I had never really experienced death until I lost my grandfather in 2014. Four weeks later, my mother was diagnosed as terminally ill, and she passed in March 2015. These were excruciating losses, but little did I know that this was just the beginning of losing people from my life.
Mum & me on my wedding day. Photo by Neil Thomas Douglas
At first I tried to keep myself busy, surrounding myself with friends and family. I said yes to every invite. A few weeks later, I was burnt out. As a sufferer of M.E, I knew I had to start taking this a lot more seriously and stop ignoring what had happened.
And when I withdrew, and looked inward at the torturous nightmare that was my grief, I realised that I had changed. Death had altered my being, the essence of me, right at my very core. I was no longer optimistic, and my trademark bubbly persona had evaporated overnight. I felt cynical, angry and cheated. Those who stuck around me during this period are some tough cookies and real gold star friends. Those who didn't...
Some were very much there as mum was preparing to leave this world, then fluttered off into the night when it was all over. Most gave my mum a great send off at her funeral and a good few kept in touch through the hard weeks after. But only the bravest are still here now, almost a year later, checking in on me regularly, treating me to medicinal wine and surrounding me with love on the dark days.
For some, they openly admitted they didn't know what to say. Others claimed space was what I needed, even though I clearly craved the opposite from them. When some of them cross my mind on those nights my mind is too wired to sleep, I wonder if their own fear of death, or even their own avoidance of facing their past grief, is what kept them afar. Some found themselves in a completely different place from me; a place of happiness and their life progressing, as I stayed stuck in my gloomy autopilot existence. I can't fault them for wanting to distance from me, but I hope they realise how truly blessed they are in comparison to me and my current path.
Death changes even the most steadfast of relationships, and I found myself feeling as though I couldn't tell some friends exactly how I was feeling. I opened my mouth to tell them how raw it was and how I couldn't bear the hurt and the fear and the darkness. But I stopped. I could sense they wanted me to put a face on and not mope; they didn't want to be brought down by my constant depression.
After mum passed, I reached my limits of what I could cope with and didn't want to be here in this empty, cruel world anymore. And only certain friends were aware of this. Those angels that noticed my desperation shielded me with their wings and weathered me through the storm. And although today I am still battling daily with my grief, those few treasured people are the reason I am still here to fight the battle.
My best friend who stuck around & kept me safe
Two years ago, when my mum and grandpa were both still here, I never knew what a treacherous road lay ahead of me. I never knew how horrific grief was in its dark, all encompassing isolation.
But I also never knew how strong I really was. So when I look back at the painful journey I have taken, I try to commend myself for how brave I was, how much I did, how I stayed right to the very end, and how I somehow managed to stumble through the aftermath.
So to each and every one of your reading this and treading your own path with grief, you've somehow managed to make it to here, and that's a damn big accomplishment.