Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Losing a loved one + how to heal

One morning in December 2011, Graham went off to work at about 5am and I settled back to sleep before having to get up around 7.30 for work. I felt really content and remember my last thought before I drifted off was "I feel really happy, everything's good". I was woken up about two hours later by the phone ringing and then my mum's hysterical screams downstairs, a moment that will haunt me forever. It was the paramedic, and my Grandad had died. The news came as a total shock as I'd only seen my Grandad a few days before and despite not feeling too well, he'd still been his usual self. Since I was about 7, my biggest fear had been of death, when I had my first anxiety attack and became petrified my mum was going to die. Now that fear of losing someone had happened for real and I didn't have a clue how to cope. 
I was 21 and had never had to deal with losing a loved one before. The funny thing was, I couldn't cry. I just felt numb and switched off, a bit robotic. I went straight into work the next day. "Sophie, we weren't expecting you!" one of my colleagues said kindly. Everyone was really considerate, and instead of avoiding the subject, all my colleagues came up to me and started talking to me about my Grandad, which I really appreciated. Even though I spoke to them about what happened, inside I'd almost distanced myself from his death and forced myself to remain in control. At his funeral I was the only one not crying, I just couldn't. Part of me blocked out what was happening and the other tried to force myself once again to remain in control. I thought about my characters, my book. Anything other than what was going on. 


3 months later, Graham pulled up outside my work. "He hasn't got a big bunch of flowers with him!" a colleague joked, looking out of the window. I wasn't expecting him to be there and we had a bit of a joke about what it could be. "Your man's here," the receptionist said downstairs. "Nice surprise", I replied. We were joking, messing around and Graham smiled but I knew there was something up. "It's bad, isn't it?" I said. He nodded. I didn't have to guess what; my Nana had cancer and despite beating it a few years before, it had since come back. We went to the hospital, and she passed away later that night. I know it sounds strange but I couldn't handle being there, witnessing it all, so Graham and I went to Bluewater, our place we always go, our "second home", as we call it. It felt safe and away from all the pain. We sat through a film and did our usual routine but neither of us could really think straight.


We had to go through everything again; the grief, the loss, the funeral. Only this time it felt even worse, because now my Nana and Grandad were both gone. It felt cruel and as I've always thought funerals; cold and grey and a process you don't really want to go through. I don't think I'll ever understand the point of a funeral, I don't want to remember people that way and for me, both funerals took away any chance to remember my Nana and Grandad how I wanted. To this day, every night before I fall asleep I still have intrusive thoughts and upsetting images of their funerals, losing them, feeling frightened and repeated flashbacks of what happened even though it was so long ago. I can't think about them, I don't like to look at pictures, I don't really like it when people talk about them. This is something I've gradually come to accept, switching off seems to be the only way I can handle it.


When I was 23 I lost my beautiful friend, Fran, to a terminal illness. She was also 23. I'd known Fran as a toddler, and we met up again when we were teenagers. We'd had a lot of happy memories together and regrettably I hadn't seen her much through my twenties but the times I did, I cherished. I cried when I heard the news, although I didn't talk too much about it. Unlike my Grandparents I was able to think of her freely, and remember happy memories. At her Celebration Of Life, everyone was encouraged to wear nothing but bright colours and Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" played out against a montage of pictures and happy memories. The song was so symbolic for Fran. It was a truly beautiful day for a truly beautiful girl. Fran was always smiling, and I never heard her ever complain or be negative about a single thing in the world, when she had every reason to due to what she had to face. She was nothing but a bright spirit, and a constant ray of light. She loved butterflies, so I took off the butterfly necklace I was wearing that day and left it for her. Whenever I hear Atomic Kitten, I think of her and I'm glad I can think about her, remember her, think of the happy times. I love butterflies, and that's all down to her. 


I had counselling a few years ago and I told the counsellor that my Grandparents deaths had set off a lot of anxiety for me. We talked about the root of my anxiety which was a fear of dying, and even though we didn't find much of a solution, just talking to her felt like a massive help and a weight off my shoulders.


