We live in a society where talking about death is considered taboo. Grief, loss and bereavement unfortunately affect a substantial amount of people at some point in their lives, so to expect someone to cope well with loss in an environment that is governed by the notion that death is a toxic subject, is toxic in itself.
Let’s be honest, in an ideal world we wouldn’t need to have this discussion. We would be able to cope with losing a loved one well enough to carry on living our best lives, but this is the real world and it doesn’t work out like that for most people. Society encourages bereaved people to suffer in silence, especially young people, and it simply shouldn’t be like that. Lots of educational institutions will be quick to boast about their amazing pastoral care services, but my experiences couldn’t have been further from that.
2018 will mark three years since my dad passed away at the age of 49. Having always maintained a healthy and active lifestyle as an athlete playing cricket, he was diagnosed as being terminally ill with motor neurone disease when I was 12 and battled the illness for nearly six years. I remember my dad apologising a lot for being sick and would say he felt bad for being a burden on us and preventing us from experiencing life as teenagers. I didn’t see it like that. I saw my dad in so much pain at times it genuinely left me heart broken.
My dad died on a Saturday afternoon and I went to school the following Monday. For months after my dad passed I wore a baseball cap everyday and was not comfortable with being left alone for too long. Days after his death I was still convinced he was alive and my mind had me waiting for him to move or blink and regain consciouness. Opting to share a room with my mum, I would wake up thinking I could hear my dad calling for help as clear as day. There where times when I would be outside and think I had seen my dad. Genuinely convinced I had seen him, in actuality my mind was just reacting to the trauma.
Starting an open conversation about coping with loss has always been important to me as it has made up a significant part of my life, but I feel this way now more than ever. All too often I find myself in a position where if I mention my dad casually in a conversation everyone goes quiet, unsure of what to say and how to react. More times it makes people feel so uncomfortable that they act like I didn’t even say anything and swiftly move onto a fresh topic. I can’t speak for everyone who has experienced loss or is recently bereaved, because everyone feels differently, but personally I hate when people react in such a way. If I mention my dad in a conversation like anyone might mention their family in a discussion, it’s not because I forgot he’s dead, it is because I want to keep my memories of him alive. If I cry, I cry but being able to freely talk about my experiences in a safe and familiar space that isn’t a scheduled routine counselling appointment e.g. with my friends, is key in coping with loss.
For the first time since then I can honestly say I feel good in myself, like I will be okay. Of course my loss still hurts a lot, but I no longer let that pain consume me. I feel pain, but I am not pain. Both my parents did a very good job of establishing my moral compass with my dad making it his mission from early to ensure that he taught me enough about life so that I would be able to manage when he was no longer around. There are definitely times when I feel unsure about how to go about situations that my dad would have the perfect answer to, but I believe that the universe works in powerful ways and will help provide me with the answers I need. I want to share my experience of loss not for attention or sympathy, but because when I went through my go-through, just being told “you will be okay” was enough to bring me to tears as I really didn’t believe that for a second. If I can provide someone going through similar just an ounce of reassurance, then that is what matters.
Being patient and pacing myself has been one of the most difficult elements in coping with my loss. Imagine being told to run without knowing how far you may have to go or how long you might be running for. You can take breaks from running to rest and stop sometimes even just to take in the view and ground yourself in the present moment, but you must eventually resume running. When I need to have time by myself alone whether it is just resting in bed or taking a train to a different city and exploring for the day enjoying my own company, I do it. Solitude does not have to be dark and scary. Solitude has been a blessing for me in terms of allowing me the space I need to clear my mind, establish what it is I stand for and begin determining who exactly is Summer Rivers?
Bereavement and grief has cost me relationships, friends, family and material possessions, but in losing these I have been able to start a fresh and gain a sense of true identity. I feel more in tune with my essence/ my soul now more than ever before and for that I am grateful. Some people go their entire lives without ever feeling spiritually lifted. I always say to people ‘you do not need sight to have true vision’. This leads me on to ‘perspective’.
The things that truly matter in life quickly became apparent to me as the harsh reality began to set in, that life is a lesson and the universe is a teacher. Things are not always going to act out in my favour however, how I choose to respond to these situations will determine what it is that I actually get out of life. This is why I draw so much strength from knowing and understanding myself in my most natural and raw form. Remaining focused and interested in what matters to me without becoming blinkered from the world that surrounds me, is what keeps me going. My dads legacy also greatly inspires me to do something amazing with the life that I have been given. Not everyday is going to bring with it sunshine and good times but with every new day there is a new opportunity to achieve something, big or small doesn’t matter.
Had you asked me three years ago where do I see myself in five years, I would probably have either given you a morbid answer, literally fallen asleep, or simply not bothered answering. But now? I can tell you with genuine confidence that my future is bright.
Death is not the end. My dad always use to remind me of Albert Einsteins theory that ‘energy cannot be created nor destroyed’. The energy of our loved one never dies, I believe it simply changes from physical to metaphysical form. Life may appear very black and white right now, but this is not the end. Take time, give yourself all the space you need and slowly life will regain it’s beauty and vivid colour.