a young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is a guest post by Cj M Swaby
NLP wellness coach, writer and speaker, 33-year-old Cj M Swaby lost his brother; the singer, musician, husband, son and uncle, Lynden David Hall; to cancer in 2006. He shares his experiences of grief as a loving sibling, an NLP practitioner and a volunteer for Cruse, the national bereavement helpline.
In 2003 my brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He would die three years later on 14th February 2006. I got the call at 8:35am on Valentine’s Day.
A few years before my brother was diagnosed with cancer, my grandmother was killed suddenly in December 2000. Both deaths marked me in different ways.
The grief I felt was one of the most powerful and overwhelming emotions I had ever experienced. But I didn’t run from it. While falling apart at the seams, I just about managed to function on a day-to-day basis. Behind closed doors, however, I was struggling to find the strength to deal with a family that was imploding and a relationship that had recently collapsed under the pressure.
I began to question everything.
What was I doing? Who was I spending my time with? What was really important to me? Why was I here on Earth? Why did anything even really matter?
Then I began to question my beliefs around grief. I was tired. I was bored of the pain, bored of the suffering. I just wanted it to stop. I used to write frequently to get the thoughts onto paper and out of my head.
No Más. No Más.
My eyes can cry no more,
Though my heart screams with pain.
Cold and numb,
My body remains.
Tired and exhausted,
My soul has run dry.
Though my heart screams with pain,
My eyes refuse to cry.
I wanted something different. How had it got to this? I began to explore death. I began to challenge my bereavement and in the process dismantled my grief.
So what did I learn?
1. Grieve at your own pace
Grief is not a race. Allow yourself the time and space to be present to your emotions and the love you still have for them. Explore this. Time is not always a factor. They say that time heals; I would suggest that it’s not so much that time heals, but how you use that time to tackle your bereavement that matters.
2. Your grief is unique
No one has the right to tell you how to grieve or for how long. While I may understand what it is to lose someone you love, I can never truly know what another person is going through when their loved one dies. One of the biggest mistakes that I made when my brother died was to assume that I knew what other members of my family were going through.
The mistake that others made, was to think they knew how I felt. I soon learned to respect and value each person’s experience of grief. Give them the space they need to express it, but also recognise the boundaries. The behaviour of others around me did impact on my ability to deal with my bereavement. The right support network is often important.
3. Give yourself permission
Sometimes it felt as if the emotions were so overwhelming that I would not be able to contain them if I ever let them surface. This was new and scary. I discovered that when I allowed myself to do whatever it was that I needed to do, to get through it, I was able to free myself up.
I used to beat myself up for feeling the wrong way, saying the wrong things, not feeling the way I thought I should feel or getting angry, feeling guilty or being unsure.
I stopped this. I no longer beat myself up and I allowed myself to feel these emotions without self-judgement. I even scheduled regular “lose the plot” sessions. This was dedicated time where I would lock myself in my room, scream, cry, write in my journal, dance, sing, exercise, punch a pillow. Whatever I needed to do in that moment to give myself a release. My only criteria when giving myself permission was that I did not hurt myself nor others.
Highly irregular right?
No, not really. I was simply having a normal response to an un-normal situation.
4. Your experience lives beyond theory
There are many theories on grief. They can provide an invaluable understanding of the bereavement process, no matter how long it has been since your loved one died.
Some of the more common ones are:
These can be very useful in helping us to get to grips with the reality of our grief, but I would be mindful that our individual experiences are unique and may not slot neatly into any of these models.
This is okay. They can be useful as a guide but may not provide all the answers. Your grief is a unique and dynamic experience with many different shades. Remember, it lives beyond theory.
5. It can be done
When I was in the initial depths of my grief, I had no intention of transforming my bereavement. My wish was simply to navigate through it day-by-day. Then as I managed to get a handle on it and get a sense that it was actually doable, I realised that I could change my grief if I wanted to. This is not to say that it was effortless, but that it could be done. Others had done it before me, so why not me too?
Now I occupy a different space, where I encourage an open and honest dialogue on death, and self-empowerment around grief, through my own wellness coaching practice, and as a volunteer on Cruse Bereavement Helpline.
So what do I know? I know that death does not discriminate and we are often very unprepared.
Cruse is looking for volunteers for the bereavement helpline. The national telephone helpline 0844 477 9400 is open for calls from 9.30am to 5pm working days, answered mainly by a team of trained volunteers working in the special helpline area of the central offices in Richmond, Surrey.