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Growing around grief

*Caution - a personal blog post on childhood bereavement*

A poignant reflection on my dad today, what with it being the anniversary of his death, Children's Grief Awareness Week, and after very gratefully receiving some precious ('rare-edition') photos of him from the Greek Cypriot side of the family 🧡 Seeing as my brother is now publicly opening up about his childhood experiences, I've realised I can no longer hide this part of my life in a 'top secret' protected box within my heart. So here I am, attempting to take back some control of my own narrative when it comes to our dad (wish me luck!).

I've only recently felt able to talk more openly about our dad, family story, and the circumstances surrounding his death when I was 14 years old. This is for a wide range of complex reasons, which I save for the deep meanderings of my mind (and therapy 😜!)... But all these years later (after a lot of therapy!), I'm finally able to smile looking through photos of him, and allow myself to fully experience the pain of his loss, without feeling as overwhelmed by:

  • Confusion and shame around our family history, my grief, and love for my dad.

  • Guilt around my brother's different experience of our dad, and of not being able to help my dad (or brother for that matter).

  • The sense of abandonment that our dad wasn't able to help himself, for us.

  • The regret of lost opportunities and unanswered questions.

  • The longing for future experiences.

  • Feeling the need to hide my love and grief because of other family members' feelings towards him (for fear of hurting them, but ignoring myself and neglecting my needs in the process), particularly as we have our 'father' (step-dad), as well as our 'dad'.

  • And the fear of opening the aching black hole within my heart that has been left by losing a parent so suddenly, particularly in childhood, and without the chance to say goodbye.

Only now that I more fully understand these uniquely complex feelings and experiences, can I finally accept that our dad is not in fact part of some Elvis-Presley-faking-his-own-death-conspiracy-theory (one can only dream eh!).

So, I wish to celebrate a couple of treasured photos of the hugely complex, but charismatic, cheeky, honest, generous, hilarious, exciting, young-at-heart, "flew through life by the seat of his pants" (and cars!) kind of character that was our dad. Your loss has taught me to make the most out of life, live it to the full, take risks, not sweat the small things, have perspective, not take things for granted, hold compassion for others who are struggling, and to deeply love and appreciate friends and family. Ultimately, you have taught me gratitude for life - because life is short and can change in an instant (nothing like death to trigger an existential crisis eh 😂 but at least it's also taught me a sense of humour, albeit a dark one..!). I've come to learn that my family experiences are in fact my superpower, as I can use them to help others through my line of work. I will forever be grateful for this. I only wish you could have seen how I've grown (post-my dreaded teenage years at least 😂) - I hope I would have made you proud 💕

So I keep telling myself lately, whilst I have been struggling with my brother publicly sharing our family history - "don't be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others", because "there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you", and “if you don’t write your own script, someone else will write it for you.” And I just have to keep reminding myself that it doesn't matter how others remember my dad, it matters how I remember him.

And finally (oh I do love a good ol' cheesy quote - and the over-use of brackets to reflect my running commentary!) - "the weight of loss may never go away, but we learn how to carry it" and "you can't stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf." 🌊🖤

For support and signposting around childhood bereavement, please see my handout in this area.

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