We’re excited to announce our Grief Kind podcast is back for a second three-part series, with all episodes out now. You can listen to the latest episode, featuring Dr Amir Khan, on all podcast streaming services.
What is the Grief Kind podcast about?
The podcast series is part of our Grief Kind campaign, a national movement to encourage more kindness around grief. We know that it can be hard to know what to say or do to support someone who is grieving, but that’s where our Grief Kind podcasts can help.
In each of the episodes of our new series, you’ll hear host Clover Stroud talking to a different celebrity guest about their own experiences of grief, and how those close to them helped them to cope. Guests include GP and TV doctor Dr Amir Khan, infuencer and entreprenuer Lottie Tomlinson, and TV Presenter Richard Arnold.
We hope that they, together with our first series, can inspire you to find new ways to be there for the people you love, so we can be more #GriefKind as a nation.
Clover Stroud, author, journalist, and host of our Grief Kind podcast, says:
“It’s so important to be open and honest about grief. It’s vital that people aren’t left to cope with their grief alone, but so many of us seem to find it hard to know what to say to or do to support someone who is grieving.
It is something that can profoundly affect you and it is something that almost all of us will experience. That’s why I’m so pleased to have teamed up with Sue Ryder to launch the second series of the Grief Kind podcast – especially after seeing the success of series one, which I was also very proud to be a part of. The more we talk about grief the more we learn as a society how to better support each other.”
All episodes are now available to listen to on all streaming platforms, alongside our first series featuring:
Grief Kind podcast
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[00:00:15] Clover Stroud: Hello, and welcome to the second series of Grief Kind; a podcast by Sue Ryder, which helps you to support friends and loved ones going through one of the toughest times of their lives. I'm Clover Stroud and in each episode, I'll be talking to someone who, like me, has experienced grief firsthand, and who can talk about the support they received. Hopefully, each conversation will empower you to be Grief Kind, to avoid clamming up and give your friends and family the love and support they need.
[00:00:51] Clover: In this episode, I'm joined by GP Dr Amir Khan. Amir's dad, Farouk, died after a long illness when Amir was 26. In this interview, Amir explains how his complex relationship with his dad influenced and still influences his grieving. He also describes how Muslim customs affected his grieving journey, from having hundreds of people in the house to suddenly being the only male in the family. Amir has some great advice for those struggling with bereavement, and I really enjoyed this conversation. I hope you enjoy listening.
Hi, Amir. Welcome to Grief Kind. It's lovely to have you on here.
[00:01:36] Dr Amir Khan: Hi, Clover. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:38] Clover: Well, I'm sure this is going to be a very interesting conversation because you've got two different experiences or perspectives of grief and we'll talk about your experiences as a GP slightly later on but first of all, I'd really like to talk about your dad, Farouk, who died 22 years ago when you were 26 years old. Can you tell me a bit about him? What was he like?
[00:02:02] Dr Amir: Yeah. I mean, I grew up in a very kind of traditional South Asian working-class family, so we're a very big family. I've got six sisters, I was the only boy, and my dad was a bus driver, and my mom worked her way up, actually. She came over from Pakistan, and she couldn't speak English, didn't have a job, and then learned English and trained in lots of different kinds of jobs, went from being a cleaner to eventually becoming a social worker before she retired.
But my dad was, I guess, typical in South Asian families in that, he was quite a strong, opinionated man. And the relationship he had with his children was very much focused around this traditional male role model, I guess. He went out to work, he came home and expected dinner, I guess, on the table. It was odd. It was odd, you know, we’re talking many years ago, and it was a bit of ‘children must be seen and not heard’, so as much as I loved him, we didn't have that very strong bond together.
I'll be honest, it wasn't the best relationship between father and son, but nor was it terrible. It was as expected, I think, for him in that South Asian culture back in the '80s and early '90s. And I wonder whether those kind of complex relationships, when you don't have that really strong bond that you really want with your dad, when you do lose them, it makes it more complex, the loss, I think. And kind of you're grieving not just the loss of the relative, but the loss of the potential that that relationship could have been. And you know you're always hoping that it'll get better, I guess, and you never have that opportunity for that to happen. So I guess there was that as well.
[00:03:40] Clover: Yeah, so do you feel like you were left with some kind of what-ifs and a kind of greater longing for him or for a closeness with him a bit?
[00:03:47] Dr Amir: Yeah, I think I was. I think I was always waiting for our relationship to turn into that perfect father-son relationship and waiting for that moment to occur. He got ill when I was very young, and he was medically retired fairly early on. So, as well as the loss, we had a long period of about just over 10 years of him having very severe heart failure, which meant he wasn't very mobile around the house without becoming short of breath and quite unwell. So we went through that phase of being his carer before he passed away, so we never had the opportunity to get that relationship, I think. You know we went from that very strict father-son relationship of traditional Asian values to caring for him, to losing him, and so it was quite a complex relationship.
And I'll be honest with you, Clover, I don't dwell on it too much because I have lots of unanswered questions that I don't think I'll ever have the answers for. So it’s, in a way, I feel like it's best just left alone. So this is the most I've talked about it in a long time.
[00:04:47] Clover: [chuckles] I'm interested as well. Because my mother, my mother had a very bad accident before she died, and she was very, very ill with brain damage for 22 years, and she was actually looked after beautifully in a Sue Ryder care home. And I always thought that that might prepare me for her death when it happened in her 70s. But do you think the fact that your father had been ill for a few years, do you feel as though that did prepare you, or do you think that we're ever really ready for the moment of losing somebody?
[00:05:17] Dr Amir: Certainly for me, it was the length of illness. I think, you know, when it first-- Because he had a really big heart attack, and then he became very unwell after that with heart failure. And we were told that his prognosis wasn't great, and so we were prepared really early on for it, but then it was quite a protracted illness in that it went on for almost over a decade. I think you kind of get used to the level of illness during that time, and you no longer prepare because you just- that's your new normal.
And I wonder whether it was the same for you. Because it went on for so long, you're prepared in the early stages, and then you kind of get used to it and you're not prepared anymore. So when it happened, even though he had the long illness with the heart failure, and in the end he had respiratory failure as well, but in the end, it felt very sudden. Because one morning, he kind of just tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, and then he had another heart attack and that was that, really.
It felt sudden, but I guess when you look at it objectively, it probably wasn't that sudden. So I don't think you can ever be prepared for it. I don't think you can.
[00:06:22] Clover: I agree with you. I think it's always, always a shock, and my experience with mom certainly bears that out. So you're away at university yet to qualify as a GP when he died. Can you tell me a little bit about the immediate aftermath of his death, and maybe about some of the traditions and rituals of a Muslim funeral and grieving process, and what was useful or, what was difficult about it as well?
[00:06:51] Dr Amir: The sudden death of him kind of made me immediately the man of the house. Which was unusual because I wasn't living at home, but I suddenly was thrust upon with these responsibilities. And my sister rang me and said, "Come home," which I did, obviously, because my dad passed away.
And actually what had happened, you know, he passed away-- He was still for resuscitation, so they tried to resuscitate him in the ambulance, and then took him to A&E and tried to resuscitate him there. And, some people may well have experienced this, but I think for the sake of my mom and my sisters who accompanied him to the hospital, they do resuscitate for a period of time so the relatives can see that every effort has been made to try and get him back. They had seen all of that, and I think that was quite traumatic for them. So by the time I arrived, that bit was already done, and my mom and my sisters were in the relatives' room.
And I was asked-- He was still in A&E Resus in one of the cubicles. As I got there, the nurse was pulling out the lines and taking off the stickers and all of that kind of stuff. And it was kind of a surreal experience because I feel like I missed that part where, you now,-- I don't know. I felt like maybe if I was at home, maybe I could have done something, being a medic, but also then I got there and everybody had already been through that bit, so I was on my own in Resus.
There's a part of you when you're a clinical, I guess, you can look at it from a clinical point of view and say, "Okay, so these things need to happen. The Resus needs to happen, the stickers need to come off, the cannula lines need to come out." He was still intubated at that point and that needs to come off.
And the nurse was doing all of this as I was coming into the room, and she asked if I'd like her to stop while I say goodbye almost, I guess. And I think I kind of went into doctor mode there, I go, "No, no, no, you do your job." And in a way, I regret that because I feel like that was a very private moment between me and my father, and I didn't have the guts to say to her, I think, which is, "Just leave me alone for a minute." It's just one of those things. And so that was, that was that.
Then with a Muslim funeral, the tradition is you have to bury your dead within 24 hours of them dying. Often that's complicated if we don't know the cause of death and there has to be a post-mortem. With this, my dad had a known health condition, and we knew what he died from. However, it was really tricky. Because he died in hospital, it was in the evening, none of the doctors there could do the death certificate, so you then rely on the GP the following morning to do the death certificate.
And this is so important. I work in Bradford now, and, you know, we have a large Muslim community. And I understand the importance, first-hand from that, but also going forward, of the need to have the burial within 24 hours from a religious point of view. The purpose of that is to help with the grieving process. Anyone who's lost someone will know, actually, there is a sense of closure after the funeral. There's still the grieving, but there's a door that can be closed after the funeral and you can get on with other things. That's the purpose of the quickness of these funerals.
And it was a Friday night, and the GP was closed on the Saturday and it wasn't open again until the Monday, and we needed the GP to give us the death certificate. So, there was this long weekend which felt like an eternity where we were waiting for the GP to open up on Monday. And that was very stressful for my mom and my sisters, but it was understandable for me, again, being medical. So that was hard. But once we got the death certificate, again being the only boy in the family, I was expected to sort it all out, and at 26, not having done it before, it was really difficult. So, I had to ring the GP in the morning, get the death certificate, which-- Oh my goodness. When patients tell me it's hard to get through to their GPs, I understand, I really do. [chuckles]
In the end, I just went to the surgeon and said, "Please." They were very good and got it to me. Then there's the whole registration of the death. It's slightly different now post-Covid, a lot of it can be done online, but then you made an appointment at the registrar and registered the death. Then once you have the forms after the registry, you could go to the funeral director.
I was of an age when none of my friends' dads or moms, really, had passed away, and so mine was the first. I was trying to get help from my friends, but nobody really knew what to do and how to organize a funeral. Luckily, with the Asian community, there is a million aunties and uncles that you can ask. So it turned a bit into kind of too many cooks spoil the broth, because everybody was then starting to give me advice, and I wasn't quite sure what to do. But once I got to the funeral director, and there's very specific Muslim funeral directors, they just take control of the whole situation. I imagine it's the same for any religious funeral director, they just take control. They get the forms, they sort it all out.
And the burial happened that afternoon. There's so many traditions. So the women are generally at home, and the men are either in a different room at home or at the mosque, and we were at the mosque, and the casket goes to the house first where the women are, so everybody has a look at the body of my father. There's lots of crying, lots and lots of crying. That's part of it, I guess, getting that emotion out.
Because traditionally, and religiously speaking, we're only supposed to grieve for three days in Islam, which I know is really, really prescriptive, and you're supposed to then kind of, right, get on with the rest of your life. But, so, I think that kind of outburst of emotion comes from that three-day process of grieving because you go, "Right, I've only got three days. I've got to get it all out." I think that traditionally comes from there. Obviously, we grieve for much longer than three days, but that I think comes from there.
And then the body comes over to the mosque where the men see it, and you line up, and I didn't-- Again, no idea. So as the son, you stand at the head of the casket, and then everybody else-- I mean, when I say line up, it's a very disorderly line, but everybody lines up and says something to my dad and then says something to me about sorry for your loss. Usually the line is, and this is the line I find really difficult, is, you know, it's God's will. That is always-- They say it, "It's God's will, it's God's will. Never mind, it's God's will." I'm like, "Well, that's not that helpful." [laughs] It's like the least helpful line isn’t it Clover”
"It's God's will," I'm like, "Okay. Does it give me anything one way or another?"
And then once you get past that bit, you go to the-- You have to wash the body. There's a Muslim tradition and it's called a ghusl, where men who are very close to the person who's died, so it's me and my brother-in-laws, would wash the body. And there's a very specific way to do it. The funeral director has a special room where this happens, and my dad was there on a trolley with a cloth over him. And we're being instructed by the funeral director, who's clearly done this a million times over, on how to wash the body. And that feels horrendous, if I'm being honest with you. Because it was a cold metal trolley, he was just lying on it, and you are rolling him over, washing his back, rolling him the other way, washing that way. It’s all, from an emotional point of view, it's really, really tough.
Then it gets worse, though, Clover, because then you actually have to physically get into the grave to bury your father. So you lower the coffin down into the grave, and only the men come to the graveyard, and you lower the coffin down into the grave. And then I had to get into the grave as well. So there's little platforms on the side of the grave where I can step into, and you're given these concrete slabs to place over the coffin and so that goes in.
They're really heavy, so as well as being emotionally distraught, you're also physically distraught. Because these are huge concrete slabs that about three men have to hold together and they hand to you, and you're alone inside of that grave with your dad, and so place them. And it's a bit like a Tetris puzzle because they've been cut but really awkwardly cut, and you have to piece them together so they fit perfectly. It's all a bit surreal.
Then you're allowed to come out of the grave. And then everybody gets a fistful of dirt and- oh, soil, sorry, and throws that in. Then once everybody's done that, the funeral director and the people who organize the graves will put the rest of the soil on. And then there's a big prayer, and everybody then disperses usually back- it was all back to our house and expects a full meal, Clover. [laughs] so catering has to also be sorted. [laughs]
[00:15:04] Clover: I'm very-- Because it sounds very, very active, and there are lots of very specific traditions and rituals that you have to go through. When my mother died and my sister died two years ago, I actually found planning the funeral and planning hymns and, you know, what she should be buried in, the actual activity of it was useful as a ritual, I suppose, and so that you know what to do. Because in grief, you can be left with a feeling of like, "Well, how do I show my loss, and how do I kind of manifest it other than just walk around in a state?"
Did you find this sort of high level of activity, it's interesting it was done in a few days, was it useful in some way, or was it overwhelming, or was it probably a bit of both, I should think, but learning about those rituals and then carrying them out, was it good for you to go through?
[00:15:56] Dr Amir: It was definitely good for me to go through. Because one thing that just happens, and you know will happen in most cultures but is particularly heightened in the Asian culture, is that you get an influx of people who come to your house. That influx starts at about 7:00 in the morning, you're not even awake, and it goes on until three or four o'clock at night.
And every, so over that weekend where I wasn't doing any of those things, there was knocks on the door, rings on the bell, and every room was full of people, which was great for my mom because she really relied on that community support. Huge. But for me, from a personal point of view, we're talking a couple of hundred people in the house, and you have to have the same conversation over and over again, "How did it happen? Did you not know it was going to happen? Was there anything that could have been done? What did the doctors say?" Blah, blah, blah.
So you have the same conversation over and over again, which I found quite- no, it wasn't hard, but I just found it draining. I was relieved, I guess. Yes, you're right. I was relieved to be able to actually do something else. And that, the mechanics of all of that and actually being told what to do was useful because I didn't have to use my brain for that because people were just telling me what to do. So that, I guess, was really useful.
I think what would have been nice would be to have had a brother who was helping with it all. I think it felt very lonely being the only boy in a funeral which is traditionally done by the men.
[00:17:22] Clover: Yes, yes, I can imagine. Do you feel that in those very, very busy, overwhelming days, you actually had time to grieve, or when do you feel that your grief really started kicking in?
[00:17:35] Dr Amir: I think it was when I went back to university. During that period there, I certainly wasn't able to grieve because you're just making cups of tea, if I'm being honest with you, Clover. [chuckles] Cups of tea, providing lunch, making sure people are fed, making sure my mom was okay. Because you revert back to those traditional gender roles in those situations.
You know, the women were looking after my mom, who was very emotionally distressed, and my sisters who were very emotionally distressed. And there was a lovely community of women in the kitchen who were also making cups of tea and making sure food-- And we get loads of food. That's the other thing. You know, every time someone new arrives, they're not just expecting tea, they're also bringing with them a big curry and lots of rice and naan and rotis, and that kind of thing.
So that's never a problem, but it's just this constant-- I guess you're just constantly talking to people. And so much as that is useful, you're never asked how you're feeling in our community. It's never, "How are you?" It's always, "Tell me what happened." I would try and sneak off to my old bedroom, but you often just get called back down. It wasn't until I was out of that, which I felt very guilty about leaving, but I had to get back, that I thought, "Oh, actually, something major has really happened."
[00:18:54] Clover: Do you feel… It's interesting hearing you talking about this. Do you feel that that big arrival of people in your house and the food and the tea and the conversations, I get a sense that that might have been more useful for your mom and your sisters than it was for you?
[00:19:11] Dr Amir: Certainly. I welcomed it because I know it was useful for my mom. Because every time, I used to say to her-- Because I thought, "God, if I'm getting overwhelmed by this, surely she is." I'd say to her, I said, "Mom, should I just say to people give us a break for an hour or so, or don't come around today?" She was like, "Absolutely not," and she goes, "That's not what we do."
And then every time someone would come, I think my mom found it really useful. It was a bit bizarre, actually, if I'm being honest. I don't want to make it sound funny. But it was all a bit odd, but every time a new person would arrive, it would like flick another switch on my mom and she would start wailing again and telling the whole story again. I thought, "Well, that looks horrendous for her," but in the end, I realized that actually that was really helpful for her to be able to tell it from her point of view and get that support from everyone each time.
[00:19:57] Clover: So you went back to university, and what was your life like at that point? How did you cope, and how did your feelings show themselves at that time?
[00:20:06] Dr Amir: Yes, so I wasn't a student at that point. I went back to Liverpool, which was my university city. I was a junior doctor in the hospital at that point, so I hadn't quite started my GP training. I told my consultant who was my boss at the time what had happened, and he was very understanding. You've just got to crack on with work and when you're in the hospitals, you have to just get on with it. And interestingly, I was doing care of the elderly, so you deal with bereavement and grief and the conversations around grief.
[00:20:31] Clover: So you must find yourself having to support people who are grieving a lot of the time now. What's the kind of-- Is there any advice, I suppose, that you can offer to people? People always say, "Oh, you know, I don't know what to say." I think that's a really, really common feeling. And when you're grieving, you can as a result feel very lonely, I suppose, as though the world that you're in is on its own. What have you learned as a GP as a way of supporting people who've just lost somebody very close?
[00:21:03] Dr Amir: I think it's very difficult to say the wrong thing. Saying less is best, I would say, and not worrying so much about what you have to say. Because it's often, you just have to ask a very open question, which is what I tend to do with my patients or anyone I know who's lost someone. That question just has to be something really simple like, "How are you coping?" Or, "How are you feeling?" Followed by, "What can I do to help?" I think is a really good question.
And from our point of view as a GP, that kind of, "How are you coping?" Opens up doors because they know we have that relationship, it's all confidential, so they can tell us things that perhaps they can't tell anyone else. And that can relate to their emotional state, but also their physical state if they're not sleeping and that kind of thing.
And then "What can I do to help?" Can mean different things to different people. For some of my patients, it might be they need a note for time off work, or they need something in the short term to help them sleep. But if you're not their GP, just asking what you can do to help might be a case of, "Well, actually, just come and see me more often or ring me more often," or something like that would be useful.
But I think those are the two most common questions I like to ask, and just let them talk. Because often, as I experienced, they might go through the mechanics of what happened leading up to the death of their loved one, but nobody's asking them how they're feeling and how they're coping. And the other thing I would say, I guess-- Because I've worked at this surgery here now for nearly 12 years, so I feel like I know my patients really well.
Even if it's been 6 or 12 months down the line, still ask those questions because it never goes away. It never goes away, and saying things like, "Time will help," and da, da, da, da, I'm not sure is very useful. Time may change a little bit about how you're feeling, but it doesn't take away the feelings. And so, asking regularly, not all the time so you're pestering them, but asking at regular intervals, even going into the future, I think is really important.
