Bereavement: Things ‘They’ Don’t Tell You

…or they do, but you won’t know until it matters.

Two years ago this week I lost one of my dearest friends and one of the most exceptional people I’ve ever known to suicide. Apparently two years on represents some kind of watershed in the process of dealing with this kind of thing happening. I don’t know about that (for a start I don’t know what ‘dealing with it’ is supposed to mean – it seems to reduce human existence to a video game with levels and a fandango sound for getting to each one). But I can quantify some of my feelings and reactions to bereavement. Here is what I have learned and experienced over the last two years:

There will always be news that isn’t just news  Suicide is always going to make the news, and will always be relevant to you if you’ve been bereaved by it. You can’t stop the news from happening because you’re too happy, too sad or too busy to process it. Everyone past a certain age has their own collection of subjects that touch a nerve because of a life experience, and suicide has been added to mine. 

There will always be idiots Suicide in a particular category of circumstances/behaviour (see also addiction, eating/weight disorders, illness and disability generally, infidelity, divorce and any family setup which isn’t “mum, dad and two nippers with a perfect age gap“) which attracts a certain amount of judgement scorn from thoughtless gobshites – often columnists egged on by editors who commission them because it sells. Every time one of them crops up is like being hit in the stomach. I mostly shy away from commenting and will do until the day I feel ready. I don’t know when that day will be, but Owen Jones wrote a good piece last year about railway suicide and judgemental reactions (Obvious trigger warning).

There will always be moments As well as a veritable book of memories, there will always be wonderings in the future. What would he think of this music or that book? What withering put-down would he have for this Tory politician or that news story? Would X have happened differently if he’d lived?

Unfocused anger I’ve had phases of getting angry at anything and everything: Idiots on the street, on telly, on the internet. When it comes to spleen-venting, I’ve generally thought of myself as the archetypal Brit who blushes and bumbles in the moment and thinks of strident and/or witty things to say three days after the event. Since Lobster’s death, I’ve become someone who has had to be pulled away swearing and shaking by friends saying “Leave it, Max.” I came up with a partial solution a while ago (for the internet at least) of a Twat Filter on Twitter, which filters out mentions and tweets of people who live to upset those with my leanings, and who I don’t want to waste my life getting angry about. Sadly no such device exists for drunk people on trains.

The intbetweeners Not the Channel 4 sitcom, I mean that category of people who are more than acquaintances but less than your nearest and dearest. In the six months or so before Lobster died, when business was going well, I did a lot of interviewing and networking and met some great new personal and professional friends. Afterwards, tumbleweed…I still haven’t seen some of them in person since it happened.

Dating Bereavement’s impact on this area obviously depends on a) the dead person’s relationship to you and b) what general state your love life was in before. Which, in my case, does not bode well. I’ve been asked “So was he your boyfriend?” so many times I wanted to make a “No, we weren’t” t-shirt, with an explanation of why not on the back. My love life is basically a collection of right-person-wrong-circumstance scenarios where the chemistry was there but things either didn’t happen or didn’t progress for fundamental practical reasons – one of the most ludicrous examples of which happened just a couple of months before Lobster’s death. (Lobster knew about it in the abstract and his reaction was: “I’m not going to tell you to be careful – you’re too smart for that.” Oh, Lordy…). My love life since Lobster’s death has been a piece of scum who disappeared on me (and knew all about Lobster, to boot). In sum, file everything under “Hurts Like Arse.”

Irrational clinginess and paranoia This is the worst, and one I find hardest to talk about because it sounds so ridiculous. It’s so bad I wouldn’t wish it on Nigel Farage. When someone who’s normally on Twitter or Facebook all hours of the day suddenly goes quiet, the anxiety kicks in: “Have they died?” “Have I said something to offend them?” “Has [slightly awkward past acquaintance of circa a decade ago] been talking to them about me?” before my rational voice says: “No, silly-billy, they’re busy and have three million more important things to think about than you.” In one of the worst incidences, I spent a whole day panicking because someone’s tweet from earlier in the day seemed to have gone when I looked for it again and – for no immediate reason- I thought it meant they had blocked me. At the other end of the freakout spectrum is getting bundles of missed calls, or calls at funny times of day. Embarrassing example again: I once found three missed calls from my dad and rang him sobbing thinking something awful had happened to my mum, only to find he had some time-sensitive admin query. I’m getting better now, but clarity and knowing where people are/when is still very important to me.