Last August my other Grandad sadly passed away. He hadn't been well for a while and a few days before I'd been driving back from Starbucks, pulled up in the car and received a text message from my mum saying we might lose him in a few days and they'd just said their last goodbyes to him. I felt sick to my stomach, and for the next few days we were all waiting for that horrible phone call. When the phone rang a few days later, I somehow knew what it would be. I went out into the garden and a few minutes later my mum came out, crying, to tell me. "Grandad's died darling,' she said and I broke down and hugged her for a while. Tears came out, and she talked to me for a while about how much he loved me, and was proud of me and would want me to be happy. I felt a lot of grief, and cried a bit which I hadn't been able to do in the past. I called Graham and reached out to my friends, and their messages helped me more than you'd believe. Everyone online was so kind too and really gave me strength. I spent most of the day messaging back friends. Even though it was an awful day, it just shows you how people can be so unbelievably kind, which still gives you hope. It felt okay to look at photos of Grandad and remember him in the way I wanted, happy memories that made me feel OK. 


Last summer I made the decision to put my mental health first and not to go to my Grandad's funeral as I knew I wouldn't be able to cope. I wanted to keep remembering him how I wanted and after what had happened with my other Grandparents in the past, I knew it would be damaging and ruining for me if I did go. My mum and I had a few disagreements about this as she thought other people in the family would judge me for not going, but I told her if people wanted to judge before even beginning to understand, then let them. Eventually she accepted my decision and I had her understanding, which I  appreciated.

As it was, no one judged me for not going and everyone was kind. I was in contact with a few family members throughout the day and Graham had to go to work but beforehand we went to a little cupcake cafe we go to and sat out in the gardens. I wanted to be happy and remember my Grandad in peace, and that's what we did. Graham had to go to work later so I stayed with the cats and as much as I tried to switch off from what was happening, I broke down several times and felt a lot of pain. In a strange way I felt isolated and alone, but then I knew going to the funeral wouldn't have been good for me. Again, I reached out to a few of my friends and they were brilliant. I got through.

Even though the next few weeks weren't that easy, I felt a sense of healing for being able to grieve in the way I wanted and being able to remember my Grandad in my own way. Two days after he'd passed away friends of my mum's came to the garden to help my parents' with something but were rude to me. I ended up screaming my head off at them, and everyone in the garden turned as my words rang through the air. I just thought "Good,". It wasn't the time to upset me and be so insensitive after what had happened, and despite feeling shaken up, Graham and I went off to watch a film and I took some time out where he was living away from it all. It wasn't good for me to be at the family home at that point, and a break away was what I needed most. Put your mental health first.

Don't let anyone tell you how to grieve, grief is a personal thing and we all react differently to losing a loved one. It's okay not to cry, it's okay to cry. It's okay to want to talk or to not want to talk.  

It wasn't easy making a decision that I knew wouldn't go down well, but I stuck to my guns and did what mattered most to my mental health. It's important you take the time you need to do whatever is right for you when it comes to going through grief. 

It's important you take time to heal in your own way.

I'm not always very good at this, but sometimes it's important we let people know we need them. 

You don't ever get over losing someone, but time can heal the hurt and make it somehow bearable. Sometimes it can take days, years, decades, but it does heal.


Saturday, 3 March 2018

My birthday in Barbados: our travel diary

I spent my birthday in Barbados last week, an exciting trip I couldn't wait for and a real dream come true. The past few winters I've struggled badly with SAD and dreamt of nothing but escaping the cold UK weather and jetting off somewhere hot and tropical. Most of you know I'm such a summer spirit with a wardrobe that beams towards the beach and is made for sand, sea, salt and...not much else. Barbados had remained blissful in many reveries of mine for a long while, so actually arriving there felt pretty surreal to say the least... 
Graham and I stayed at the Dover Beach Hotel which is in St Lawrence Gap, Christ Church. It was only about a 20 minute cab ride from the airport and as soon as we arrived we were told there was a barbecue going on and free rum punch (hello!) so that was a pretty paradisal start. The staff at the hotel were all friendly, we had a nice pool but the selling point had been the beach that was literally on our doorstep. We spent most of my birthday on Wednesday at the beach, chilling on sun loungers and reading our books before venturing to a gorgeous pizzeria in the evening for cocktails and dinner. On Thursday we ventured to nearby Maxwell Beach and spotted trademark Baywatch yellow lifeguard vibes (but no Zac Efron), before chilling by the pool and sipping on smoothies.  

