When grief is complicated but it is not complicated grief…

This is a letter written by a grieving daughter who would like to remain anonymous. She’s asked me to post this in the hope that it will help someone else in a similar situation.

Not all relationships are straight forward and ‘ideal’.  Ambiguous or complicated relationships can (but don’t always) lead to ambiguous or complicated grieving.  This is not the same as complicated grief which is different.

If you’d like to know more about why grief is so individualistic, or what complicated grief is, or have any other questions, take a look at my new book “Grief Demystified: An Introduction”:

Grief Demystified on Amazon

“Dear ‘Dad’,
I’m pretty confident you’ll be wondering why the inverted commas. Of the few communications I’ve ever received from you over the past 50 years, you have always referred to yourself as ‘dad’. My opinion is that the label has responsibilities and expectations that you have never demonstrated, so you are not worthy of that title.

Your daddy’s girl was left bewildered and devastated when you left without telling anyone when I was 6 years old. I thought I’d done something wrong and I was being punished. No-one told me any different. No-one talked about you, but I do remember your mother chasing you down the street with a bread knife threatening to kill you… that image pretty much sums up the memories of my childhood: violence, shouting, fear, neglect, suffering, confusion. I found out many years later, that you had left after coming home and finding my mother on the floor having taken an overdose of pills. I guess she couldn’t take your drunk or drugged up violence and the trips to the hospital any more.

I tried to get to know you when I was a teenager; I even emigrated to the country you were living in to do so. In hindsight, I was still seeking reparation for the ‘wrongdoing’ I had done that had ‘made’ you leave when I was 6. You rewarded my efforts by getting drunk every.single.night, vehemently denying everything you did that I witnessed as a child, and swinging for me with your fists. The irony of course is that to everyone else you were happy, generous and fun.

After trying and failing to build a relationship as a daughter with you, I moved countries. But you would get drunk and ring me to verbally abuse my life choices. I had sold out because I lived in America; you hated the country. I had sold out because I was the first person to go to university in the family; who did I think I was? I had sold out because I worked a lot and didn’t party like you; I was boring and ‘Americanised’. Eventually I moved and didn’t give you my phone number. After failing to build a daughter relationship with you, you wouldn’t allow me to even have an adult relationship with you.

The last time I saw you was when your beloved mother was ill, that was twenty years ago. You flew back to our home town to visit her prior to her death. I found out you were home because my mother received a phone call summoning me to a pub to see you. I went, as I always did; I never wanted a reason to feel guilty or accused of not being receptive to a relationship with you, even if it was on your dysfunctional terms.

After years of peace and quiet, you started sending me friend requests on Facebook that I kept rejecting. After a while your persistence paid off and I accepted you. But you never even say ‘happy birthday’ to me either publicly or privately.

I had to ring you 11 years ago to tell you that the grandchild you had never met was terminally ill. Your exact words are seared into my memory like branding on a farm animal, “shit, I’m having such a bad week, first an argument with my girlfriend, now this.” Your first thought was about yourself, the non-existent ‘grandfather’, you never asked about the three year old child that was dying of cancer, you never asked how your daughter was while she was watching her son die in her arms. Sadly, after 40 years of life, I didn’t expect anything else from you. That statement pretty much summed you up. I haven’t spoken to you since.

I hear that you have died. I had anticipated that at some point I would have to deal with your death and the ambiguous feelings that would arise. I was never sure how this would feel for me; would I feel nothing because we have a virtually non-existent relationship, or would I feel emotions because you gave me life? I have ambiguous feelings, which accurately reflect the ambiguous relationship we had.

They say your parents fuck you up, I would agree with that. But as an adult, you have the choice whether to maintain that status or change it. They may have given you a beaten up old car, but you sure as hell can choose to pimp that mother up. And that’s what I’ve done. So thank you for contributing to fucking me up, you provided me with an array of tools with which to understand complexities I may never have understood if I’d had two normal parents, a dog and a white picket fence.

One of those complexities is dealing with people who didn’t know you; those friends and your wife that you lied to about your past. They are sainting you online, sending condolences to the ‘family’ you never had any contact with, talking to you in ‘heaven’. Who am I to shatter their illusions?