[00:23:05] Clover: Yes, so the conversation continues. I'm also interested, by the way, in which, and I don't know whether this is possible as a GP, but talking about death in our lives every day is an important thing to do. I've got five children, and I talk about it with my kids a lot. Do you think that we would be better at grieving and we would be better equipped, I suppose, when it came to the death of people that we love if we had discussed it more openly beforehand?
[00:23:34] Dr Amir: Yes, I do. I think you know it's tricky with children, isn't it? You've got to be age-appropriate with the conversations that you have, but I think it is important to have those conversations. And it's certainly happening in our family with our nephews and nieces. What generally happens in the Asian culture again is when someone does pass away, you do bring the children to the house of the bereft, of the family members, and you do take them to the funeral because there's a real importance.
I don't think my dad did this to me, which is probably why I felt so lost, but you're supposed to show them the ways and get them to you know sit quietly when it's important to sit quietly, ask the questions when it's important to ask the questions so they get to see all of that. And I think that should run through all cultures, really, so when things happen, yes, there's the emotional impact that death has and you know no amount of seeing it happen to other people prepares you really for it to happen to yourself, but at least you understand it better.
[00:24:28] Clover: Yes. And does your GP train… Are doctors actually trained to deal with grief? Is it part of your training?
[00:24:35] Dr Amir: Yes, it is. So we do a palliative care. It sounds a bit clinical, but we've called it a module and also-- I'm a trainer now, so I've got GP trainees. And what we ensure that they do as part of their final year of training is take the lead in a palliative care case, really. So we'll give them a patient, with us overseeing, who is sadly end of life, and you know we're trying to make their death as good a death as possible and they're dying at home. So we connect them with our GP trainee, and so they will follow that patient all the way through from when we say, "Okay, this is now a palliative patient," and that could be quite a long time too if they do then die.
So they get that experience, not just with the patient, but with the family members as well. So we ensure they take a lead role in that with us overseeing it.
[00:25:25] Clover: I'm really interested by you using the phrase good death as well. Because my sister died very young, she was 46. And she, you know that was terrible, but she did have a very-- Her passing was a very beautiful experience. You know we were all with her. It was very connected as a family and very loving and gentle. Do you think we can do more culturally to prepare for our own deaths? I'm not talking about the conversations we might have around death, but actually to prepare for death in some way?
[00:25:55] Dr Amir: Yes. I think culturally, for sure, I think we've got to be open about conversations around what we expect in death, what we would like in our own death. In our culture, we're really not allowed to talk about that because it's a way of tempting fate and actually asking for death almost. And it's really sad because you then-- It's really hard.
Because I work in Bradford, and again we're very lucky in that we have a very diverse population, and you see the stark differences in the support that is needed or asked for, I should say, between the different cultures. So often with Caucasian people, the idea of GPs or district nurses and palliative care nurses coming into their homes isn't that alien and after the right level of explanation in our roles, it's very accepted.
What I found with the South Asian culture is that they're very protective over their dying relatives, and there's all sorts of questions around the medication, which is absolutely right when we're trying to keep people comfortable and ensure they have those good deaths. Because those conversations have never really taken place while that person wasn't on an end of life or a care for the dying pathway, then those conversations are brand new to these people.
And it's a real stark difference to what they perceive healthcare professionals' roles to be, which is to prolong life at all cost and to make people better. And that isn’t, you know the role of healthcare professionals really change in palliative care. It's about managing symptoms, ensuring people have as good a death as we can manage. And that's a real shift in cultural conversations, and often that causes them to close ranks a little bit and say, "Well, actually, we don't need you to come in because we can manage them, and we can make them more comfortable," just often with the power of prayer and love and just being there for them. Which is really important, but isn't necessarily the same thing that we're offering. It's really, really hard.
[00:28:01] Clover: So would you advise me, definitely, to reach out to people even if they are from completely different cultures and you feel you know you feel anxious about, but just communicate, be human, I suppose?
[00:28:11] Dr Amir: Honestly, the only complaints we've had from families is when we haven't done that. You know we never have a complaint saying, "Someone came and said the wrong thing." The complaint is always, "No one ever came." And so my advice is go and ask the questions, explain what your role is. You can even say this is your first time dealing with someone who is dying from this culture and you want to get it right. I think that is perfectly fine to say and it helps them understand your, you know, what you can do, what you can offer, but also how they can support you as much as you can support them. Like I say, the complaints tend to be from lack of action rather than being proactive.
[00:28:49] Clover: That's very, very interesting. Just going back to your dad, how has your grief changed? Obviously, it's been you know it’s been quite a while now. How do you grieve? Do you mark moments in the year? And how do you sort of feel about grief and how you manage it at this later stage in your life?
[00:29:07] Dr Amir: It's still complicated, I think. You know I still haven't quite got to grips with our relationship, and I find myself-- It sounds really odd, but when I see a really good father-son relationship, I find myself getting quite emotional. I feel like I've been bereft of that more than anything else. I feel like I'm not a very emotional kind of person, but that's the one thing that really gets me emotional.
To be honest with you, Clover, I don't feel like I've come to terms with it as well as I should have done, and I haven't taken the time to kind of interpret that, but I'm okay with that, I think. I think I'm okay with it. I accept the fact that, can you ever really come to terms with losing someone, and then having that complex relationship, will you ever really be okay with it? I'm not sure you will be. I certainly am not, and that's all right. I've come to accept that it's going to be imperfect forever, I think, is probably the best way to describe it.
[00:30:01] Clover: What about your mom and your sisters, do you support them? How are they doing?
[00:30:06] Dr Amir: They're fine, they're good. We do talk about dad every now and again, and his grave is really close to our surgery, actually, which makes it easy for me to visit. It's very important that we visit the grave on a regular basis. That's again part of our tradition, and so I will go every Friday because that's our religious day, and I will also go on things like Eid, which is our kind of religious festival days and that kind of thing. And I'm there most the way through summer and autumn because there's lots of plants on his grave, and I'm a big gardener, so I've turned it into a mini garden, which is quite therapeutic to tend to it a lot through the summer period.
[00:30:43] Clover: Just last of all, this podcast is about supporting people who are bereaved. So for anybody listening to this, what advice would you offer to them? If they you know are supporting someone who's lost somebody very close to them, what kind of advice would you offer about what to say, what to do, or just how to handle it in the most sensitive way?
[00:31:04] Dr Amir: I think being there is the most important thing, and asking about how they're feeling, how they're coping, what you can do to help. Those are the three big questions that I would like to have been asked when my dad passed away, and those are the questions I ask my patients when they have lost loved ones. And don't feel like you have to do all the talking or fill all the gaps. Silence is often good in those situations for you both to reflect on. Let them do the talking, not in a pressured way and you know not feeling like they have to fill in the gaps either, but just let them talk when they feel comfortable.
And remember, it's not just-- You don't ask them on the day of the person passing away or a week later or two weeks, keep asking them. Because I think it's hard for people who have lost loved ones; after a year or so, they feel like they should have got over it. So you asking them how they are and saying it's okay not to be okay about the loss of a loved one is also a good way in. And if a year has passed and you haven't spoken to someone about their lost loved one, do it today because it will make a big difference.
[00:32:07] Clover: I think that's such good advice, that it's a long process that's always there, and offering some kind of friendship or camaraderie or love support is always a lovely thing as a human being, really, isn't it? We all need it. It's been really so interesting talking to you. Thank you very, very much, Amir. I've really found it an incredibly interesting conversation, and I'm really, really grateful. Thank you so much.
[00:32:31] Dr Amir: Thank you. Like I said, Clover, I think that's the most I've ever spoken about my dad's death, so it's been an experience, a positive experience for me as well.
[00:32:41] Clover: Grief is different for everybody. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, but you don't need a degree in counselling to help a loved one who's grieving. It is about the personal support you can offer, which should always be led by what feels right for the grieving person. The most important thing is to ensure that no one has to go through it alone.
To get more information on how to help grieving friends and relatives, go to sueryder.org/griefkindpodcast. And don't forget to follow us on your favourite podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it's ready. I'm Clover Stroud. Grief Kind is a Bengo Media production for Sue Ryder.
[00:00:07] Clover Stroud: Hello and welcome to the second series of grief kind, a podcast by Sue Ryder, which helps you to support friends and loved ones going through one of the toughest times of their lives. I'm Clover Stroud and in each episode, I'll be talking to someone who, like me, has experienced grief firsthand and who can talk about the support they received. Hopefully each conversation will empower you to be grief kind to avoid clamming up and give your friends and family the love and support they need.
[00:00:43] Clover Stroud: Hi, thanks for listening. In this episode, I'm joined by influencer and entrepreneur Lottie Tomlinson in 2016 Lottie's mum Joanna died of leukaemia and just two years later, the family experienced death again when Lottie's sister Fizz died suddenly. In this interview, Lottie explains how she loves talking about her mum and sister, and how it was a friend who encouraged her to seek therapy. It's a powerful Listen, we really hope you enjoy it.
[00:01:22] Clover Stroud: Lottie, welcome to grief kind. And thank you very much for the opportunity to have this conversation with you. I think these conversations around grief are so so valuable and so important. I wondered whether you could start by telling me a bit about your mum, Joanna and your sister Fizz, what were they like, as women? What were they like growing up?
[00:01:46] Lottie Tomlinson: Well, I just remember my mom as being someone that Ialways looked up to, because she had me and six other kids. And she also had a full time job as a midwife. So I just remember her doing nights, and then she'd comeback and look after us all. And she did that so that we could all do everything we wanted to do. So we were all in clubs, dance, sports, we all did everything. And she made sure that we could do all that by working all the shifts that she could get offered. So I feel like that's always been something that I remember of her. And that's what I really respect her for and we were just her life and kids were her life. That's why she was a midwife. She wanted to bring life into the world and help people do that, and then wanted a load of kids herself. So that's really what stands out. When I remember my mom, she was just very selfless.
[00:02:36] Clover Stroud: Lottie your mom sounds like a really incredible woman to have had so many children and a big family and to be doing such an important job. And she was obviously very loving and nurturing to provide you with all of that as well and a real inspiration and tell me a bit about your sister as well.
[00:02:55] Lottie Tomlinson: I think my sister was a really unique character. And we always, you know, we were quite close in age. So we kind of had a bit of a sister rivalry growing up, then we really became best friends when we got a bit older. And I think she was a lot like my mom, I think my mom and her really were close. She was really intelligent, really caring. And she was just one of a kind of, you know what I mean.
[00:03:20] Clover Stroud: What was the age difference between you?
[00:03:23] Lottie Tomlinson: So there's two years, so we were pretty close. So it was kind of the growing up. It was like stealing the clothes, you know, normal sister stuff. But then we kind of understood as we got older, how valuable the relationship was, I think when you're a child, you don't always realise that your siblings are so precious. And that's the best friends that you're gonna have in your life. So I think as we got older, we really realised that and it's just a shame that that got cut short for us.
[00:03:54] Clover Stroud: So let's talk a bit about how this happened. I suppose you were just a teenager when your mum was diagnosed. Can you tell us a little bit aboutthat time, about the time of her diagnosis? Her illness?
[00:04:08] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, so I remember getting a call when I was 18 or 17and got told she had leukaemia but that she would be okay. And we were always under the impression that she would be okay. And now I've kind of come to realise that the leukaemia that she had wasn't really something that you could really get better from, but I think she always was so determined to try and fight it as much as she could, she would never, she was never going to admit to the fact that there was a low survival rate so we kind of always had hope that she would get through it and she went straight down to London to get the best care. She was in hospital down here straight away. You know, as soon as she got diagnosed, I think she got driven to the hospital that night, but then it was really quick from diagnosis to her passing so it's just hard to see her deteriorate so quick.
[00:05:03] Clover Stroud: I believe it was about eight months, was it from diagnosis to when she actually died? Yeah. So did you have an opportunity to sort of talk to her about that at all? Or were you, was she always very much in sort of fighting mode and fighting the disease?
[00:05:18] Lottie Tomlinson: I think for a good part of the illness, it wasn't spoken about, it was just kind of, we were trying to get her better and that was the main focus. And then, you know, in the last few months, when it was becoming quite apparent that she was really ill. And none of the transfusions and all the rest of the treatment, when that kind of wasn't working, I think there was a few conversations that started happening. But it was just obviously, for a family and for a mother to try and tell her kids, you know, young children that she's deteriorating, it was so hard. And I think she still didn't accept it right up until the end, I think she felt if she started having these conversations that she might not get better, then it was kind of tempting that onto herself. So I think she avoided that for a long, long time of her illness just because she still wanted to fight as much as she could. And that was just what she was like.
[00:06:16] Clover Stroud: And in the sort of immediate aftermath of her death. How did you all as siblings, did you all pull together and support each other? It must have been an incredibly difficult time for that you're all so young, and there was so many of you as well, everybody's needs coming together?
[00:06:34] Clover Stroud: Yes. I think it's a real testament to what an amazing mum, your mum was that she kept you really bonded, because grief can you know, it can shatter families as well. And the fact that you've remained really close supporting each other is, is really beautiful. Can you tell me a little bit about the note that your mum, I know that you've got one of your most treasured possessions is a note that she wrote to you. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
[00:06:34] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, I think in the days and months after my mom passed, it was just so surreal. And you felt like you were living in this nightmare, I suppose. And it was just, you kind of just taking each day as it comes. And there was obviously young siblings involved where I was the oldest girl. So I kind of felt that it was my role to step in and try and be the mother figure to them. Because the little ones were only two when my mom passed. So you know, they were still needing full attention and care. So I moved back into the family home to help look after them. And we all just rallied around each other. And I think as much as it was, like horrendous and it's the worst thing we've ever been through, when you look back, it's also strengthened us so much, because we're, you know, we all had to look after each other. And I feel like that's something that's carried on, you know, even now we're all so close. And we're such a solid kind of bond now because of that. So you kind of have to try and take positive bits from the experience.
[00:08:03] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah. So I mean, I've always been quite sentimental. And I feel like that's something my mom instilled in me as well. I've always saved things. And now I'm so grateful that I did that, because I've got this box. And it's got stuff in it that my mom wrote to me, and that stuff now obviously means so much more now that she's not here. But yeah, I've got a little, I mean, I've got a few things, but I think I've posted one of them. And it's just a note that she wrote me, I think on one of my birthdays, and it's just now that is so precious. And it's always been something I've done, but it obviously means a lot more now that she's gone, because that's kind of what I've got left.
[00:08:39] Clover Stroud: Absolutely, that sort of actually a kind of tangible, something to hold on to, sort of message from her that kind of thing becomes just so important and valuable. I know the messages I've got from my sister who died in 2019 are just like, really, really treasured. I know that just two years after your mum died then Fizz died, as well. Can you tell me a little bit about the days after that and dealing with grief, you know, your mom and your sister within such a short space of time of one another that must have been very, very hard for you.
[00:09:19] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, I think when Fizz died, it was obviously such a shock. And it was like a disbelief that we were gonna go through this again. You know, kind of felt like we were just coming through the other side of losing my mom, you know, it's even two years, it's still very fresh, but you're kind of finding your feet a little bit again with life and kind of accepting it. And then for that to happen again. It was it was just shocking. But at the same time it kind of felt. I don't know it's hard because you've got this experience of the first grief. So you kind of got a little bit of a head start on how to deal with it. But then at the same time you've got double to deal with, so yeah, I think happening in such a short space of time was just a shock. And it kind of just felt like the world was against us. It was like, how, why is this happening again, you know, and, we'd all kind of tried to come together and deal with it. And it's like you say it can break some families, I feel like she dealt with it, you know, harder than us. And you know, when the centre of your family gets taken out of the equation, that's what my mom was, you're kind of building it back up to try and do what she did, which was keep the family together. So to lose Fizz so soon after, it just felt like such a blow and it kind of felt like where is this going to end?
[00:10:43] Clover Stroud: yes. Yeah, I know that feeling exactly. It just feels sort of relentless. The amount of tragedy and trauma we're dealing with definitely. I'm really interested by you saying that you had a bit of, when you're dealing with grief a second time you kind of have a bit of a head start, you slightly know, what's going to happen, I suppose the process do you think that helped you in some way? Or do you think it also can sometimes feel like the fact that you're going through it again, is even more daunting? Or do you feel as though there was a sense that when you've gone through grief once, there is a kind of understanding around it, maybe some knowledge that you build up I suppose each time it happens?
[00:11:25] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, I think at first, it's like, quite daunting, because you know, those early days, you know how hard they are and you know how painful they are. And you know how much of a long process it is, so it kind of felt like it put us back to day one, kind of felt like we were going full circle and everything that we'd built up to help us deal with the grief had just been cancelled out. But then, as time went on, you know, we've been through the worst thing ever, which was losing mom. And obviously, then we've had it again, but it's almost like if Fizz had died, and mum had never died, it's hard to kind of word but it's like, we knew how it felt. And nothing could be worse than the loss of my mom. So you kind of know that the feelings are not going to be worse than that, and you've dealt with them already. And you've survived that. I think that's the thing, like we'd obviously got through that, like, through some miracle, you know, you don't think you're gonna get through at the time, but then a couple years down the line you do. So I think having that in your head that we knew we've survived the loss of my mom, we knew we could get through this as well.
[00:12:32] Clover Stroud: It's very unusual to be in your late teens, early 20s. And to have lost your mum and your sister, how did you feel amongst...and grief itself, you know, at any age, I think can be very, very lonely. And that's one of the things that's quite shocking about it. How did you feel amongst your peer group and your friends? Did you feel like they could relate to you? And you could relate to them? Were they supportive? How was their reaction?
[00:12:59] Lottie Tomlinson: I think everyone tries to be as supportive as they can. But then you do have this feeling of loneliness, because really, unless someone's experienced the exact same thing, which not many people have, you're not going to be able to relate to people and you kind of you almost feel a bit like the odd one out because everyone you know, at my age, they've got their moms they've got the families, they're not dealing with this awful thing that's happened so you kind of you know, and there's lots of life revolves around that, especially at that age, you know, your parents and you, you're talking to your mom and that stuff. So I think it makes you feel a little bit like an outsider in a way and like you say, a lot of grief is loneliness. I think that's why it gets so heavy, because you just feel like you're on your own with it. But yeah, I think people obviously have been so supportive and helped me through that. But like you say, there is also this big, like, there's just this big thing in your head that you just don't feel like everyone else anymore.
[00:13:58] Clover Stroud: Yeah, and I think that kind of goes on as well, that feeling of a separation. And I found as I've got older, that I mean I'm 48 now but then as you get older, more people start losing their parents, it becomes more normal but and I lost my mum when I was very young as well. And it is I think you feel very sort of separate from your contemporaries. And that feeling of the world just carrying on completely oblivious and you're dealing with this big, big, big grief. It's a lot. Let's talk about what was helpful and what was less helpful because I think passing on the information that we have to other people and hopefully listeners will be able to hear this. This could help people I think about the kinds of things that do help but in the aftermath of your mum's death, did you get any kind of counselling or therapy was anything like that helpful to you?
[00:14:54] Lottie Tomlinson: So when my mom died, there was never any conversations about getting any help. And looking back, that was quite shocking to me. And I talk about it quite a lot. But, you know, especially the fact that she had cancer. So it was a medical illness and we were surrounded by a lot of medical professionals, and there was young children involved, and there didn't seem to be any sit down conversations where it was like, do we want to sort out getting some help, so I never had anything when I lost my mom, it was only when I lost my sister that I thought, you know, she ended up losing her life, she might have been okay, if she would have got the help she needed. So that became very apparent to me in my head. And I was like right I need to make sure, you know, although I feel like I can cope with it on my own, why don't I just get some help, so that it will give me a head start almost, just to try it. And I think it was recommended to me by a friend. They were like I get this therapy, and it's just talking, and it's once a week, and it's really good. And I was thinking, Well, I got through my mom's death, I don't really think I need it, but I'll give it a go. I think that's something that I always try to encourage people to do. Just give it a go. If you don't like it, you've tried it. And that's that, but I think people will be shocked how much of a difference it makes and how much you can get from it. I think the therapy that I got when I lost my sister, it made the experience of grief, completely different. And it's just that time to just get your emotions out just once a week for an hour, it makes such a difference to you mentally.
