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Thursday, 23 February 2017

Living with loss; nearly 7 years on.


I have been wanting to talk about this for quite a while but have never really found the right words. I’m not very good at talking about my feelings and tend to let things bottle up over a long period of time so I knew it would have to be written. The purpose of this is not to seek attention or provoke sympathy, which has always stopped me from speaking about how I feel (especially regarding this topic) as I have always been scared of people accusing me of using it to my advantage for these reasons. People always say ‘nobody would ever think that’ but the truth is yes, they would (and have) and although they are not the sort of people I want in my life it still prevents me from being quite open. 

I lost my dad on the 2nd of June 2010, the day before my 15th birthday. I remember the day very clearly as we had actually been to visit a motorcycle dealership in Preston where my dad had booked a track day and I believe he bought my mum a pair of motorcycle gloves. It was a really sunny day and I was sunbathing on the trampoline listening to my iPod when my dad left to go to a dentist appointment. He decided to take the bike. 
I remember something feeling a bit off that day but I brushed it aside as I felt stupid. When my dad kissed my mum goodbye I remember thinking to myself, ‘tell her you love her’. It was a weird, overwhelming thought and when my dad said bye to me I remember just responding in the typical ‘yeh bye’ teenage grunt. I thought nothing more of it until a few hours had passed and a police woman turned up on the driveway.
I didn’t actually notice the woman myself, but I remember my sister Ceri coming upstairs and telling me there was a police woman speaking to my mum and that she thought it was about my dad. I sort of brushed this off but only then realised that my dad had been gone for much longer than he should’ve been for a dentist appointment. I went outside, tried to calm down and tried ringing my dad’s mobile, telling myself that if he picked up everything would be ok. I just kept thinking he was riding his bike, it was a nice day and he was making the most of it and would be back soon. Obviously, he never answered.
The next thing I remember was my grandma and granddad (my dad’s parents) turning up on the driveway and walking over to my mum. I remember them all hugging each other and they all seemed very upset, but again I didn’t think the worst had actually happened. My initial thought was that maybe he had fallen off and was in hospital or something but not that he had been killed. Soon we were all summoned into the kitchen where my mum had to break the news to us that my dad had been killed in a motorcycle accident and would not be coming home.

It is a very surreal feeling being told that your parent has died, especially when it is completely unexpected. By this I mean that it wasn’t as if he had been suffering a long term illness or anything similar, so although either situation doesn’t make anything any easier, it was not something I had ever had to consider or prepare for. At the time I was completely numb and remember my sister crying and my little brother, who was only 9 at the time, being quiet and probably not understanding entirely. I retract into myself a lot when faced with situations like this so could barely speak to ask any questions, and the rest of the day is really quite a blur. I remember having to tell my best friend, Vikki, and that at first I couldn’t actually get hold of her so ended up ringing her sister and telling her how urgent it was to speak to her. I don’t think I actually told anybody else, but just expected the word to get around by itself.
That night I slept in my mum’s room and woke up on my 15th birthday to numerous family members coming round to see my mum and the rest of us. I also remember how, as I had Facebook at the time, people were wishing me ‘Happy Birthday’ and writing all over my wall and messaging me about it and I couldn’t bring myself to reply and be happy but I also didn’t want to write anything about what had happened online. I don’t think I have ever fully accepted what happened; even to this day I still have reoccurring dreams which involve my dad where he never passed away and I wake up and for a short second it is literally as if he hadn’t died… and then I remember that it was a dream and there is absolutely no way of it becoming true and my heart just sinks. I would say that is one of the hardest parts of the whole situation as everyone says ‘time is a healer’ but you cannot dictate the happenings within your dreams and they seem so real that it almost gives you hope that this is all a nightmare which you have awoken from.