Navel gazing I thought I could ruminate for Britain and Germany. Post-bereavement, I could ruminate for the whole of Europe. Losing someone is like having several whole sections of your past converge in the front garden of your mind holding flaming torches.  As for freelancing after a bereavement: OUCH OUCH OUCH. That is all.

Reassurance In the beginning, I coped by reminding myself a lot that Lobster and I had a very mutually caring relationship, which is a very special thing to have, and a lot more than can be said for some people I’ve invested time and energy in over the years.

Resentment Bereavement is often associated with positive epiphanies. All I’ve really done in terms of personal development since it happened is take up Pilates and running. Quite the big deal for someone who hates sport as much as I do but not exactly life-changing stuff. I have gone through – and still am going through – moments of “But where’s my big epiphany. I WANT MY BIG EPIPHANY. WAH!”

Empathy People who’ve been through similar will always rally around after a bereavement. I’ve had some beautiful conversations with people about relevant things. One of the most memorable was with my mum – she slept next to me in my bed on the first night after I’d heard the news, and we talked about my maternal granddad, who died before I was old enough to know him, and whose funeral she never got to go to because snow had grounded all the planes at Heathrow.

Lovely people I have, and am lucky to have, some lovely friends and family who have got me through some of the worst feelings imaginable. The night before Lobster’s funeral, the biggest story of my career (unrelated to him) was dropped after it transpired that my source had lied to me. The source bombarded me with angry phonecalls and emails until I had to change my phone number. I can’t offer much of an answer to how I am still here after that other than “because of lovely people.” 

I hope that all the above ring some bells and/or helps anyone who might be going through similar realise that someone else understands. This beautiful post, Reasons to Stay Alive by writer Matt Haig, who has suffered from depression, is worth a read too. If you need more qualified support, I would recommend SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement Through Suicide – unfortunately my local group, in Beaconsfield, may be about to close but there are plenty more around the country). Another tip: If you get professional help, go to a generalist counsellor who understands bereavement, rather than a specific bereavement counsellor. Bereavement counsellors are only trained (and funded) to deal with bereavement issues, and bereavement often throws up wider issues that need addressing…

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2 thoughts on “Bereavement: Things ‘They’ Don’t Tell You

  1. Unfocused anger: Having been present for an incident I think you would file under this, I would have to honestly say that my main reaction was that I was glad it was someone else other than me, for once. So, while it may (understandably) be distressing for you, to an external observer your reaction didn’t seem bad. They’d probably find me being rude more socially unacceptable!

    Irrational clinginess and paranoia: I think this is perfectly understandable. My anxiety and self confidence issues mean I always have the ‘is this person ignoring me/are they talking about me behind my back’ thing – one happened just this weekend which led me telling her sister she obviously hates me and never wants to speak to me again. It turned out I’d misunderstood her tweet and she wasn’t online (for the just six hours!) since because she was unwell. So you’re not alone in being ridiculous, but you have a much better excuse.

    Resentment: I think you’ve achieved quite a lot actually, and am very jealous of your to-ing and fro-ing up and down the country to deliver talks, something I could never do even if I had the knowledge. Again, I know that we don’t judge ourselves by other’s perceptions, but I hope it’s still nice to hear complimentary things from others. Plus, just getting over things and dealing healthily is an achievement.

    That post by Matt Haig is wonderful. The last point reminded me of the last night of Jerusalem, with you, when I realised all the crushing thoughts I’d had after the previous time I saw it, the ones I had every time I saw anything that made my brain work and that reduced me to watching Soap Star Superstar and not reading for about two years were nowhere to be found. “Well, now. There now. What’s to worry? “

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