During our #JustSaySomething campaign, we have encouraged people with experiences of loss to open up about their grief, so that those who are grieving or others close to them in need of their support can talk without fear and feel comfortable seeking help in dealing with their loss.
At sixteen, Jess Bacon tragically lost her Dad to cancer. Here, she describes her own struggles with depression and communicating about her loss, the silence of those around her who were scared to say the wrong thing and the liberating power of reaching out to people, to help keep the memory of loved ones alive.
“I spent the summer in a sheltered way of life, pulling on my Dad's jumper whenever I could”
If you haven't lost a loved one, it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who has.
I lost my Dad when I was sixteen. I was one of several teenagers sadly in my year that had lost a parent, but nobody close to me could relate.
I spent the summer after my GCSE's in a sheltered way of life, pulling on my Dad's jumper whenever I could. I grieved. Friends and family visited, brought condolences and cake.
Then a few months down the line, everything had moved on. I'd started sixth form, my friends started to go out in town, house parties became nights out. They continued on and I didn't know how to do that. Had they forgotten what happened? Was I supposed to?
“They were scared of saying the wrong thing and I was scared they'd say nothing at all”
I felt like I was lugging this heavy weight around with me, looking for somewhere or someone to offload it to, if even for a moment. But no one could see it physically, even though a lot of people I'm sure could sense it, but as it weighed me down, I began to struggle to listen or make conversation. I could only feel and think about the weight on me.
My friends tried, but they didn't know what to say by this point and neither did I. It seemed as though I was distancing myself. I felt as though I was one step away from a major meltdown and everyone could sense that fragility. So they trod lightly and carefully, to not upset me.
In the end people stopped asking how I was. They knew the answer would resemble "I'm fine" and undoubtedly be a lie. So they stopped saying anything about it, because it seemed as though I didn't want to talk about it. They couldn’t read my mind. They were scared of saying the wrong thing and I was scared they'd say nothing at all. But I said nothing and they said nothing.
I didn't know at the time I had depression. My Mum just struggled to get me out of bed in the mornings for school and I couldn't make conversation with my friends without being angry or sad every day.
Opening up about grief
I felt a stronger connection with my counsellor from Thorpe Hall. Twenty-years older than me, but she understood every word I said, everything I felt. It was the kind of environment where I was free to talk, to someone who was paid to listen and wait for the moment where I cracked, which inevitably I did.
She understood the loss and the physical pain. The dragging yourself out of bed to face the next day, as well, they don't stop coming. Time doesn't stop just because you're not sure if you can get up or go on.
It was only a few years later in my first year of university that I had to open up. I had to tell people who didn't know me or my family, who had no pre-conceptions about me, that didn't know depressed Jess that lost friends because she couldn't make conversation or find the ability to do things anymore. I had to tell them that my Dad had died.
“I got out. With the help of friends and family”
I was overwhelmed by grief and loneliness. No one in the world has lived the life I've lived. It was very isolating. The gap between who you really are and whom depression makes you becomes wider and wider, so that you only catch glimpses of the person you are underneath the sadness. I couldn't process it.
In this downward spiral, I was present and aware of what was happening but I couldn't stop it. I was in a pit with no way out. But I got out. With the help of friends and family, as well as dragging myself out of the pit.
Just say something
I used to think at school, after it all happened; well everyone stopped messaging me, so why should I reach out?
Reaching out to people is possibly the best thing you can do. I struggled to say it in person, so I began with messages. "I'm not feeling so great." "I'm struggling." "Sorry if I was a bit quiet, I've been quite down."
I would personally like to apologise to those people, but it's been so long, it wouldn't matter anymore. But I am sorry for the girl I was in sixth form. The angry, lost, lonely, depressed girl who couldn't hold a conversation, couldn't get through a night of drinking without crying and couldn't quite hold onto socialising and the reality that people were there to talk to, they just didn't know what to say anymore and I couldn’t bring myself to start the conversation.
I now would happily (and do) cry anywhere about anything, losing Dad, my cousin telling us she's pregnant again, a cute dog video.
Having gone through it, almost seven years down the line I can say it does get easier, if you open up and talk about what happened. Talk about them, just because they're gone doesn't mean they aren't still inherently involved in your life and in the person you are.
Even if it's just to one person, or just one word, say something. The sooner, the better. Trust me.
Find out more information about Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice and how you can help support their expert palliative care and family bereavement services, plus our advice and resources for coping with grief and supporting those who have lost a loved one.
Jess's dad was cared for at Sue Ryder Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough. Since he died, she has found solace in blogging.