Today I’m happy to share with you guys another guest post! Beth is one of the closest friends I’ve made on this platform and I love her stories and her humour. She is one of my favourite people and I’m so excited to share this post with you all.
It is a little sad, but it’s so beautiful and honest and I think you’re really going to love it, especially if you’ve lost someone close to you in your life.
“Dealing With Death”
TW: Death, Cancer, Self-Harm, Alcohol and mildly graphic description of hospital patients.
Dealing with the death at any age is difficult. You go through a rollercoaster of emotions, varying and depending on circumstances and your relationship with the bereaved person. It’s not nice regardless of what age you have to deal with it, however, I can’t help but think dealing with bereavement during your teenage years hits that little bit harder.
As a teen, you’re still developing; learning new ways of life and making mistakes along the way. You’re not spot on with your coping mechanisms just yet and you struggle to see the bigger picture, not for lack of trying but for lack of real lived experience. Coping with school work, social pressure, trying to figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, and still trying to have fun despite it all, takes its toll on you. Having to go through the motions of losing a loved one during this time is honestly heart-breaking.
I haven’t lost a loved one in my adult life, so I can’t talk about an experience with that, but I lost two of the people who meant the most to me during my teenage years and it’s something I still haven’t come to fully deal with. I’m not sure I ever will, but I think that’s okay.
At the age of 15, I was in year 10 in high school, summer was over and I’d settled back into the second half term of the year. The first year of the rest of my life; Or so it seems when you’re that age. I’d chosen my subject options and admittedly, I chose subjects that I loved but also subjects that meant I’d be with my friends, having fun and mostly enjoying school… I guess doing that was a false sense of security because school really wasn’t that fun, I had supportive friends but there were mean people too. I was heavily involved with scouts and at that age I was in Explorers. We met on a Thursday night every week and it was always a good laugh with friends I’d known since the age of six. It was my happy place.
My Grandma, Sylvia, had been ill for the duration of summer, having started chemotherapy the last week of June/ first week of July. It really took it out of her. I turned 15 that summer, and I don’t really remember the details of how I came to find out that my grandma had bowel cancer, but I remember knowing despite not being told, and I remember being very frustrated that my parents had considered me too young to be told the truth. I was 14, I could handle the truth, couldn’t I?
Well, not really. At 6am every morning I would go on my morning paper round, I’d listen to music and often cry about the inevitable passing of my grandma, because the pain was already seeping in, even though she wasn’t dead yet, she was hurting and putting on brave faces and there were so many ‘what if’s’ and ‘what happens when..’ type of questions running through my mind. It was dark in the morning, so no one could see my face up close, and it was pretty much the only alone time I got since me and my older brother shared a bedroom. I did a lot of thinking and a lot of feeling in the mornings.
The weekend of remembrance Sunday is always the weekend that my scout group runs the annual Scammonden weekend. It’s THE best weekend in our groups Explorer Scout calendar and everyone went to it. On the Friday night of November 9th 2012, me and my brother headed to scout camp, while our grandma headed in to the hospital operating theatre and our grandad waited anxiously in the family room. My scout leader got a call from my parents at around 9pm to tell me and my brother that my grandma had made it out of theatre and was doing well. Saturdays update was that she was doing so well, that she was sitting in the bedside chair talking and taking the very occasional walk. It was such a relief.
That weekend is one of my favourite scout camps ever, we laughed so much and had so much fun, but on Sunday when it was over we were picked up, taken home to change and taken to the hospital to say goodbye because my grandma’s condition had quickly deteriorated and she likely wasn’t going to make it through the night. It was like the ground beneath me disappeared, and I wanted nothing more than for my grandma to make some miraculous recovery.
That evening, sat with my grandma one final time, holding her hand, playing with her wedding ring, telling her that I loved her. I didn’t cry until I had left her bedside and she couldn’t see me. I cried like I’ve never cried before and it hurt so, so much more than I had ever imagined it could on those cold rainy mornings.
My mum, brother, cousin and I went home while my dad, his three brothers and my grandad stayed at the hospital, discussing palliative care and funeral plans. We stayed up all night in the living room, waiting for my dad to come home.
I smoked that night, and at 2am, I woke up and drank a beer, because that’s what the adults would do, right? I couldn’t tell you why I drank and smoked but that’s what I did, and in hindsight I think it’s crazy. 14 is so young to do both of those things let alone do them as a means to find out if they helped me cope with the death of the woman I adored most in my life.
My dad came home at 4am, and without saying word, told us with tears that she was gone. This was the first time I’d ever seen my dad cry and it broke my heart all over again. My brother got up, without tears, went in to the kitchen and made himself a coffee. And I just couldn’t fathom why on earth he wasn’t crying? I understand now that everyone copes differently, he took himself away from the situation – that was his coping mechanism, something to distract him from what was happening. Just like downing a dank ass beer was mine.
I didn’t go to school on that Monday, mostly because we hadn’t slept until 5am, but I went back on Tuesday because I couldn’t just sit thinking about how she wasn’t here anymore. I went in 10 minutes late to avoid all the questions about my previous day’s absence. My close friends knew and so when they saw me at break I was greeted with hugs rather than questions.
