“There’s No Shame In Holding On To Grief, As Long As You Make Room For Other Things Too.”
I’ve been ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ about whether or not to publish this post. It’s been sitting in my drafts for almost two months now, but I’ve decided it’ll be good to show this to everyone, and hopefully help some of you deal with pain and grief.
I’ve found it really difficult to write this post as it’s super personal, and it’s actually the first time I’ve properly expressed my feelings and relived the moments that I’m about to share with all of you.
I was always told that writing down your feelings is the best way to deal with things and to be honest, I do agree. I’ve always struggled to express myself to people face to face, so I used to write it down. However, over time I’ve become busier with my studies and work, and haven’t really had time to consider writing my emotions down on paper. Nowadays, I tend to just bottle things up, it’s easier and keeps people out of your business. Well that’s what I used to convince myself anyways. Really, bottling things up is the worst thing to do. Essentially you’re emotionally isolating yourself, and you’re not truly accepting the problems you’re facing if you pretend they don’t exist, therefore you’ll never overcome them.
I’ve sat here for a while thinking about how to start this because it’s such a deep thing for me, but I’m just going to get straight to the point.
William John Daly – AKA Granddad Billy
My step-grandad. A man filled with so much positivity, happiness and humour.
I grew up most of my young life without a real Granddad, but Billy always treated me as if I was his own flesh and blood. He was the closest I had to a real Granddad, and I never saw him as anything but that. All our memories together were filled with such joy, constant giggles, love and terrible granddad jokes. He lived 300 miles away, on a small Island in Cumbria with my Nanna Carol and my Auntie Sarah. I didn’t get to see them a lot as the journey there was a good 5 hour drive and my parents didn’t get much spare time while raising two crazy kids and working full time, so I cherished every moment I had with them when we did get the chance to visit. There was never a moment that I felt like I wasn’t his actual Granddaughter, he loved me and cared for me the same way he cared for his own family, and I will always have an immense amount of respect for him for doing that.
In 2014, my Granddad was diagnosed with lung cancer. When I found out, I initially felt shocked, confused, and a little numb. I didn’t really know how to react to it so I just kept my feelings to myself and tried to deal with it alone. I started to imagine him with no hair, pale skin and really frail, but when we went to visit, you couldn’t actually tell he was sick. He was still walking around with so much energy, making jokes and still a little feisty! As we entered the 2nd year of this dreadful nightmare though, the cancer grew and he became weaker and weaker. I didn’t fully accept the fact that my Granddad was terminally ill until I saw his appearance change dramatically. His energy dropped, he was unable to eat properly, and struggled to talk. I think it was around November time when I truly started to feel fear. I thought I was afraid before but nothing compared to how I was feeling at this point.
December 7th, I was on the phone to my Nan, and she told me that the doctors said he would only survive a few more days. My heart felt like it stopped. My throat tightened and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. How was I supposed to react to this? My Nan who has loved this man for longer than my living years, has just told me that he is going to die. Do I let my tears fall or am I meant to be strong for her? I paused for a moment and told her that I would get the train over first thing in the morning. I booked my ticket for the 8am train and started to panic, I had to wait all night until I could travel up and it takes 4 hours on the train to get to Cumbria. I had this horrible feeling that I wasn’t going to make it on time, even though the nurse said he still had a few days left. My gut feeling was right. The next morning while I was waiting at the train station, I got a phone call of my Auntie. December 8th 2016, my Granddad passed away. When I heard the news, my throat tightened, my breaths shortened and my eyes started to sting. This was the most horrendous feeling ever.
I ended up driving there with my mum, and it was the slowest journey of my life. I could barely even speak to her about it. I tried to contain my tears because I didn’t want her to see me hurting, and avoided the subject as much as I could. The funeral was arranged really fast and as strong as I was trying to be, that was my breaking point. As soon as we walked into the church, I couldn’t hold myself together any longer. I still tried my best to stop the tears, but why? There was nothing wrong with being sad because of the death of my Granddad. I shouldn’t have been focussing on being strong, I should have just embraced my emotions and the beautiful ceremony that was held for him. It’s completely normal to feel upset and to cry, and I wish I was able to open myself up to my family when we needed each other the most.
The one thing that keeps my mind at ease about this traumatic experience though, is that I will always have memories of my Granddad to cherish for a lifetime.
Just when I thought I couldn’t go through anymore pain, I experienced another nightmare.
Jane Kwenda – AKA Gogo
Gogo means Grandma in Shona, one of the common languages spoken by Zimbabweans. A woman who I aspire to be like. She always knew the right thing to say and was one of the wisest people I knew.
Some years back, Gogo was diagnosed with dementia and we went through a rollercoaster of a time to get her better again. Some days she was lively and aware of her surroundings, other times she would forget where she was and seemed like a complete different person. I spent Christmas 2016 with my Dad, Brother, Auntie Takunda and Gogo, and it was the perfect day. Her dementia seemed to be tamed, she was well aware of where she was and who she was with. I could see happiness bursting through her eyes, which was something we were starting to see slip away. Gogo spent about two weeks with us and her confusion was always at its peak in the evenings. She would go to bed most nights singing her version of ‘I Understand’ by Freddie and the Dreamers. She’d sing it as loud as she could until early hours of the morning. We’d try to get her to stop but she wasn’t having any of it. She’d just sing louder and louder. It was sweet and a little funny, but it sure did keep us up at night!
After a lovely Christmas break with my Gogo and Auntie, we drove her back to the flat in Brighton, and planned her next visit for a few weeks later. On January 21st 2016, Gogo suddenly passed away. When I received the call from my Dad, I broke down. This time I couldn’t hold the pain in, I still hadn’t accepted the death of my Granddad let alone learnt how to deal with the grief, and now my Gogo had just died too. It felt like my pain and suffering was never going to end. The family was in complete shock. She wasn’t terminally ill, she seemed healthy other than her dementia, and there were no signs of pain. So what was wrong with her and why did she die so suddenly?
According to doctors, she died of a Pulmonary Embolism which is a blood clot that gets wedged into an artery in the lung. Usually, they’re not fatal but if one gets large enough it can cause death, which means she must’ve had it for a while and none of us knew. This made everything so much harder for me to deal with. I don’t know if she was in pain, or if she knew something was wrong with her, but I can’t help but think that the song she kept singing over and over again a few weeks before was directed to us.
I felt even more pain when Gogo died, I was grieving two people at the same time and didn’t know how to cope with it. I started getting anxiety, worrying that my family would die at any time, scared that someone might get into a fatal car accident or something bad had happened if they didn’t pick up their phone. I’d try and share my feelings with my Dad, but it didn’t help, I still feel pain and heart ache and I still don’t know how to deal with it. There’s so many things I wish I could relive with Gogo, but one thing that gives me peace, is that she spent her last Christmas with her family, and was happy.
My point to all of you is to never hold back your feelings, no matter how uncomfortable you get expressing those emotions. You’re much better off letting people in and letting them help you get through your troubles, than isolating yourself from them. Grief is something we’re all going to experience at some point in our lives, and it’s okay to feel hurt, abandoned or empty inside. There is no time frame on how long it’ll take you to get over the loss of a loved one, because to be honest you probably never will, you’ll just learn how to live with it. I still have days where I have a little cry to myself because I miss my Gogo and Granddad, but as long as you still make room for other things in life, you’ll learn to live with the grief, and it will get easier. One day you’ll realise that death is not the end of a person, and that they still live on in our hearts.
In loving memory of Gogo Jane Kwenda and Grandad William Daly.