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How on earth can you trust God now?

If you’re not a Christian, maybe you won’t understand this blog post at all. Even if you are a Christian, it might be confusing. Believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God is certainly not easy when your mum – your best friend and the person who knows you best in the whole world – dies after a two-year battle with cancer. Certainly, after I lost my mum my faith took a huge hit. But two and half years later, my faith is stronger than it’s ever been, and I hope you don’t mind me taking a moment to tell you about it.

A God with power over life and death

When I got a tattoo on the inside of my left wrist, depicting a small Christian cross, it was not just a meaningless symbol or a nice image – it was a permanent reminder of the fact that God sent his son Jesus – his only son – to be crucified on a cross in order to save my life. Jesus suffered death, and then on the third day rose again, resurrected from the grave in the miracle-to-end-all-miracles. It seems impossible, but I believe it to be true, because I believe in a God with the power to overcome even death itself.

So what do you think I prayed for when my mum died? A miracle of course. I pleaded with God, begged him and cried out to him – if you can raise your son, then you can raise my mum. Please, I just want her back so much.

The miracle never came of course, and I was faced with the fact that I believed in a God who had the power to raise someone from the dead, and chose not to. That is something I still struggle with, of course. And it is something that has led some people to abandon their faith. But for me, I have had to re-learn my faith – adapt to the new world I live in, and accept that my mum is – I believe – in heaven with a God who loves both her and me eternally and always acts in our best interest.

God, you ****!

I remember returning to my church in Nottingham just a few months after losing mum, and sheepishly admitting to my vicar that occasionally said bad things about God. What will the vicar think of me, I thought? How dare I criticise the God of the universe! The vicar shocked me by laughing a little and saying with a smile, “Good for you. God can take it, you know”.

Since then, shouting and screaming at God has been a helpful outlet for my pain and tears. There have been many occasions where I have said things to and about God that I could not possibly write here. There is no shame in being angry at God – I lost my mum and I have every right to be angry. What has been important for me is understanding that God can handle my anger and understands it all. He sees everything that has happened to me, and instead of feeling sorry for me, or turning his face away, he shows me his hand – scarred by the crucifixion marks, and reminds me that he felt all our pain and is right here with us as we cry out.

Some time away to heal

I spent some time away from God. I didn’t pray. I stood silently as the congregation sang worship around me. Once I even walked out of church halfway through a service – feeling uncomfortable in that place. I rejected miracles, didn’t believe that healing happened, and put my Bible in a drawer and didn’t look at it.

But God didn’t spend any time away from me. He loved me and cared for me through my whole, messy grieving process. When I shouted at him for abandoning me, he remained next to me, arms outstretched and ready to catch me as I fell.

It didn’t seem fair that God had taken away my mum, but on reflection I was pointing the finger of blame in an unhelpful way. God did not want the pain that I was feeling through grief – but in order for him to bless and love the world by giving us free will, he has to stand back, not getting involved and taking control, even when he think maybe that he should. However unfair it was, the more time I spent away from God, the more I missed him and realised I needed him. As I continue to grieve, there are things I still don’t fully understand, but as I allow myself to reflect, learn and heal, it gets easier every day and my faltering steps of faith become stronger and braver.

Learning to trust again

I’ve learnt a lot about myself through my counselling sessions, and one thing I’ve improved is letting go of control and accepting that sometimes, the journey of life is unpredictable, painful and out of my hands. We have to experience the worst in life to appreciate the best. And while that doesn’t take away from the pain of the present, it does give you hope for the future.

I trust in God’s ultimate power. I believe that he chose not to cure my mum’s cancer or raise her from the dead. I know that he wants what is best for me, and even though I can’t see it now, this life that I have been given is what is best for me. One day it will all become clear. One day I will return home to him, and see my mum again, and every tear and every scar will be taken away. Hope can seem far away, but I could not have coped through loss without my faith – at times I clung on, barely grasping at the seams. But now I’m on a path to recovery and I’m falling in love with God all over again. I trust him, and his plans for my life. And that is incredibly freeing and reminds me that every day is a blessing and I have so much to look forward to.

I’d love to hear what you think about this article – leave a comment below or write a piece  of your own if you have lost a parent. Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com and let’s talk about loss.

127 days later

It’s been 127 days since what I call my worst time – the time when I finally started grieving and my depression took hold. I’m still not ready to share all the details of those few days, but they were dark, scary moments that I never want to have to re-live. Today, I’m still battling lots of demons and hiding invisible scars. But I have come a long way and it’s finally time to start writing again.

No shame

I have always been someone who believes in honesty, and I passionately believe that the only way the conversation about mental health will change is with brave, intentional honest conversations. So I will lead by example.