[00:16:30] Clover Stroud: So would you really recommend to people, I know Sue Ryder offers free grief counselling, which I think is an incredible service, would you recommend that to people to find somebody to talk to?
[00:16:41] Lottie Tomlinson: 100% I think that's one of the main reasons why I got involved with Sue Ryder in the first place because once I dealt with my mom's grief on my own, and it was painful, and a long journey, and it was a scary journey. And then I dealt with the loss of my sister and I got the counselling. And it made it a lot easier. And I actually felt that it was a less painful and long process. And I got a lot more out of the therapy as well, not just the grief kind of counselling, we kind of went through everything, I dealt with my mom's loss. And there was a lot of stuff that I hadn't dealt with from that. And I think if it wasn't for my sister dying I would have never properly dealt with that stuff. And I don't think I'd be at the place I'm at now. So that's why I wanted to get involved with Sue Ryder in the first place. Because I know the services they offer. And I know how hard it can be for some people to get that help. So I thought, you know, I wanted to be able to recommend something to peopleand try and help people because I think not all people are lucky enough to get to the place that I've got with my grief and to deal with it and be able to live a happy life, and I just want to try and even if I can help one person get to that stage then that's what I want to do.
[00:17:56] Clover Stroud: Yeah, no, I really agree. You were talking earlier about supporting your younger siblings, and you obviously had very much younger siblings. Did you feel in the aftermath of your mom's death? Did you feel as though there was space for your grief? Or did you feel as if you were having to support your siblings and your family? What was the dynamic there?
[00:18:23] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, it did me a favour because it helped me put my grief into something and not just sit there and kind of get swallowed up by it. So I was able to kind of channel that grief into right, I need to be there for my siblings, but it wasn't like a conscious decision. That was just something that kicked in in me. It's like the maternal instincts that we all have because of my mom, you know, my mom was so maternal, and I think she's passed that on to all of us. So it was just like an animal instinct, you know, I mean, it was like, right, I need to step up now, I need to look at them kids that, you know, they're young, they're innocent, they're losing their mom. And they need someone and I'm going to be that person. And that's just what I did. And it wasn't even like, I sat there and thought, right, I need to do this. It just happened. It's like an instinct.
[00:19:16] Clover Stroud: Right? And then when you sought counselling, after Fizz's death, was there a specific incident or tipping point or a single moment that sort of made you realise that you needed professional help? Or was it a friend, you mentioned a friend suggesting it?
[00:19:35] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, it was just originally it was just a friend suggesting it and she done some counselling and she said, why don't you just try it? And I thought do you know what I probably should. I think the main motivation for me doing it was I don't want my family to go through this again, and I was so scared of anything else happening to the family, you know, we've just been through these two tragedies, it makes you think it's going to happen again, what else is gonna happen? So I wanted to make sure that they don't have to deal with anything like that with me. So I thought, you know what, I'll try it and I'll get myself as strong as I can be mentally for them. And once I've done it luckily I really got a lot from it. And I really bonded with my therapist, and I still speak to her even now, you know, we don't obviously do weekly sessions anymore, but I still catch up with her quite regularly. And it's just, it completely changed my view on all of that stuff, because I never thought it was something that would ever help. And I know a lot of people have that opinion, you know, they think how can sitting down and talking to someone for an hour help me deal with the loss of someone, and that's how I felt as well, I thought, I can't understand how that's going to help me. But it's really hard to explain, it's just so good for your head and your mind to be able to vent to someone for an hour who's not got an opinion or they're out of the situation, and there's no back and forth, I think that's something that makes it helpful, it's just you being able to put everything on to someone without having to receive stuff back. You know, you can speak to friends and that's great, but it's like a two way thing, this is just all for you. And they can focus on helping you and you can focus on getting everything out that you need to get out. And that's it.
[00:21:27] Clover Stroud: Yeah, I think it's really true and really relevant that feeling of like a space to go and sort of feel your grief in and live your grief in and to cry and scream and be angry or be broken, all those you know, because then you have to go back out and maybe you're looking after your younger siblings or looking after kids or going to do a job. It's very difficult that balancing how to sort of find the space to feel sad and feel angry and then to carry on with normal life. And I suppose therapy gives you that space. Do you feel that time, because some people like the phrase time is a healer, some people don't like it I personally think that time does, really you know it changes the shape and the weight of your grief in some way or another? How do you feel as though your relationship with the amount of time that's passed since your mom and your sister died? Has that helped you?
[00:22:24] Lottie Tomlinson: Yes, I remember first I hated the saying and I remember thinking, how does time help and in the first few years, I didn't feel like it helped, I felt like it was just more time had passed between seeing the person. But then as more years have gone by, I really can understand now how that is helpful. And it's completely changed everything time, you know, six years since our mom died now. And that's not even that long. But for me, everything's different, you know, I've been able to accept what's happened. I think that's a big thing, I think until you can accept it in your head is going to be really hard to deal with. I've been able to accept it and kind of make peace with it and understand ways to deal with it. And obviously doing my work with Sue Ryder and doing what I do that's helped me loads to help my grief because to feel like I'm going to help someone with my story makes it a little bit more worthwhile what I had to go through. So I'm reluctant to say that to people, sometimes, you know, the times a healer phrase, just because I know how much it used to bother me. But really it is true.
[00:23:33] Clover Stroud: Yeah, I think there is reassurance in that. And I totally agree with you that feeling to start with like, no amount of time is going to make this any better. But it's as if the rest of life sort of the momentum of life moving forward is a very kind of incredible and beautiful thing in many ways, isn't it and sort of new things revealing themselves? Was there a specific person apart from your therapist, but like, I don't know, one of your mom's friends or your sister's friends or your wider family? Was there somebody specifically around who helped you in the years after your mom and your sister passed on? Was there a person who was particularly important?
[00:24:14] Lottie Tomlinson: I think my Nan has always been really important in all of this. She's my mom's mom and she stepped up to look after my siblings when my mom passed away. And she's so much like my mom so she's more you know, she's kind of what I've got left of her and she's obviously why my mum was how she was and then my mom is why we are how we are, so having my nan there is just at least means that we've got a little piece of my mom with us still, which is amazing. It's so important and we're all so close with her.
[00:24:52] Clover Stroud: So spending time with her and do you talk about your mom and kind of celebrate your mom with with her in certain ways?
[00:25:01] Lottie Tomlinson: yeah. So, at anniversaries and birthdays, we all get together, we all go there, my nan lives up north. So that's like our family home. So we'll go back up and visit and we celebrate all them, you know, the milestones, and those anniversaries and those days, we always make sure that we're together on them days, which is really nice. And it's just a way that we can celebrate and remember, my mom and my sister.
[00:25:24] Clover Stroud: I mean, just thinking about ways that this conversation might help other people who are listening who are supporting someone else, what was the most sort of helpful or unhelpful thing that happened to you in the first weeks, months, years of your grief? Was there anything that you could say, oh, this really helps, or really don't do that, you know, that it might be some useful advice to somebody.
[00:25:53] Lottie Tomlinson: I think what I always go back to is just bringing it up. And that was my slogan on one of our campaigns. And I feel like, it's the only thing I can say that I found helpful. A lot of the time, it was, let's not talk about it, we don't want to upset her but for me, I always wanted the space to be able to talk about it. Because without it being mentioned, it's kind of just like the elephant in the room. And, you know, people don't bring up their moms because I've lost my mom. But really, I still want to be able to talk about my mom, just because she's not here doesn't mean I don't have a mom at all. You know, I've still got a mom and I've still got them memories, and I still want to be involved in conversations about their mom, so I think, bringing it up as well as something that, people can give you the space and kind of just ask, do you want to talk about anything? You know, one day, you might say, I don't really want to talk about it today, I feel fine. Or, you know, you might want to have a little cry, or you might want to have a little chat about it. So I think, but I completely understand people that don't want to bring it up. You know, I feel like I probably was guilty of that before. You know, you don't want to upset someone you think, Oh, I don't want to say anything. But I think that's why I just try and encourage people, from my experiences just to bring it up. See if you want to talk about it, if not, fine. If you do, then give the person that space to talk.
[00:25:53] Lottie Tomlinson: I think it's interesting, people are worried about upsetting you, but then you feel I can't really be more upset than I am. And I want the opportunity to talk about the people I love that I've lost. I think that's a really, really important piece of advice, actually. What do you wish that your friends or your family had known about what you were experiencing? Do you wish that there'd been more sort of understanding of what you were going through?
[00:27:48] Lottie Tomlinson: I think people just, all they can do is support you the best they can, it's hard, I always say that there's not really a wrong thing to say, you don't have to be qualified, you don't have to know the exact terminology. It's just bringing it up being caring, asking how someone is it just goes a long way. It doesn't have to be like a big qualified thing about you know, grief or loss or anything. It's just being there and saying, are you okay? Do you want to talk about it? Things that are that simple, they just go a long way? And I think that's all people can do. Even though I've experienced loss when someone else has lost someone, I still feel oh, can I say this? Can I say that? And then I just think now what would I want to hear? I would just want to hear how are you doing? Can I do anything? Do you want to talk about it? And it's just that simple? I think starting with the basics, if you just keep that in your head, the basics, just checking in on someone asking how they are keeping it simple asking if there's anything you can do that I think that means the most to people when they're in that situation?
[00:28:55] Clover Stroud: Yeah, definitely. What about, you know, you've got a big public profile? How has it been grieving? In the public eye as well? Has that? Has it had a positive effect? Or has it been? Has it made it harder?
[00:29:08] Lottie Tomlinson: Well I think you're obviously under a microscope aren't you. So I remember the early days, things we were doing would get judged. And that was quite hard to deal with, you know, if you went out it'd be why they are and but really, what I always say is I only see it as a positive now because we had so much support. So those few comments that might have affected us for a moment. They don't compare to the support that we've received. And our fan base is so big, you know, my brothers fan base, and they obviously take an interest in us now, and they're so invested in him and us and they kind of feel that loss with us, you know, and you can tell how much people care and I think we've always found a lot of comfort from that. So really, I only ever see it as a positive thing. You know, I don't look back and think. And I guess we didn't, we don't know any different. You know, by the time my mom passed away, we'd been in the public eye for quite a few years. So it kind of, has always felt quite normal to us. And we kind of have had to adapt to that life of dealing with stuff in the public eye anyway. So really all I look back on it and think now was the support was really nice. And we still get that support now, which has been quite a comforting thing for us, really.
[00:30:29] Clover Stroud: And I found Instagram a very useful place, it's a place to connect with people, and you can find different pages, which are specifically devoted to different ways we grieve and offering support there. And also people just, you know, the conversations you can have with other people, and you realise that we're all linked, and we're all going to experience grief in some way as well. It's a very sort of uniting experience. Have you found Instagram and social media to be helpful in dealing with your grief?
[00:30:58] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, I think obviously, it's given me a platform to, work with Sue Ryder and to help people and to do our campaigns and push that, and one of the most common messages that I receive is people saying that my work that I've done with Sue Ryder has helped them and talking about my grief has helped them and that obviously means so much to me, and it's quite surprising sometimes because you do what you can, but you don't also expect that it's going to help that many people and when I go through my messages, it's often people telling me their story and telling me that my work has helped them and talking about it, the way I do has helped them and obviously, that just means a lot, you'll know that from the work you do, but being able to just help even one person or a handful of people, it just it almost gives your experiences a reason, a purpose it makes it more worthwhile what I had to go through if it can help people now.
[00:32:01] Clover Stroud: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. That feeling of like, it's not just for nothing, you know, it was not all this loss and pain for nothing. And it connects us as humans, and we can help one another. And that's a beautiful thing, actually, isn't it?
[00:32:16] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, yeah it is
[00:32:18] Clover Stroud: Last year you became a mom yourself. And you are mum to your absolutely gorgeous little boy, Lucky, who is just I love looking at him on Instagram. He's just so sweet, the videos of you interacting with him. He's just you can just see the love between you, it's absolutely beautiful, beautiful to witness and I'm grateful to you for sharing that. How did his arrival I suppose, kind of affect or change your relationship with grief and the grieving process?
[00:32:51] Lottie Tomlinson: Well I've wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, I've always been one of them people that, you know, has been excited to be a mom. And you know, I think that comes a lot from my mom, she had my brother when she was only 19. So she was always really keen to have kids and coming from a big family I think that also makes you want to have children and have that for yourself. So when I fell pregnant with Lucky, I was so excited and so happy. And I feel like that's kind of what I've been waiting for. I'd gone through all this grief and I felt like that was kind of now my time to be happy and to get that love back. But at the same time it obviously comes with challenges when you know you don't have your mom there as a young girl going through her first pregnancy and being a mom entering motherhood. That was hard to do that without her and especially because she knew how much I wanted to be a mom. So she kind of knew what it would mean to me when I got that. So it did come with its own challenges. But at the same time, I feel very close to her now because her firstborn was a boy as well. And I feel like I'm kind of experiencing what she's experienced because I know how much she always wanted to be a mom. And I know when I look at Lucky I kind of feel like I'm in her shoes a little bit because I know she must have had them feelings towards Louiswhen he was born. And it's funny because Lucky actually looks a lot like Louis did when he was a baby. If you look at the pictures compared it's quite scary how alike they are. So it's just funny because it almost feels like I'm kind of stepping in her shoes in a way which is quite a nice feeling.
[00:34:36] Clover Stroud: Yes, it's like a continuation of your relationships with each other and that feeling of the love I suppose that's at the heart of everything that also binds us together. I feel that really strongly with my kids is I also really wanted to be a mom and I did find it difficult having children without her around. At times really really hard. You just want your mom to be there so much to witness what's going on, don't you and also for the support. So you talked to her a lot about being a mom, when you were a little girl yourself as well?
[00:35:10] Lottie Tomlinson: Yes, she knew how much I wanted to be a mom. It was always something that we spoke about. And it was actually something that she said, you know, we didn't have many conversations when she was ill. But towards the end, like I said, earlier, there was a few conversations had and one of them was actually her voicing that she was sad that she would never get to see me have a baby. And I think that's a conversation that's always stuck with me. So, you know, I know how much she wanted to be here for this. And it's just, you know, that you feel like you've been robbed of that, because you just want your mom to see your children, don't you and, and you know how much they would have loved it. I think you then have to come to terms with it again, you know, like I said earlier, so a lot about acceptance, and you can kind of get to a point where you accept it. But now I feel like I'm dealing with having to try and accept that she's not a part of, you know, Lucky's life, and she hasn't experienced this with me. So I feel like it's kind of reinstated that battle for me to try and have to accept that now. Which is hard.
[00:36:20] Clover Stroud: What about anniversaries and things like that? How do you mark I know they're very, I mean, for me, they can be really tricky. Their birthdays, or the actual day that you know, when it's like the anniversary of their death? How do you mark those kinds of days? Do you shy away from them? Or do you sort of embrace them? What do you do?
[00:36:39] Lottie Tomlinson: Well, we go every year, we make sure that we go up north, so we spend the day at my nan's and she does a nice spread, and we celebrate, so we've always been the type of people to celebrate it. And I think obviously, it's hard to say celebrate, it doesn't feel like something that you should celebrate, but we try and see it as an opportunity to celebrate them as people rather than, you know, looking at it as the day that she died, or, you know, it's obviously you're gonna get that feeling, you know, it's it, ultimately it is the day that that you lost them. But at the same time, it has to try and become about rallying together and celebrating their life rather than, you know, there's going to be tears, there's going to be conversations, and that it's sad, because of course it is, but we try and make it more into a celebration than a sad day.
[00:37:31] Clover Stroud: Yeah, it can be a really beautiful day actually can't it even despite the sadness, because of the sadness, it's there's something like really profound about it. I mean, it's really lovely talking to you about all of this. And I wonder whether there's the one piece of advice, or the main piece of advice that you would give to someone wanting to support a family member or a friend, or maybe even somebody they know, online as well through bereavement, how can we help each other?
[00:38:01] Lottie Tomlinson: Well, I always think that the best bit of advice I can give to someone that's grieving is just to be kind to yourself. And I think it sounds really simple. But I was quite shocked at, you know, the guilt and the way you spent, I spent quite a lot of time in my grief, beating myself up for how I felt. So if I was having a day where I felt happy, I'd beat myself up for that. And I'd think no, you can't be happy. And then if I have a day where I want to stay in bed, and I can't get out of bed, I beat myself up for that. But I think as the years have passed, and I've got, you know, I've kind of dealt with the grief better, I've realised that allowing yourself that day to feel happy, you need that you need to celebrate them times. And then if you have a day that you feel like you can't get out of bed, give yourself that allow yourself, don't beat yourself up because grief is, is going to be different emotions every day. And it's hard enough the grief itself without you beating yourself up on top of that. So I think it is so important to just look after yourself as well you know, that little bit, whatever it is, self care, however it is, go for a long walk, do something sounds simple, but you've got to kind of figure out the stuff that makes you happy and helps you in them times of darkness and just do that and make sure no one kind of gets in your way of looking after yourself. And you can help other people by encouraging them to do the same. So just telling people, don't beat yourself up for how you feel. Allow yourself to feel how you feel and encouraging them to do so that that helps them in any way.
[00:39:41] Clover Stroud: Are there any little things that you do like, I don't know, candles in the hot bath or running or something you cook Are there any sort of actual physical things that you recommend that have been helpful to you?
[00:39:54] Lottie Tomlinson: I've really turned to exercise since you know since this stuff and I I know everyone says it. And at first I was like, How can going for a run help? You know, help me help me with this. I thought that's ridiculous. But it actually does. And it's like giving yourself you know, it clears your head. It's weird. I'm not sure how it does it, but it just does. And having something like that to focus on, even if it's just one bit of exercise a day doesn't have to be a crazy gym class, it could just be a walk outside in the fresh air, it actually does really help.
[00:40:35] Clover Stroud: Yes, and those little especially I think in the first bit, those little steps, like going for a little walk or making yourself a really nice cup of tea. It could be something as simple as that.
[00:40:45] Lottie Tomlinson: Yeah, really kind of, a bar chocolate, like, honestly, little things like that. You just have to. And that's what I mean, like, just allow yourself, be kind to yourself, if you need to go and eat a bar chocolate to comfort yourself, do it, you know, it's I think it's easy to just think, oh, I shouldn't be feeling like this, or I shouldn't be laying in bed today. And I should be getting up. And you just have to allow yourself to feel the emotions, because emotions are so temporary, you know, you might feel like that one day and the next day, be open out and feeling amazing. So I think you just what I've learned over the years is just appreciate and feel the emotions that you feel daily. And I think that, that helps you a lot.
[00:41:27] Clover Stroud: Yeah, I think that's really, really wise advice, that knowledge that the emotions are temporary, because when you're feeling terrible, you think this is gonna be forever, this is my life forever, I'm never gonna feel better and knowing that every feeling that we have passes on, and every feeling changes is such an important thing. I think, to hold on to if we can, it's been really, really lovely talking to you, Lottie, thank you very, very much. Is there anything else that you would like to add about? You know, which might be helpful in any way at all? Is there anything else you would like to say, around grieving or living, or, you know, kind of moving forward, that could be helpful?
[00:42:08] Lottie Tomlinson: I think probably just, I just want to give someone you know, that's listening, that might think there's no light at the end of the tunnel. I'm proof that you can get through tragic things and actually live a happy life, you know, I lost my mom. And I thought that was it, I thought my life will never be the same. And it won't be the same in a lot of ways. But I've, I've come through it and I live a really happy life. And, you know, I've got amazing things, I've got a family and there is a way, there's always a way to get through it. And I think that's why I work, you know, and try and help people realise that because it was something that I was sure that I would never get. I thought I would never live a happy life again. I remember the days, the months, you know, even probably the first few years, I thought my life was ruined. And I think it's so common. And of course you're going to feel like that when you lose someone so close. But I just want to show people that I'm proof. And I suppose we both are that you can live a happy life. And you don't have to let the tragedy define you.
