In 2001, when I was 15, my mum died from cancer. I was unable to process my grief in a healthy way for years and began to do so last July when I was fortunate to access some counselling. Through this, I discovered the therapeutic benefits of letter writing. This is the first piece I wrote, telling my teenage self things that I wish had been said to me at the time. I post it here in the hope that it may help others.
I was so sad to learn that your mum had died. I would imagine that it made it even harder for you with her death coinciding with her birthday. At only 51, she should have been around for a lot longer. I want to tell you there is no right or wrong way for you to be feeling at the moment. No one can truly understand how grief affects another person and all emotions are normal. It is OK for you to be feeling angry, lost, sad, fearful, empty, numb and confused. You may have moments when you feel completely overwhelmed by what has happened. It is also natural for you to feel fine and happy and you should not feel guilty about this. These feelings will come and go over the next few days, months and years as they are all part of the grieving process.
People may say to you that at least your mum is now free from pain and no longer suffering. Although they think you may be comforted by this, these comments may have the opposite effect and anger you because you miss your mum so much and just want her back. Your life has changed forever and you are having to confront and deal with loss and emotions which many people do not have to face until well into their adult lives. You are so young to have experienced such a traumatic event. Most people find the death of a loved one difficult to cope with and the death of a parent at 15 is really hard.
The funeral could be a particularly difficult day. This is a chance for you to say goodbye in a public way and with people who also knew your mum but can feel very final and like you are expected to move on now and get on with your life. Sometimes people make comments along the same lines. I want to be honest with you, Kelly, and tell you that you won’t move on in the way that they are suggesting. The love you felt for your mum will remain with you forever and will make her loss excruciatingly painful, both now and in future times. People say that time is a great healer but this isn’t necessarily the case either. What will happen though is that you will process and come to terms with her death so that you learn to live with it. This may take a long time and is like being on a journey with bumps and obstacles along the way.
I also wanted to let you know that you should not feel bad about making other people feel awkward by talking about your mum’s death. It is your right to talk about such a traumatic experience and even if they don’t have answers as such, it is sometimes enough to just to feel you have been listened to and heard. Some people think it is best not to say anything at all because they are worried about upsetting you. This should not stop you from feeling safe to talk to them about what you are going through. Your friends and family care about you a lot and should be here to help you. Perhaps you could choose just one person in your life who you feel it may be possible to talk to about your grief.
Some future events may be particularly painful, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day and the anniversary of her death. This is natural and I would urge you to be open and honest about how you are feeling. However, at any age it is not always easy to do this. I know that you particularly enjoy writing so perhaps it may be helpful for you to keep a diary or journal in which you record your feelings. This is for you and does not need to be shared with anybody unless you want them to see it.
I know that you are a very private and shy person, Kelly, and that talking about your grief may be further complicated by the fact that you didn’t want anyone outside of your family to know what was happening ever since your mum became ill. That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about it now. There are people here to listen and they will be here whenever you are ready, whether it is now, in a few days, weeks, months or even years. Please remember, Kelly, that even though you may feel so, you are not alone. There are so many people around you who care about you and will want to help you.
Love, Kelly xxx