I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, brought on by losing my mum to cancer just over two years ago. My grieving process truly started 127 days ago, on June 5, 2017, despite the sadness and struggles I have encountered over the past two years. I was avoiding talking about my grief, forcing myself to stay positive and focus on the future, helping other people and not stopping for a moment to deal with my own trauma. When I did, my world crumbled and everything changed.

To cut a long story short, I suffered with panic attacks and severe depressive episodes. I took some time off work, started seeing a counsellor and am now taking anti-depressants to somewhat control my emotions. I am not ashamed of anything I have suffered, because sadly it is all too normal, with 1 in 4 of us experiencing a mental health issue in our lifetime.

Support

Team Beth – you know who you are – have carried me through what has been a long and difficult summer. The support I have received from friends, family, my workplace, my doctor and my counsellor has been unbelievably fantastic. People have been patient, forgiving, kind, considerate, generous, understanding and thoughtful, allowing me the time I have needed to heal and rebalance.

My counsellor, who I found through the fantastic New Dawn Counselling Centre in Nottingham, has been my rock, teaching me more about myself than I have ever known before. She has encouraged and supported me through both my worst and best times, and has helped me fully understand what causes my anxiety, how to avoid it, and importantly – that I can get through it, even when it overwhelms me.

Grieving and healing

I have learnt a lot about loss, grief and healing in the last few months, and on this World Mental Health Awareness Day, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on how I feel now. I hope never to get back to how I was, instead focussing on moving upwards and forwards. But I still have plenty of bad days and I still have depression and anxiety, despite being able to cope with it much better.

I am so pleased that the conversation about mental health has changed so much in the last year, and it’s been encouraging to see the support for World Mental Health Awareness Day this year. I’ve been wearing my yellow socks all day and remembering how far I’ve come on my journey of healing. The support I have received has been fantastic, and I hope that this is the reality for many more people in the future.

It is so important that we look after those in our lives with mental health problems. If you don’t know where to start offering support, visit Mind or another charity’s website to get practical tips and advice. Together we can break down the taboos and start talking about mental health in a positive, encouraging and uplifting way.

For me, 127 days later, I’m just pleased to be alive and healthy. It’s been a long time since I last wrote and lots has changed. From now on, I’m going to keep on letting myself grieve and allowing myself to heal.

Got a story you want to share? Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com – we’d love to hear from you. 

The poem that might just change everything

How long do you have to wait before you can claim that something has changed your life? It’s been 24 hours since I first read the poem that changed my life, but I imagine it’s like saying I love you on the third date, or choosing your wedding dress after only trying one on – it’s too soon to say it’s ‘the one’.

That’s why I’ve covered my back and entitled this piece “the poem that might just change everything”. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, full of love, loss, heartbreak and wisdom. And just like all the best poems, it’s structure is faltering and broken, revealing the power of the words themselves. (Can you tell I’m a literature student?!)

But I’m not going to show the poem yet. You’ll love it, I know you will. I believe it might have changed my whole life. Which is why I’m going to make you wait. Later I’ll tell you why I love the poem, but first I’m going to tell you how I am.

An update on me

 I haven’t written for a while, and if you’re particularly close to me, you’ll know why that is. I love being honest and open on my blog, and I think it’s crucially important to share when life is far from rosy. However, this time I’m not going to tell you everything.

Grief is confusing and destabilising, and sometimes it all gets a bit much – which is exactly what has happened to me recently. If you’re grieving – whether you’re in your first month of grief or your twentieth year – it’s ok not to be ok sometimes. It’s been nearly two years since I lost mum, and the further it gets, the harder it seems to get! It’s not as simple as “time heals”. Right now, my wound is raw and more painful than it has ever been – and that is surprisingly normal.

If you’re worried about me, please don’t be. I have an incredible support network that I am relying on in this time, and I know that if I need you, you will listen to me, comfort me and maybe even bake me a cake. I promise that if I need help, I won’t stay silent.

Might everything change?

I’m currently starting a new project, called ‘Project Me’. I’m prioritising resting, relaxing, and being kind to myself. I’ve been doing things like reading, writing, sewing and making frequent trips to see the hamsters in Pets at Home – things that make me happy without complication or compromise. It’s a really great idea that I can’t claim is my own – lots of people who love me have been shouting at me for a long time to stop being so busy and rushed and stressed.

I’ve started seeing a fantastic counsellor, and she very quickly understood me, accusing me of being very good at “doing” and not very good at “being”. It made her laugh when I said, “but I don’t know what to do to just be”! Lots of us are all guilty of it I’m sure – finding our identity and self-worth in what we do, not who we are. I need to remember that I’m a human being, not a human doing.

