Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Grief’s early days.

I’m conscious that I don’t often write deep and meaningful blog posts – let’s be honest, it tends to be mildly amusing arts marketing observations, occasionally stuff about life as an open mic stand up and then the annual new year’s resolutions that I’ve failed to keep. I mention it because this is, or, more accurately, might be, one of those. If you’re wanting amusement then this probably isn’t for you.
Thanks, Sam x

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief recently and, more specifically, how to write down my feelings on grief, what it means to lose someone and how it changes your outlook on life.

A month or so ago Mark, the brother of my other half Louise, passed away unexpectedly. He was 31. There were no warning signs, there was no long illness or gradual fading. One moment he was there and the next he was not.

Last year he’d married the love of his life in Abu Dhabi, and together they were in the midst of planning their English wedding this summer. He was enjoying life in Dubai, the business he ran with a close friend was doing well, his beloved Tranmere were winning and he was happy, you could see it – when they both stayed with us at Christmas, when we went to watch Tranmere and when the three of us argued over what to watch on Netflix before all falling asleep – happiness.

I’m not going to go into the details of what happened. It was quick, he was with people he loved and who loved him and, mercifully, he would have known little, if anything, of what was unfolding.

I was with my Louise and her Mum and Dad as the news came through and it was something that will haunt me for a long time. The anguish of losing someone so young, so unexpectedly, is brutal, it’s crushing and it makes your soul break and your heart cry. A mother losing her baby boy, a father losing his son, a sister losing her best friend, a wife losing her husband, and a family losing the future they all dreamed was just around the corner.

Over the last weeks I’ve watched the three of them deal with this tragedy, been to the funeral which was one of the most touching, graceful and warm occasions, and seen steely-eyed determination to get through it. People with broken hearts have shown humility, generousity and humour – when you can still smile, and look to find the good in even something so horrible then, I think, you are, undoubtedly, a great person.

I was trying to work out what to write – this blog is where I do my mental reconciliation, where I try to work life out – not writing something for so long felt, feels, increasingly weak. Mark was a teacher, his passion and job was around education, about learning, so, I thought it would be good to write a few of the things I’ve learnt through this – so that if you, god forbid, find yourself in a similar situation, supporting those you love and feeling helpless at times – so that you’ve a few thoughts to help make the first few weeks not better, but manageable.

Eating is important
Noone wants to eat anything, it’s entirely understandable, but people need to or they get tired, stressed and even ill. Soup is a good starting point, as is pizza (I found) and other savoury foods. Avoiding sugar is probably a good move as it’s bad for sleeping.

If you ask people if they want something then the chances are they’ll not be interested or say they’ve eaten (when they haven’t properly) – instead, make it and give it to them on a plate. Make the “we’re eating now” decision a few times, you might get rejected a couple of times, but ultimately it’ll help.

Decaf Tea
Buy and distribute decaf tea – I wish I had. Sleeping will be hard enough without the effects of caffeine. Also not drinking too much too late on – waking up at 3am for a massive wee and then having your mind run wild is exhausting – rest and the relief of sleep is really important.

Everyone grieves differently
Some people are really vocal, some people are quiet. Some people grieve in public, some alone. All of them are fine and right. It’s important to let people know that, and also that people deal with things in different ways and that’s fine also. Sleeping more and not sleeping at all might be reactions that are polar opposites but are both equally valid reactions.

There’s no right answers
This I found really hard – you want to answer the questions you’ll be asked – the why’s and the speculation – I think sticking to what you know factually is a good start – faith and religion might be useful, but I think that’s for the person you’re supporting to decide. We live in a universe that is near-infinite, where the possibilities are endless, and we are a small grain of a sand in a huge desert – we don’t know what’s next, what’s right, wrong, what’s a bigger plan or what isn’t – what we know is fact.

Get some indigestion pills
This is a really odd one and it might just be me. I found that I was eating really irregularly, feeling stressed and panicked at points and was also eating late at night and crap food (don’t do this). I got terrible heartburn and felt ill and my stomach was a mess. The heartburn made me a bit worried about my health (because we never think it’s the most likely thing – aka heartburn). Rennies helped, Gaviscon was better.

