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AMY: MY FIRST LOSS

Updated: Mar 18, 2022


Something a bit different for our blog. I interviewed Amy about her first loss, exploring the person, the feeling and how she coped. This is not intended to be the "right way", simply a perspective to generate conversations and reduce stigma.


In loving memory of David William Henry Harding, 1931 – 2018


Amy:

My name is Amy, I’m 30 years old, I'm from a little town in the Black Country in the West Midlands and I am a personal wellbeing advisor. So yeah, that's, that's me in a nutshell really. The experience I wanted to share, is me talking about my first experience of grief, and what that is and has been like for me. I lost someone really close to myself, who was my Granddad. Yeah. So just speaking about that and how, you know, that was that was basically my first loss, I've kind of never lost anyone as close as that until I was 27.


Matthew:

So, three years ago now.


Amy:

Yeah, it's weird thinking it’s been that long, honestly. It's actually his birthday today (the day the interview was conducted).


Matthew:

I quite like the symmetry of us doing this on this day then, what do you think?


Amy:

Yeah, definitely. I completely forgot, you know, because you just get kind of blindsided by everything, obviously in life and with covid at the minute. I saw on my Uncle's WhatsApp- he put “Happy Heavenly Birthday, Dad” in our family chat. My Mom text me as well, and she was like, he would be 91 today!


Matthew:

I was just about to say how old would he be. 91! Wow.


Amy:

Three years is such… It was a lot longer though, as in it feels longer ago. You think, because some people say it feels like yesterday, that it will feel like that, but to me, it feels like a lifetime ago. It feels longer than it was because I've just not seen him, and these last few years have just flown by with covid and no one really seeing each other; life being different.


Matthew:

Do you want to tell us a little bit about him? I think it would be quite cool to honour his memory.


Amy:

He was literally like the king of our crazy family. He held everybody together, and there's, there's a lot of us on that side of the family. My Dad (Grandad’s son) is one of six and then there's like 14 cousins and we are a really, really close-knit family, which is rare. It is rare that people do stay close, like me and my cousins. He was the “glue”, it was just so easy to go in and just so chill and you would all pile in Nan and Granddad's on a Saturday afternoon and we had tea and biscuits.


Matthew:

Did your Grandparents have their biscuits in an old sewing tin, or was that just mine?


Amy:

Oh, yeah! AND you would have to ask him first if you wanted a Viennese whirl! You would take the box and he would kind of look at you and say, “only one”. Even though there's six in a pack!


Matthew:

I bet that brings back some great memories. I know it’s been three years, as you said, and yet even now when you're referencing words and phrases that he said, you adopted a different tone of voice and body language, which I imagine is what you remember him doing. It's really nice that you can connect with that.


Amy:

Yeah, when we were kids running round, he would just be so placid and so chilled. He would always tell us “I love you; I love you lot”. You could get his comb and comb his hair and he just sat there, just letting you do whatever. Then at family parties, he would say “I could stay here all night I could”. That was his line. Even just out for a meal on a Sunday, he would say “I'll have a glass of red wine, I could stay here all night I could”. And that's one of the things everyone mentioned at the funeral and even at the most emotional parts of the day hearing that, we all laughed.


Matthew:

I just think it's so nice to use space to reflect on these kinds of things and allow you time to hold on to that memory.

Do you think having such an experience for the first time at this stage in your life had its advantages or disadvantages?


Amy:

I would imagine it would be completely different if it happened when I was younger. Grief is unusual too, because it’s not a feeling you’re that used to, like anger or sadness. I guess because me and my cousins are a lot older so we can talk about it and we can, you know, have a laugh about it now. Whereas, when you're younger, you kind of feel maybe you don't want to talk about it as much. I mean, he was in his late 80s so in that sense we had so much time together and I knew he lived a really fulfilling life. I think, at that age, for me, I have kind of found a bit more of who I am. I know how to cope with stress a bit better in terms of having been through so many different life experiences that life almost prepared me to be able to tolerate those certain things. As a teenager, I don’t know if I really understood why people have to die, or really understood what that feeling is and how to tolerate it because I guess at that age, you still have an element of parents holding those emotions for you.


I think in terms of processing what has happened, and just being aware of death being inevitable, being an adult may have more advantages in that regard. I think about how he saw his kids grow up; he saw us grow up. That kind of makes it easier, for me.