That 6 year old girl will never understand why you didn’t love her enough to be her dad, and this 50 year old will always envy those that have a dad that loves and cares for them.

I did find a short letter you sent twenty years ago following your visit to our home town and the last time I saw you. It contained a photo of us together in that pub, and your words ‘all my love dad xxxxx’. It is the only tangible proof I have that you existed. It is the only tangible proof I have that you may have had some feelings towards me underneath that selfish persona. So, thank you for that, and for triggering some happier memories that I’ve managed to retrieve and receive comfort from.

I hope you Rest In Peace ‘Dad’, I love you now as I loved you then, because despite the pimping out, the bodywork always remains the same…”

As always, this content is copywrited and may not be used without my explicit permission.

Let’s talk about suicide…

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about suicide since the sad announcement of Chris Cornell’s death yesterday.  Most of the information provided is assumptive, and not based on research or statistics.  Here are some of the facts from the World Health Organization’s 2015 dataset:

  1. Suicide is not the most common cause of death; it is the 17th leading cause of death worldwide.
  2. Suicide does not just affect young people; it occurs throughout the lifespan.
  3. It is not just men that suicide, women do too.
  4. Close to 800,000 die via suicide each year, with many more attempted.
  5. Suicide can be prevented.

Why is suicide different to any other death?

Suicide is different because the person who we love chose to end their own life prematurely. That sentence on its own is a powerful concept to process, as it throws up all kinds of questions and emotions. It also alters the way other people interact with us as grievers.

There are many reasons why bereavement can be different after suicide and they can include:

  • The questioning of religious beliefs
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Stigma
  • Denial
  • Absence of support
  • Silence
  • Other people’s perception or interpretation of the situation both pre death and of the death
  • Curiosity
  • Police involvement
  • Coroner involvement
  • Rejection
  • Heightened fear of genetics
  • But mainly “why?”

 

What are some of the reasons for suicide?

Aside from obvious mental health issues, such as drug addiction or bipolar disorder, that may lead a person to suicidal thoughts and actions, there are four psychological needs that need to be met, according to an expert in suicide, Dr. Nicola Tweedie[1] :

Thwarted Love;

We all want to feel loved, accepted, and that we belong.  If we feel isolated or lonely. or excluded from our network groups, this can lead to low self worth. Alternatively, wanting to belong to a displaced group e.g. where there is a spate of teenage suicides in an area, can be seductive.  The perception of joining them and becoming part of the group is a powerful attraction.   Suicide can therefore appear to be a solution i.e. “no-one ever loved me anyway, no-one will care” either as a result of exclusion or the desire to be included.

Fractured Control:

Most humans enjoy predictability, stability, autonomy and some order in their lives.  When there is a perception of no or littel control, for example when we lose a job, are declared bankrupt, or divorce etc., suicide can seem like the only option to escape from the situation.

Assaulted Self Image:

In situations where someone has been bullied or subject to any manner of abuse, the resulting emotions can be shame, humiliation, or other associated feelings.  This can lead to the perception that the only way to cope with these feelings, particularly when functionally crippling, is to avoid them.  However if the emotions are too overwhelming, and possibly having a significant traumatic effect, suicide may be perceived as an escape route.

Excessive Anger:

Rage and hostility are associated with frustrated needs, and can lead to the ultimate act of rage against the human form.

Why is suicide different for grievers?

Van Derwal (1989)[2] identified the areas that are qualitatively different for those bereaved from suicide:

  • A prolonged search for the motive.
  • Denying the cause of death due to stigma and societal responses.
  • Feelings of rejection (both by the deceased and sometimes society).
  • Religious questioning.
  • They are more often likely to conceal the cause from others.
  • A heightened fear of a genetic /increased risk of suicide for themselves and their family.

 

How do we support those bereaved through suicide?

There is a simple answer to that question; in the same way you support anyone through a life event that is overwhelming and devastating:  with empathy, compassion, open mindedness & authenticity.  Just being there and/or listening is enough.

(Please note: The use of the word ‘committed’ with reference to ‘committed suicide’ is not particularly sensitive to the bereaved due to connotations of ‘committing’ a crime, particularly if the griever has a religious affiliation.)