The few weeks after my dad’s death are all a bit of a blur, but one day in particular which I remember was the funeral. I remember my mum buying me a dress and heels to wear, but me ending up wearing a denim skirt, tights, stripy cardigan and trainers because it was what I felt most comfortable in and the thought of having to dress up to say goodbye to my dad just felt wrong to me. I remember the funeral director, David, had been on hand with my mum to organise a motorbike to carry the coffin, but on the day of the funeral it just wouldn’t start. A lot of my parents’ friends were bikers as they had met at a local bike club and I remember them all trying to jump start this bike and the funeral director flapping about it and my mum just whispering ‘c’mon Andy not today’ because we knew he wouldn’t have wanted a massive fuss but due to the amount of people who wanted to and deserved to go and pay their respects, the funeral ended up being a huge affair. I remember the streets were lined with neighbours standing outside to pay their own respects as we set off to the place where the funeral was held and it being so surreal as I truly never, ever thought that thing would happen to me. When I say that, I don’t even mean I had witnessed it happening to someone else and thought ‘oh, that will never happen to me’, I had just never thought that I would see the day I would have to attend the funeral of my dad whilst I was still a child. It just isn’t the sort of thing you have to think about so it had never crossed my mind.

A bittersweet by-product of losing a loved one is the amount of people who visit you, telling you they are always there and if you ever need anything you absolutely have to let them know. I was quite naive as I was only just 15 years old and it didn’t really register with me that whilst I was still grieving and will be for the rest of my life, these people were moving on with theirs. The saying ‘life goes on’ really does apply here. I felt resentful towards the people who seemed to have forgotten about the entire situation about two weeks later, especially as my family and my life had been turned upside down. It is a very lonely experience and I can honestly say that now I understand that from an outsider’s view point that there are many reasons why you have to back off, whether it be you don’t want to suffocate the person who has just lost someone, whether you do not feel comfortable due to your own experiences or even just because you have to get back to your own life. It is absolutely true that the world does not stop turning just because something like this happens. One thing I will say, however, is that a small message just to see how someone is doing never goes amiss - it is nice to know that other people are thinking about the person you miss too. 
I received counselling from two different people after my dad died. At the time I didn’t find that they really helped a lot, but the truth is they probably did as they allowed me to relieve some of my built up emotions at a time where I definitely needed it. I have always had a problem with speaking about my emotions aloud and even to this day if I have to be very open about a personal topic my initial reaction is to cry, regardless of what I am talking about. I found it especially difficult to speak to a stranger, as even though they both made me feel very welcome and un-judged, I felt embarrassed to be sitting there an emotional wreck. I am absolutely my own worst critic and hate being the centre of attention so to be sat there having to discuss how I was feeling and have the entire focus be on me, I closed up and therefore didn’t use the sessions to my advantage. I also found myself thinking, ‘I am overreacting and making it worse than it is and everybody is going to think that I am being dramatic and self-piteous’ which I know is absolute crap because I have experienced something terrible, and if it happened to my friend I would hope that they would never feel embarrassed to discuss their feelings due to this reason. It is something I am working on, however. 

Reverting back to one of my previous points about how people move on with their lives, I think people do sometimes forget that a traumatic experience like this really affects a lot of the other things that go on in your life. For me, it affects my birthday as I feel like I cannot celebrate it without a sense of guilt hanging over me; it affects my exams and has done since my GCSE’s as they are always scheduled around that time of year; it affects relationships with people as there are obviously particular times in the year that you are more likely to bottle up for what appears to be no reason; it affects my work ethic - one of the most difficult things I found was that as Fathers Day is in June and I have worked as a waitress in various establishments since I was 18, the day was especially raw and difficult for me but the chances of getting Fathers Day off in a busy restaurant is highly unlikely, so you have to turn up and face the comments from customers such as ‘aren’t you taking your dad out somewhere nice?’ whilst wearing a brave face for the entire shift; it affects your mental health - naturally - as you never truly get over a loss and the suffocating emotions which come with it can spring up on you at any time; it affects your ability to socialise with a new group of people as the conversation about parents pretty much always gets brought into the mix and there’s only so long you can avoid it before people eventually ask… I found this SO difficult as I hate drawing attention to myself and to the topic so would shy away from discussing it for as long as possible. The list of ways it affects you is literally endless as it sneaks up on you in the most surprising of situations; I remember when I worked at a pub, I asked another member of staff when last orders was on a Sunday as I had never worked on that night before and a customer replying ‘ask your dad when last orders is on a Sunday he’ll tell you the right answer’. I just remember being so caught off guard, as obviously the customer had absolutely no idea of my own situation but as I am now so careful to mention anything about someone’s family before I am completely sure that they have not lost a parent or any family member really, it shocked me that someone else could be so flippant with their comments. Similarly, I have my nose pierced and a customer once asked me how my dad had reacted when he saw that I’d had it done… just little comments like that which are really so innocent and passive but seriously hit home with me as I could either lie and pretend he was still alive to save face or risk causing an awkward situation by explaining that actually my dad had died three years prior to me having my nose pierced so I would never know. It is a lose-lose situation and something which I have to deal with every day as people never, or rarely anyway, intend to hurt you with their comments but don’t realise how much they can affect someone who is going through a personal ordeal. I always see people sharing the phrase ‘be nice: you never know what someone is going through’ and I couldn’t agree more - it is so important to remember that people have their own battles and reasons for being distant or seeming off and to wait a second and think before commenting. I am just as guilty as the rest of us for jumping to conclusions before fully understanding the story and it something I have worked very hard to improve upon as I hate it when it happens to me.

