Writing about death: the last taboo

The last two months has seen my freelance work take me down one particular theme – death and bereavement – for three separate clients and three very different audiences. This was all very much unplanned, but has been a very enlightening experience, if a little tricky at times.

I felt like I wanted to talk about it in a more informal setting in my blog because, let’s be honest, talking about death is a toughie – and not exactly light-hearted pre-bedtime reading for someone who has to work late into the evening quite regularly (thank you husband for putting up with me during this time!).

But at the same time I have found a lot of comfort in discovering more about the amazing health professionals and care workers who are there for people at the end of their life, as well as the people who are there to help anyone who has experienced a loss.

Keeping the memory alive

Although I am a journalist who can research all the right things to say, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have taken my own advice at times following personal experiences of bereavement. Yet, having interviewed various counsellors, psychologists and support workers for some of this work in particular, I have learnt a great deal about this process.

I understand that grief is no longer about just moving on with your life and getting through the various stages of grief until you are ‘all better’. It is about taking that person with you throughout your life – there is a theory that explains this, but I won’t go into the whole psychology, as really it’s quite simple; it’s about your relationship with that person continuing even after they’ve passed way. So this could be remembering them on certain anniversaries, or doing something that will keep their memory alive on a special day, whether it is a family wedding or at the birth of a child.

Re-telling your story

One big thing I could relate to is that people want to re-tell their stories. I found myself doing this after my father died aged just 46 when I was almost 20, and more recently when I lost my step dad very suddenly to a heart attack. I would speak about it again and again to anyone who would listen – so it could have been about the last time I spoke to him, when I found out, or the day we said our goodbyes.

It dawned on me recently that I hadn’t gone through any of these moments for years – does this mean I have done my grieving? Well no, you never stop missing someone, but it does mean that I have learnt to cope, that I have managed to move on and that now I remember the more happy memories rather than the sad ones. This is what counselling can do for people; I didn’t have counselling to help me do this, but I did have the support of some great people at various stages of my life.

It made me think about how often as humans we push aside people’s feelings following a grief. We don’t want to upset people by bringing it up, but sometimes the things that make people more upset is the not talking about it. One of my best friends sends me a ‘X’ in a text message or instant message every single year without fail on the anniversary of my dad’s passing. I don’t have to say anything back, she just knows how I will be feeling.

Helping someone deal with a bereavement

I don’t blame the people who don’t talk about death, I understand it so much myself. We want to brush it off because we are scared of upsetting someone or having an awkward conversation – and we don’t want to appear morbid. But I think we should all try and remember that just because someone has lost someone, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to keep their memory alive.

So the next time you have a friend or family member who is going through a bereavement, send them a note with a memory in it that you may have of that person, enclose a photograph of a happy memory or remember them on certain days and give them the opportunity to chat about that person. But most of all, remember that grief isn’t just something that happens in the weeks after a death, it can affect you months or even years later. We all have to go through it, but we certainly don’t need to go through it alone.

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  1. Hi Julia,
    Really enjoyed this, and your other articles.
    (Sorry I’m always slow to find these things!)
    Hope life is treating you well

    • Thanks Liz, sorry I only just saw this as well, have an issue with so many spam comments and takes me a while to get through them all! Glad you enjoyed reading it. Hope you are good and the new job is going well 🙂 x

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