Grieving at 17

I’ve never written about this before. Not because I haven’t wanted to, but because it’s going to be really hard. And why would you sit down and take the time and mental effort to write about something that is hard, when you could sit down and write so easily about something else. Like farming. But I’m at a stage where I would really like to invest time, energy, and emotion into more writing, to see where it might take me, and I’ve realised that I’ll never develop myself if I continue to write about what is comfortable and easy. 

Having had the title of this blog in my head for a few weeks now, and mentally constructed and reconstructed various sentences and paragraphs, I think I’m ready to start typing. To keep myself on track and accountable, I’d like to say now that my aim in writing this blog is purely to provide some insight, help, advice, support, anything remotely helpful, to others that might have gone, or be going through, something similar to what me, my friends, our parents, and teachers went through when Anna and Anastasia died. 

To briefly explain; in December 2014, our final year of school, in the midst of university applications and preparations for final exams, two of the most delightful people I have ever known were killed when their car collided with a bus on a rural road. Every single person that knew either, or both, Anna and Anastasia will have their own very personal and very traumatic memories of the hours, days, weeks and months that followed.

Grieving for the sudden loss of two friends at 17 was nothing short of horrific. Whilst I have the most comforting memories of our tight-knit boarding school community coming together to support each other in a way we wish we’d never had to, I also have memories of feeling so utterly alone in my pain and hurt and sense of loss that I, rightly or wrongly, make a conscious effort not to relive those first few days and weeks in my head too often.

The first thing to know about grief, is that it is entirely subjective. You don’t really know a person until you’ve seen them grieve. Grief is not just a mental reaction, but also a physical one. You can’t escape the physical feeling of being kicked in the stomach, pushing out sobs and tears and wails. You can’t escape the numbness, the manic shivering as you sit in a hot bath, the compulsion to hit things, to get angry at life and how fucking shit and unfair it can be. Any, all, or none of the above are entirely possible and acceptable physical reactions to grief. Once you’ve seen a large group of people simultaneously begin the grieving process you understand that there is no one-size-fits-all setting. Hysterics, disbelief, loss of consciousness, practicality, utter calm. If you think someone is grieving wrongly, you are the one that is wrong. There is no wrong or right way to grieve, as long as it is productive.

What I mean by productive, is that it is very easy and – to some extent – ok to switch off from the world when faced with grief. But if that is the only answer your body and mind can turn to, then your grief becomes unproductive. You’re internalising your pain, perhaps blaming yourself, not talking and shutting yourself off to others that might benefit from your support and being able to support you. It’s ok to have moments alone, quietly, thinking and reflecting, but it’s also really important to keep talking, as hard as it is. I got into an unproductive habit of dreading the 5th of every month in the months after Anna and Anastasia’s death. I would emotionally build up to it for days, working myself up for 24 hours of trauma and upset. My mum pointed out that I couldn’t dread the 5th of every month for the next 60 or 70 years.

On the first anniversary of Anna and Anastasia’s death I was in my first term of university, preparing for my Christmas exams. On the 5th of December I didn’t attend lectures, I lay in my bed, I didn’t go to meals, I watched Netflix, stared into space, and ate snacks. I don’t remember the 6th of December because I probably got up, got dressed, went to lectures and meals, did some revision, and watched Netflix. I allowed myself the space and time to grieve and remember my friends, but I didn’t allow it to consume me. It’s easy to let grief consume you.

I’d like to talk about the process of getting through those last few months of school, with the reality that life doesn’t have to last forever just because you’re young. I honestly have no idea how I passed my A Levels. I have a very distinct memory of sitting in my room at school, trying to revise, looking out the window at the nice day and thinking “Why am I putting myself through all this stress trying to revise, when I could die tomorrow?” Those few months were a constant internal battle, I cannot express the utter despair I felt at forcing myself to sit and revise every day. Why sit exams, and spend four years doing a degree, to help me reach my final goals, when I could literally die at any moment. It was fairly morbid. But that’s the reality. It’s exceptionally hard to think rationally and fight for your goals, when your reaction is to choose flight, and do what is easiest and brings immediate gratification and satisfaction with life. If you’re someone reading this that is battling yourself right now, please think long and hard about what is right for you. The pain and mental anguish of grief does ease, and if I’d listened to those feelings I’d most likely be sat here kicking myself for giving in and losing what I’d worked so hard for and got so close to having.

I’d like to pick up there on saying that the pain and mental anguish of grief eases. If you’re reading this in the hope I’ll say that those feelings stop, they don’t. They ease, but they never go away. So my next point is about the long terms affects of grief, particularly grief cause by traumatic experiences. And there are very real, often very unexpected lasting effects of it. I cannot drive past a crash on the motorway, even a minor bump involving no emergency services, without having to fight off a panic attack. Sometimes I can carry on by slowing my breathing and sometimes I have to pull over. I cannot listen to the song ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams without dissolving into tears and sobbing. Last year, when the Manchester Arena bombing happened, I spent a good two or three days out of my 2nd year revision schedule crying for those young people that lost friends just like I had. I actually wrote a blog about it at the time but never posted it. Sometimes when I get drunk I sit on the floor and cry.

But the main point, is that it does ease. I cry when I’m drunk a lot less. A few weeks ago, I actually got half way through ‘Angels’ before having to leave the dancefloor. Maybe soon I’ll be able to drive past a crash without tearing up and starting to panic. These things might not stop happening, but the pain of them does ease. For the majority of the time, I feel completely normal. Trust me, at some point, you will stop sobbing into your pillow 5 nights out of 7. And you’ll find ways of remembering the person who has died without upsetting yourself, and you’ll be able to cope better when those moments of ‘surprise grief’ appear.

I’m not sure if this is really the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s a huge step in the right direction in challenging myself and my writing. I’ll be trying to share more of my thoughts, opinions and experiences on things other – and including! – farming over the next few months. Please bear with me!

 

You are the tree and grief is the storm.

Sudden or expected,

Grief is the storm.

Lashing rain, blue skies, winds strong enough to break, moments of still and cracks of lightning.

Blue skies, lashing rain, winds strong enough to break, moments of still, and blue skies.

Lashing rain, winds strong enough to break, cracks of lightning.

Moments of still. Blue skies.

Winds strong enough to break.

Blue skies.

Blue skies.

 

 

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