I don’t want to get into the legal side of the situation with my dad solely for the reason that it is something I have had to spend a lot of my time getting over and accepting the unfairness of the situation and it does nothing for my own sanity to reopen a wound which it just about starting to heal. Those closest to me know about it and know the injustice of it. I am a firm believer in karma but a huge part of me starting to heal and really deal with what happened was by letting my negative thoughts go. 

The best thing we can do now is raise awareness to prevent other families from having to go through what my family and I have. I know it is said again and again but it really does not take much to just focus on the roads; I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to getting distracted when driving and ending up pulling up on the driveway thinking ‘I literally just drove that on autopilot’ when it is a route I have done again and again. But the fact of the matter is that by not looking twice before turning or paying close attention to the roads, we are putting ourselves and others at risk. Too many people are killed due to carelessness on the roads and if by reading this post just one person thinks to themselves ‘ok, tomorrow I am going to make sure I pay extra attention when driving to work’ then I’ve done what I set out to do because as I said at the beginning and throughout, none of this is about sympathy or attention but about making people understand the true impact that carelessness can cause. The fact of the matter is that when a person is killed on the roads, they are not the only victim - there are the parents of the deceased, their children, their partner, their families, their friends… people who have to spend the rest of their lives dealing with the harrowing thought that if the guilty party had just been a bit more careful, this probably never would have happened.

The truth about living with loss is that you are never fully over it. Anything can cause you to reverse all the progress you had previously made and the harsh reality is that life goes on regardless of how you are doing, so you eventually just learn how to deal with it on a day to day basis. I lost my grandma in March 2016 - the mother of my dad - and I was warned straight away by my mum that this would undoubtedly open up all of my wounds again and it was completely true, I still feel right back where I was in June 2010 but with the added emotional trauma of also mourning a woman who I had grown up around and spent my entire life with. I won’t lie to you, this past year has probably been one of the hardest in terms of my personal healing and there are days when I become so angry and upset that I have had to deal with this at such a young age. But there are also weeks that fly by where I am absolutely fine. I think about my dad and my grandma every single day, but the way it affects me differs. 

For anyone who has suffered a personal loss, whether it be recently or a while ago, just know that you’re not alone. You will feel low, emotional, numb, scared, angry, anxious and resentful towards what has happened. But you will also feel happy; you will remember the good times with a smile rather than in tears, you will be able to sit with your loved ones and discuss the time your grandma did a jaeger-bomb at her 70th birthday party (true story). You will be able to share these stories with their childhood friends and family members and you will be able to move forward, taking all of this with you as the biggest learning curve of your life.


http://www.wastedlives.co.uk is a Lancashire based programme which aims to promote safer driving through sharing real life experiences and is something my mum has actually been a part of to aid their cause. For more information about their really worthwhile cause, follow the link. I think they are raising awareness for an extremely important issue on the roads and would appreciate it if anyone took the time to see what they're all about.
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Lauren Gibbins
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[name=Lauren Gibbins] [img=Your Image Url Here] [description=I'm Lauren, I'm a 21 year old student from Manchester currently studying in Italy for my erasmus year abroad.] (twitter=www.twitter.com/laurenjgibbins) (instagram=www.instagram.com/laurenjoygibbins) (bloglovin=https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/lauren-gibbins-18477709)

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