.

Following the funeral, things did get a bit easier, I felt like I had closure for the first time. I thought, that’s it, it’s over, my grief is over. Except, it was far from over, it was only just beginning. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am an introvert and like nothing more than my own company, but for the first time, I felt genuinely alone. No more 3pm Sunday calls with her, no more coming back with a bag full of cups and plates she thought I might like, and no more text message reminders from her hairdresser reminding me of her weekly Friday appointment. In the blink of eye, it was all gone.

We then seemed to be into a flow of ‘firsts’, first Christmas without her, first birthday etc. A friend told me that once you get those out of the way, ‘you’ll feel better’. I didn’t… if anything, it made me feel worse. As if I wasn’t already in enough pain, those ‘firsts’ made it even more apparent she wasn’t here anymore. 

 

I kept my days busy with work, it meant for 8 hours a day I could focus on something else. Fast forward to March and the UK is plunged into lockdown. Now I was really alone. I had so much time to think, every little thing would catch me off guard and upset me and even though I was working from home and talking to colleagues throughout the day, I had too much time to think. I could never tell where or what the triggers of my emotions were going to be, I still don’t know now. On our Coaching for Loss, Change, Uncertainty & Grief Course, Barefoot CEO, Kim Morgan talks about this thing called ‘glitter’ which I found to be a perfect description of grief, “Like glitter – it just appears when you’re least expecting it, when you think you’ve tidied it all away.”

A year on and I’m still finding that ‘glitter’ everywhere, from a garishly flowery plate, to a voicemail that I forgot I saved. Except it makes me smile now, sometimes there are tears, but I can live with that.

If I’ve learnt anything from my rollercoaster of emotions this last year, it’s to never take for granted the people in your life, they can be taken away from you when you least expect it. I wish I’d phoned her more, I wish I went to see her more, I wish I’d taken her to an Elton John concert!

I’m certainly not over my grief (my tears from reliving it for this blog tell me that), I just learnt co-exist with it.