Five things no one tells you about grief: A bereaved daughter writes

‘I’m in a club I never wanted to be part of’ ... An Irishwoman in London mourns her dad

Paula Gahan is from Kildare, but lives in London and works as cabin crew for an international airline. Her father John Gahan died on May 20th, 2021  of a heart attack

Paula Gahan is from Kildare, but lives in London and works as cabin crew for an international airline. Her father John Gahan died on May 20th, 2021 of a heart attack

 

Five months ago, I got a phone call  that changed my life forever. My dad died suddenly of a heart attack. None of us were expecting it, least of all him. The day before, he was talking about his holiday plans and some work he was going to do on the house. Nothing has been the same since. I’m now in a club that I never wanted to be part of. To anyone who’s already joined the club, the following experiences will no doubt be familiar.

Anger
I would never have associated anger with grief before this happened. I assumed the main feeling would be sadness and was surprised to find myself frequently seething with rage.

The only people who know, are the people who know. And others tend to come out with cliché’s they’ve heard on TV and think they should say. The phrase I’ve come to hate the most is “If there’s anything I can do… just ask.”

Here’s an idea; how about just doing the thing? At the funeral, someone I hadn’t seen for about 15 years came, ate all the sandwiches and left without saying a single word. I caught them on the way out, just so they knew I saw them. “Thanks for coming!” I said. They muffled an embarrassed reply…. “Oh, eh, yeah…. if there’s anything I can do…just ask.”

Yeah, sure. Thanks.

Unless you really do have a similar bereavement, it is best to not draw comparisons to dead pets and distant cousins

You don’t have as many friends as you think
You’ll quickly find out who your real friends are. Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s lost someone has told me they were disappointed by people they considered good friends. Sadly, it’s the people you thought would be your greatest supporters who turn out to be the biggest let-down. That compassionate, bleeding-heart friend who was always championing the cause of the less fortunate (you get a lot of these in London), I guess that compassion only extends to migrants and dolphins.

The positive side to this is that people you never expected will step forward and become your greatest support. Maybe they were the ones you didn’t pay as much attention to before. They weren’t the flash, fun friends, downing shots when the good times were rolling. But now that everything’s changed, you can appreciate their quiet empathy. Usually, they are people who joined the club a few years before. They know.

I know exactly how you feel, my dog died last week
Unless you really do have a similar bereavement, it is best to not draw comparisons to dead pets and distant cousins. I’ve often felt like screaming, it is not the same! This is probably the reason why I’ve gravitated so much to other people whose parents have died. There is really nothing that can comfort me except someone who’s been in the same situation and knows what they’re talking about.

Guess what? No one cares
The worst part is the sinking realisation that you were living in a delusion. That life goes on exactly as it did before and everyone around you quickly carries on as if nothing ever happened. It wasn’t their father, mother, brother or sister. The sad reality is that most people don’t care about your grief.

Lieutenant Colonel John Gahan, who died on May 20th, 2021
Lieutenant Colonel John Gahan, who died on May 20th, 2021

The bad news is no one cares, and the good news is no one cares. People are too wrapped up in their own lives to give a second thought to anything you might be doing. So, you might as well do whatever the hell you want. One positive insight I’ve gained is realising the extent to which no one is bothered about you. There’s a certain invincibility that comes from not caring what people think.

It gets better
The day I got the phone call to tell me my dad had died; I trawled the leafy streets of Chiswick looking for a pharmacist who could do a Covid test before my flight to Ireland. I floated around in a daze, and nothing felt real. I wondered if I would ever feel normal again or would this be my life now; permanently disconnected from everyone and everything.

Two months later I was on my way to a restaurant in Chiswick for lunch. I realised I was back in that exact same spot, walking the same streets. There was the pharmacy, directly opposite the restaurant. I could never have imagined that two months later, I’d be going to lunch like a normal person. Feeling okay. Not amazing, but okay. I would never have believed it was possible, but things do get better.

The Samaritans are always there to listen 116 123. You are never alone.

Paula Gahan is from Kildare, but lives in London and works as cabin crew for an international airline. Her father died on May 20th of a heart attack. His death was a shock as John Gahan was in “great health”, she says. She is now back in England

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