Holly’s Mum died in a car crash when she was just 26 years old. A couple of months after her death, after a recommendation from a family friend, Holly contacted Cruse for support.
“It’s one of those things that you read about happening to other people and you never expect it’s going to happen to you and your family… it just knocks you off course completely."
How did you first hear about Cruse?– she spoke very highly of them. I’ve been to counsellors before, which I think helped because it made me less apprehensive. The term ‘counselling’ can be quite scary and intimidating to people and holds some taboo around it. There’s still a bit of awkwardness and embarrassment for people saying they are going to a counsellor.
For me also, I know my Mum would have been a really big supporter of going and getting help. Her view was that there’s no shame in reaching out and needing some support. I know it’s something my Mum would have wanted me to do, and I know if she had been in my position she would have taken advantage of it, so that encouraged me as well. I felt like I had nothing to lose.
What were your first impressions?
From the moment I arrived I was really glad I had reached out, I felt really safe. What I found comforting was that as Volunteers, I knew that they are under no obligation to be there and hear my story. I knew she wanted to be there.
What I also found was that even if your family and your friends tell you that you aren’t a burden, you do feel like there’s only a certain amount of times that you can retell the same stories and the same emotions. There are certain things like discussing how I found out that she had died, there’s only one time that people are going to ask you about that. Death can be such an awkward conversation, people tip-toe around it and don’t want to upset you or say the wrong thing. So when I came to Cruse it was nice because I knew it was someone who didn’t feel awkward talking about death, and would ask the questions that other people are too scared to ask.
It was a safe space and an environment that I felt really comfortable in and talking about whatever was on my mind – there was no judgement at all. It doesn’t mean you don’t have that family support around you, but it’s just so helpful having that outside person who doesn’t have any preconceived thoughts about you or your relationship with the person you lost. It’s a blank canvas.
How did it change what you thought about death and grief?
Before I went to Cruse I would have found death very awkward to talk about, I wouldn’t have known what to say and probably would have avoided bringing it up. Now I feel a lot more comfortable. When my Mum died I was only 26 and no-one in my close friendship circle had lost a parent, now one or two have and I’ve obviously understood that pain a lot more. I definitely didn’t realise how it affects all aspects of your life. There’s no expiry date on grief. Even when I’m 90 years old I’ll still miss my Mum and wish she was around.
How did you find the reactions of friends and family?
It’s funny, when people bring up my Mum they often apologise – but I just say to them that I love talking about my Mum. Even if I do get upset it’s not a bad thing. They also think that bringing up a topic related to my Mum is suddenly going to remind me of her, whereas she is always on my mind so it’s never a case of reminding me. It’s a permanent state of mind. It’s rare for people to talk about her, again because they are so worried about upsetting me. So with the Cruse Volunteer it was great to be able to talk about her, and uninterrupted. In a strange way you feel like you’re honouring them, by having the opportunity to talk about them and keep the memories alive.
In a way you feel like you don’t want the pain to go, because that’s your connection with them. It’s a testament to your love for them. Grief is the price we pay for love.
How did Cruse support you?
I found the sessions with Cruse so beneficial. By the time I finished, although I was still grieving and on the start of that journey, I was happy with the progress I’d made. But a year later I decided that I was struggling with processing different emotions, and wasn’t really coping that well so I went back. That’s one of the great things about Cruse that they are always available. It’s not a one-time thing. I always had that in the back of my mind for reassurance and comfort.
Even a year after it was still early on in my journey but there was some sense of reality returning, so I had different emotions to process. I’m sure every year my mind will be in a different place, and I’ll probably reach out to Cruse again.
In general I used to bottle up my emotions, or put up a wall. So my sessions with Cruse allowed me to release those emotions that I’d held back. It was also about having the reassurance that however I felt was fine. That there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and that how I grieve is going to be different to other people in the family. There’s a fear that you’re not ‘normal’ or that you’re going crazy.
At the beginning you’re getting so many calls and messages, people over at your house, but over time things go back to normal and the world keeps turning. So for me it was when things were going back to normal but I didn’t feel normal, Cruse gave me that space to help verbalise what was spinning around in my head and untangle some of those thoughts. Cruse also gave me the space to be sad. Sometimes you feel like you have to have some composure, but at Cruse you don’t, it allows that space for release. After the end of my first set of sessions I definitely felt more equipped to deal with grief, or had some of the tools to help me navigate it.
I’ll never be the same person I was before she passed away, I’ll forever be different, but I’m still here and I know my Mum would want me to live life to the full.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering coming to Cruse for support?
It’s very normal to feel apprehensive or anxious about contacting Cruse. But Cruse is a charity for bereaved people, so you are the person they want to hear from. They are used to people crying, or being angry, your emotions won’t surprise them and they are equipped to handle it, that is the reason they are there. Even if it helps just a bit, it will be worthwhile. There’s nothing to lose.
I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who works at Cruse, you bring a sense of life in death, and even the tiniest glimmer of light in what is a very dark time.