What to do when you start crying at the bank

On Saturday 7 July, we held our first official Let’s Talk About Loss fundraising event – a black tie ball at St Nic’s church, Nottingham. The aim was to build on the incredible success of our recent Crowdfunder (where your support helped us raise over £1000!) and raise more funds so we could register as a charity. If you’re not familiar with the lengthy legal process, to register as a charity requires lots of things in place – one of which is £5000 in your bank account. So I was hoping to raise £2000 from the Ball.

I can reveal that thanks to the overwhelming generosity of the 100 people who joined us at the Ball, we absolutely smashed that target and once the money raised was split with the other charity beneficiary,, we had raised £4500 for Let’s Talk About Loss. So I’m feeling pretty proud right now – and very excited for all that is to come.

The low that follows the high

Anyway, none of that has much to do with the title of this blog post, but it sets the scene. As you can imagine, I had a fair bit of cash on my person following the Ball and so the obvious job, first thing Monday morning, was to go to the bank – and that’s where the crying happened.

There are probably a few reasons for the tears but at first they shocked me – I couldn’t work out why I was crying. I hadn’t counted the money, and the staff member who served me said I should have. I felt guilty, but I didn’t really need to cry. I was also exhausted – completely drained after pulling off the event that had taken months of intense, stressful planning. I was also on high alert, worried about how much cash I had and whether I would get there safely. But nothing suggests tears as an acceptable response.

Crying in public is awkward

The cashier was shocked. I was shocked. The people in the queue were shocked. Why on earth was I crying? I needed to stop, quickly, but my body was LOVING releasing the tension and stress of the last few months and it wasn’t going to stop. Instead I was ushered away, given a private side room and some coin bags and left to cry and count in peace.

So what do you do when you cry in public?

If you have a mental health condition, you’ll know how completely horrible it feels when you can’t cope. You feel helpless, isolated, vulnerable, and you wish that there was someone around who understood. Except, if someone approached you and tried to help, you would probably feel even more mortified and want even more to run and hide – I know I would.

So what on earth do you do when you are crying in a bank? I know how scary and embarrassing that is so here’s my tips from experience:

  1. Don’t panic – no one is annoyed, angry or staring at you. Stay as a calm as you can.
  2. Take a deep breath – this will help calm you down and stop the crying.
  3. Ask someone if you can go somewhere more private. The bank staff were only too happy to find me my own private office – it is much better customer service than to leave someone crying!
  4. Make plans to get home – or to a safe, calm place – as soon as possible. I had loads more admin tasks to get done that day but I knew that nothing was more important than getting back home. It was a relief to get home, put my pyjamas on and not have any more social pressure to contend with!
  5. Don’t beat yourself up. Mental illness strikes at the most inconvenient times and it happens to all of us! I could think “I failed, because I cried at the bank”. Instead I thought “I cried at the bank today because I was understandably overwhelmed. Despite that, I still managed to deposit the money so that was a successful trip”.

Believe me, you are not the first person to cry in the bank – or at work, out shopping, at a friend’s house, and all the other “inappropriate” places. Join the crying club with pride and accept that it’s a natural human response to pressure.

Be proud of yourself – you are so brave.

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Remembering everything.

No-one is perfect. We all know that, although many of us – myself included – fall into the trap of idealising others and seeing perfection where it does not exist. We all have flaws and quirks that make us amazing, unique humans and I am learning (note: I’m still learning, I haven’t got there yet!) to love and celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly in both myself and others.

Authentic memories

As grieving young adults, there is one person we do idealise, and it’s not always healthy to do so. That person is the loved one we have lost. I am often tempted to make my mum sound even more amazing, loving, hilarious or confident than she was. Don’t get me wrong, my mum was my best friend and the most brilliant mum I could have hoped for. But the reality is, like everyone, mum had her flaws.

My mum was beautiful, but she wasn’t self-confident. Mum was kind, but she had a wicked temper. Mum, like all of us, was tired, grumpy, and angry at times. I loved going shopping with her but I hated driving with her in the car – she was such a backseat driver! I knew never to push it with mum – she was in charge and talking back to her would not end well. I resented house cleaning days – she always made hoover, even though she knew I hated that chore.

When people ask me about mum, of course I share happy memories. Those times of joy that I will treasure forever. But I think it is really important to note that just because someone is gone from this Earth doesn’t mean we can’t remember them authentically. I want to remember all of mum, not just her best side. I want to continue to get to know her as a woman, as a wife, as a mother – and to do that I need to protect all of my memories of her.

The good times and the bad

I can smile now about the time I broke my toe, and after weeks of limping she decided her patience with me had run out, and she shouted at me so angrily to walk properly that the limping disappeared overnight and the pain in my toe suddenly wasn’t important anymore. My brother remembers his favourite Action Man toy being thrown to an early death from the top of the stairs as mum finally lost her temper with three kids winding each other up (RIP action man, we miss you still).

