Working in the job I do, I’ve seen a lot recently about Dying Matters’ #IRemember campaign. The campaign is running from 7-13 November and provides us with a chance to share memories and stories of loved ones we’ve lost. Different cultures and faiths all over the world have their own ways of remembering and honouring the dead, but the important thing is that by remembering those we’ve loved and lost, it unites us all. Alongside giving us a chance to look back on our favourite stories and memories of our loved ones, the #IRemember campaign also helps to break down the taboos around grief and bereavement. Given what’s happened this year, and knowing the importance of talking about death and dying through my job, I really wanted to contribute.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that just over five months ago, I lost my dad to cancer. It was a mere matter of weeks from his diagnosis to his death, so it was incredibly sudden.
My favourite memory of Dad definitely has to be my wedding. While I chose to have my mum walk me down the aisle, he still acted as one of our witnesses and also made a speech later in the day. However, my favourite memory comes just seconds after walking down the aisle. After handing Mum my bouquet and turning towards my husband-to-be, I felt Dad’s arm around me, and he pulled me in, gave me a kiss and said “you look smashing, my love.” It was such a simple, brief moment, but it meant the whole world.
I don’t have that many photos of me and Dad, something which I will always have major regret about. Despite that, the ones I do have are even more precious. This one in particular is my favourite. My sister-in-law took it mid-conversation during the evening reception, and I love everything about it.
It’s so important to remember that everyone grieves differently, and most importantly, there is no expiry date on it. If anything, I feel worse than I did during those first few weeks. It’s difficult, because you don’t really understand it until you experience it, and it’s the worst effing pain in the world. Someone might seem perfectly happy on the outside, but on the inside they could be barely holding it together. Months, years or even decades down the line, there will still be days where that pain is unbearable, and it can be triggered by the tiniest, simplest of things.
Sometimes I feel as though people have forgotten – that’s no one’s fault – people have lives of their own and it’s not always about me, I get it. It’s almost like once that initial three month period is over (why is it always three months?), your support network gets smaller (and don’t come at me, I’m not calling out anyone in particular!). In a way though, that’s okay, because it makes you realise who your real friends are.
I go from phases of wanting people to be mindful that I’m extremely fragile right now, to not wanting people to treat me with kid-gloves. I used to be able to take ‘banter’ and jokes from friends and family, but I’m nearing the point where even the tiniest, most inoffensive thing will have me questioning my entire existence within their world. It’s awful. But as my counsellor keeps saying, I’m grieving. I think sometimes I forget that myself.
My point is, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We all do it differently, and we all have our ways of coping. Yes, admittedly, mine isn’t very healthy, and I’m well aware of that. But you know, the new Taylor Swift album is out so that’s proving an excellent distraction.
There’s little things I remember about Dad too. I remember him always sitting in the same armchair whenever I visited. I remember him always making fun of what state my car was in. I remember he had the worst sweet tooth. I remember how much he loved animals. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t get that awful pang of grief and the realisation that he’s no longer here and I’ll never speak to him again.
Some days, it’s worse than others. But having little mementos of him around my house helps. I have one of his model planes, one of his medals from his time in the TA, a pair of cufflinks, and a gold spitfire tie-pin which has permanent residence on my jacket. I have two of his fleeces – one of which kept me warm on my trip to Skomer Island – and I have a little teddy bear dressed in a flight jacket and goggles which was given to me at his funeral.
I would trade all of them in a heartbeat if it meant I could have more time with Dad, and some part of me will always feel guilty for not seeing him enough. But that’s a normal part of grieving. I just need to remember that. Just like I remember him.
For this year’s #IRemember campaign, Dying Matters have teamed up with renowned photographer Rankin to create a series of photos that explore death and grief. Head over to their website to check them out and read the stories of those that contributed.