That is why this poem might just change everything for me. I’ve read it over one hundred times already and I only encountered it yesterday. It’s a gorgeous reminder that I am a perfect version of myself, and that my disbelief at that fact is painful for those who love and cherish me. It’s not arrogant to believe that I am the best version of myself I can be, or love myself despite all my flaws and failings.

Sadly, my mum shared my low self-confidence. She wasn’t all that keen on herself, and it frustrated me so much, because to me she was the most beautiful, extraordinary woman I knew. That’s why, in her memory and to make her proud, I’m focusing on falling in love with myself for a while. With the poem printed out and stuck on my wall to remind and motivate me, I’m going to keep working hard on Project Me – ironically the hard work starts with some serious rest!

The poem that might just change your life

So here it is, the poem that you’re going to love. At least, I hope you love it. If you’re a bit broken like me, or you’re having a tough time, or you need reminding that you are brilliant, I dedicate this to you. A female friend shared it on her Instagram, revealing that another female friend had introduced her to the poet, Nayyirah Waheed. Isn’t that awesome? Let’s all do more of that – sharing inspirational, motivational, beautiful things with each other, to build each other up and help make the world a better place. (It’s what I’m trying to do with this website, so thanks for being involved!)

For someone who has always struggled with low self-confidence, this poem really spoke straight to my heart. In a time of personal darkness, this poem is a ray of brilliant, blinding light – Waheed reminds her reader that there is nothing that can stop you happening, stop you being, and stop the beauty of that being.

I hope this inspires you, you wonderful, perfect human BEING.

as you are – Nayyirah Waheed

“as you are.” says the universe.

“after…” you answer.

“as you are.” says the universe.

“before…” you answer.

“as you are.” says the universe.

“when…” you answer.

“as you are.” says the universe.

“how…” you answer.

“as you are.” says the universe.

“why…” you answer.

“because

you are happening now.

right now.

right at this moment

and

your happening

is beautiful.

the thing that both keeps me alive

and

brings me to my knees.

you don’t even know how breathtaking you

are.

as you are.” says the universe through tears.

Like this poem? Pass it on! Have something to share with me? Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

I need your empathy, not your sympathy

Hannah, who has previously written for Let’s Talk About Loss, wrote to me in response to my article explaining to others how to help me through my grief, and has written a similar piece asking her friends to empathise not sympathise.

*Disclaimer: Talking with someone who has lost a parent can be really tricky – we completely understand that. This website exists primarily to allow those who have lost parents to share their experience and talk through the taboos that exist in society. If it can also help educate those who are friends to grieving young people, that is a fantastic outcome. We know how hard it is to know what to say, and hope that you find an article like this helpful. As ever, email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com if you have any thoughts or questions.*

This post does not come from a place of anger and annoyance, more from a place of grief and love.

One of my pet hates is when someone looks at me with that classic look of sympathy after finding out my mum has died. Yes, I can understand why people do this, but sympathy is not going to get me anywhere. I do not feel sorry for myself, so you do not need to either. I had a mum who was present and wonderful for 17 years of my life so that is something to be happy about, not to be sorry about. However my grieving of her death is going to be a long and painful journey so I do need your empathy.

Understanding my loss

What’s the difference between sympathy and empathy then? By definition sympathy is the feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, while the definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Doesn’t the definition of empathy just sound so much more positive and encouraging? Sympathy encourages people to feel sorry for themselves and stay where they are, while empathy helps people to move forward and continue living their life.

Some of you may look at the definition of empathy and think “but I don’t know or understand what it’s like to lose a mum, let alone at 17 years old”. You don’t need to. In this life we have all experienced some sort of loss, whether this be a grandparent, partner or even a loss of confidence. Even if the person is still alive you may have experienced a loss such as an end to a friendship but the communication has been cut off and this can feel like a loss.

You understand more than you realise

In reality, what does empathy look like compared to sympathy? To me, this is what I think it looks like:

  • Instead of crying for me because of my situation, cry with me as I remember the memories and experience my grief.
  • Instead of talking to others about my sad situation, ask me how I’m actually doing.
  • Instead of avoiding me because you don’t know what to say, and therefore don’t want to hurt your pride by saying something wrong, just say anything.
  • Instead of just thinking about me on those known hard days e.g. birthdays or Mothers day, tell me you’re thinking of me.
  • Instead of getting annoyed at me on a bad day, forgive me and remember that this is tough for me and I’m going to make mistakes.
  • Instead of expressing sadness at my situation, ask me what my mum was like, I love that!
  • And if you want to ask a question then do! That’s the only way we are ever going to get over this taboo of grief.

Most importantly make sure no one walks through their grief alone, in any situation. Obviously there will be times when they have to do this grief thing on their own but you can be there to check in to see how they really are. Even when they say they don’t need you, they do. As humans we hate to be seen as needy but isn’t that what all friendships/ relationships are about. You help someone with their difficultly and they help you with yours while enjoying the joys of life.

