If you tell people that you lost someone close to you, you will have heard this at some point.
People, try as they might, aren’t very good at understanding and compassion. ‘Oh, well, they will have had a good life if they were old anyway’. ‘If they were sick then it is probably for the best’. ‘They would be so proud of you’. It is all sweet and the thought is there. It is meant to be reassuring and I am not trying to fault anyone. I’m not trying to demean the efforts that people make. Hell, I have told myself all of those things at some point or another. But how much better do they really make people feel?
I’m 21 years old. I am blessed to have a huge family, who love and care for each other so much. My life hasn’t always been straightforward or easy but I have always been grateful for it. I have always been grateful for the incredible people in my life, especially my family. Three amazing younger siblings, all of whom are my favourite for different reasons. My mum, basically my best friend and number one confidant. My stepdad, my dad, my uncle, my aunties, cousins, grandparents, great-grandparents. So so many important people. Losing them hurts a lot.
When I was younger, I always thought that heartbreak came from the end of something romantic. I thought having a person like that in my life and them leaving was the worst feeling I could experience. And yeah, that sort of heartbreak does hurt. But the first time my heart was truly broken was a little less than two years ago.
Paul Summers was many wonderful things. A beloved teacher, who managed to be the class clown from the front of the classroom with his endless supply of satsumas. A local councillor who cared about his community. A sportsman, who seemed to shake off that dodgy knee every time he got in a gig or hit the squash court.
More importantly, he was my Pops. Not just a granddad. A very important father figure that taught me more than I realised at the time. A best friend who would take the piss out of me like no one else. An inspiration and the reason I want to be a teacher.
He was there when things were bad. He looked after me, my mum, my brother, in what was a very difficult time and a time where my relationship with my actual dad was so bad that I’m not sure I’ve ever properly got past it. But it wasn’t just those bad times when he was there. It was the day I got my GCSE results, the day I found out I was going to the Gig Rowing World Champs, the day I got accepted into university. That bear hug and that ‘well done’. His death came as such a shock. He wasn’t sick or meant to die. He wasn’t meant to go yet.
So when I got that call from my mum, sat in the ugly room in my uni halls, my heart broke. I’ve rewritten this sentence so many times trying to get the right words but none do it justice. I could say that it felt like my chest was being crushed, that it felt like the world was crumbling down, that it felt like I was drowning. It felt like all of those and none of those and all of them combined. The thing about grief is that each time I think about it, it all feels just as shocking and horrible and overwhelming as it did then. Grief is not steady or continuous. It can ebb or flow or come in waves or not come at all; it’s monsoon season and it’s a drought. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why grief hits us in the way that it does and no person will have the same experience of grief. My brother and I ended up becoming very distant because I couldn’t understand his process of grieving and he couldn’t understand mine. Grief manifests itself everywhere, whether you see it or not.
People always say ‘I can’t imagine what you’re feeling…’ and they’re completely right. I don’t know what I’m feeling either. There’s just a big hole that isn’t going away no matter how much I ignore it. And there was a long time where I tried to ignore it and it consumed me. It turned me into someone I didn’t like. I ruined relationships with then-boyfriend, my friends, I went out a lot, I drank a lot. And back then I wasn’t sorry. I didn’t see what my self-destruction did. Until I came back to uni. Got some distance and a new head space. Realised I had nothing left at home except that incredible family and a few good friends who had been there in spite of everything. Waking up to the reality of your actions when you had done them in your sleep hurts like hell. There are people at home that I still haven’t seen or spoken to because it’s too far gone. I let that get to me for a very long time.
There comes a point where you realise that you do have to keep moving. That stopping and letting yourself spiral isn’t really an option anymore. Seeing that as a choice that you can make is a hard and bitter pill to swallow and it’s a choice you have to keep making. You can indulge in the low and the bitter and the sad. There are a lot of days where I still do. There is one thing that keeps me going above all else. I am not going to say it’s making him proud, because although, yes, I think about that, it isn’t really that simple. It’s knowing I can move forward without moving on. Losing someone isn’t something you have to move on from, you don’t have to forget. You just have to keep moving forward. It is a weight and in the beginning, the weight is far too much – but you get stronger. You don’t get used to it, it’s always there, but sometimes it feels less heavy.
I do want to make Pops proud. I do want to hold onto every tiny memory alongside the big ones. And I will. Every little victory is one I wish I could celebrate with him. I can’t, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make him proud. I know I can and keeping moving forward is part of that.