That was my mum. She wasn’t perfect but she was perfect to us. She had flaws and quirks that meant she annoyed me a lot, but the love we shared was pure, endless, full of forgiveness and grace. These days, without mum to phone and ask for advice, I still know what she would say. I can hear her pride and her concern. I can still hear the annoyance in her voice when I had done something stupid. I know she would be angry when me and my siblings bicker and fight. She is still here, still present and still flawed.

Loving mum endlessly

If you have lost someone close to you, take a moment to remember who they really are. Love knows no bounds and judges none. Remember their weaknesses, the things that irritated you about them, the times you fought and then were reconciled. For these are the things that you may erase from your memory and lose forever if you only remember the positives. Remember them for who they really were and you will keep a fuller, richer, more real version of them with you always.

And mum – thanks for making me pose for that photo with you on the first day of university. I was so ashamed, I couldn’t believe you were making me take a photo with you, my mum! How wrong I was, I laugh now at the embarrassment I felt, and the way you mocked me for my futile attempts to be too cool for my parents. For that photo is now one of my most treasured memories and it reminds me of who you really were – my embarrassing, annoying, wise, beloved mum.

Want to share your story with us? Email to start the conversation.

Grief: expect the unexpected

People say grief strikes anywhere. But what does that actually mean? Today I had a sudden stab of grief as I looked at a pot of Vaseline – so yes, grief really can show up at any time.

I used to think that grieving meant crying, or at least being sad. But the two are not synonymous and I have learnt, with the help of others, that grief is a beast with many faces, and it can disguise itself as many different emotions. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is impossible to recognise.

Grief as it looks now

As I write this, on 2nd June 2018, it has been 1,065 days since mum died. Exactly one month from the three year anniversary. Yet still, a pot of Vaseline causes a lump in my throat and the familiar stabbing pain of grief in my heart. Because this is what grief looks like to me now. It is less intense than it was three years ago, when I would howl into the night sky and rage at the loss of the woman I loved so dearly. Now, the grief is quieter, calmer, and less predictable. It shows itself as it did this morning, in the most unexpected places.

Every girl has their lip salve of choice, and mine is Vaseline. I’m somewhat addicted to it and for a few years when I was younger, I collected the tins, and so I had every flavour of Vaseline available. Mum loved it too, and neither of us went anywhere without our Vaseline. It seems such a stupid, trivial thing now but it was a commonality we shared and one of many things that made up the bond between mother and daughter. This morning, as I applied my Vaseline, as I do multiple times a day, every day, I suddenly remembered that mum loved Vaseline too. It was a new tin design, one mum hadn’t been alive to see, and that small, seemingly ridiculous fact was enough to cause a moment of intense grief and longing for mum.

Journeying and learning

As we journey further with grief, it seems that the shock of loss presents itself differently. Gone are my nightmares about mum dying (apart from the occasional one every six months or so), instead I grieve for the things she never got to see. Big things, like the love of my life who will never get to make my mum laugh, or the weddings she won’t attend. But the little things set me off too, like reading a book that I can’t pass on to her even though I know she would have loved to read it. Or like the Vaseline she never got to buy, or the picture of ‘Susan’s Cafe’ that I’m not sure why I’ve taken because I can’t show her.

You’re not alone

Grief is scary and confusing. If you are new to the grief club, expect the unexpected. But take solace in the knowledge that you are not alone with your random, bewildering, ridiculous triggers. We all experience them and the whole nature of grief is that it is not something you can prepare for or control. We’ve all been there and we know how you feel – and it’s normal.

If you are feeling alone, why not connect with Let’s Talk About Loss and meet other young people who have been bereaved. At the moment, we run meet ups in Nottingham every month, and will soon be launching in London, Bristol and Coventry. They are relaxed, informal gatherings where you can come along and meet other young people who have been bereaved. There is no pressure or expectation to talk about your loss, just come along and get to know us, and see that you are not alone. Email for more information or drop us a message on Facebook or Instagram.

Grief doesn’t have to be isolating – let’s work together to talk through the taboo.

Who is looking after you?

We’re all supporting someone who is grieving. Whether it’s a close family member, housemate, colleague, or the friend of a friend – we all know someone who has been bereaved, or is struggling with loss.

However, we can feel at times like we are not close enough to the bereaved person to support them. Perhaps you barely know them, or they are the friend of a friend and it would feel awkward to talk to them? This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and maybe you’ve been thinking about how you could support others who might be struggling.

Who could you support?

Perhaps the only person you could think of, who you know is grieving, is someone who is a friend of a friend. Or a distant relative. And now you’re panicking, thinking – do I have to support them? I barely know them! Well the answer is – no, you don’t have to support them. You’re not the most appropriate person. But you could support someone who is supporting them. Confused yet? I’ve drawn a diagram to explain my point…

There are concentric circles around the person who has been bereaved – the above diagram is merely an example of what this could look like. It will be different for every person, but the reality is, there are always people close to you when you are grieving who you rely on for support. For me, it was my immediate family. I spent two months at home after mum died and so we spent a lot of time together. I did see friends, other family members, and we had plenty of visitors, but it was my close family who I turned to for support in the first few months.