[00:43:14] Clover Stroud: Absolutely. No, that's really, really good advice. Thank you very, very much Lottie. It's really, really, really nice to have the opportunity to talk about this.
[00:43:30] Clover Stroud: Grief is different for everybody. There's no one size fits all approach, but you don't need a degree in counselling to help a loved one who's grieving. It is about the personal support you can offer, which should always be led by what feels right for the grieving person. The most important thing is to ensure that no one has to go through it alone. To get more information on how to help grieving friends and relatives go to sueryder.org/griefkindpodcast. And don't forget to follow us on your favourite podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it's ready. I'm Clover Stroud. Grief Kind is a Bengo Media production for Sue Ryder.
[00:00:15] Clover Stroud: Hello, and welcome to the second series of Grief Kind, a podcast by Sue Ryder, which helps you to support friends and loved ones going through one of the toughest times of their lives. I'm Clover Stroud. In each episode, I'll be talking to someone who, like me, has experienced grief firsthand, and who can talk about the support they received. Hopefully, each conversation will empower you to be grief kind, to avoid clamming up, and give your friends and family the love and support they need.
[00:00:52] Clover: In this episode, I'm joined by TV presenter, Richard Arnold. Richard's dad Dave died in his sleep in 2016. It was very unexpected, leaving Richard and his mom in shock. In this interview, Richard says he had so much support from his partner and his friends. It helped him to support his mom through her grief. We hope you enjoy listening to our conversation.
[00:01:29] Clover: Hello, Richard. Hi. Welcome to Grief Kind. It's a real privilege to be talking to you today. I want just to start with you telling me a little bit about your dad, Dave. What was he like? Tell me a little bit about him.
[00:01:48] Richard Arnold: Dave was-- I used to always describe him, particularly in later life, as the old creaking gate, because he had such a twinkle in his eye, I thought he'd probably go on forever, bless him. He was a Cockney boy born within the region of Bow Bells, so Cockney born and bred, and his family were bombed out of Bow during the war. I think he always knew in his heart that I would end up moving back to London town, and I think he took great comfort in that, that I eventually came back to what obviously would be perceived as his roots. He was, as I said, a real twinkler. Had a wicked sense of humor, I think perhaps, maybe that's where I got it from.
I think I probably learned a lot at his knee in that respect, and a real grafter. He was a helicopter engineer for Bristows. He started off by building hangers when he was in the RAF many, many moons ago. I suppose the phrase salt of the earth, which is much bandied around, would be the most apt moniker really. I loved him dearly. I absolutely loved him dearly. He was always texting me on his Nokia burner. We were always in radio contact a lot. We had a very, very close relationship, but myself being an only child.
[00:03:01] Clover: Of course. You're an only child, so I'm sure that encouraged an extra level of closeness. It's lovely to hear about him. Now, you've been on our screens on Breakfast Time for 25 years, which is a quarter of a century, so congratulations on that. It's a huge achievement. What did Dave think about seeing his son on television every day? Did you talk to him about it? Did he tune in? Did he enjoy it?
[00:03:25] Richard: He did watch it every day. I think mom in the very early years would stay out of the room, and then come in and say to dad, "Dave, what's he said now?" Because, obviously, live television, and my banter sometimes can be quite fruity, and irreverent. but always within the realms of decency and the law, I hasten to add that, Clover. He was less sweaty-palmed when it came to me broadcasting on the tele, incredibly supportive. I think over the years as well, it was a huge comfort for them, because, obviously, me being an only child, they still knew what I was wearing to school every day.
At 10:00 to 8:00, my early slot, they would always tune in, and mom, she'd also know whether I'd had a night the night before, I think you know what I'm saying, because, moms always know these things, but at least they knew that I was alive, and well, and kicking, and, yes, they enjoyed it. They were incredibly supportive.
[00:04:17] Clover: It sounds like a very, very close and loving relationship. That's beautiful to have had that relationship with your parents, but it must have made his death in 2016 especially difficult. Will you tell me a little bit about the details of how he died, and how you found out about it too?
[00:04:41] Richard: Yes, of course. It was a huge shock, because as I say, he really was the creaking gate. There were no health issues that we were aware of at all. It was a Sunday night, he had a full roast with mom, thanked mom for dinner, and then went to bed, and sadly, didn't wake up on the Monday morning, which was incredibly shocking, as you can imagine, for my mom, teenage sweethearts, et cetera, and just shy of their 60th wedding anniversary. I at the time was on holiday with friends in Italy, and I'd just arrived, and we'd popped out on the Monday. I'd left my phone behind.
We popped out on the Monday morning to do the shop for the week for the villa. I came back, and there were dozens of missed calls. There was one from a cousin who I hadn't seen for quite some time, and it just said, "Please call home." I called home, and she put mom on the phone, and then mom told me, and then I turned to my friend, Judy, Judy and Malak, dear friends of ours, and they were in their early 70s, and we go to Italy a lot with them. I just turned to Judy, and I said, "My dad's died." I remember it's odd, isn't it, the things you remember, the detail of it. She was cutting an iceberg lettuce, and she dropped the iceberg lettuce, and she went, "Oh, no, Rich."
At that point, obviously, in shock, I spent a couple of minutes on the phone with mom, obviously. Then I went out into the garden, and as you can imagine, it's Tuscan, it was a beautiful sunny day, completely incongruous to the rush of emotions that I was feeling at the time. Speaking of that rush, I stepped out into the sunlight, and I felt the most extraordinary, overwhelming feeling of love. I felt like I was lifted off the ground by about a foot, and to this day, I'm sure it was dad putting his arms around me for the last time, and holding me tight, and putting me down.
I remember speaking about that at the funeral, and several people came up to me afterwards and said, "Yes, I had a very similar feeling as well when I lost my mom," or, "When I lost my dad." That's the most overwhelming feeling when I recall that moment, which was obviously horrific, and many people listening will have been through it. Then after that, of course, everything came crashing down a bit. I drank about half a bottle of Campari.
I had this extraordinary compulsion to just keep eating, and Judy was knocking up a Salad Niçoise every hour to feed me. I just had this, I don't know what it was. It was almost primal. I just had to eat, I had to eat, I had to eat. Then, a couple of days later, I came back to London to pick mom up. My dear friend Ollie picked me up at the airport with the cockapoo, which was a great comfort, and we drove to pick up mom. But, randomly, Clover, my dad would've loved this, being the twinkler that he was. I'd already booked a return flight back to London a couple of days after we arrived because I was going to walk the red carpet for the absolutely fabulous premiere, because I was one of the cameos in the film with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.
I know, again, it's totally out of joint with what was actually happening in real life if you like. Instead of walking the red carpet in Leicester Square, I was at fleet services with mom knocking back a drop of the hard stuff in the back of the car, Ollie driving, and me taking Clemmy for a comfort break. It was just the most surreal time, but the main thing for me, the main urgency, as you could imagine, because it was just me, mom and dad, Dot, Dave and Richard for my entire life, was to get back to mom, and I wanted to bring her up to London, and move her in with us for a bit. After the initial shock and tears, obviously, and talking to family and close friends, it was back to the smoke, and concentrating on the practicalities of it all.
[00:08:16] Clover: It's interesting hearing you talk about that actually. The kind of physicality of grief, and how you remember the strange details about going out into the garden and that extraordinary feeling of love, the detail of the iceberg lettuce and so on. The kind, of you go into other kind of reality for a bit, don't you? This podcast, Grief Kind is about how we support one another, how we help one another during bereavement. I think being aware, if you are with somebody who has lost somebody very, very close to them, like their father, or partner, or whoever that might be, to be aware of the fact that they may be in a fairly strange state as well, the kind of weird physiological abnormality of it.
I remember when my mom died, I felt as though I was walking on the moon, or I felt as though I was walking on a landscape that was completely unstable, and the floor was uneven, and the strangeness of that is something that I think we have to keep in mind when we're looking after each other, I suppose, in this state.
[00:09:21] Richard: It's so true. It was like a-- Reverie doesn't seem like the right word, but you are right about that dream-like state where you do, and again, I use that phrase out of joint. You're slightly out of joint with the rest of the world. You can't quite believe that the rest of the world is carrying on. It's like when you're in a funeral car, and yet you are in this horrific holding pattern. It's an extraordinary time. I think you're absolutely right. That's a great analogy about the moon. I felt like I was in a dream-like state for much of the initial period after the call.
[00:09:51] Clover: It's sort of like a vortex, isn't it? I think that we need to be especially tender with each other at that time as well. Also, sometimes your reactions can be-- I like your description of the fact that you just wanted to eat endless amounts of salad niçoise.
[00:10:07] Richard: Yes, I know. It was weird, Clover. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing, because I wanted to eat-- I eat healthfully anyway. I'd like to think I drink responsibly, but at the time, there were quite a few refreshing beverages that were sunk, as you can imagine, just a drop of Dutch to get me through it. When I look back, I think was it something primal, like I'm trying to feed myself because I'm the last in line or something?
[00:10:28] Clover: Live, yes.
[00:10:28] Richard: Yes, I needed that nourishment. Which is why it was so great, because I'm surrounded by friends in London, my friends, family, if you like, that I've known for about 30 years, which was wonderful for them because-- Or, for me, I beg your pardon. Because, they're all spectacular cooks. Food just get to run. There's a reason that food was so welcomed because it nourished the soul. In every respect, it was a way that-- and I do it myself around people who are going through any kind of trauma. It's a way of showing your love and support. Frankly, it was much needed, and very well received.
[00:11:07] Clover: No, I can imagine, and it's very nice that you had close friends with you. Can you tell me a little bit about the funeral? Because that is obviously another kind of strange and important part of grief as part of the ritual, the planning, the kind of sometimes, slightly, ridiculous things can happen at funerals as well, they don't always go in a completely straightforward way. Can you tell me a little bit about your father's funeral?
[00:11:34] Richard: It's very difficult for me to talk about this without smiling out loud, which, again, might seem out of joint with the subject today, but it is real life. As you say, there are moments within the early stages of grief when you're dealing with those practicalities where things do go awry, or you see humor in them. Obviously, it's clearly a way that we all cope, and, humor, I use a great deal to cope actually.
It's the first time I've had to organize a funeral, Clover. Again, very blessed to be late in life and having to deal with this, because dad was quite a ripe age in his almost mid-80s. I'm sat with mom, and we go to the town where I was brought up to organize the funeral. I go into the funeral parlor, which, of course, is next to the train station and the curry house. I go into the funeral parlor. Serious now, I'd made my peace with the fact that I didn't want to see dad, because I'd seen dad a couple of weeks before on Father's Day, and I just wanted to remember him like that, but obviously, for mom, it was very important to see dad.
Anyway, we sit down, and I'm opposite this lovely woman, who is asking me all the questions about what we'd like from the funeral. I've never seen a woman so heavily made up, and heavily manicured in all my life. She was extraordinary, wonderful talons, completely polished, dare I say a blossoming windowbox, fabulously blonde platinum hair. Because I try and bring humor to all situations to cope. She sort of fixed me with her head at a jaunty angle. I have to hasten [unintelligible 00:13:04] incredibly professional and incredibly supportive. The head was that jaunty angle permanently. I thought I've got to break this woman.
I've got to get her out of this. I said, we want yellow ties because dad loved the Jersey Boys or something. I wanted bright colors and stuff, yellow roses because I've always loved those. She said to me, "What would your dad's wish be for the funeral?" I said, "Well, to be quite honest, his dearest wish was to have it live-streamed like Celine Dion's husband's." [laughs] Were which point my mom slapped my arm away, "Richard, pack it in." I got a smile out of her, and that was great. The funeral itself was incredible. Because, I obviously got to say a few words on behalf of dad.
It was absolutely packed with friends of mine who had made the trip down from London, friends of mine from Scotland, where I was brought up, as I say, from the age of about 12, and family, it goes without saying, and my dad who loved to paint, the whole of the local attended as well. It was a massive comfort for mom. I felt very blessed by that. Very blessed by that.
[00:14:12] Clover: Yes, that gathering of people who have loved the person that you loved, and were closest to is incredibly important. It can't help make you reflect on the last couple of years actually, and what so many people have been through. In the immediate aftermath of the funeral, it sounds as though you were great support to your mom as well. Did you feel that you could fully grieve while supporting your mom, or did you grieve together, or did you put your own feelings aside? How did you manage that? Did it help or hinder your own grief?
[00:14:47] Richard: It's an interesting question because, I'm looking back now some six years. I have seen fully, if you like, all the stages that are well-documented about grief. Now, with mom, of course, there was a lot of anger initially. My relationship, I suppose, with my mom changed at that point because, I stepped up to fill the gap that dad had obviously left behind. I don't want to say man about the house but you know what I mean? I sort of stepped up to effectively be, to all intents and purposes, her other half helping her through it. Our relationship dynamic changed.
To answer your question about whether I had time to grieve alone, mom and I spent about three weeks living together. Clemmy, my cockapoo, never left her side, slept with her every night. Having mom at home and under one roof, it meant that we could go through it together. We would go on long walks, and we were blessed because the weather was glorious. We'd go for lunch every day. I was lucky to be able to take three weeks out to do that. That was a tremendous help for both of us. I had my other half, it was extraordinarily supportive as well, and as I mentioned, this lovely, strong, and robust friendship group.
Because we have always lived our lives as pretty much an open book, and they've had their own experiences with elderly parents and grief, that was my main source of comfort. That helped me devote my energies to mom, because, I was thinking mom and dad, I've got this wonderful picture actually that I took of them holding hands going to into a hotel in Edinburgh that we go to a lot. The two of them in matching coats more or less, and holding hands, and walking into the lobby of this hotel. That's the couple that they were, proper porch rockers, if you like. That you couldn't imagine life without them being together, if you like, which seems like a romantic ideal. As I say, they were teenage sweethearts. It's like that coupling when the wind blows or whatever. I just have this Raymond Briggs-type view of the two of them.
[00:16:53] Clover: Always together.
[00:16:54] Richard: Yes, always together. Exactly. Thank you.
[00:16:56] Clover: It's interesting, actually, to think about that, to think about your mom, I suppose, because, at that point, she had lost her lifetime's companion and love. How did she want to grieve? I can imagine that she wanted to talk about your dad a lot, and reminisce. What kind of support did she specifically need, and what she wanted to do, or to talk about, really, I suppose?
[00:17:22] Richard: Well, for her, the state of shock obviously lasted much longer. But because we've always had a very close relationship as well, and because it had always been us three, as I said before, such a tight unit, we naturally turned to each other. It was actually quite easy for us to-- I don't want to say easy, but it was actually, because we had a great relationship, it was easy for us to talk about that, and what she was going through. Particularly with my dad, nothing was left unsaid. That made it a lot easier for both of us. Mom's arc was considerably longer than mine. I remember chatting to Debbie McGee about it. She lost Paul Daniels, and I said, "Well, do you think the grief goes away?" She was like, "I don't think the grief gets any smaller, but your world gets bigger."
[00:18:09] Clover: Yes, that's such a good way of describing it.
[00:18:11] Richard: That really struck a chord with me, because looking back on mom, and myself, and our relationship, and how it's changed through the various stages of grief, that we're also aware of painfully at times, I can see that's happened, mom's world got bigger, gradually over time. I moved her up to London, so I could see her every day. I'm fortunate to have a job or career where I do have free time to see her most days. I was aware that I could step up in that regard. She was initially resistant I think at that, as all moms do. "I don't want to be a burden bridge. I don't want to put it all on your shoulders."
But I felt it was the right thing to do. To me it was a no-brainer, to mom she was more concerned about me taking on too much. "You're taking on too much," which I said, "You've got to let me do this, because, for me, this is the way that I am coping with this particular moment," that my own grief was to throw that throw myself at the practicalities of it.
[00:19:10] Clover: It's interesting to think about the different ways that we grieve, and the different things that we need, I suppose. It sounds as though you supporting your mom was a way that you could show your love for her, obviously, and for your dad, and I guess for them as a couple too, it's a bit of like you as their son repaying some of the care, and love, and guidance that they'd given you in their life.
[00:19:34] Richard: Also, Clover, we'd also talked about it. Actually, we talked about it two weeks before he passed away on Father's Day. As I say, he came up, and he insisted on paying for lunch. I said, "Dad, why are you paying for lunch? This is my treat." He said, "No, I've got this, son." I remember the last time I saw him, you know how we older guys get very big earlobes, there's an image for your, Clover, right?
[00:19:57] Richard: Dad had the most extraordinary earlobe. My way of sort of showing affection, and we're a very tactile family anyway, lots of kisses and cuddles, there always have been. I would flick his ear lobes, his big granddaddy ear lobes. I remember kissing him on the earlobes just before he left that Father's Day. He walked down the steps outside the house, and he took a brush, and he swept the steps, and he turned to me, and he said, "That's it Rich, that's how you do it."
When I look back, and he also, Clover, left his Father's Day card behind. When I look back, it almost seems prescient. I know sometimes we can perhaps read too much into these things, but it's also because we had a very frank conversation, to go back to your point, the two weeks before he died, about what it would look like when either of them went. I'd said, "Well, obviously, I'd want one of you to move up to London if you could, and we're able."
I'm lucky because, again, physically and mentally robust in spirit and health. I said, "Yes." The funny thing was, I think we all knew that dad would, even though he was a Londoner, born and bred, wouldn't make that move, but mom would.
[00:21:06] Clover: I think this conversation about grief is really important, but I think conversations about death in general, if we can be open to it, if we can have a cheerful chat, if that was possible over lunch, about how life might look when somebody dies. It makes the shock a little bit less intense, it makes the planning afterwards a tiny bit easier. I think it'd be really useful to talk a bit about things that people say to you, and things that we can do to help one another, and support each other in grief. My sister died in 2009, and I found some of the reactions, because in grief I felt, she was 46. She was very young, really.
Sometimes I felt quite lonely in my grief, and quite pushed away from people as though people didn't want to almost-- It was slightly could be catching or something like that. I think when somebody dies when they're older, there is a more joyful ability to remember a long, and a happy life. What were the most helpful things that people said to you, the most comforting? Was it being able to just talk about him, and remember him in a very realistic way? Or did you want a lot of sympathy? What was helpful?
[00:22:24] Richard: Well, what was very helpful was the fact that, because we were such a close unit, my friends knew my parents very, very well. They were very fond of Dave. It didn't feel like there were any minefields, really. As you say, and, obviously, I send my condolence to your good self, because your sister dying at that age is absolutely no age. You're right, because dad was elderly, it was clearly a shock because, as I say, there was no ill health.
It felt like at least it was in the right order of things, if you like. Because my friends loved Dave, it was very easy to break bread, open up a screw top and chat genuine, and unfettered, if you like, about his death. They were very, very shocked, but rallied. I was very lucky to have that support, a closed set, if you like, of very close-knit friends who knew mom and dad as well.
Mom and dad were very much part of our parties, and Sunday roasts, and whenever they came up to the smoke to London, we'd all meet them for a drink. It made that easier. I've got a lovely picture of me, mom, and my group of friends outside the restaurant where we actually took dad for Father's Day. This was about a week or so after he died. We all got together and raised a glass there. I know mom, mom drew an awful lot of comfort from that.
I think it's because she's all perpetually been worried that as an only child, that I would never have enough friends. She's always delighted when my clan, if you like, gather. They were hugely supportive. We called it the one where, like in the Friends shows, they say the one when whatever. We called the episode of dad's funeral, the one where we took Dr. London. After the funeral, we got mom on a rattler, we took up a whole carriage, you can imagine the gin and tonics were flowing. We took mom up to London. That's where she spent a lot of time initially with my group of friends. I know she drew a lot of comfort from that. This was some six months before I actually moved her up permanently.