Time is measured in months and years not days and weeks
I noticed that with grief and loss the way we relate to time is different – times that were previously innocuous suddently take on new meaning – new sadness-filled anniversaries begin – one day since, one week since, this time last month – you question when the pain with go away (and people do and don’t want it to go away), and people don’t believe the pain could ever lessen.

Be patient, accept that there will be pain, you will suffer on anniversaries (but that you have a choice whether you observe them or not) and that a month, a year later it may suddenly feel fresh and painful again. Then, be more patient.

Switch off the TV, go for walks
TV storylines are invariably morbid – you don’t notice until it’s the one thing you’re looking out for – switch it off and walk in fresh air, go for a coffee, eat an ice cream and visit parks. Talk more than watch, about anything. Maybe even go to the football.

Don’t feel guilty about not crying
I don’t cry when grieving. I stare at things. I feel I must be stoaic and do the right thing. I concentrate on not missing things: work mostly. I don’t cry. I make stew. I clean my car. I cut the grass. I don’t cry. I felt bad about it. Turns out I’m an inside myself mourner and that’s okay, but…

…you might just be building it up inside…
Putting off grieving, or ignoring how you feel while focusing on everyone else is that, like the magma chamber in a volcano you’re liable to errupt without warning in floods of snotty, uncontrolled tears and have to hide in the gents at work for half an hour.

What I’m saying is that you need to find some time for yourself too. Find someone to chat to or someone who can just give you a hug and say are you okay. Tell them early, tell them you might need a chat and occasional pep talk and it’s easier. It makes a tremendous difference.

9 Comments

  1. Today is one month since I lost my beautiful son Aidan he is 18 and he died in a workplace accident I didn’t want to live through this nightmare but my family needs me so living has created such immense waves of sorrow and grief I don’t know how to be or how to feel but I seem to be able to fake it until the panic takes over. I couldn’t eat at first I felt guilty for eating when Aidan couldn’t eat ever again. Now I find myself eating for comfort I have had horrible stomach issues but find probiotics kombucha and fibre are helping. I don’t think this will ever heal but I look forward to peace.

  2. So true Sam, I lost my 27 year old cousin 24 years ago – I remember the blur of those early days so strong. It’s all still locked inside, I open up that inner grief every now and then – it has eased slowly over the years though. X

  3. So sorry to hear of your family’s loss Sam. Sending love & prayers to you, Louise & all her family xx
    PS really liked your piece

  4. Bernie Oxberry

    April 7, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    Really good advice Sam, beautifully and simply written and resonated with me ( I lost my 16 year old son in 1996) you were so right about the food, no one thinks about eating, and it’s one thing people can provide, food ninja’s, bringing snacks and meals without asking if they are either wanted or needed. Also, although it seems an oxymoron, people grieving need to laugh, mad idea I know, I and the family enjoyed comedy films and programmes we were fond off, partly immersive and allowing you to switch off, partly as a resonance of the humour of the person who died. Hope you don’t mind me adding this to your thoughts., and of course, so very sorry for your loss xx

  5. Well said Sam.

  6. The loss of a sibling without warning is extraordinarily hard. Today is the first year anniversary of my losing my sister in a similar way. Thank you for your nice words. If losing her has taught me anything (which to be fair, it has taught me a lot) it’s that we all need to learn how to talk about death better and to help others to do that too.
    Anyway, this touched me. Today especially.
    I’m so sorry for your and your partners loss.

  7. Fantastically said, Sam.

  8. Thank you for this. What i witnessed at marks celebration of life was that religion doesn’t matter, everyone feels the same hurt, dispair, sorrow and sense of loss, also a sense of pride that we had mark in our lives. X

  9. so sorry to hear of your loss mate. loving you post. you sound like the sort of strong honest kind of person your girlfriend and family need at such a devastating time. big love steve w xxx

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