Grief: Coping with death for the first time
Coping with death for the first time
Come to think of it, grief is a weird and wonderful concept. Now, hear me out. It’s weird because all of a sudden you are thrown into a world of sadness, anger, and often emptiness. You have to learn to cope with all of these intense emotions all at the same time. Happiness seems like an emotion that is out of reach; your world has crumbled down, and you often don’t know how to process your feelings. It’s weird in the sense that your emotions become uncontrollable, and you feel lost. And yet, it’s also wonderful. Not because someone has died, but because you get to reflect back on the memories you have with them. Looking back on these memories often fills us with sadness, because we can’t turn back time, but it’s a period of great reflection and understanding. A time to be grateful for your memories together. On the 16th December 2023, I lost my grandma to cancer, and this is our story.
My grandma was my second mum and best friend. It often felt like it was me, my mum and my grandma against the world. I’ll always feel grateful for growing up around two strong women. It’s often after death that you truly realise how lucky you were.
She would always be there holding my hands through the most difficult of times. Helping to take me to school, attending my hospital appointments and guiding me through a period of bullying. Grandparents often feel like eternal beings that will be here forever. I do wish that was true. From going on holidays to Devon, shopping trips, or just simply sitting on the settee with her dogs, everything was perfect. Growing up, I always made a conscious effort to see her and spend time with her. It was the little things that mattered. Her dancing in the living room after I passed my maths GCSE, and eating her baked goods like cakes, buns and sausage rolls. I was highly convinced that she’d win the Great British Bake Off with her skills. She wasn’t as convinced.
And then cancer happened.
She had already been facing treatments and operations by the time I moved to university in 2022. The distance between you and an ill loved one is something indescribable. The guilt of not being there for them every day and the fear of the worst happening is otherworldly. But I knew she was proud of me, and I knew she wanted me to succeed. That is what you cling onto.
Don’t be ashamed to cry
Even though you’re told it’s terminal, you still hold onto the hope that everything will be ok. It’s a way of shielding yourself from the inevitable truth and future heartbreak. When the time comes you think you’ll be ready. But the truth is, nobody is prepared for grief.
This was my first time losing a loved one. Whilst experiencing death at any stage in life is devasting, your first time often comes with an overwhelming feeling that you won’t be able to cope. You feel a million things at once, wanting to scream at the universe for making this happen, questioning why a cure to cancer hasn’t been found yet.
According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief:
Denial: This is a stage where you often feel numb. You struggle to come to terms with the fact that somebody has died, and often think they’ll be coming back.
Anger: Death is unfair. You question why this had to happen. Why couldn’t they have lived? These are all valid emotions in your process of grieving.
Bargaining: We believe that doing certain things will make us feel better. This is the stage where you often ask the ‘what ifs’, in hopes you can go back in time and do something differently.
Depression: This is the stage we often associate with grief. The intense sadness can feel overwhelming as you mourn the loss of your loved one. It’s always important to remember that it is healthy to cry. So get those emotions out of your system.
Acceptance: This is the stage where we start to accept that our loved one has gone.
Looking after you
Your loved one wouldn’t want you to neglect yourself after they’ve gone. I won’t bore you with the same old advice about looking after yourself by exercising, eating well and maintaining a good sleeping schedule.
Coming from someone who is still grieving, these things often feel so out of reach. Of course, it’s important to make sure you look after your body and try to do the things which bring you joy during this difficult time. But sometimes it’s ok to feel like you can’t do anything and that things are a bit too much.
My biggest tip is to just be kind to yourself. As we’ve gone into this new semester, I’ve found myself going through waves of sadness. This is the first time I’ve not been able to contact my grandma whilst being away at university. The best way I’ve found to cope, though it’s easier said than done, is to focus on what’s in front of you. You’re not forgetting your loved one by trying to do your best in all aspects of your uni life. In fact, you’re doing the opposite. I know that by working hard and carrying on doing the things I love, I am honouring my grandma, and as I reflect back on my life with my grandma in it, I can’t help but smile. How lucky was I?
I’ve often been told grief never goes away, you just learn to live alongside it. It’s not easy, but it’ll get easier.