[00:24:34] Clover: I think that what you are describing as well is that very human and very loving ability to reach out to each other, and to be together. I think that for anybody listening to this, supporting somebody in grief is like, don't be afraid to go and see them. Don't be afraid. I think often when you are bereaved, when you're grieving, you can feel alone. Actually, more often than not, I think you do want people around.
You want to be able to remember the person, you want to maybe have a drink, or have a meal together and talk about that person. I love talking about my sister, even when I remember ways that she could be quite maddening. I love seeing her real old friends who knew her really, really well. You could remember the very human person that she was. Your descriptions of you and your friends with your mom, it's very heartwarming, actually, to think of that time to be together, and to remember your dad.
[00:25:32] Richard: Oh, Clover, I don't know who I'd be without my friends and my other half to be quite honest. For me, they're the pension plan that keeps on giving. They really are. I drew down a lot of dividends, to continue the metaphor, during that time. As I say, they were more than happy to spend that time. I also think it's good to point out that I don't think you should be afraid when you're grieving, because it is such a personal thing.
There were moments when I absolutely did want it to be just me and mom. There were moments when I didn't pick up the phone if someone called. I'd send a cheeky emoji, which is the good Lord's way of getting you out of dodge, isn't it? By firing off an emoji, so at least you've acknowledged the text, but you're not to invested. I was very aware of that, I needed that time for me and mom together, and to cut out a little bit of the noise, if you like, as well meaning as it was, but not for too long, because, these friends and family are my oxygen, and mom's the same.
[00:26:33] Clover: I think what you're saying is important, because it is also physically, emotionally, mentally exhausting, especially the immediate aftermath, isn't it?
[00:26:41] Richard: Oh, Clover. I was shattered. I don't think I've ever slept so well, which is the irony of that. All of us, particularly with everything that's going on in the world at the moment, you wake up in the tick tock at three o'clock, at 3:00 AM in the morning, especially, when like me, I have to get up at 4:00 AM anyway. That's when your mind starts churning, but I slept, and it was like, obviously, my body needed it. The physical nature of grief. That for me was probably the most overwhelming thing, I think, because I'm normally up and out an atom. But I needed just to sleep, alongside half a bottle of Campari and a nourishing niçoise salad.
[00:27:21] Clover: For anybody listening to this, do you think there is any kind of one-size-fits-all? Or any right or wrong thing to say to somebody who, you've got a close friend who's lost a parent or a relative very close to them. How should we react? What can we do as the friendly bystanders, I suppose?
[00:27:43] Richard: I think it's really important to keep radio contact up, even if it's just from a distance. We lost a dear family friend's son recently in a tragic accident about a year-and-a-half ago. He was just 21 years of age. I get goosebumps now thinking about it, because I kept saying his name every day after it happened, because the shock was just enormous. He was like a nephew to me.
I remember as many people do when they're on the outside watching someone grieve, that you think, "Well, there are no words," but, actually, there are words, and don't be afraid to say them. Even if in the case of this particular chap, I couldn't make landfall with his mom. I tried initially, but then respected that some space was to be had, but I made landfall with her husband. I made sure that we were in the orbit of the family.
I think, don't be afraid to maintain that presence, because, even if you don't get a response, I know from personal experience, I will have received the text, and I'll be incredibly grateful for it. I will get round to responding when I've got a bit more strength to deal with it.
[00:28:58] Clover: I think what you've just said is so important, and also, even if the person that you're texting who is bereaved isn't even able to send an emoji, don't--
[00:29:08] Richard: They are listening though.
[00:29:09] Clover: They are listening. Yes, they are.
[00:29:10] Richard: Yes, totally, Clover. Yes, they are listening.
[00:29:13] Clover: To keep up up that communication. Also, I suppose, long after the funeral as well, I was very aware after my sister Nell died, that it was months and months after she'd died. Still now, it's only just over two years, but I love talking to her friends about her. I suppose that's the kind of keep on reaching out is important as well. Isn't it?
[00:29:36] Richard: Yes, without a doubt, without a doubt, because, again, we've all had experience of it, the contact falls off a cliff after the funeral and the wake. That wasn't the case with us, we were very fortunate. Again, geographically because my friend's family lives very close to myself in London, and mom, because she's so social. She used to work in a shop. She used to love all the chat over the counter, and she'd lived in Andover for most of her life. There was never any absence of communication from her friends, which was hugely important for her. Trying to get in touch with her, Clover, now is a nightmare. I have to pop around because she's always on the blower, my love.
[00:30:18] Clover: She sounds absolutely great.
[00:30:20] Richard: Do you know what I am? I'm so proud of her, because, obviously, this happened when she was 79, and to move up to London at 79. If we were going to enter the third and final chapter together, I really wanted her to enjoy it, and also, for me to be present through light and shade because, obviously, yes, there were moments, "Have I made the right decision? I never should have come up here," but now she's just delighted that she has, because she's, again, made her own friends up here as well. The little Friday club with the old people, she calls them, and the neighbors that she's met in the block where she lives.
I'm really proud of her, and whenever she has a moment-- As I said, I'm very lucky, because I can see her most days of the week. I say, "You've got to look down the ladder mom, and see how far you've come." I think that's really important that we all do that as individuals. Give yourself some credit for how far you've come, because that is a huge source of strength as well.
[00:31:15] Clover: What about, are there important moments throughout the year, whether it's your dad's birthday or Father's Day? Are there other rituals where you remember him, or do you find those days more painful? How do you get through them?
[00:31:31] Richard: Recalling the first birthday after he passed away, mom and I went out for lunch and that was a difficult lunch. That was a difficult lunch. We were a bit flinty with each other. There's no trying to dress it up, but afterwards, it was all fine. I think we were both acutely feeling it that day, but we haven't really marked the occasion since, if you like, or Father's Days. Funny, you should say that, you mentioned Father's Day, that's the day I do feel it. The first couple of years after he passed away, I would take myself off on Father's Day.
If I'm really honest, that used to be very painful actually, initially, for the first couple of years. I've reconciled myself with it now because, he used to always call me Scooby, after Scooby Doo. I can hear him now in my head going, "Oh, Scoob. Don't worry about it," you know?
[00:32:32] Clover: Yes.
[00:32:32] Richard: I can still hear his voice.
[00:32:34] Clover: Do you chat to your dad?
[00:32:35] Richard: Yes. Also, Clover, no one looks at me like I'm being a bit weird if I'm talking out loud to my father, because, in the nature of my job in broadcasting, is I wear any ear piece all the time, and I've always got voices in my head, and I'm always talking to them. Actually, I get away with it, Clover. I feel like I've got some diplomatic immunity when it comes to talking out loud, apparently, to myself. Yes, I do. I do talk to him. I really do. In fact, people listening to this won't be able to see us now, but I'm smiling out loud just thinking about him, and the conversations I have with him.
Sometimes if I find myself even a bit worked up about something, as we all do, because I think we're all, oddly enough, much better at dealing with the bigger dramas than we are the pettier ones, if you like. When something happens, that hiccup in the road and you get yourself all worked up, I can hear his voice just, "Scoob. Don't worry about it, son."
[00:33:23] Clover: What about your mom, if she's having a bit of a moment, if she's having a bit of a bad day, how do you support her?
[00:33:29] Richard: Again, I'm lucky because I can go over. I can be there. Whether it's just for a cup of tea, whether it's taking her out to the cinema, going out for a walk, and I tell you what works every time, when I take her granddaughter over: the aforementioned, Clemmy the cockapoo. Clemmy has been an absolute delight. I cannot impress upon you enough the sheer joy, because I never had a pet growing up, having Clemmy around, oh, she's seven this year. At the times I say, as I mentioned, she slept with mom the entire time, which was very unusual, because she'd normally sleep with us.
It was clearly like she knew. Mom had a moment shortly after dad died and cried. I was on a shoot, and Clemy was staying with mom at the flat. Clemy just put her arms around her, and started licking her face. I guarantee you, if I take Clemmy over [laughs] all the ills of the world, fall away, incredibly nurturing influences. When it came to coping with grief, it was almost like Clemy was a one-size-fits-all, because she was a huge comfort to all of us. Isn't that funny?
[00:34:37] Clover: It's lovely to think of the way that animals. People often say it about young children as well, because they can be slightly oblivious sometimes to the bigger worries of the world, and having them around. Animals are the same as well. That comforting affectionate presence is lovely.
[00:34:56] Richard: A constant presence as well. Their world hasn't changed at all.
[00:35:01] Clover: Absolutely.
[00:35:01] Richard: You can draw a lot from that.
[00:35:03] Clover: Last thing. If somebody's listening to this podcast because they want to specifically help someone who is grieving, what words of advice would you give them?
[00:35:14] Richard: I would say, just keep in touch. Keep in radio contact with whoever's grieving. Keep that presence up, and that presence can manifest itself physically, or just a little note. You don't want to wear them down like a war of attrition, and bombard them with messages, but I think it's really key to maintain a presence. 99% of it is maintaining a presence in their lives as close as you can, obviously. 1% is when they come up for air, just being with them, I think. Just, keep reaching out. I think it's hugely important.
I would make a point with regard to the tragedy I spoke to you about just a few moments ago. I made a point of every Sunday ringing the family. Over time, the conversations were longer and longer, but I made a point of doing that every week. I think that was really, really important. I'm not a blood relation to them, but families take on all shapes and sizes, as I've demonstrated with my close friendship group here in London. I think it's just very important to keep that conversation up. As I've said before, as part of Sue Ryder campaigns, don't be afraid to speak their name. Say their name.
[00:36:32] Clover: Absolutely. I think that's so important, to talk about the person who's been lost, to remember what they were like, and to say their name, I think is such a good piece of advice, and keep up that contact, that sense of love, I suppose, really, isn't it? It's just manifesting and communicating love in some way.
[00:36:51] Richard: Absolutely. I'm worried that I've mentioned Dave so much on this podcast, Clover, that I might manifest him now behind me in my dressing room.
[00:36:59] Richard: That would be just the goolish trick that he would love. A little surprise for Scooby.
[00:37:06] Richard: This is why I've enjoyed this chat, if I'm honest, because, speaking to our colleagues at Sue Ryder, when I first got involved in this campaign, was a huge comfort as well, because it's been a while since I've actually indulged myself, if I can say that, by talking about Dave or my dad, for as long. Speaking about how far we've come, I've realized how far I have come, and particularly my mom has come over the last few years just by having this conversation with you today, so it's been a real privilege, Clover. Thank you very much.
[00:37:42] Clover: It's been lovely hearing about Dave, and your mom, who really sounds like a tremendous woman, but it's been really great talking to you, Richard. Thank you very, very much, indeed.
[00:37:52] Richard: Thank you, Clover.
[00:37:56] Clover: Grief is different for everybody. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, but you don't need a degree in counseling to help a loved one who's grieving. It is about the personal support you can offer, which should always be led by what feels right for the grieving person. The most important thing is to ensure that no one has to go through it alone. To get more information on how to help grieving friends and relatives, go to sueryder.org/griefkindpodcast. Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it's ready. I'm Clover Stroud. Grief Kind is a Bengo Media Production for Sue Ryder.
Clover Stroud: Hello, and welcome to Grief Kind, a podcast by Sue Ryder, which helps you to support friends and loved ones going through one of the toughest times of their lives. I'm Clover Stroud, and in each episode, I'll be talking to someone who, like me, has experienced grief ﬁrsthand and who can talk about the support they've received.
Hopefully, each conversation will empower you to be grief kind, to avoid clamming up, and give your friends and family the love, compassion and support that they need.
In this episode, I'm joined by fashion designer, Pearl Lowe. Pearl's dad, Eddie, died from a heart attack four years ago shortly after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. In
this interview, Pearl says she misses the way her dad brought the family together and how, even if she didn't respond, she appreciated her friends checking in on her even months after her father died. I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Pearl, welcome to Grief Kind. It's really, really lovely to be talking to you, and I'm looking forward to our conversation. Do you want to start off by just telling me a little bit about your dad, Eddie, and what was he like?
Pearl Lowe: Oh, God, he was such an incredible character. It's four years since he passed, and I can now talk about him without crying. It's that time that I've had that I can now think of him and smile and have these lovely memories of him.
He grew up in the East End. He had so many unbelievable stories about when he was a child, he was the mascot for The Krays and then as he got older, he started to be a bouncer at the Whisky-A-Go-Go and how he lived with all these fantastic actors and musicians. He was an amazing father, and he had... I have two older brothers, and he would always bring all of us and all our children, him and my Mum had 10 grandchildren, so he would always make us all meet up together and have these big lunches and dinners. I was a teenager when I had Daisy, and he would - my daughter who's now 32 - but he would come and pick her up from school every day and take her to school. He loved being a very present grandfather, so for her, it was a really big thing when he left.
Clover: He sounds like a huge, huge presence all the way through your life, and the fact that he was close to your children as well and was a really strong grandparent is such a beautiful thing, and losing him must have been absolutely devastating. Are you happy to tell us a little bit about the details of his death? How did he die?
Pearl: He was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he had this, well, this incredible doctor who said, "Actually, medicine has improved so much that we can actually give you a pill every day, and it can basically prolong your life. You won't die as quickly." He said, "You just have to be careful." Anyway, he was incredibly allergic to this drug, and so he ended up having to come off it and then had chemo, and so for two years… no...yes...I think it was just under two years, he had all this horrible chemo.
Then he seemed like he was okay. He was kind of plateauing. I had just been away and I came back, I was on the train to go and see him, and my Mum called and said that he'd passed away, so I didn't actually get to meet him, but I was on the train to London. I just went to the Royal Free, and he was gone. I thought that I would have a couple of years to process the whole thing.
You think, "Okay, I'm getting used to the fact that he might not be here," because you're given that time, but nothing, ever, can actually prepare you for that kind of thing.
Especially when someone's such a big part of your life, it was a big shock and a big... yes, I think I was numb for weeks and weeks.
Clover: The shock because it was very sudden clearly, it was a very sudden death. The shock, that feeling of... When my sister died, she also had cancer, but she died very suddenly of liver failure actually, and I felt as though it was almost as if she had been killed in an accident or something like that. You know that sort of sense of the suddenness and the shock of it, even though she had been very ill.
He was diagnosed two years before he died. What was that time like? After his diagnosis, how did you adapt to it as a family?
Pearl: I guess I did prepare, because obviously, there were times when he was very ill, and he was in the hospital for... It was just so tragic, and it was so undigniﬁed as well. Often, you'd go there and he would say, "Look, I just can't believe you're seeing me like this."
I remember once I left because he'd told me to leave because, I don't know, something had happened and he just sent me this amazing message saying, "I just don't want you to see me like this, it's just heartbreaking." In a way, I think that even though he had the two years of diagnosis, I still thought it wouldn't happen.
Clover: Yes, it's really diﬃcult that, isn't it? Because even when you're totally faced with the death of somebody that you really love, sort of facing it before they die is kind of inconceivable, really, isn't it?
Did you have any conversations with him about death or the afterlife? Did you kind of prepare each other at all?
Pearl: No. No, because he was kind of old school and I think that, I believe in the afterlife and I think that's what's really helped me since he passed. I see a counsellor. She's helped me, I mean, I wouldn't have been able to get through it without her and she's always at the end of the phone if I need to speak to her.
I often feel him and I often feel like...we have a joke in our family. It's like, we just go on, "Grandpa Eddie, get us this parking space." We just ask him for things, like, I don't know,
"Grandpa's there. Grandpa's helping," but it's that thing...I think that's what's really helped, but he wasn't like that. Like, he wasn't into that kind of thing. I never discussed it with him.
Clover: In the immediate aftermath of his death, can you remember it very well? You must have been so shocked. I think the brain sometimes cuts out that kind of time, that sort of really just...
Pearl: I honestly don't remember much. I just remember feeling such intense pain and nothing else mattered. It was kind of like I don't care about anything. Do you know what I mean? It's that kind of, so intense, but I blocked it out.
Clover: Was there anybody during that time that you speciﬁcally could turn to who was kind of especially supportive or especially helpful?
Pearl: Yes, I've got my best friend, Zoey, who's just incredible. She loved my dad too because she grew up with him too and so she was grieving as well but she was so incredible. All my friends were. They all rallied round and I live in this very small community in Somerset and just everyone was so lovely, bringing stuff around and looking after me. Obviously, I've got my husband, Danny, but then he was so close to my dad.
It's really hard, isn't it? Because when you've got all these people around that support you in your everyday life, but then when something like that happens, and you're all grieving together, that's when it's quite diﬃcult, I think, because Danny was so close to my dad. He loved him. He almost looked up to him, so that was hard for him too.
Clover: Yeah and obviously, as his daughter, I do think that you would have been the one who was feeling it the most. That sort of physiological connection, he was your dad, but you've still got your kids and your husband. You've still got people around you that need your support as well. That's a really, really hard thing to go through. What about his funeral? What kind of funeral did he have?
Pearl: It was crazy. People couldn't get in, there were so many people. I mean, again, I don't remember much. I spoke, and my brothers spoke, and the grandchildren spoke, and it was beautiful.
Clover: It's an important part of it, the funeral though, isn't it? That kind of ritualised grief and being together as a family? My sister's funeral was incredible and I spoke and my dad did and various people. I did the pallbearing and the coﬃn bearing coming out of the... it was in Gloucester Cathedral. Then with her friends and my cousin, we carried her coﬃn out, but I don't really have, I ﬁnd it hard to really remember it, as you say, because your brain goes into a different space, doesn't it?
Pearl: It's so weird. It's like you just, like I've never experienced that before. It's the strangest. But in a way, you're right. It's everyone's together and there is a sense of comfort in that. I think they're really important because I spoke to my really great friend of mine whose mother passed when he was 21 and he didn't go to the funeral because he was in so much pain, which is so nuts.
I was just thinking, "No, I was pleased I did," because even then, everyone was talking about him in such a fond way. Although it was a bit too soon, but it was so lovely to hear lots of stories. For that moment, you just hang on to anything at that point.
Clover: What about the.. because that bit after the funeral is very hard, isn't it? When there's been the buildup to the funeral, you've all been together, and then so-called normal life has to start again. Can you remember what that next bit was like and how the grief manifested itself for you in the year after his death?
Pearl: I threw myself into work. I think I'm lucky because my work is quite intense. It's quite full on. I think I just became such a workaholic and just worked all day and all night. I think that's how I dealt with it. You never forget the pain. You'll still remember every single day, but it will get easier. I just thought at the time, "It's not going to get easier. I'm just going to feel like this the whole time."
There's a massive void in our lives and my family's life because my dad was the one that would plan all the holidays. He would plan all the dinners. He was always on the phone just saying, "Should we do this?" He was just full of life, and I think that there's a part of that that's gone now. We don't meet up as much. I hardly see my brothers, as much as I did when we were one with my dad.
The pain has, after four years, it's deﬁnitely start... I think of him every single day, but like I said, I can now look at a photo. I couldn't even look at a photo of him because it hurts so much. I just would cry. It would just be too painful, but now, I've looked at him and I can talk about him and I can talk about his... but this is four and a half years later, so it's deﬁnitely just starting to release and not be as intense as it was.
Clover: It's a long process, isn't it? Actually, just hearing you talk about this makes me feel very emotional actually. That thing of looking at photographs, because I still ﬁnd... Nell died in December 2019. That was 18 months ago, really. Relatively early, still, deﬁnitely. That thing of looking at a photograph, the physical disbelief, you feel like she's not alive on the planet somewhere and I think it's really important, isn't it, to allow people time to... because we want to rush people through grief, I think.
But when you're in the early stage, I just remember thinking, "Oh, my life is practically over," but knowing that that time does heal things I think is a really, really important message.
How does your grief manifest itself now?
Pearl: Sometimes I feel quite angry. Sometimes I'm like, "Why aren't you here? Why aren't…?" especially when there's lovely things that happen and you just want to share. I want to ring him up and say, "This happened," and just things like that really. Sometimes I get angry and I'm like, "I'm just so angry you're not here with me. I'm so angry you're not sharing this with me." Then other times... I think my grief was very private. I don't tell anyone.
