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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

How do you cope with loss?

Hi everyone! It's been a fair few weeks since my last post and I've got a fair bit to report.
I went to the beautiful wedding of Abbie and Chris (and actually stopped drinking quite early into the evening so as far as I'm aware I've got no embarrassing stories to tell), Arsenal are still rubbish and are lacking any form of defence, I've spent time with Amelia and the twins and may or may not have taught (a now nearly two year old) Joey to stick her tongue out at me (much to her mother's disapproval)
and Mel and Tom are going to have a son (I guessed right - smug face) meaning that I will have a Godson to guide through the journey of life (and I'm not sure who that scares more).

This last week however I've been occupied with two things:

1. Being ill (including any of the following symptoms possibly combined at any given time): a blocked nose, a chesty cough, a headache (including that really annoying type right behind your eye), vomiting, earache, sneezing, a sore throat, sneezing so hard that my body has hurt, unstoppable snot flurries, rapid fire toileting issues, “corked up” toileting issues, changing from hot – cold (and back again) in rapid time and those really weird dreams that you get when you are ill (including a really trippy one about me being a red train in Thomas the Tank Engine).
Yes, thanks partly to Andy Howson I've had a combo of the deadly disease known as man flu (you can read more about my past experience with it here) and the virus that I once mocked Hellie Brunt for having in front of 700 teenagers (perhaps delayed payback?). And no, I'm not going to even suggest that I've felt worse than ever before or a large number of female readers will mock me (even if girl flu is MUCH worse) – but I've just felt pretty rough and worn out.

2. The funeral of a friend. And with that in mind, Ive actually changed what I was going to speak about in this post (although I'm sure it will return at a later date).

How do you cope with loss?
From the very outset here, I have to make something very clear (no rhyme intended) and that is that (similar to the rest of 10 Resolutions) I do not have all of this figured out. (As shown in Chapter 9). This isn’t going to be a user guide to dealing with the loss of a loved one, because I don’t think that anyone could ever write and do that justice. It's not a one size fits all situation. Everyone grieves in different ways, so the only thing that I can possibly do is to open up and to tell you how I cope – and the honest truth (because if I wasn’t this would be pointless) is probably not very well.

I’m nearly 31, and I’m not sure about on average how many funerals someone my age should have attended. I’m honoured to be well above the average for weddings - but I’m not sure about funerals. But I think that how I cope now can be traced back to the funeral of a dear friend from college (I guess my first funeral as an adult) – Jim.

13 (ish) Years ago....... 

I hadn’t known Jim for that long, but in a class of 15 or so musicians you quickly get to know those around you. And being a couple of years older than me, Jim was someone that I looked up to and loved spending time with. I’d stay at his house once a week so that we could go to £1 a pint night at Wetherspoons in Ruslip (and on reflection the fact that I used to regularly go to another £1 a pint night in Amersham probably explains a fair amount now). But you get the picture. Jim and I (and the rest of the college class) were pretty close knit and that in itself was probably partly due to a serious car accident a number of the class had been involved in the year before. 
Early (ish) in the 2nd year a few of us (Jim included) had been working on an assignment together. On deadline day, Jim was coming in with the final part of the assignment, but as he hadn’t arrived by the start of our session I started to get angry (as he had a well known habit of oversleeping). 30 minutes of the session passed and I was getting angrier and angrier. 1 hour passed (and you can imagine how I was feeling by then). And then around ten past 10, our tutor came in and had us all sit down. Tragically, Jim had been walking along the street the night before and his brain had just given up. He had died there and then. There had been no warning. No warning signs that it could have happened to him or that he was even ill in the first place. The chances of it ever happening to anyone his age were slim (something that was of no comfort to any of us) but Jim was gone.

The next few days (/two weeks) are a bit of a blur. I was a mess and (alongside the rest of my class) was on a 2 week bender to try and numb the pain of loss and to try and stop the flow of tears. The only way for someone to prepare you for something like that is just to be be blunt and say that it will hurt - but everything had happened so quickly that no one had the chance to explain, so I continued to fight through the hurting by drinking to forget.

The day of the funeral arrived, and through some mysterious level of good fortune I wasn’t hungover. I put on my suit, filled my hip flask and went to meet everyone else. I’m fairly certain that the hour we all spent together before the funeral that day was the quietest hour I’ve ever experienced (and I dread to think how many cigarettes I got through). But how do you prepare to say goodbye to a friend? There isn’t a good way. No one should have to go through something like that so much that it becomes easy or second nature.

And then with smoky breath, a (frustratingly) now-empty hip flask and vodka tasting burps the funeral began.

Like most of the others, I stood at the back of the building, numb, as the service went along. I was holding back the tears desperate to be one of the strong ones who wouldn’t break. For the first time since his death I saw Jim’s parents and my mind starting drifting to how hard it must have been to say goodbye to a 21 year old son – and how real strength and real courage was being displayed by the pair of them as they held each other firmly in the midst of such a painful moment. I looked around and saw the tens and tens of people that had shown up to say goodbye to Jim and to show support to his family. And then my head turned to the person next door to me who was sobbing - and with tears in my eyes I put my arm around her as I started to remember all of the people who had held me (/held me up quite literally in some cases) and helped me through the previous weeks. I might not have been aware of what they were doing at the time and I probably hadn’t said thankyou (or if I did it was probably expressed with a slur or dribble) - but I had been supported by those around me. And that revelation (that must seem so simple), was something I took away from the day. There’s a beautiful Bible verse that reflects this in 1 John and it says ‘let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by your actions’ and over those weeks that love was something I’d experienced beyond belief.

At the pub later we shared stories of Jim and our favourite memories of him. We played his favourite songs on the jukebox and we raised a glass (as I can’t remember getting home that night either there is a fair possibility that it was more than one) in his honour. He would have wanted a party not something depressing (and just fyi – just so it’s out there – when its my time I do as well) and that evening he had a great send off. The events of his death were heartbreaking and tragic and from time to time I still miss him - especially when I use a song we wrote together in my set (when appropriate!). I wish that I’d have spent more time with him and of course I’m sad that he’s gone. But at the same time I’m thankful for the time I did get to spend with him - for simply knowing him made me a better man.

I can’t and won’t pretend that I knew Sue Woolway (Auntie Sue) as well as I knew Jim.
But what I will say is that she was a massive ray of sunshine in our office and that she could (and would) always make me smile. She always asked how I was and genuinely meant it. And if you needed someone to talk to (even about something random) – she was there. Sue was gracious, cheeky, caring and funny all rolled into one and was actually quite inspiring because of it. I’m really sad that she’s not with us anymore but I’m confident that she is somewhere watching down on us now, having a party and laughing at all of the stupid stuff we do.

I’m sure that Sue had her flaws, as did Jim, as do you or I but I hope that when I go I am remembered for the best parts of me and that people say I was a good man. And I hope that you find the best way to remember those that you’ve lost.

RIP Sue - Gone but not forgotten  xx

So – in answer to the question - how do I cope with loss? Well, it’s more of a reminder list but:

1. Having strength doesn’t mean not showing emotion. Sometimes real strength is the opposite.
2. Grieve (however you do it), but make sure that you have someone to talk to.
3. Try and support and stand alongside those who might need you (If you can).
4. Remember the best parts of the person that is gone.
5. Be thankful for the time that you did have with them.
6. Hip flask.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks after spending a week in Tenerife and after celebrating turning older. But first I'm off to the doc's.

I’ll let Sue play us out. 

God Bless


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