For further resources see:

http://www.annemoss.com – a blog by a bereaved mother after her son suicided

http://www.Samaritans.org  – a helpline and support for anyone feeling suicidal

http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk – for support if bereaved through suicide

 

[1] http://finder.bupa.co.uk/Consultant/view/183553/dr_nicola_tweedie

[2] Van der Wal, J. (1989-90). The aftermath of suicide: A review of empirical evidence. Omega, 20, 149-171.

 

 

 

Grief Demystified..

Please see my previous post about why I had to delete several of my informational blogs. In the meantime I’ve been busy putting all of the information from them, plus a whole lot more, into a book comissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
The book will be called Grief Demystified and explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know: do men and women grieve differently? why do we grieve for famous people? how do I know if I’ve grieved properly? and what to say to the  bereaved, plus many more questions answered.  It also includes a list of recommended bereavement organisations that provide online resources, offline support and signposting.  It also includes an extensive list of references if, like me, you are interested in furthering your knowledge in grief and bereavement from the experts.

And best of all- there are diagrams and photos for visual learners and the easily bored 🙂

I shall write more blogs soon about the myths that still pervade on social media, because I keep seeing misleading articles and outdated information…

Content..

It is with regret that I have had to delete many posts due to persistent plaigiarism. I started this blog to share information as a result of 28 years of reading, training, volunteering, experiencing bereavement & client support work.  But reading my words over and over again without reference to this blog  was hugely disappointing.

Thank you to those of you that sent messages saying they helped you or that you’ve used them to educate others.  Thank you also to those that liked or commented on them.

If you would like to access the original blog material or have any questions on grief theory, please contact me directly and I’ll be happy to share them.

#Life.WhatTheF#ckIsThis.Death

I was delighted to be invited to join the ‘cast’ of #lifedeathwhatever this week at Sutton House in Hackney to talk about my passion: grief following a bereavement.  I was excited for predominantly two reasons; 1. because ordinarily no-one wants to hear me bang on about theories and debunking the myths that still abound about grief, and 2. I wanted to explore the beautifully curated creative exploration of life and death that beckoned.

Sutton House is a National Trust property that is beautifully preserved, and the curators @anna_eol_doula and @poetic_endings have done an outstanding job of adding beautiful installations to it.  One example was a coffin playroom which consisted of coffins full of multi coloured balls for tactile exploration.  There was also an ‘all that’s left unsaid’ exhibition of cards with sentiments written on them such as ‘you said you loved me, you lied’ and ‘you should have knocked and asked to come in’.  This was also an opportunity to examine a pink hearse, drink death themed cocktails and eat a herb supper.

But enough of the interesting exhibition -never one to miss an opportunity, I’d like to share a brief overview of the content of my workshop with you.

The first part of the presentation was exploring the differences between intuitive and instrumental grievers (Martin & Doka, 2010) with specific personality types.  Whilst these are generalities, exploring the combination of variables gives rise to explaining why different people exhibit grief in different ways.  I’ve written about this at length in my book Grief Demystified, due to be published by JKP in 2017.

Secondly we had a discussion around the myths of grief.  ‘Are you over it yet’, ‘time heals all wounds’, ‘you can always have more [children] and the big one: the 5 stages of grief.  For those who are unfamiliar or haven’t checked Wikipedia.com lately,  the five stages of grief were identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as the grief emotions experienced by those who were dying in the 1960’s, not the bereaved.  The model was later expanded by Elisabeth to encompass grief but she was very clear that the stages are not linear and not intended to be interpreted that way.  There are several more modern models of grief that are preferable to demonstrate the reality of bereavement.

Lastly we explored the impact of social media and how our digital legacy affects grieving. The consensus was that the immediate family should have control, and power of veto over who should post, and what content should be allowed to be published publicly.

For further information on this workshop or if you would like to chat to me about running one or attending one of my training courses, please contact me at thegriefgeek@yahoo.com.  I am always delighted to share this with anyone interacting with the bereaved, to the bereaved, or anyone supporting the bereaved professionally.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a visit to http://www.lifedeathwhatever.com when the next one is running.  The exhibitions and events are life affirming and invigorating and are perfectly situated within an atmospheric and beautifully historic venue.