So from today let’s choose empathy over sympathy. We all need empathy, not sympathy.

Hannah is a fantastic young woman and once again she has articulated well her feelings as she navigates life without her mum. If you want to learn more about Hannah’s situation, you can read her earlier post here.

Another fantastic article: a friend recently shared this article, published on The Huffington Post, with me. It’s another great article explaining how people in the Western world have got grief all wrong and have unrealistic expectations about how people cope with grief. It’s important to fully understand that everyone deals with grief in a completely unique way but there are some common realities. I really recommend this article and hope that is might help shed more light on the experience of loss and death.

If you have a story to share with us, email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com

Sometimes I say I’m ok but I’m not ok. Is that ok?

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and it got me thinking. Princes William and Harry have been doing incredible work reminding the country that it is ‘#oktosay’ – encouraging us all to speak up about how we’re feeling and break down the stigma surrounding mental illness. I’m passionate that talking can cure most things, and have started this website with the aim of showing others that we need to talk about loss, grief and death.

So why can’t I tell people that I’m not ok?

There are lots of acceptable responses when someone asks if you’re ok, but everyone’s favourite is the classic “fine thanks, how are you?” That makes me so angry! Fine is such a non-word – it conveys none of the reality of your emotions, and is short, easy excuse for avoiding the question. When my friends tell me they’re fine, I ask them another question – pushing and prying to get more information – until I find out that they actually had a really challenging day at work, or just received great news, or need my help in some way. That makes for meaningful conversation and makes me a better friend.

“Because the truth is, I’m not fine”

But recently I’ve been telling people I’m fine. A lot. Maybe no one has noticed – it’s such a universally accepted word, and once I’ve returned the question, they can agree that they are fine too and we can move on. However, I’ve noticed and it worries me. Because the truth is, I’m not fine. In the last week alone I’ve felt sad, angry, frustrated, lonely, lost; and I’ve cried on more than one occasion. I haven’t always answered fine – this week I’ve also felt joyful, excited, thankful, passionate; I’ve danced and laughed and smiled lots of the time, and it’s been easy to share those feelings. But mostly I’ve avoided being honest when things haven’t been so great. People would rather hear about what made me laugh than what made me cry.

We all need to change

I need to take my own advice, and talk through the taboos. I need to stop feeling ashamed that I had to go to my housemate, sobbing, and ask for a hug. Maybe I won’t share it with the cashier in Co-op but there are people in my life who I can talk to and will listen, without judgement, and understand. I’m going to start seeing a counsellor again – I’m not too proud to admit that grief is confusing and conflicting and constant, and I can’t cope with it alone.

“How could you know that when I replied to your text, I was slumped on my floor sobbing?”

It’s ok to say you’re not ok – whatever it is you’re dealing with. So maybe next time you ask me how I am, I’ll actually tell you. I won’t always want to. But sometimes I’ll be honest and tell you – and you might be surprised to hear that I’m really struggling. I’ve always been good at hiding my suffering, looking like I’ve got everything in control. So if you’ve encountered me in the last week, you might be completely taken aback to know that this week has been one of my worst in a long time – I haven’t coped at all. Surprised? My fake smile and cover-up coping mechanisms are good, I’ll admit.

How you can help me

I want to offer some advice to those people who are horrified to know that I’m not ok – who didn’t realise that when I answered fine I wasn’t. How could you know that when I replied to your text, I was slumped on my floor sobbing? It is obviously impossible to know unless I tell you, but the more I talk about my mental health with you, the more likely I am to be honest and open when it’s been a rough few days.

“I want to talk about loss, and I want you to talk about loss”

My wonderful friend Lizzi has written a blog post on mental health, and though it’s not about dealing with loss or grief, she articulates really well why it’s important to talk. Here’s a short excerpt of what Lizzi wrote:

As mental health awareness week draws to a close, wouldn’t it be great if we could all be more intentional in conversations with those who don’t quite seem alright, even though they’ve said they are? Wouldn’t it be great if we could all stop calling people ‘crazy’ for their erratic behaviour or mood swings because just maybe, that word is going to enforce upon them the belief that the mental health problem makes them somehow less valuable than others who do not suffer from poor mental health? Wouldn’t it be great if people with mental health issues felt able to be as open and honest with their peers about their emotional and psychological pain as they can be about their physical health? Be kind. Be open. Be aware.

Maybe you’ve noticed that I’m not ok. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is anything you can do. I wish more people would ask me to talk about my mum – sharing memories keeps her alive and telling people about her means more people get to know and love her. Don’t be scared of the taboos that society has created – I want to talk about loss, and I want you to talk about loss.

Have a story you would like to share? Email letstalkaboutloss@gmail.com