Fixers

Grief is something we all have to face at some point in our lives.

Both of my parents have already passed away. My Mum had just turned 62 when she died. I was 32. My Dad died three years later – he had just turned 70. At the age of 35 I found myself without either of my parents – the people who had brought me up and taught me more or less everything I know about how to live my life and how to treat others (they did a great job of this bit, which is good).

My journey through this grief has been difficult. But then I always try to remind myself that many, many others have been through the same experience or are currently right in the middle of this. It can also be very frightening – terrifying almost. When someone you love dies, it can feel like the world around you has fundamentally changed. Nothing can be the same again. Nobody tells you about the fear element. I have experienced panic attacks, but I am slowly starting to feel better. Of course, that is the most frustrating part, knowing that grief can not be hurried to its resolution. There is no ‘fast-forward’ button.

Grief sucks

Finding a positive outlet for grief is really important.

Considering how devastating and turbulent this can be, it is pretty amazing that a younger person can actually get through this, can keep functioning in life and move on. As an adult, I would like to think that I would do anything I could to help someone in this position to go through this journey, to feel supported and cared for.

A month or so ago, I came across an amazing youth charity called Fixers. Winner of Best UK Charity Project of the Year 2014, they have a very specific focus: to help young people develop a project that makes their voice heard on a matter that is very personal to them – something of which they have had a specific experience. It’s about empowering them to find a solution.

Through this, I found out about Gennifer. Gennifer’s friend sadly died of cancer when she was just 15. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for her. She decided to do something about this experience, to help others. Fixers stepped in and helped her in her determination to set up an online resource for young people who have been bereaved: the SOAR website. I think she is amazing.

soar website

The site aims to help young people feel informed and supported. It is also useful for parents, other family members and teachers – to encourage them to have more patience and understanding in supporting someone who is going through this, especially when dealing with the demands of study, exams and other stresses.

Crucially, Gennifer found that there was little advice or information available to her at school and in other settings and that made it harder for her to admit she was struggling to cope. I imagine many young people have been through a similar experience.

On her website, she offers 5 key tips that I think are crucial to remember if you are grieving:

  • Don’t bottle up your feelings. It can be a great relief to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
  • Know that there isn’t a time limit on mourning. Bereavement can affect you for any length of time, some people only take a few months to grieve, where others may take years.
  • Take time out for yourself. It’s not selfish to want to be by yourself sometimes to gather your thoughts.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others in the same situation! People experiencing bereavement learn to grieve/cope in different ways, it’s okay not to feel the same as someone else does.
  • It’s alright to move on with your life and be happy. Don’t feel guilty about moving on with your life and being happy. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten about your loved one who has passed away, it just means that you can finally accept what has happened. They would want you to continue your life.

I asked Gennifer how this work has helped her, this is what she said:

 “Working with fixers to create a bereavement support website for young people really helped me put in to perspective everything I had dealt with and overcome. It allowed me the opportunity to turn a life changing event in to something positive through helping and offering support to other young people who were dealing with similar situations to myself”.

Gennifer Graham

Gennifer’s story has inspired me to write this blog post and to share more about myself than I usually would have done. And for that I would like to thank her.

One of my close friends sent me a greetings card this week. The cover is plastered with pictures of girl superheroes (and some female baddies thrown in too!). Inside she wrote: ‘You are a superhero… so don’t forget it’.

Gennifer – you are a superhero too… never, ever forget that.

I think Fixers are an amazing charity. If you would like to find out more about their fantastic work, please have a look at their website.

If you are grieving at the moment, here is something that may help.

grief

Quotes via whatsyourgrief.com

Please look out for any young people you know who may be going through a loss. Let’s support each other.

I recently wrote a post in memory of my Dad and how he taught me to be enterprising in my approach to life. Please check it out.

 

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Inside Out

For many years, I have been a great admirer of how storytelling can help children and youth cope with different life events and the entangled emotions these can throw up. Pixar is just about to release its newest and frankly, most brilliant example of normalising the ups and downs of everyday life. ‘Inside Out’ is about an eleven-year old girl called Riley and the various feelings within her that control her behaviour: Joy; Sadness; Fear; Anger; and Disgust. Reviews have suggested that it’s a joy to watch.

Above all, I’m hoping it will become a catalyst for positive discussions about mental health.

Inside OutInside Out

*Reviews of ‘Inside Out’ in Grazia and Empire.

More than anything, this movie is saying that it’s ok to have a variety of different reactions inside of you, battling against each other in your head. Everyone has that, they just don’t often discuss it. This is paramount, in a society where mental health is such a taboo topic, where parents would rarely admit to anyone that they are struggling with their thoughts, let alone their own children. These films can reassure people when they are grieving. Experiencing a loss can be hugely devastating when you are still developing and already struggling with the various aspects of your identity.

When I lost both of my parents, (I was in my 30s, still am), it wasn’t the adult-based dramas and classic epics that I took solace in, but the child-driven narratives of younger films. ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Up’, all have a great deal to tell us about death. These stories tell us that people most definitely do die, but wonderful things happen too.

Most importantly, they suggest that sometimes life is a struggle, but it is for adults as well. There is no need to feel alone in your feelings. Just like our conflicting emotions, we are all in it together…

It was Fathers Day yesterday – a lovely day for families to celebrate the contribution a parent can make to a family. My children made a card for their Daddy, with lots of nice drawings (artists in the making, obviously!).

This made me think a lot about my own father who died nearly three years ago. Invariably I remember the kindness he showed me, but also the advice he was always offering. That is what a parent usually does, isn’t it? Offer advice – their best efforts at reassuring you, based on their own perspective and world view.

Much of what he told me was grounded in a belief about not taking life to heart, to living it with a carefree feeling. I wish I had listened more to him when I was younger.

He was very intelligent and had this amazing understanding of how things worked – how mechanisms fitted together, how one element could interact with another. Physics was definitely a strong point for him.

Growing up in North London in the 40’s and 50’s, he was used to hard graft. He left school when he was 14 and worked many, many labouring jobs that made my mind buzz as a little girl – visions of him stuck underneath cars, fixing things I couldn’t see or possibly know about, or hanging off roofs sorting out bits of guttering. He would appear in the house at tea-time, covered in black oil and usually nursing some type of manual injury – I was used to seeing him in slings and with blood blisters on his fingernails. This demonstrated that it’s ok to learn on the job and make mistakes (although this perhaps shouldn’t be with a hammer!)

I always asked him for his advice on various things. Of course, many of these problems (I can’ t even remember what they were now), felt like end of the world stuff when I was a teenager. School issues came up a lot. In particular, I remember three main things he told me, time and time again when I was growing up and more recently, before he died:

1. “If in doubt, ask” – it’s ok to not know the answer to everything, that is what learning is all about

2. “All you can do is give it 100%” – your best effort is enough, because you know you’ve done all you can

3. “Don’t worry love – it’s worry that kills people” – a bit serious this one, but high levels of worry = ill health

He always knew how to make me feel better, like I was sitting on top of the world (or on top of a Banger Racing car!!). You can see below that spelling wasn’t his strong point…

He also said that if you cry too much then you won’t be able to see properly, which was the most ridiculously silly advice ever. But it never failed at making me laugh and helped me to feel reassured and generally alright with the world again.

When we were older, he completed an Open University degree in Engineering, probably having been encouraged by my Mum. This enabled him to get better paid work and a promotion (I imagine) and involved a lot more driving inside a comfortable car rather than sliding around underneath one. However, I always thought he was much happier in the ditch at the side of a racing track, knee-deep in mud and laughing to himself.

Dad, this is for you. Happy Fathers Day x