I didn't even tell my husband, Danny. I just keep it very to myself. It's my private grief.
Clover: You mentioned earlier about having a therapist. Were you seeing her before? Was she somebody who was in your life before or did you reach out to her afterwards? Did you feel as though you needed some professional help or support to manage what you were going through?
Pearl: 100%. She's someone I've seen for over 12 years, but I only used to see her once a year, once every six months or something. Then, after my dad died, literally, phoning up every month, and it's just like "Oh, I need to talk to you." Whenever I wanted to talk to her, I just say, "I need to talk to you. Can I talk to you?" I needed that support. There was no way I could do it. I also don't want to put it on... I'm one of those people, I don't like putting my stuff on people. I'm usually the one who helps people, but I ﬁnd it quite hard to open up and tell everyone how I'm feeling. I'm much more private.
Pearl: It's nice to have someone away from the family, away from my friends that I can just ring up and say, "Listen, I'm feeling really bad today." This is what I feel.
Clover: Yes. And in those sessions, did you ﬁnd yourself going and really unburdening? You said your grief was very private. Did it come out in therapy?
Pearl: Yes, not always, sometimes. Sometimes I even say, "I'm feeling so bad," and I'd cry. Sometimes I wouldn't. Sometimes we talk about the lovely things, and like I said, it's been only recently - and I really mean this - only recently I can talk about him. It's not saying I don't still cry about him, of course I do. I went to his grave last Friday and that was horrible, just seeing his name on, you know...
Clover: Yes, I think the thing of seeing the gravestone with the person that you love's name, there's almost a surreal quality to that, isn't there? It's as though you're in a horror ﬁlm or something like that. Do you know what I mean? It's really...
Clover: There are so many different kind of parts of grief, aren't there, and stages that we have to go through and things that we have to face and process. It's not really a journey because then that suggests there is an end destination. I don't think there is an end destination. It's an ongoing process, isn't it?
Pearl: Yes, it's an ongoing process, but there are different stages to it. The mad thing is that at the beginning, you think you're never going to be happy ever again, and you think that, "That's it, my life is over." Then as the years go by, you realise you can live with it because that was the other thing. I used to feel bad about enjoying myself. If I ever went out, I'd stop myself and go, "Oh, no, I mustn't be having fun. This is wrong."
That kind of thing, but whereas as the years go by, you realise... you still have the PTSD, but you can kind of manoeuver it in a different way.
Clover: Deﬁnitely. What about the people that you were supporting around you? Were you supporting your mum through her grief? She must have been ﬁnding it very hard.
Pearl: Oh, she still is. My mum has been the trickiest thing. That's been so hard. We sent her once to have counseling and she said, "Oh, I'm never going back. I just cried the whole time." We're like, "Yes, mum, that's the point. You're supposed to cry. You're supposed to cry through it. This is what's going to help you." She's like, "No, no, no, I'm never going back."
She's just so miserable still because he was her soulmate, and I completely get it, completely understand how she feels, but it's quite hard.
Clover: What about your daughter, Daisy?
Pearl: Daisy, like I said, because I was so young, my dad... It was like she was my sister and my dad brought us both up. For her, it was like losing a parent. She was much younger than me, so that was very hard. Yes, we had a really tough time with Daisy. We had to really support her through it for a couple of years.
Clover: You had people that you love very much, that you're close to, you're also supporting. Do you think the fact that you needed to support them and be there for them, and they were going through really tough stuff as well, did it hinder your own grieving or make it harder to grieve or did it force you to get on with things? How did it affect you?
Pearl: Maybe it prolonged my grief because I used to push it aside and try and help my Mum and Daisy - Do you know what I mean? You go, "Okay. I can't be thinking about this right now. I've got to sort this person." Do you know? Maybe it prolonged it a little bit, I don't know. Like I said, I've had support so thank God for that because I don't think I could have done it without talking to somebody.
I think it's really important. I think people... anyone listening today is like, "You've got to get help.” You think you're okay, but honestly, it's the best thing that you can do is go and for yourself. It's just you need that support.
Clover: I totally, totally agree. It's complicated. Dealing with the death of somebody is complicated, isn't it? It's a massive, massive process. I'd like to be still having weekly therapy. There's also the issue of ﬁtting it around your life, the expense of it. I know that Sue Ryder actually offer free grief counseling for people, which is a really, really incredible service, I think. Can you think of a piece of advice that a therapist has given you? The best piece of advice that you've had?
Pearl: I mean, deﬁnitely the time thing because I didn't think I'd ever get through it. Also, the other thing someone said to me was, there's a few stages of grief, which I didn't realise, because there's the anger that comes. There's all sorts of stages that I hadn't anticipated and you just don't want it coming out sideways. You just don't want it to...
That's why it's really important to get help because otherwise people are suffering around you.
The last thing you want is to make people suffer. If you are grieving, it's really important and especially if there's free help with Sue Ryder, I'd deﬁnitely take that.
Clover: You mentioned that you've got good friends around you, what kind of things did they do to support you and look after you and be there for you?
Pearl: Just, I was only saying this the other day, a friend of mine lost her father recently and I, having lost my father, I know what it feels like. A lot of people said to me, "Oh, we didn't want to disturb you." Actually, the people that did, I really remember. I understand that because before I lost my father, I probably would have felt the same, but all the texts, even if I didn't reply, I processed it. It was really lovely.
It was so nice to get so many messages and people just check, "I'm just checking in to see if you're okay." That was everything to me even a month later. I think when someone's grieving, you think, "I'll leave them alone," but don't. Even if they don't reply, just keep going. "Just checking that you're okay. Do you need anything?" That's all I needed. I mean, it wasn't so much...obviously people bought things around for me. I had some friends come to the funeral from really far away, which was really touching and lovely. I felt really loved, that sort of...but it's more than that. It's sort of, just keep checking that that person's okay months later because it means a lot.
Clover: I think that's a really, really good piece of advice and people deﬁnitely worry about being in the way or turning up at an inappropriate moment when somebody is really upset or they've got family around or saying the wrong thing. Actually, it's quite rare that that really happens. Isn't it?
Clover: If you are in a state where you don't want to see somebody, then you can tell someone to go away. It'd be much better to be the person who turns up and it be at the wrong time than not at all, I think. As I said, it doesn't really happen that often. I think the thing as well of just checking in, of sending a text message, that's such an easy thing to do for somebody.
I think as the one who is bereaved as well, you can know that you're not under any pressure to answer any because you can get...you end up...I remember in the immediate aftermath of Nell's death, my phone was just...there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of messages.
You try and reply to some of them, but knowing that you don't have to reply to any of them and being the friend or the family member who sends the text message, just does the checking in, I think is really, really, really important and really, really valuable. To let that person know, as you say, that they are loved and that you're cared for is a massive thing, isn't it?
Pearl: The cards, I loved all the cards that I got. I remember I'll never forget that. I was like, "Wow, that's just so lovely." People I hadn't spoken to for years writing me cards, actually sending a letter. You know how people don't really write that much anymore, it's all about texts and stuff. The people who had taken the time to write a card and put it in an envelope, and put a stamp on it, I know that's what people used to do years and years ago, but it was so lovely. It was so lovely to receive those cards.
Clover: What about how you live now? Do you like talking about your dad? Do you like remembering him?
Pearl: Yes, but it's only been recent. I promise you, I can look at photos and laugh because when I was growing up, he was just so crazy. He used to tell me all these stories about Barbara Windsor, and he was like, "I lived in her ﬂat and she was in the other room and she was going out with one of my friends." We all just thought he was lying, we didn't really believe him.
Then Danny and I went to this ball with him, it was this charity thing. He came with us, and Barbara Windsor was there and she went, "Eddie," and she gave him this massive hug and we were like, "Oh, maybe his stories are right." His stories seemed so far-fetched. Now, I can laugh and now I can tell all his stories and not just freak out.
Clover: What about the other key moments in the year that you like to mark? Things like birthdays, anniversaries can be incredibly diﬃcult. They can also be joyful. How do you manage those?
Pearl: Well, his birthday was April the 17th. Yeah, we always get together and celebrate his birthday, do a toast. I don't really want to remember the day he died because that is just really still very painful. It's all about the birthday and remembering and talking about him. The kids all loved him so much. It's a big thing that we all get together.
Clover: Are your friends and family, are they sympathetic? Are you still private in your grief, I suppose? If they are aware you are having a diﬃcult time, are they supportive or do you like to go off and be on your own? When one of those big moments happens, which still comes even years later, I'm sure, it will do forever, what do people…?
Pearl: Of course. They're really supportive, Danny's really supportive. He's still got both his parents and he's great. Of course, I still have the moments where he's like, "Why are you crying?" It's just something will trigger, like a song. My dad was so into music so one of his favourite songs or something we danced to, or something that just takes you by surprise and you just start crying, and then he is like, "Oh." Yes, he's great.
Clover: It's really lovely talking to you about this, Pearl, and it's been a really beautiful conversation. To just ﬁnish up, if somebody is listening to the podcast and they're wanting to help somebody who is grieving that they're close to, or a family member, or a friend, what words of advice would you give them in that process?
Pearl: The thing is, is that obviously, if somebody is willing to share what they're going through, then you just have to be there to listen. Obviously, I wouldn't prise it out of anybody. I think it's one of those things, I didn't realise how many people were so private with their grief until I went through that. I wouldn't prise it, but obviously, if someone wants to talk, you just have to sit there and listen to everything that they're saying, and just be there with support.
Obviously, if it's very new, like we were saying, just turn up. If they're not answering their phone, just bake them a cake or take a bunch of ﬂowers, because honestly, those little things mean so much at that time. It's like a gut thing, you'll get a gut to do something like that, and it means so much to somebody just to know that you're there.
Clover: Yes, deﬁnitely. I think that even if that person didn't know your dad, or know my sister, or know the person who has been lost, the fact that somebody turns up with a cake or ﬂowers or a hug or a card, basically reaﬃrms your faith in life, doesn't it?
Pearl: It does.
Clover: Grieving really knocks your faith in life. I guess, as a friend, somebody close to somebody who's lost somebody, helping them to reaﬃrm their belief and faith in life is a really important and valuable thing to do, isn't it?
Pearl: Honestly, it means everything. Honestly, lots of people have said, "We don't want to bother you," but I really want to be bothered. I just want to know that there's people that are supportive and it just means so much. I think it doesn't just go away, that's the thing. When recently, another friend of mine lost their father, and it's so nice because we can sit and talk about our fathers, just share that together. Also, because I've been through it, I can help, I can give all my advice and that means a lot that I can actually help people through my grief.
Clover: Deﬁnitely. That's so, so valuable. I was talking to a friend recently and she said, "I really think the only point of suffering is to be able to help other people who are suffering." That is so valuable, knowing you have this knowledge in a way about what this path is like is incredible and I'm sure you are a huge help to people. I love what you've just said about bother me when some people arethinking, "I don't want to bother you"... please bother me, be the one that does.
Pearl: If I seem like I don't want bothering, that's not true because I'm just giving off that vibe, but it's not true. Honestly, I remember everyone that bothered me. Generally, people who had lost people were the ones, because other people didn't understand. I didn't understand. I'd only lost my Nana who was a great...she was like the perfect Nana and she was amazing, but she died at 78. At that age you sort of expect that I guess.
With my dad, with a parent, it's very different because it's so much closer and you know it's inevitable, you know it's going to happen, but you are just never prepared for that day. I can't imagine what it's like for you and Nell now because that must have been...I know how close you were with her and that's a whole other level of grief, isn't it?
Clover: There are many different ways that we grieve and ways that we feel grief, but that big sense of loss is the sort of unifying thing really, isn't it, and the different aspect of it. It's been really, really lovely talking to you, Pearl. Thank you very, very much and your advice is really lovely.
Pearl: Thank you. Thanks so much. The only thing I found is that time is the biggest healer and I'm deﬁnitely getting there, but it's still, "Oh, God." Like you said, takes me by surprise and I still think about him all the time, but it's nothing like it was.
Clover: No, I understand that. Well, thank you so much, Pearl.
Clover: It's been lovely to speak to you.
Pearl: It's so lovely to see you. Thank you. Thanks for having me on your show.
Clover: I hope that you've enjoyed listening to our conversation. I certainly really enjoyed speaking to Pearl and I hope that there's something that you can take from it that might help you or somebody else around you who's grieving. Grief is different for everybody.
There is no one size ﬁts all approach, but you don't need a degree in counselling to help a loved one who is grieving. It's about the personal support you can offer, which should always be led by what feels right for the grieving person.
The most important thing is to ensure that no one has to live through grief alone. To get more information on how to help grieving friends and relatives go to the sueryder.org/griefkindpodcast. Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it's ready. I'm Clover Stroud. Grief Kind is a Bengo Media production for Sue Ryder.
Clover Stroud: Hello and welcome to Grief Kind, a podcast by Sue Ryder which helps you to support friends and loved ones going through one of the toughest times of their lives. I'm Clover Stroud. In each episode, I'll be talking to someone who, like me, has experienced grief ﬁrsthand and who can talk about the support they've received.
Hopefully, each conversation will empower you to be Grief Kind, to avoid clamming up and to give your friends and family the love, compassion, and support that they need.
In this episode, I'm joined by the amazing Candice Brathwaite. Candice is a complete inspiration. She's a successful author, a journalist, a TV presenter, and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse and is also a huge presence on Instagram, where her straight-talking original content has become a big hit with fans. A self-confessed beaut, and fashion obsessive, Candice now has a regular style segment on Lorraine on ITV, is a contributing editor to Grazia, and often appears on national radio and television news channels. When she was just 21 Candice’s dad, Richard, died suddenly. She was living out of the country at the time and didn't get on with her dad's new family. She talks about the isolation she felt in grief and about the support she got from her friends.
Candice talks about how support isn't always doing, it's just being there. I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Clover: Candice, it's so nice to see you, and it's such a complete honour to be talking to you about this really, really important subject which deﬁnes so much of who we are and it's such a big part... Death is such a massively big part of life and how to live well too. We're going to dive straight in here. I know that you were working as a nanny in Italy and you were just 21 when your dad, Richard, died very suddenly and very unexpectedly. Do you want to start off by just telling me a little bit about the experience of ﬁnding out that your dad had died and how that happened?
Candice Brathwaite: Yes. I found out in a really harsh manner. We were just coming up to this whole Facebook time and Twitter had just started. I remember sitting down to check my emails because the host family I was with had gone away for the weekend, so I was in the apartment alone. I was getting all of these emails from my dad's colleagues that were like, "Phone me now. Phone me now." My dad was a solicitor and I used to be a receptionist at the law ﬁrm. I instinctively email my dad. I'm like, "Oh, my God. Speak to the IT guys. I think the work server has been hacked because everyone is emailing me with the same line. 'Call me now. Call me now.'"
I'm like, "Yes, something dodgy is going on." I don't know, Clover. I'm not going to lie to you. I don't know exactly when the penny dropped, but as the emails kept coming down, and there was no response from my dad, who night and day lived by his BlackBerry at the time, I was like, "I think he's dead you know." It was just so ﬂeeting and felt so silly, but there was a ﬂicker in me that was like, "Oh, they've not been scammed or hacked. He hasn't got back to me. I think he's dead." That just sounded really crazy. I called his house phone and it was engaged and then the penny really dropped because my dad and his partner at the time never used that house phone.
Then I called my maternal grandmother and I'm in a panic, and I'm like, "I think dad's died." Of course, she's like, "You sound absolutely crazy. There's no reason to think that. I'm going to call the house right now." I think it took four or ﬁve minutes for us to hang up and for her to call me back. The only thing my maternal grandmother said was, "I'm sorry," and then the ﬂoodgates opened. That was Saturday morning. I had spoken to him down the line on Wednesday evening and he said... He called me Cand. He was like, "Cand, I've got a really bad cold and I just can't shake it. I think I'm going to take a couple of days off work."
Dad taking time off work, that was unheard of, so he must have felt pretty poorly. Turns out that Saturday morning he was going to watch his beloved Arsenal play. He felt so bad. He stopped in at Whipps Cross A&E and he went into cardiac arrest in front of everyone. It turned out that it wasn't a cold, it was the ﬂu which had, for some way, become sepsis. His whole bloodstream had become infected. Even if they had propped him up in that moment, it might have just given me enough time to get home. We learned, later on, there was absolutely no going back, by the time he'd gone to hospital.
Clover: His death was very, very shocking for you, and very, very sudden. Normally, in normal circumstances, would you have been talking to him regularly? Were you very close to him? I've seen photos of him and you look exactly like him.
Candice: Yes, it's strange, I still say “we are super close”. I am his only child, I have two other siblings, but they have different dads. I'm my father's only child and we were super duper close. It just took the wind out of me and I'm often desperately jealous. I'm ashamed to say it, of those people who had longer lead times, to their family members dying, where you can put things on the table and talk things out and in some ways feel really self assured about your love for them and their love for you and you can tidy it up.
Not having that, it's weird to call it a regret, because I couldn't change that. I regret that so much, it actually ﬁlls me with slight anger. Now it's happened, I'm learning I can live past the death. What I struggle with daily is not having my say and that's such a Richard Brown thing to say, that's such a dad thing to say.
Clover: But that shock, I've had very shocking experiences with bereavement as well, and that sense of shock has stayed with me actually across the decades. It doesn't really seem to go away, the shock and the feeling of slightly being robbed and the anger that you feel because of that. That suddenness and that shock, how has that affected the way that you grieve your dad?
Candice: It's happening in stages, in increments. I did the whole lie on the ﬂoor and just drink myself into craziness for two weeks. And then it seems like I almost block out a period of time, once a quarter where I'm just like, I'm feeling down right now. Actually, I'm grieving and I have to do this in stages, because I'm just still dealing with something so loved being taken from me so quickly. So it does mean and it feels to me as though the grieving period is pulled out. I know I'm going to feel like this for life but the depth of despair, I can feel like it's been 10 years.And I feel like if it hadn't happened in that shocking way, I might not get as low as I do now.
Clover: Yes. We use the word loss, and I certainly have found my... I've lost my mother and my sister, and I've found the two experiences of grieving an acutely lonely process, and only you can walk through it, nobody else can do that for you. After your dad died, did you feel especially alone or lost? Who did you have around you?
Candice: Completely alone. I had great friends and I had okay support from family. The issue being that my mother, both her parents are still alive and my grandparents come from a time where death is death. Okay... It's just like, you bury that body and you don't even show mourning, so there's a complete disconnect there. Out of all of my friends, at that time, I was the only one to have suffered a loss in that way. I felt very alone and then to just throw salt into the wound, the period of burial was very, very messy for me.
There were strained arguments between family members and lots of ill feelings that absolutely had nothing to do with me because I'm a baby at the time or I was a baby when these feelings were ﬂoating around but now all these adults just want to shout at each other. I felt deeply alone, I actually still do, I absolutely still do. I think now actually, I might feel more alone because the pomp of the funeral has long gone. Only so few people are texting on the anniversary of his death so I feel more alone now, actually.
Clover: Do you feel more determined to keep him alive I suppose in the way that you live because of that, because of that feeling of... you're such a physical embodiment of him as well. It's a beautiful thing to see, but do you feel like a sort of duty and a sense of needing to honor him in the way that you live or the way that you parent, the way that you are?
Candice: Yes, completely, I'm always trying to keep his spirit alive, especially for my children, my son, my youngest is named Richard Jr and my daughter Esmé is very like, "Oh yes, I think grandpa Richard would have liked that." I ﬁnd that hilarious because, of course, they never met. They share a date. The day Esmé was born is the anniversary of my dad's death. I'm very into the woo-woo. I ﬁnd comfort in that. I feel like that was my dad saying, "Kid, you've got to get over this and I'm trying to take this sorrowful day and now make it this moment where you get to celebrate your kids. I'm trying to give you some light in this darkness."