For someone else, it could be their housemates, their partner, their best friends, or even their work colleagues. That first circle of people are the ones who really need to support their bereaved friend as much as they can. Talking with them about their loss, checking in with them regularly, perhaps even helping them practically.

Being there for someone can be hard

Imagine this – your colleague at work tells you that their friend has recently been bereaved. You want to help – so you start thinking about the ways you know how to support a bereaved person. But you don’t know this person, so actually you can’t help at all. Except – you can.

When we are supporting someone who is grieving, it’s challenging. I know that when I have been at my worst, that has been really hard for the people around me. But they love and care for me, so that’s fine! But they need support too. If you’re in one of the inner concentric circles, you need to protect your mental health too and make sure that you are supported.

Supporting the supporters

And that’s where the outer concentric circles come in – the distant friends, the work colleagues, the football teammate. They can’t help the bereaved person – but they can help you. We all have a duty of care and we can all support someone, so I invite you to consider where you might be on the concentric circle diagram, and then look at the next circle in. This is the person you can support. You can check in with them, make sure they are coping, ask if there is anything you can do that will ease their burdens.

Talking about loss, together

I’m a firm believer that the conversation about mental health will only change when we all talk, together. Whether the bereaved person you know is a close family member or someone you simply know about from a friend of a friend, you have a role to play in that story, by supporting them and the people around them. As we reflect on the past week – Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 – perhaps you could take a moment to consider: who is it that I could support, today?

If you have a story to share, email and start your conversation.

Riding the wave

Sophie writes this beautiful piece inspired by her own journey through grief in the hope that it will help others and show you that there is always a break in the waves – however scary they can seem.

In the hours, days, weeks – even months – following the loss of my mum, I often wondered: does it get easier? Will I feel like this indefinitely? The death of a parent is unimaginable for most people and it is something that we can never be fully prepared for.

The first wave is always the worst

I lost my mum in 2013. She was an incredible, strong woman and a single mother; when she passed my whole world came crashing down. Her death was unexpected and sudden. I was two months into my first year at university when my sister phoned telling me to come home as soon as I could because mum was in hospital. We spent a week in hospital and she passed away two days before my 19th birthday.

I felt like the overwhelming grief I was feeling would never subside

Following mum’s death, I went straight back to university. I went to class. I went out with friends. I suppose I did everything in my power to distract myself and try to function normally. I tried to do all the things I had done before – except now with the occasional spontaneous public crying session. As much as I tried to continue with university normally, the grief was still there and it demanded attention.

On nights when I couldn’t sleep I would sometimes google other people’s experiences of grief, just wondering how on earth they got through it. I felt like the overwhelming grief I was feeling would never subside. One story that stuck with me was the story of an old man reflecting on the people that he had lost in his lifetime and his journey through it.

He described grief as a wave.

Shipwrecked by grief

At first, you feel like you’ve been shipwrecked, you’re drowning, struggling for air and you keep getting dragged under. The waves are 100 feet tall and 10 seconds apart – you can’t catch your breath. All you can do is float and try to hold on. This is the worst part, and you’ll think you’re going to feel this way forever – but you won’t.

After a while, the waves might still be 100 feet tall, but they’ll come further apart. Sometimes things might trigger waves unexpectedly – a photograph or a song on the radio. They still knock you down when they come, and they can still be crippling. But in between blows you can breathe and you can function.

I’m reassured in the knowledge that the wave of grief will not last forever

It’s not plain sailing and there’s no specific formula to it. But as time goes on, the waves will seem smaller and they’ll come further apart. You begin to see them coming – knowing that specific dates or times will be harder than others. You can, to some extent, brace yourself for impact.

Learning the rhythm and riding the waves

You learn that that once the wave has hit, you will surface again because you’ve done it before. You will be able to catch your breath. The old man says the waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to stop. You learn that you can survive them, and that is enough to keep you going on.

In my experience, he has it completely right. I couldn’t picture any possible break from the grief and heartache immediately following mum’s death; you might have to wait a little while, but it will eventually come.

Of course there will be waves that hit that you don’t see coming. This week, four years on, I’ve been caught off guard by waves I didn’t anticipate. They can still hit just as hard as they did the first time around, but I’m reassured in the knowledge that the wave of grief will not last forever.

Grief isn’t something we automatically know how to deal with, but we continue to learn about it as time passes. It can be a rough sea out here, but we can all learn to ride the wave.

Sophie Message

Do you have a story to share? For young people who have been bereaved, just a blog post from someone who is struggling too – or has struggled before – can let them know that they are not alone and how they are feeling is totally normal. We all need to get better at talking about loss, so get in touch today and we can talk together.