The funeral was as nice and a funeral could be, we drove by her house so she could go home one final time. My grandma was carried into the crematorium by her four sons while ‘The heart does go on’ played. I don’t remember much of it, nor the wake. I remember just wanting to pretend things were normal again. My grandma had given up her fight and she’d given everything she had. She was ready to die, but I wasn’t ready to live without her.
In the couple of years after she died, I started hanging around with people who weren’t the best kind of people for me, I spent money on smoking, tried drugs for the first time, I self-harmed, and the only healthy coping mechanism I developed was writing. I wrote about how I felt and how much I hated cancer. My brother didn’t cope very well either, but he was older and kept things to himself. I found out one way or another that he’d been to the doctors, alone and asked if he could get some bereavement counselling sessions but was told he wasn’t eligible.
I went through the motions of grieving and It wasn’t pretty, I guess I lashed out in the stereotypical teenage ways; doing things I knew I shouldn’t but I mellowed eventually and though it still upsets me when I think about her on days like today; Her birthday, I’ve come to terms with my grandma’s death and I’m okay with it. I’d give anything to have her back for five minutes but I know she left this earth at the right time, and that gives me peace.
Three years later, my grandad was taken from me too, this difference though, is that my grandad wasn’t ready to give his life when he did, and it’s something that still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth nearly five years later.
My grandad had cancer too, but it was just a lump and it was just in his leg. A routine cancerous lump removal surgery turned into weeks on life support machines. Machines that we had no choice but to switch off because there was nothing more that could be done to save his life.
For three weeks we travelled 40 minutes and visited the hospital, sat with him, held his hand, told jokes I knew he’d laugh at if he could, there were tubes in and out of every part of him, as he laid in a bright white intensive care room, machines beeping, machines keeping his heart beating. And for three weeks I cried at night, and told people I was fine during the day. The sad truth is that the night we got a phone call to say he’d had to be put on life support was the night he’d died in my head. There was a whatever percent chance that he’d pull through, and I guess everyone thought he would, because boy was he a fighter, but something in me knew he wouldn’t wake up.
I’m not going to write the ins and outs of how and why my grandads life ended the way it did, mostly because I wrote this in Starbucks, which isn’t somewhere I’d like to cry, but also because it was a fault of the NHS, and though I’m angry that he died, none of that anger is towards to staff of the NHS and I don’t want other people to read what happened and get angry on my behalf, it would be misrepresented anger and I don’t want that. I’ve been asked several times if we sued for what happened and my thought has always been “why would we? A few thousand pounds isn’t going to bring him back or change what happened, and I can’t imagine how it would affect the person found to be at fault.
I find peace in knowing the last thing my grandad said to me was “I Love you, and I’m proud of you” but it doesn’t change the hurt inside, it doesn’t stop the tears. I was 16 almost 17 when my grandad died, I was due to perform in my AS level theatre studies exam the week after the funeral. I had to perform an emotional monologue begging someone to let me have the body of a man I loved back, and honestly, that monologue was so hard, and it so wasn’t acting. Following that I was due to spend the last six weeks of the term taking A level theatre studies but I just couldn’t do it. I never turned up and I was pulled up on my attendance issues, I wasn’t allowed to take theatre studies in my second year because I’d missed too much already, I didn’t turn up to my sports lessons on time and there were comments left on my online portal. When my grandma died, I acted out in my social time, but kept up with school. When my grandad died I just didn’t care about anything.
I wrote a eulogy for his funeral and I stood and spoke about how we always had the best times, and how some of my favourite memories were of my grandad. I recalled a couple of those memories and made people laugh, just like he would have. I didn’t cry until I got home. My grandad was a true hero and he was loved by so, so, so many people. He taught me so much and I still live by some of the things he taught me.
I recently went to the funeral of a distant relative, and some 3 or 4 years on from my grandad’s death, I cried, really cried in public for him. I had no right or reason to be sobbing the way I did at that distant family members funeral and I’m sorry to say I wasn’t crying for them at all, but that’s the truth. Being in that situation again brought back an overwhelming amount of sadness and after years of keeping it in, it finally came out. My parents were sat behind me in the church that day, and I felt a hand squeeze on my shoulder, they knew who I was crying for.
There is no right or wrong way for anyone to deal with the loss of a loved one, but everyone should know that they’re not alone in the way they feel and as cliché as It sounds and is, time will do its thing, and though it may still hurt, you learn how to accept and live without that person. There are things you’ll forget, and there’s things, little things that you’ll still be able to recall, which will take you back in an instant, and thankfully I’m at the stage where they make me smile and laugh, and I remember the good times more so than the bad.
I always felt ashamed to pick up leaflets about dealing with loss, and bereavement and it shouldn’t be that way. While I think we should be honest with teenagers as they go through things like this, I also things there should be better provisions to support them. I know both me and my brother would have utilised them.
Writing this was harder than I expected, but it’s something I’ve needed to do for a while now so thank you for giving me a platform to share this on.
The website below has a list of helpful/useful bereavement helplines and organisations.