I wouldn't have wanted him going through any more pain or distress than he did too. So yeah, I wouldn't say it makes it easier, but it helps thinking that way to process it. Me and my cousins, we're all a similar age, we range from 26 to 40, and we can talk about it and our experiences. I speak to my dad too which makes it easier to talk more openly.


Matthew:

You said something powerful there that I don’t think I had fully considered before. You don't necessarily experience that emotion of grief that often. I guess, that helps me to step back and validate myself if I were in that position, of course this feels bloody awful, it’s so new, so unknown, so complex. I guess what you’re saying is that because of the resources that you have in your everyday life, you were able to cope with the loss and the grief. That's why it's so important to understand what our vulnerabilities are and how we can reduce those vulnerabilities, by having connections with other people, by being part of a community where possible, by having that safe space to go to, to talk to someone.


Amy:

Yeah, I mean, sometimes you don’t want to talk about it. But it is also nice to know people are there, like when they bring him up or ask how I feel after the loss, it is nice to know that people still think of him.


Matthew:

I think that’s quite helpful for readers who know someone who has lost someone, knowing what is helpful for the person experiencing it.


I’m just reflecting on my own experience of grief, which is different to yours. Mine was when I was a lot younger, and it was a different relationship with the person. I can remember feeling such a weird, strange.. I couldn't explain the feeling that I had, I didn't know how to label it. This physical feeling that I can't describe inside me that felt like it shouldn't be there. I remember that I couldn't verbalise it and I think that is because no one had ever really spoken to me about grief. What do you think?


Amy:

Yeah, no one ever really spoke about it so, when it did happen with my granddad, I didn't know what to expect. Going to see him at the chapel of rest, for example, I was just like, I don't know what to and as you say it is a weird feeling. I remember for example, I was at work, and I think four days before the funeral or something like that and my dad called me and spoke about coming to see granddad and I just broke down at work and I didn’t know what to do, I've never experienced that before, and then my dad started getting upset.


Matthew:

I’m just trying to recall being told about it, but I don’t believe that ever happened, for me anyway.


I think that that's why when you approached me about this being what you wanted to talk about I just, I thought it would be so powerful and I'm just sitting here thinking about that for a moment. I'm getting goosebumps thinking that this could potentially be something where someone thinks, you know what, why don't we talk about grief? do we need to do that more? And, and if so, how do we do that? And where can we look to do those things? I think those are conversations and questions that need to be asked and I would have loved to have started those conversations earlier.


Amy:

It’s kind of a brushed under the carpet subject because you can't just say to someone “you're going to feel like this. You're gonna cry. You've got to do this; this you're going to get you angry. You can't just go tick, tick, tick”. I haven’t really spoken about it that much really; this is probably the most and it has felt really good. Just based off what I have heard from others about their experience of grief; some people get very emotional, some suffer, and some don’t necessarily experience the “expected” emotions. So, I get why it is hard to communicate, but it makes it harder to communicate when you don't communicate.


Matthew:

I’m glad this has been a good experience so far for you.

What do you think would be helpful to hear from a friend in this situation then?


Amy:

I guess, what is it you want me to do? or just being honest and saying, “I don't know what to say right now but I’m here”. To be honest, I don’t think there is a wrong thing to say if it’s coming from a good place.


Matthew:

So, how did this loss affect you specifically, do you think?


Amy:

My Granddad had vascular dementia, so literally in the space of six weeks he was gone, from the time of being diagnosed. Thankfully he didn't get to a point where he didn't know any of us. It was more so, for example, I would ask him what he had for breakfast, and he would tell me “bacon and sausage this morning” and the nurses would shake their heads and say, a spoonful of porridge. Another time we were having to try to feed him and he was refusing, flat out, and he would be getting a bit anxious and angry about it.


So that period of six weeks was just emotionally, mentally just draining and it was a weird feeling because it would be like two o'clock in the morning, you get a phone call and be shooting up to the hospital and it was just like getting built up, so yeah, those six weeks were just insane. Our emotions were so high, and then you'd find out he hadn’t passed away and then you would just feel exhausted.