Our room had a little balcony which overlooked another pink part of the hotel ($$$$ jackpot!!!) and a nice view of some pretty palm trees. At first I thought the balcony was a little impersonal as everyone seemed to be constantly wandering by but soon enough I discovered the relaxed vibe everyone radiated and whenever we went out there to read it was peaceful and tranquil. We snapped some blog pics over at the pretty pink neighbouring paradise, so I'm sure they'll crop up soon. 
Last Friday, the rainiest day of the holiday, we took a long walk to the nearest chemist and explored the area. Along the way we discovered a cute little lego house and Malibu cocktail bar that was closed. There are so many hot houses blasting with colour in Barbados and on the last day of our trip we learnt from our lovely cab driver that people are encouraged to paint their houses in bright vibrancy. Not like our old misery guts council here in the UK, eh? 
Our journey was complete once we'd found a lovely tropical hive in the form of the Coffee Bean Café, where we had cupcakes and the best coffee I've ever tasted (and I don't even drink coffee). The rain poured down but we got a good glimpse of the pastel houses shaded with palms and bubbling streams. 
We had a long stretch back in the rain, hiding in a local supermarket to seek shelter and then getting soaked as we made our way back via some deserted beaches. Even though Worthing Beach seemed a little abandoned and lonely, it was haunting and mystical. No soul was around; the shore and seaweed broke bold across a battered down beach bar and swaying coconut trees. 

On Saturday we took a trip to Oistins but unfortunately that didn't quite go to plan. As soon as we stepped out of the cab a local woman pounced on us and offered us a "free tour to see the turtles and island", we tried to shake her off but she wouldn't take no for an answer. We let her lead us to see the turtles and got a few photos but her motives became clear when she started trying to sell us stuff. She was also trying to get us to eat at her restaurant and after we'd made our excuses we took a tangled route the other way so as to escape her clutches. I was a bit pissed off to be honest, the last thing we wanted was someone hounding us like that, especially as we wanted to explore the place on our own. It was quite a small place and not easy to avoid her so in the end we decided to venture off and had lunch at a surf bar a few miles away. 

On Sunday we took a cab to Chattel Village in Holetown. A collection of brightly coloured shops and cafes, most of them were closed but we still had a good look around and found a pink phone box. Yes, let's have that in caps: A-PINK-PHONE-BOX. The heat out in full force we went to a shopping mall overlooking waterfall features and stony pathways and had some gorgeous smoothies and cakes to cool us down. Before going back to meet our cab driver we spent some time on Holetown Beach. 

After a few days of being out and about on Monday we decided to chill out nearby. We visited another Chattel Village down the road from us but didn't stop long as there wasn't much there. We also went back to our favourite pizzeria and got cheesecake and took a walk around the block capturing a bit of colour from the stunning sights around the St Lawrence Gap area. Once back we spent our last few hours of the day on the beach, winding down before an early check-out the next day.

Our last day on Tuesday was lovely because we really made the most of every moment. We took a trip to Harrison's Cave. Described as a "crystallised limestone cave characterised by flowing streams deep pools of crystal clear water and towering columns", we had a tour round on a vehicle and both enjoyed it, although afterwards we went on to the Flower Forest which we both agreed was better. The Flower Forest was a jungle of twisting palms and vibrant flowers, all stretching out to a gorgeous view of the island that both hypnotised and magnetised. It took our minds off the fact that we were leaving beautiful Barbados a little later that day and heading back to a snowy cold climate. 

Despite having quite a bad bout of travel anxiety before we left, after a few days of settling in I realised how safe I felt on the island. Posing for blog photos was brilliant as no one seemed to bat an eyelid as I posed in my tropical style set-ups. It was so lovely and relaxing and I honestly wish we could go back right away. Hopefully Graham and I can go back and visit someday, it's definitely our kind of paradise and I'm missing it so much already... 
We touched down on the tarmac this Wednesday morning and were thrown into a crazy winter wonderland which felt pretty disorientating given the blazing heat we'd been wandering around in only hours earlier! I'm glad we had fun at Harrison's Cave and exploring the tropical tranquility of the Flower Forest on our last day as it felt like we made the most of our last moments on the island.                                
The highlight of my trip definitely had to be spending quality time with Graham and getting away just us two. After a long night flight as we wheeled our suitcases through arrivals I felt the holiday blues hit hard and I hope we can visit again someday in the future. Thank you baby for looking after me as always and for making the holiday of a lifetime even more idyllic and paradisal! 

Have you ever been to Barbados?
Is it somewhere you'd like to visit? 
I'd love to know your thoughts!