Clover: I read somewhere that you said - which I found incredibly moving - you said the way that you parent is... your grief is completely wrapped around your love for your children, and that sense of the bringing your grief into your love. You have this, like, the kind of the pain and the love at the same time, and the children almost become the kind of vessel and embodiment of that.
Candice: No, honestly, I'm also really frank with Esmé about death. She's really frank about having that conversation, which is completely uncomfortable for her father because he's lost no one. Even in my day-to-day relationship, there is some friction because I'm grieving or I will make a comment about a Will or wanting to be cremated. He'll totally shut that down because he'll be like, "Oh, nonsense, we don't need to talk about that," and I'm like, "We absolutely always must speak about that," because you know we say as this ﬂippant thing, but we actually don't know when we're going to die.
I do not want the wind to be taken out of my kids' sails in the way that it was done to me. I had no preparation. I was this 20-year-old kid living in this romantic place, just clouded by a disconnect from the reality of the cycle of life because if you don't need to know, you don't know, and I'm like, "Actually we all need to know." We all need to have what I think is incorrectly pedalled as an uncomfortable conversation.
Clover: Yes, completely. [laughter]
Clover: Also I think the conversations about, what do you think... What do you want to happen? How do you want to be honoured? What do you think happens after death? I mean, my sister died very suddenly of cancer, and by the time she had secondary cancer, it was too late to have conversations with her about what do you think happens when you die? Because you can't force that conversation on somebody who is facing death as well. I now make sure that I talk to the kids all the time about what my beliefs are about what happens after death, if anything happens after death.
How they might remember me or not, and not in a morbid or maudlin or self-obsessed way, but in a really positive way actually. I think those conversations are so important. The research from Sue Ryder says as well, and I think many people will have experiences that many people just don't know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing or causing offense after death. Are you aware of friends kind of tiptoeing around you or not mentioning your dad when you wanted to, or treating you in a way that you might not want to have been treated that didn't help?
Candice: Yes, completely. At that time especially, we were all young, 19, 20, 21 max. No one knew what to do. Now I'm a bit older. I'm understanding that it's not even doing, it's just being. I've not experienced a death like that since, but there have been moments in my life where it's felt very touch and go. The most soothing thing has been people just being, just leaving food on the doorstep. Like there doesn't even have to be a discussion, right?
Just leaving food on the doorstep or just being like, "I'm popping to the shops. What can I get you?" It doesn't have to be you coming in and holding me or us having this deep four hour conversation where you feel then the heaviness of what I'm going through. It's just being, it's just silently picking up in those moments where especially, I would say in that six month period after, where the person grieving might not even wash. You might not even shower.
Clover: That's the loss of your.. the kind of physiological breakdown that happens after death when the world has turned into a jigsaw puzzle, it's got all its pieces missing, and you can't put it back together. I remember...
Candice: You are walking down the street and you see people laughing outside of a coffee shop, and you're enraged.
Clover: Yes, furious! [laughter]
Clover: How could they be so heartless? How do they not know? [laughter]
Clover: I think that that thing of just being there as well, because there also can be a
kind of-- I was aware after Nell died sometimes of like a couple of friends who were, "I really want to come over and look after you and hold you." Actually, it was very kind, but I didn't really want to be held or looked after in that way. As you said, I might just have wanted like macaroni cheese put on the... or the dog taken for a walk, or a really good friend would just email me saying, "I'm sitting outside your door and I'm there."
She's actually in America, but that sense of like, "I'm kind of walking beside you in some way or another." I have found that really helpful. Was there a standout moment with a family member or close friend where you can remember somebody really being there and really reaching out in the right way?
Candice: Due to all of this family argument, I get to the church on the day of my dad's burial and my name is not on the service sheet. The pastor doing the burial doesn't know my dad has a kid, and you know where you sit down on those seats? Everyone's family name is there and not mine, so I'm sat at the back of the church. When the pastor ﬁnds out my dad has me, and he then tells the whole congregation how he's deeply saddened and embarrassed that there seems to be some miscommunication and family friction, and that, "Richard Brown has a child and I'm going to invite her to speak," much to the dismay of many of my dad's family because they are really trying to ice me out of this situation, that much is clear.
My best friend, I've known him since we were 14, takes my hand and walks me down the aisle. Because I don't want to speak. I already know how much I'm not wanted in that moment. There was something romantic about that. There was something in the way like a woman is walked down the aisle. There was just this very transformative energy and he stood by the side of the stage as I completely, I won't lie, ripped most of the congregation for ﬁlth in that moment.
Candice: Then he just took my hand and we trotted off, and it felt like very Vogue-ish. It just felt like the Met Gala. I was just like, "Yes, power." As sad as I was, yes, that is a standout moment because that friend has done that for me time and time again in different ways, and I'm really steadying myself for when I have to return the favour because that's what friendship is, and hopefully, I'm going to do a good job just because I have this much-unwanted experience.
Clover: Yes, absolutely. It's about showing up, I suppose, absolutely. What your friend did for you. That's a really, really incredible showing up and support. What are the actual phrases? I have found, when my sister died, people said, "I can't begin to imagine what you're going through. I can't begin to imagine your grief. I can't begin to imagine how bad your pain is." I know people were trying to be helpful, but I actually found it really, really upsetting because grief is really lonely anyway, and being continually told your pain is so intense is unimaginable.
I didn't ﬁnd that very helpful at all. Like my friend saying, "I'm by your door for you," was a lot more helpful. Are there kind of actual phrases, things that people... I think that thing of not knowing what to say, what do I say? What other things that people say, do you think, which are actually helpful? I know that I like talking about who my sister was. Do you like talking about your dad?
Candice: I love that. I know why we do it, but I'm now getting into the habit because I didn't like this, "I'm so sorry for your loss." I just cut that down to, "I'm so sorry," because the reality is I didn't lose this guy. For a long time, I knew exactly where to ﬁnd him. He died, dude, he died, because even the word loss, that communicates that this is something that can be unearthed again, if we look hard enough.
It's not going to happen, you know?! Now I just tell people, "I'm sorry," because I am sorry, but I'm not going to call it a loss. The person has died and I'm frank with my language. Aside from that, like you were saying, I just like to talk about who they were and in many ways still are, the banter. I loved getting those sympathy cards that were quite cheeky. A couple of his friends were like, "I really didn't like your dad." I'm like, "I know boo-boo. I didn't like him." Just that is great.
Clover: I think being really, really, really honest about the person as well. Nobody is a saint for God's sake, are they?
Clover: I found after Nell died, some people were like, "Oh, she was such a sweet, nice person." She was a diva. She was like a real, full on diva. I wouldn't say she was sweet and nice, which makes her sound like something she really wasn't. I love people saying, "Yes, she was ferocious and a force of nature. I had a massive row with her about this at one point."
Clover: Then you can laugh about it rather than... because in a way when you also only remember these positive things about somebody, you dehumanise them. Our faults make us human, don't they?
Clover: Rather than, "He was an angel, he did all these wonderful things." There's probably that and there's also the other way where you've been really, really annoyed, had arguments, disagreements, rubbed up against each other in the wrong way, and being able to celebrate that as well, celebrating the human being that they are. Because also grief itself, there's the immediate aftermath of the death, which is as we've spoken about is very, very heightened and you had a very, very diﬃcult and traumatic experience at your dad's funeral, but grief brings out anger, rage, upset, loss, family divisions.
It doesn't… you know, I remember talking to Nell about this actually and about our mum's death and whether it had made... people think, "Oh, this is going to make you closer," as though this traumatic experience is going to pull you closer. Why should it pull you closer?
Clover: It really doesn't.
Candice: Woo. Oh, Clover, that is a word, because it actually, for me, it pulled me so far apart from family members that... my father's parents, I believe they're still alive. I absolutely don't have a relationship with them. My children don't even know they exist.
That's just how it has to be for the sake of my mental health. Also that's just not how death and grief is written about or sold. Again, it's like, birth, marriage, death they bring families and communities together. We all huddle together and we're uber loving. No.
Death especially I found, especially in the black community, lots of tension. Lots of people who for decades have kept stuff on their chests now see someone they don't like across the room at the wake, and the sandwiches go ﬂying, literally. It's like, it's that too.
I know I just said, "Don't use the word loss," but in this way it makes sense. I've had to understand that my dad's death has cost me losses in other areas.
Clover: Yes, I hear you on that.
Candice: I'm not solely grieving the fact that he's died. I am grieving a relationship that will not be between my grandparents and my children. I am grieving and I think it's important to say this because this still feels rare to me, but the more I talk about it, it's not. I'm grieving the fact that I have no physical place to grieve my dad, as his ashes were scattered without me and I don't know where. I'm grieving the loss of having a physical... there are so many things tied into this death that I always try to communicate with people, some deaths are the messiest thing that are ever going to enter your life.
Clover: It's as though death sends a domino of other losses forward, doesn't it?
Clover: That can be very unexpected and very... exacerbates many, many, many-fold the pain of the loss of this person that you love and the loss of the complicated, beautiful relationship. That thing of not having a place to go to, do you feel that like having a place to go and be? You don't have a grave or a cemetery or anything or place to go to where... That must be really, really hard.
Candice: I think one of the hardest things. Like, I think second to him actually dying that is just the hump in the road that this girl cannot get over. I struggle with that and I ﬁnd great peace in just walking through cemeteries. I cannot pass one without stopping and walking really slowly and taking in these people's headstones, the information, and thinking about their life. I know it's because I don't have that for the person in my life that I still love who has died. I ﬁnd myself trying to pick up the energy of other people. That is the toughest thing.
Clover: I also ﬁnd people talk about, "Oh, look inside your heart or go to the places that she liked," in my sister's case, or, "Cook the things that she liked." I actually have not always found that very helpful at all. Sometimes it just makes me even more aware of her absence. Especially in the ﬁrst six months, I found myself talking to her and then you kind expect some mystical voice to answer you as the clear sign. Obviously you don't, you just hear the kids ﬁghting in the other room and the resounding silence. Where do you go to ﬁnd your dad now? Where is he with you? How is he with you now?
Candice: It sounds mushy, but just in my heart and also very much in my space. There are things that have happened in my life. Situations, opportunities. I do always like, look over my shoulder and I'm like, "I hear you, thanks." Because they just feel so Richard
Brown-esque. Or, "I've got you, dad, I hear that." Because I dream about him, not often, but when I do the message is always really clear and really sincere. I have my own thoughts about what happens after death, but I treat my dreams... I take them very seriously and they're very sacred to me. I'll wake up and I'll write it down and I'd be like, "Right, I heard that. Thanks for that warning or that message."
Clover: What about anniversaries? They're really hard, aren't they? How do you get through the anniversaries? Who helps you? Do you do anything together? The birthdays, the death days, the funeral days?
Candice: Who helps us? When his birthday comes around, I do just honour that silently. The anniversary is so different because again, it's Esmé's birthday and Esmé's really aware of like, "Oh, this is the day grandpa Richard died." It just gets all wrapped into that, and the death anniversary doesn't feel sad at all anymore. Like I said, maybe that was his gift, I don't know, but I'm just like, "Oh, I miss you and I wish you could see your granddaughter, but here we are, we're going to celebrate, we're going to look at these photos. We're going to have these conversations."
And then Richard Jr comes bounding down the stairs and it's like, Richard Sr has entered the chat and we are like, "Oh, we're not missing him at all, are we? Because Richard is here, turning over the table." I'm lucky in that regard though, I'm so lucky. Am I lucky, or... As I say, was the universe as I call it like, "Oh my God, let's throw this girl a rope." She's got no idea where his remains are, she's got nowhere to mourn and grieve. Let's give her something. You know?
Clover: Do you suddenly get that moment where you feel like you've been knocked to your knees? You've been winded? Where something really catches you off your guard, which obviously happens continually to start with, following death?
Candice: Now, those winded moments are when good things are happening. I'm like, "Oh, I wish you could see this or experience it," or - you may have this with Nell or your mum - where they might have called something for you and now it's happening and they're not here. That's really strange because all around you, people are like, "Well done, this is really great," but you come home and you just curl up. Because you're like, "There were 500 of you in that room and none of you were the right person!"
Candice: None of you were giving me the energy I needed! That again, it's just like that tautness of always being pulled because great things are happening. I'm smiling again, the good is outweighing the bad feelings, right? It's in those really good happy moments, like having another kid, or... I'm just like, "The one person..."
Clover: You want in the room there? Yeah.
Candice: Yes. It's just not... and what's so funny is I know that I only really want you here because you’re not.
Clover: Absolutely. I think those conversations, to anybody listening to this, I think I would really, really urge people to have the conversations with the living about death and about how we deal with it, and how we... what happens after the death of the people that we love and how we treat each other and how we honour each other is really, really fundamentally important. Just the last thing, really, if somebody is listening to this podcast because they want to help somebody in pain, they want to reach out, what words of advice would you give to them about how to help somebody, what to do? Just some advice about dealing with a friend in pain, helping a friend.
Candice: Advice? Just being, and a lot of patience, because I can look back and categorically say I lost my mind a bit. I lost my sense of self. I lost my entire being. This isn't months, that took years, years to piece back together. There was one particular friend who was there with me on the day of my dad's funeral, not the one who walked me down the aisle, who then couldn't be my friend because it was too hard for her, and she came back into my life when Esmé was born.
It's patience, because if you are that kind of friend, you are going to want to patch up and make good and ﬁll a gap and you absolutely can't do that, so you just have to be, and in just being, it does mean that you might have to stand back and watch a car wreck for a couple of years.
Clover: Yes. [laughter]
Candice: That takes time. This is absolutely not your friend not getting a text back from a guy at uni. This is absolutely not them not getting a job they thought they wanted. This is something that we cannot replace or put a puzzle piece in or use anything to plug that hole. That hole starts to get smaller over time, and I feel like with grief, the person grieving of course, but also those trying to support and help, we're always trying to speed it up.
We're always, "Okay let's hurry this along. What club can we go to? What book can we..." You just have to be, and if being means sitting on the other side of the bathroom door for four hours or making sure the milk hasn't gone off or offering to collect a kid or walk a dog, that's what it is.
Clover: Yes. I think that long term thing, that kind of long term walking beside your friends and it isn't just the ﬁrst two weeks, isn't just the ﬁrst month, it's a big process that changes you forever, doesn't it? Real friendship and real patience and understanding and love is true friendship basically, isn't it? It’s so important to people who are grieving and who are changed by the death of the people that they love around them. It's been so, so nice talking to you Candice. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Grief is different for everybody. There is no one size ﬁts all approach, but you don't need a degree in counseling to help a loved one who is grieving. It's about the personal support you can offer, which should always be led by what feels right for the grieving person. The most important thing is to ensure that no one has to live through grief alone. To get more information on how to help grieving friends and relatives, go to sueryder.org/griefkindpodcast. Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it's ready. I'm Clover Stroud. Grief Kind is a Bengo Media production for Sue Ryder.
Clover Stroud: Hello and welcome to Grief Kind, a podcast by Sue Ryder, which helps you to support friends and loved ones going through one of the toughest times of their lives. I'm Clover Stroud. In each episode, I'll be talking to someone who, like me, has experienced grief ﬁrst-hand and who can talk about the support they've received.
Hopefully, each conversation will empower you to be Grief Kind, to avoid clamming up, and to give your friends and family the love, compassion, and support that they need.
In this episode, I'm joined by BAFTA-winning actress Lisa Riley. Lisa's mum, Cath, died from pancreatic cancer back in 2012. Twelve years after she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. In this interview, Lisa explains how she's still grieving nine years later and if you're looking to support someone who's grieving, Lisa talks about the importance of letting them know you're there without forcing your help onto them.
Lisa is so incredibly open about her grief and I really hope you get a lot out of our conversation. Lisa, it's so lovely to see you. Welcome to Grief Kind. I've heard you speaking really openly and articulately so many times about your mum and about grief and how it's affected you and the role it plays in your life. I'm really looking forward to this conversation.
Lisa Riley: Thank you.
Clover: I'd love to start to just know a little bit more about your lovely mum, Cath. What can you tell us about her?
Lisa: Mum was the life and soul. Anyone that knows me, she made me look timid and that's not an exaggeration. I always say that mum was the oxygen of the room. She
loved people. She listened. All my best friends were like, it was always the line of, I wish I had a mum like you. She would take everyone's problems on and she never judged people. That's one attribute that I've taken from her. That's how I live my life every single day.
Her love for life, her smile, which I'm so glad that I've carried on, I promised her even in her last week of her life, I said "If one part of your legacy I'm taking, it's your smile" and it's that electricity where it becomes so inviting for others. That's what she did. She just invited people in. She'd be walking around the supermarket, it'd be like, oh, there's Cath Riley, because she had this zest for life. I suppose that's sometimes when you go, why take my mum so soon? It's one of those which is another layer to my personal daily pain.
Clover: Yes. That feeling of the people who are so loving and radiant and bring so much joy and happiness to other people's lives, when they get taken, that unfairness of it can make you feel incredibly angry as well, can't it? Why did it have to be her? I really sympathise with that feeling.
Lisa: I went through a huge part of my grief, which I've read about this, they do call it the why-time. When you put the news on and you see all the pain, anguish in the world, you go, why have you taken my mum? What's my mum done? Happened today. I want to ring my mum. I want to call my mum and say, "Look what's happening." I'm like, "Mum, why can't you?" I spend my life just talking to the ether. Even if people think I'm bonkers, I don't care because that's my conversation with mum.
Clover: Well, we'll talk a bit later about how you live with her ongoing in your life but tell us a little bit more about her initial diagnosis because she was diagnosed with cancer I think in 2000. Is that right?
Lisa: Yes. I always make time for my family no matter what but my ﬁlming schedule is full-on and of the day when I'm not learning lines of an evening or shooting during the day. So, Friday night, no matter what, was always family night. Wherever I was, whether it was in London, in Manchester, in Leeds, where I was ﬁlming, we'd always go back to mum and dad's house. I arrived at the house and dad was in the lounge. I went upstairs and mum was, "Oh, I'm just ﬁnishing my shower off." She literally came out of the shower, saw me was, "Oh, hi darling." Then she went for a cuddle. The towel dropped and I saw. Got me crying already. It's really normal. I do this all the time. Sorry.
Clover: Oh, I understand. Please don't apologise. I understand.
Lisa: Mum's towel dropped. I saw her areola look really wrong. I'm a woman. I know what breasts are supposed to look like. The inversion of her nipple was very blatant for me to see. The colouration around her areola and I was like, "What's that?" She was like, "Oh my god, don't be a drama queen. It's ﬁne." She completely shrugged it and now I know why because she'd obviously been living with that for so, so long. We didn't talk about it then as much as we do now and that awareness wasn't there.
Me being me, control freak, I was like, "I'm going to go into action here". I rang Mr Dsouza who I knew had a phenomenal rating of his brilliance and certainly with breast cancers. I rang him and I was like no matter what happens, please can you see mum? We got her in to see Mr Dsouza and I'm an actress, I know what people are feeling. I pick up on people. I watch. We were taught at the drama school and no matter how brilliant Mr Dsouza is, I read it straight away.
They said, "Okay, we're going to do all the tests now." Everything happened then really really quick. And you knew, it was the speed of it, everyone was like something's happening and lo and behold mum had a stage four breast cancer and they got her into the hospital very very quickly. She had the full mastectomy, all the lymph nodes removed. At that point, while she was in the hospital, we got quite angry as a family because it was like... I know it's lovely and people are being really kind but the counsellors were coming in and doing again this tilted head thing which still drives me crackers today, don't tilt your head at me. It's a really patronising thing.
They go giving more pamphlets and pamphlets and and we were like it's okay but thank you, we'll deal with this as if they were basically saying, will you please go and get your mum's casket sorted? It's as if they were literally wearing a t-shirt saying go and order a casket now. Mum felt that at the time and all her time throughout hospital, she had a picture of me and our Liam, next to her bed.