Matthew:

Wow, and I imagine that must have thrown you at times, with you trying to think about what he needs to hear at that time and how you want to respond to him. That sounds so difficult. I can only imagine the sort of physical toll that must have taken, having such a fluctuation of emotions.


Amy:

Yeah, and then he passed away. We got the family together, had a few drinks and takeaway. We were just reminiscing. Nobody was crying. It really helped though, just talking.


Matthew:

I always find it interesting to learn from other people and how they process the passing of a loved on. Some cultures see this as an opportunity to celebrate someone’s life. Even Day of the Dead in Mexican culture is celebrated annually and there are set traditions people follow, I imagine that being a different experience entirely. I really want to educate myself on it more to be honest, because obviously it's not my culture, and I do find it fascinating. I also think that looking at how other cultures and how people of different backgrounds and religions approach experiences like this, could be a helpful use of our time.


You talking about how you used that emotional time to get together with your family and talk is really useful too. It kind of fits with CBT and how we look at the connection between someone’s thoughts, feeling and how this influences their behaviour, and after such an experience people may feel like they need or want to be alone. I guess, it’s worth thinking about how the longer we do that for, the more we avoid that pain and although that seems helpful initially, it may have a knock-on effect later.


Amy:

It definitely helped!


Matthew:

So how would you describe grief?


Amy:

Just a wave of different emotions, and it pops up at moments you don’t think about until it happens. For example, hissong was New York, New York and whenever it comes on, you almost freeze for a moment and that wave comes over you again. We kind of embraced it and view it as a reminder he’s still there, refusing to leave the party!


Matthew:

I love how you said you have chosen to reframe it and view hearing that song as a positive experience!


What would your advice be to someone going through loss?


Amy:

I think, communicate. Talking about it as an open conversation, rather than it being like, this is what you do, this is where you go. Also, remember that your experience and what you’re feeling right now might not be the same as your dad, or your cousin or anyone else really.


Matthew:

I always say, no one views the world through your eyes, and I think sometimes I think that's why it makes these types of conversations difficult to have because that emotion feels so raw.


Amy:

You almost want a book that says this is how to do it.


Matthew:

Yeah! It's just another facet of the human experience, isn't it? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes our emotions can be a pain in the neck, uncomfortable and unpleasant. And at the same time, if, say, for example, if you have never felt grief, then how do you ever truly appreciate something you've lost? Do you know what I mean? If you press a button that removed it completely, would you hold on to relationships like you do? Would you express the way you feel as often as you do? Would you show that affection the way that you do?


Amy:

Exactly, and even missing saying grandad. I don’t get to say that anymore. It’s been quite nice to say it so much during this.


Matthew:

That’s a great example of grieving too isn't it, that loss of that part of your language.


Amy:

Definitely.


Matthew:

So what helps or has helped with those sort of thoughts or the experience as a whole for you personally?


Amy:

Um, family's been a massive help, and I have been lucky enough to have that, that's for sure. Just letting my emotions be what they are, for example, if I have a thought or a photo comes up or a song comes on, I feel sad, and it is okay to be sad. I can stop, sit there and be quiet for five minutes, it's fine. I give my mom or dad a call or something, you know, just to be able to go, Oh, I've just seen this about grandad or whatever. I am also comfortable enough with myself to go, I can be upset if I need to be upset and whatever thought or emotion comes to me about him, I know it's okay to feel a certain way, even if it's now or in 10 years time.


I think having or maintaining a routine helps. You know, just carrying on with work and kind of having that normality of getting up and going to work. Small things, like going for a walk.


Matthew:

I feel like going for a walk when you're an adult is the equivalent of making your bed when you're a teenager.


Amy:

Honestly, it really is. I did almost a three mile walk on Monday and when I got back, I felt a lot better. I just put my headphones in and went out. It's just a way of escape is a really?


Matthew:

What is something that you have learned from your experience or even what someone else taught you about loss?


Amy:

Do what helps. If that’s a good cry, do it. Feel what you feel and know that it’s ok.


Matthew:

Love that. You said earlier how you don't think that you have ever actually really sat down and spoke about it in length, What has that been like, doing this?


Amy:

It’s been so nice, just to feel like I can open up and to keep his memory going.


Matthew:

Thank you so much for sharing such a personal experience with us! I am sure that our readers will take so much from what you have shared and hopefully helps at least one person in some way.





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