 

 

 

Death and Culture in York- My Thoughts..

I just wanted to return here to document some interesting ideas and information I gleaned from the recent Death and Culture Conference at York University. The conference was an interdisciplinary event involving a wide array of perspectives across the full range of death, dying and bereavement topics, but not excluding other related areas.  Here is a summary of my highlights from a varied and fascinating three day programme:

Dr Karina Croucher presented a very interesting talk about her partnership with Christina Faull of LOROS Hospice in Leicester on their joint research, combining archaeology and continuing bonds.  An unusual combination on the surface until she explains ‘I study the mortuary practices (i.e. the ways in which people reacted to death and treated their dead) in the past’ and then you realise this joint research is completely logical and will be fascinating when completed.

Brenda Mathijssen spoke on the theme of continuing bonds.   She talked about the wearing and retention of ashes and how these items, created from the remains of our loved ones, are so significant when we are initially bereaved, but over time they lose their significance.  The continuation of bonds that are so necessary for us to grieve, ultimately become transformed bonds- which reminded me of J. William Worden’s final stage of relocating the deceased.  Interestingly she stated that there is a 30 day waiting period in The Netherlands after cremation before you can collect the ashes.  Those 30 days are designed for thinking and processing.

Dr Heather Conway raised the issue that there are currently 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, so  consideration should be given to the legal aspects concerning our digital legacy.  There are many issues to consider: what is a digital asset and what expires at death, the etiquette of virtual cemeteries, digital wills, Facebook memorials, other social media sites and legacy or deletion decisions.  She asked; are digital companies sustaining the view of an afterlife, how are the hierarchies of grief affected, what about contested narratives, what should the virtual memorial rules be etc.

Chao Fang delivered a fascinating presentation on the advent of ‘Shidu’ or the loss of an only child in China.  Due to the government policy of one child per family, the death of a child has political ramifications that perhaps don’t exist in other cultures.  Additionally, older people in China are reliant on their children as there is little social support, so the loss of their child has significant secondary loss implications, including financial implications.  There is also a ‘shame’ in not having children in China, that makes them feel that they are ‘unable to face their ancestors’ after the death of an only child, and that this is ‘the most distressing thing ever’.

There were also talks that discussed the issue of the ‘social dead’ i.e. slaves in Capetown and Barbados. I wondered about the bereaved and their ability to process meaning making after such heinous events, but the focus was on the deaths and lack of memorialisation not the living…

There were also presentations about the sensationalism of murderers and the lack of narrative surrounding the victims. I wondered if I would welcome public reminders of my loved one if they had been murdered?

Lastly a special mention & thanks to Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce and colleagues for organising this event, it must have been a lot of work but well worth it – a fabulous time was had by all!

Do as I say and not as I do…?

Today I’m hugely conflicted.

I awake to a smart phone that flashes and beeps 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with social media notifications, and bereavement alerts of one description or another.

But today is not just another day; it’s the anniversary of my nephew’s death.  So I have notifications and reminders of this fact via Facebook, emails & texts- as if I wasn’t already acutely aware of the date.

The conflict is whether I share my memories or photos, or my feelings in such a public forum.  Do I change my profile picture? Post a photo of my nephew? Post a loving memorial telling ‘the world’ how much he’s loved and never forgotten?  Or do I keep quiet, and privately remember, and treasure our short time with him, and all the joy he brought in the three and a half years he was with us?

As a bereavement support worker, I’m an advocate for being open about death, dying and bereavement; a death denying society is not a healthy one in my opinion.  Death is a natural part of life, and grieving is necessary and healthy.  But I’m not sure I want to express my thoughts and feelings in such a public way, or to people that never knew my nephew.

Which brings me here.  To a fairly private, largely anonymous forum where I can express myself to those who ‘get it’, without the platitudes, and devoid of the ‘stalkers’ who are my friends that read but don’t comment..

This is my way & you will have your way.

So this is my tribute to a beautiful child that touched our lives in so many ways.

Always loved & never forgotten 💛