She just said, "No matter what happens, I'm ﬁghting and I won't stop ﬁghting for you two because you are all I need in life." My dad's strength at that point was really really really brilliant, really brilliant. To see how she fought and how she always would say, "There are so many other people who are worse off than me" and she took the mickey because she did have large breasts, she was like, "Look at me, I'm wonky donkey" because she had one big breast and one of them, she didn't want a reconstruction. Whether or not that was a psychological thing thinking, I won't be around and she's like, "I've done my bit with your dad. Your dad's happy."
That was what we always did. We always laughed and we always made jokes. The hardest thing, Clover, was mum losing her hair. She didn't care about losing her breast, she couldn't bear it. My mum went grey very very young. We used to call her salt and pepper when my Nana died, my mum's mum, and it her trademark, it was her. Her brilliant white hair from being so so young. It was dreadful. To see her try the wigs on and to try and again take the comedy side, was hard.
Clover: Yes. I completely hear that. My sister had breast cancer and she had beautiful... You got me going as well.
Lisa: You're painting a picture. You know the moments.
Clover: Yes, she had beautiful long blonde curly hair and I know for her losing that as well... We're are both crying at the moment and it's very nice to be able to cry in front of you because with some people, you feel as though you can't really manifest this grief and there is a kind of convention, I suppose, of keeping it down as well, isn't there?
Which is incredibly diﬃcult.
Lisa: Do you feel as well sometimes like... I don't know how long it's been, forgive me, since your sister passed.
Clover: She died in December 2019 just before the beginning of lockdown basically.
Lisa: Oh, horrendous. Do you sometimes feel... I get this a lot where it's like, am I supposed to be over it now? Are people looking at me like I'm a fool? I'm sat here crying with you now, Clover, and I'm like, will Clover think that I'm foolish that I'm still in so much pain? It was 2000 when the dates and stuff, and you look back and you go, oh, it's going to come to the end of July and am I supposed to be feeling better now? That feeling where I said before about how mum never judged people, I feel like I'm being judged because of grief.
I've done so much to personally tackle it and get through it myself and also, of course, help my family, but fundamentally, it doesn't go away. You learn to live with it and people say every day is different and everybody is different. It's like cancer. Cancer is different to every single human being, so is grief. How you're going to feel, how I'm going to feel, how my auntie's going to feel, we're all different, and that's why today this is so important because it's okay to feel how you're feeling.
Clover: Absolutely. No, I think that that's a really important message to get across and to allow people to feel like this and express what the pain is like. Also to remember the person and talk about the person. I think that's really important.
Will you tell me a little bit about your mum's last few hours because I've heard that she actually had a very beautiful ﬁnal time with you as a family. I love your descriptions of the fact... I think this is so important in life... that you have to be able to laugh about everything, don't you? Even saying this makes me want to cry, but that the need whilst you are in the most extraordinary pain and grief and anger, but you can still have a laugh and that's a very important human reaction. Will you tell me a little bit about her last hours?
Lisa: Yes. The last three days we got what was called a night nanny, amazing. The night nanny was brought in for me and my dad and my brother to eradicate fear, it's a wonderful idea. I would advise anyone to do it when you're told it could be any hour now.
We had the night nanny in and she was fantastic and she gives you space and mum's like, she was just so tired, and all she was having was on a tiny little cube sponge, we were to give neat orange just to dampen down her lips. Any minutes, hours she was lucid for, we wanted that time and we were there in the house the whole time. Dad and Liam would go back to my dad's house and then they'd come back and I was always there. I didn't sleep at all. I was just watching her like a newborn baby.
The morning she died. The night nanny said, "It's going to be today". They know, don't they? They know, and there was a lot of morphine involved as there always is at the end. She had the morphine that morning. We come from a very, very devout Catholic family.
I'm a bit lapsed now, but my mum's side, very much so. We called the priest and, of course, one thing you're taught and, my mum, from being a little girl, I was taught in a convent the respect you have for the priests and the nuns, but we had fun. We had a laugh.
Auntie Joyce was sat at the head of the bed with mum and everyone was around my auntie, who's now since passed away. My uncle, three of my dearest friends who were like her children, my brother, and my dad. We're all around the bed. Father Paul is there and giving mum last rites. Obviously, I won't swear, I'll say exactly what she said. She looks up at the priest and she says, "What the 'f' are you doing here?!"
I tell you, Clover, we have dined out on that story so much, so much because you don't swear to a priest. That's mum. That laughter and all of us. Then she looked around and she said, "I feel like I’m in an episode of the Sopranos".
And I love that. I remember I was in the back bedroom. I could hear it, after the priest had gone and everyone was downstairs, we used this line, because it's the truth, in the eulogy. I heard her say to Auntie Joyce, she said, "Joyce, darling, I love you. You've been my world, my rock, forever." She said, "Can you please knock some trees down?" Joyce said, "Why?" She said, "For the amount of paper that Lisa's going to need to write my eulogy."
[laughter and crying]
And I think, amazing. That's her. Absolutely amazing. That was very early on. She passed at 7:29pm that night. It was so peaceful. She was in my arms, dad was on the chair, Liam stood at the base of the bed. [crying] We made her so comfy and she knew. About two hours before she died, she said, "The love that I've been blessed with in this family, there are no bounds, but please don't ﬁght." She knew because that's what happens because you can't make it better. [crying]
Clover: Thank you so much for sharing that with me.
Lisa: It's important.
Clover: She just sounds so... I love the fact that she was making so many jokes. It's brilliant. I can feel the love, I can really feel it. I think it's really useful for people listening to this podcast to know about how grief manifested itself for you over the next few months and who was around to support you and how were you best supported?
Lisa: Absolutely. I've talked about this, Clover, openly. As I said before, grief is so
individual. I’ve got my dear friend, Lizzie, who lost her father and her brother very very close together and we spoke about this at length because we're in our little club, we're in our grief club and you will get this. Only when someone has died who you love more than words can say, understands that pain and the anguish and how you feel. My advice to everyone listening to this is ﬁnd your own club, ﬁnd people who do understand. There will be and there'll be so many people that want to be able to listen to go and say to you, I feel the same. It’s ok to feel like that and have that bubbling anger.
Same with my brother. Like why am I the one that cries openly? Is it because I'm a girly girl? He deals with things differently than me. He didn't love mum any less at all but it's how we are all dealing with it. With my dad, that sheer denial. I often used to look at him and I used to go, "She's not coming back". To see my dad's pain, when I kept saying, "Dad, she's not coming back." He knew because he knew that he could never be to me what mum was. I love my dad so much but it was always me and my mum against the world and everyone that knows us. They say it now. It's like I lost my left arm. I did. I lost my left arm.
Clover: As a family, do you feel as though you supported each other because grief can also do diﬃcult and terrible things to families, can't it? Do you feel as though you were able to be together and give each other the space or the comfort that you needed?
Lisa: Absolutely. That's where Strictly was our family. It was our family grief pot, this big pot that we were in together because they would come down every Saturday from
Manchester, they would get the train together and Natalie, my sister-in-law, they'd come to the audience, everyone made a fuss of them and obviously, my dancing was growing and they were loving it and they were very involved.
Obviously, Jakey, my eldest nephew had been born in the September before. Liam had Jakey and a child, a baby can be such a great distraction, and Jakey was at that time. I
think Liam completely threw his love into his newborn boy and we both have that feeling with Jakey that he was alive when his Nana was around.
Clover: Yes, that's important, isn't it?
Lisa: We were solid. We were just unbelievably solid. The best moment we always talk about was never thinking for one minute within Strictly that I would get to Wembley. In our year, we didn't we have Blackpool, we had Wembley in my year. The producers knew at that point I was really struggling. Robin must have spoke to them and said, I don't know, she's in a mess. There's only so much you can cover me in sequins and do my hair and not hide the pain that I was feeling.
I never wanted the press to know that mum had just died because mum wouldn't have wanted anyone voting for us knowing that she'd just passed. We were told that I was going to open Wembley and to this day, I will never ever be able to thank one of the producers more. She organised that dad and Liam and Natalie, my sister-in-law, were on the front row of Wembley. Me and Robin are going to open Wembley like all those years she took me to drama school and to say that and Kim left a seat empty so mum was there and that night was magical because I just said, "Mum, watch, I'm going to open Wembley for you." And I did.
I can say that I'm not blowing smoke up my own bottom here but I rocked Wembley, I did. Bruce Forsyth, God rest his soul, he couldn't speak. The reaction of the crowd and if anyone saw it now, the actual clip, Bruce can't actually get his words out. Everyone knew that night was dedicated to Cath. It was Cath's night and she was on my shoulders. The family unit, that brought us so solid together, it was unbelievable. Fantastic moment.
Lisa: I've said before about my brother. I did struggle initially with the fact that he didn't show emotion that I was. Maybe I was judging myself going, "Why can't I stop crying?
What is wrong with me?" Annoying myself. I would take that frustration and inner niggling out on him numerous times. There was this one time when I was at home, I'd gone back home and we were in the supermarket and moving the trolley getting all the stuff and we had one of those moments.
It was like, we're both thinking the same thing. We're looking and we're choosing and there was the lemon curd on the shelf in the supermarket. We both look because mum
loved lemon curd so much. You know those tears like now, when you cry and they're just dropping, you're not actually sobbing, they're just falling because that's just raw pain?
Lisa: I turned to Liam really frustrated. I was like, "Why aren't you feeling this? Why aren't you feeling like I'm feeling?" Anyway, that happened in the supermarket and we went home. Few months later, my sister-in-law, Nat, when Liam took the children out, she said to me, she said, "Can I ask you personal question Lis?" I was like, "Please, anything you want." She's like, "You know that day you stayed over and you and Liam went to supermarket?" I was like, "Yes." She's like, "Did you two have a massive argument, a huge barney?" I was like, "No, no, why?" She said, "Oh, it was just because Liam wept the whole night and went to sleep on the couch."
That was his way. From that moment on, Clover, I have completely owned it and understand that Liam's way is internal. He knows that as his big sis, I'm here for him 24/7, but his way is that.
Clover: I think that's really interesting. Do you think that what we can take from that is that you have to make allowances for anybody's behavior or any behavior, I suppose?
However, somebody might be holding in, somebody might be weeping, somebody might need to be really angry, but the way to help somebody in grief is to, I suppose, be present to them, but not judge in any way whatsoever.
Lisa: You've hit the nail. You've said everything there. That's exactly what you have to do. You have to let them be how they're being. If they do snap at you or they bite, they don't mean it. They don't. It's just so natural. There's only so many times, however you might go to a bookstore and buy every book on grief and you might ﬁnd six pages that relate to you, 166 pages won't relate to you in that book as well. Just know, those six pages are you and that's allowed.
Just hope and pray that your family, your peripheral family and certainly your friendship group will know that there's no angst, nothing. Not at all. It's just you have to go, "I will phone you. If I need you, I will phone you." Please don't tilt your head at me and please don't go, are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?
Clover: Yes, "How are you?" [laughs]
Lisa: Yes. Asking, "Are you okay? Are you coping?" What? It's like January 10th, mum's birthday, Mother's Day. Yes, they're painful, don't get me wrong, but there's some days which are even more painful because I think we probably have this internal mechanism that I go, "Oh, it's January 10th. It's January 10th. Mum's birthday is coming up." I think about my dad. I think about how dad's going to feel, how's Liam going to feel.
My brother is incredible the way he brings his children up that we talk about Nana Riley all the time. She lives in the moon. The children, every birthday of theirs, we always let the balloons off and they're going to Nana Riley. I love that. I'm so grateful that Liam lets that happen.
Clover: Yes. It would be lovely to talk a bit about how your mum is present to you now and to your family and to the children, and how you mark anniversaries and how you get through anniversaries because they're all so very painful, aren't they?
Lisa: They are. They are. Mother's Day, I zone into my sister-in-law, Natalie, for being the best mum to my nephews and niece. Unfortunately, my biological clock didn't let me be a mother. Also, I said many years ago, I don't know if I could have ever coped having a child, knowing I wouldn't want my child to go through the pain that I go through, and that's always been in my little, I call it my hamster cog in my head that goes around, because I wouldn't want to do that to my worst enemy. I really wouldn't.
Together, Christmas, and please, please forgive me if this makes me sound a bit bah humbug. It's a day. I sometimes really want to work at Christmas to make it go away. Me and Al, my ﬁancé, for the past three years, we've gone away for Christmas. We're just us together and he knows if I have a little blip and I have a bit of a wobble that he is absolutely incredible of knowing that I don't need smothering. He'll say to me, "Why don’t you go and ring your dad or go and FaceTime your dad and make sure your dad’s okay as well." My dad's so lucky because he's hugely involved with Liam and the children.
That's his safe haven, and because as always, I do, I throw myself into my work, but then again, I am very lucky because I can use my pain within my work. I've been shooting Paul's death, my partner in the show, and I remember Ruth, one of our sound operators and lovely Simon, one of our cameramen, they were like, "How do you cry?" Because some actors use tear sticks. I've never used a tear stick in my life, and if you do, that's ﬁne. I was like, "I've got a really special angel who always wants me to do well." She was there when I started acting at nine years old and here I am approaching 45 in July. She's still with me, Clover. I do it, and I prove myself.
The best WhatsApps I get is with Three Girls, when we got the BAFTA, and I did this for my mum, but every WhatsApp said, your mum would be so proud of you. Your mum would be... Every single, nothing about the awards. Nothing, and Three Girls, was a groundbreaking drama, but nothing more, it was the reams of messages of, "Your mum would be so proud."
Clover: Yes, do you feel that part of your grief and understanding your grief is also about understanding her ongoing presence in your life? I suppose... Do you feel that you are taking her forward with you?
Lisa: I made that promise that her legacy would live on through me, and we had a saying, me and mum said this literally till a few days before she passed away, "Live your life so the priest doesn't have to lie at your funeral." That is the gospel mantra that we live by. I have an inscription in my kitchen. It's on the wall in my kitchen and that's who we are, and that's what I do, and I have to do it for her because I feel her presence. I do feel her. I feel like, and yellow, everyone knows yellow is so my mum. Everything yellow, it's like they say, look for signs. Whenever it's yellow, it's my mum.
Everyone laughs at me, she's in every room in the house apart from the toilets, my three bathrooms, she's not in there, but in every room, there's pictures of her, and they will never, ever go.
Clover: It sounds like you've got incredible support in your family and in your work as well. That's a really wonderful thing. When you are having a bad day or a bad moment, what other things do the people who are close to you, around you, what do they do to help you with your grief?
Lisa: They were very aware. They read me, and they call it BB, it's bravado button. I do press the bravado button sometimes. I don't know if you're the same. We would go out all my girls together, who knew her, who grew up with her from being... We're still the bestest of friends now, we're all 45, we were all at school together, and we'll sit and we'll talk about her and remember stories that sometimes I'd forgotten something like, “Oh my god, do you remember she did that? Do you remember she did that?”
There was one the other day we were laughing when she fell off a stool and we shouldn't be laughing, but it was hilarious. The wedding we were going to, she literally looked like she'd been battered by Tyson because her glasses, and she had this big black eye, but we were just laughing because we want to relive those moments.
My dad's really, really brilliant in that sense, and we celebrated his birthday and we'd made this diabetic cheesecake for him, and he was just like, "Oh, you're just like your mother, you just like your mother." That is the best gift. It doesn't cost anything, it's free, and he said, "You’re just like your mother" because I want to be. I don't want to live it through, and I want dad to feel comfy, the same with my brother and my sister-in-law and the kids. I want her laughter to ring through the house. We made that promise to her.
Clover: I suppose, as time passes, that ability to really celebrate and really, really remember, I suppose even when you're having really acute pain, as you said, you get together with your girlfriends and you really, really remember her, whether it's her falling, the barstool, I think that does get easier with time, doesn't it? Because I found, and still ﬁnd, immediately after my sister died, I sometimes just couldn't think about her, I couldn't look at photographs of her because it was too painful but as the time and it is obviously... We've both cried in this podcast but as time moves forward, the ability to feel the joy of the person, actually in your life, actually manifesting itself in your life, gets stronger, I think.
Lisa: Yes, which is why sometimes always let your nearest and dearest know. Like I said before about the anger thing, let them know that it's okay to write a letter to you or write an email where they're not expecting your response. Just go, oh, “do you remember when Cath did this? Do you know what Cath meant to me? Have I ever told you what Cath did this time? Do you remember when Cath”... Just put it down in an email and send it, never ever wanting a reply. Just know that the person on the other side, ie me or you, is reading that and you are giving them such joy possibly through tears, you know, but let them know that you're there when needed. I love that. That's what we always say to my friends and they know that now. I've learned obviously when friends of mine have lost people because I'm going to stand back now and I'm going to do it the way I like.
That might not be right for them but that's the way I know.
Clover: I think that bit of advice you've just given of “put down any memories” because I lost my mum a long time ago as well and people who knew her when she was a young woman, I love hearing just these little things. It could just be a few lines. I think that's a wonderful piece of advice.
Let's just ﬁnish up with... For somebody going through what you've been through, what I've been through, so many of us, which we all will go through as well, what is the most useful piece of advice that you could say to somebody who's supporting a close friend or family member who's lost someone that they really, really love? What is a piece of advice of something that they could say or something that they could do that would be helpful?
Lisa: First of all, never be scared to let the other person know that you're there for them but it's how you approach it. My advice would be, go to the shop and buy them a notebook and a pen, write your name at the top and give that and just leave it and say, "Write down in there everything that you want to when you're ready, and hopefully, there'll be a time in the future where we can come together and read together those moments."
That's being a true, true friend. It's this word and I never use this word, you probably know this - understanding - because there isn't a way. Know that this word, you can't use it, there's not a way of understanding because it doesn't exist. It doesn't exist where grief exists. Find your own feeling towards the other person and know that it's okay and don't suffocate, that's my biggest advice.
Please don't suffocate the person. They know you're there, they know you're at the end of a phone, they know they can walk to your property and say, "Can we go and grab a cup of tea together?" They know that but let them come for a cup of tea, don't go to them. From the time of the loved one dying to the day of the funeral… My biggest advice is there's a reason the funeral companies are so incredible and so solid and so kind, is because that's what they do every day and that's why they do, with the love in their heart for the families. Just know that the family have to deal with it together. Please don't try and throw yourself in that bowl because your worth and your love is so much more needed afterwards. I swear by that.
Clover: This is a long process, isn't it? People sometimes want to help in the beginning but weeks, months, years later, that's when the support is needed.
Clover: It's beautiful seeing you so open with your emotions. I think it's really, really helpful to people. Thank you so much, Lisa. It's been such a privilege talking to you today. I'm so grateful for you.
Lisa: I've only met you on here but I will say what my mum would say and I can feel it just through speaking to you, you are one of life's luxuries. That's what mum would have said so I'm thanking you. That's a mum sentence, that's a Cath sentence. You are.
Clover: Oh, so beautiful.
Lisa: Thank you, I mean it.
Clover: My thanks to Lisa Riley for her time and her incredible honesty. Grief is different for everybody. There is no one-size-ﬁts-all approach, but you don't need a degree in counselling to help a loved one who is grieving. It's about the personal support you can offer, which should always be led by what feels right for the grieving person.
The most important thing is to ensure that no one has to live through grief alone. To get more information about how to help grieving friends and relatives, go to
sueryder.org/griefkindpodcast. Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it's ready. I'm Clover Stroud, Grief Kind is a Bengo Media production for Sue Ryder.
More ways to be Grief Kind
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- Read our bereavement information
More information and advice
Grief Kind - a Sue Ryder campaign
When it comes to something as tough as grief, it can be hard to know what to say or do that might help someone you love. That’s why we're creating a national movement of kindness and helping more people get the confidence to support their loved ones through grief. Learn more about Grief Kind.
Grief Kind Spaces
Find out more about our new Sue Ryder Grief Kind Spaces across the country, giving people who are grieving access to informal, in-person, peer-to-peer support.
What to say to someone who has been bereaved
While each bereaved person’s experience will be different, these tips will give you ideas for how to help them feel heard and supported.