Letters from the grief club
Letters from the grief club is a collection of letters by young grievers writing to their newly bereaved selves. Beth French and Kate Moreton explain how the book came about and share the top tips they learned from their contributors.
Letters from the grief club is the book that we wish we’d had back on that awful first day. Throughout the book, there are snippets from all different types of grief journeys – from the experience of therapy to the power of getting creative.
A bit about us
Beth: I was 20 and just between my second and third year of university when my mum died. She had been diagnosed with cancer two years previously and quite quickly got unwell and died. It was a huge shock to me as I had been hoping and assuming that she would recover. Similar to many young grievers, at first I just put my grief to the back of my mind, and focussed on completing my third year of university.
I remember when I got my results and found out I’d got a first class honours degree – I should have been elated, but I was full of sadness and grief for my mum. It was only really three years into my grief that I started processing everything, and I sought therapy and medication to help my anxiety and started Let’s Talk About Loss.
Similar to many young grievers, at first I just put my grief to the back of my mind, and focussed on completing my third year of university.
Kate: I was 17 years old when my Dad died – I was in the final year of school and following his death in the February I got my head down and studied hard for my A-Levels. I guess I was in auto-pilot and also felt very unequipped to grieve in a more intentional way – it might sound funny to be intentional about grief, but as someone who can compartmentalise and be very efficient in a crisis, I do find I have to carve out time to let the feelings come and feel them.
Since then I’ve lost grandparents, friends and grieved with grieving friends, but losing my Dad was my most significant bereavement.
It might sound funny to be intentional about grief, but as someone who can compartmentalise and be very efficient in a crisis, I do find I have to carve out time to let the feelings come and feel them.
The idea behind the book
Beth: When I lost my mum back in 2015, I had no idea where to look for support, and I was desperate for a manual on grief. The reality of course is that everyone’s experience of grief is unique, and there is no toolkit for ‘how to grieve’.
In early 2020, I spoke to Jessica Kingsley Publishers about compiling a collection of letters from the community of Let’s Talk About Loss, the charity I set up in 2018. We help 18-35 year olds who have been bereaved and I knew there were so many people with powerful words to share on what grief was like for them.
When the pandemic hit, Kate and I were able to dedicate time to bringing the idea to life, and in June 2022, Letters from the Grief Club was published.
Grief is the coat no one asked for. The fit is different for everyone, but the fabric is the same.
Editing the book
Kate: We had so many people submit applications to be in the book which made it almost impossible to decide which authors to have. After lots of agonising, we found our writers and happily started to receive drafts, redrafts and final pieces.
This was a really collaborative piece of work, with Beth and I peer reviewing each other’s edits and the writers also being really receptive to our notes – there was definitely a sense of all us wanting to produce a book that would be gentle and comforting to the readers, whether grievers or people supporting friends in their grief.
What we learned from writing the book
Kate: The biggest thing I learnt from editing the book was how varied everyone’s experiences of grief is. As someone who has cried out for a guide to grief that I could follow to help me process my own losses, I was reminded that no such thing can exist because each loss is unique. The most important lesson for me, time and again, is to talk about how I feel… to share with others the loneliness and the challenges as well as the happy memories that are mixed in too. We also learnt that editing such a wonderful book takes time and emotional energy, so we would support each other a lot and celebrate hitting milestones in the timeline.
Beth: In Letters from the Grief Club, we talk honestly about grief. The book includes the sad bits, the really hard parts and the days that are surprisingly beautiful. We really hope that anyone new to the grief club can find a piece that resonates with them, and each griever will know that they are not alone.
[Grief] will linger in your group chats, walk up to you in the supermarket and trip you up on the stairs.
Top tips that we’ve learnt along the way
- Each person’s grief journey is unique – there is no ‘one size fits all’, so try not to compare anything about your grief to anyone else’s. Saying that, there are many similarities amongst those who are bereaved so talking and listening to each other can be really helpful for reassurance that you’re not weird or alone with how you’re feeling, or not feeling!
- Communicating your feelings is really important – that might not mean sitting one to one with a professional like a counsellor and talking about your feelings. It could also mean expressing yourself through art, writing poetry, releasing tension or adrenaline through exercise, journaling, or joining a Let’s Talk About Loss Meet Up.
- In a brilliant letter in the book, someone shares advice for the first few days of grief, and points out that at first you simply need to take care of your basic needs. Make sure to eat well, stay hydrated, and rest lots. Don’t worry about cancelling plans or spending the day in your pyjamas – after a big life event like a bereavement our brain and body need time to come to terms with what has happened.
- Grief coach Rebecca-Monique Williams, a friend of Let’s Talk About Loss, shares her thoughts near the end of the book and has this golden piece of advice to share: “You don’t get over grief, you move forward with it.” Whether you are a few days or many years into your grief journey, the love we have for the person we miss will never go away, but our capacity to grieve will change and grow.
But also know that when the sun sets, the crowds disperse and the world slips back into its cold normality, you are allowed to feel sorry for yourself and heal messily, irregularly, darkly
Buy the book
Letters from the grief club is available from Jessica Kingsley or wherever you normally buy your books.