I first heard about Let’s Talk About Loss on Instagram in 2018 after the death of my Dad in 2007. After some further investigation I worked out a few things: Let’s Talk About Loss was started by Beth, Beth is very cool, and Beth loves Jesus. This led to a phone call, which led to a coffee, which has led to recently becoming the chair of the board of trustees, as we work to gain charity status. I met with Beth in a bookshop to find out more about the connection between healthy community, talking about loss, and shared some of my own story throughout our interview.
How Did Let’s Talk About Loss Come About?
I was 20 when mum died and then about 6 months later it was Christmas. I’d never experienced a Christmas without my mum. It was really challenging and different and I felt really, really alone. I wrote a blogpost about how I was feeling and tried to be really honest, with no intention of ever publishing it. When I started writing, I found it really helpful.
On Boxing Day 2016 I decided to publish the blog, definitely with no intention of starting a charity or a movement. That was 18 months since mum had died, which shows just how hard it was to begin talking about it. I wanted to tell my story, to tell people how I was feeling and what grief was really like for me. This whole idea of talking through the taboo, the tagline of Let’s Talk About Loss, really came from me feeling that being honest and open about my grief was not what people were expecting or hoping for me to say. In the original blog I tried to bust some myths and that’s how it started. It’s now grown into a movement of young people who meet up and talk about their loss.
So, Had You Been Speaking To Anybody About Your Grief Or Was This A Sudden Explosion?
I was answering people’s basic questions, but in hindsight I wasn’t being honest about it at all. I wasn’t talking in a way that would let people in. People would ask how I was, but I was never fully honest or open. I hadn’t seen anyone professional or really spoken to friends and family about how much pain I was in, and how alone and completely bewildered I felt. I don’t think I’d properly started processing what happened because I was bottling it up, trying to be strong and trying to cope. And then the blog came out and people were shocked. There were times when I thought, ‘Do I regret being so public about my grief?’ But people started to get in touch to thank me for writing it. I realised that they were feeling the same and that made me feel so much less alone.
What Experiences Made Your Grief Feel Like A Taboo Subject?
People would say things like, ‘Isn’t Beth doing so well and coping so well and she’s so fine and so healthy?’ and I just used to look at them and think you have no idea. I guess I had a moment where I realised they didn’t know how I was feeling, so I needed to tell them the truth. I also started wondering whether other people felt the same. I felt so alone and I was thinking that it can’t just be me that feels this. That’s often how movements start, isn’t it? When someone feels something and they think, ‘Maybe there are others that think like this – I’m going to put a bit of me out there and see what comes back’. And amazingly people really related to what I’d said. That was powerful for me because it meant I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was.
That’s the nature of a taboo right – nobody is talking about it which only perpetuates the problem and makes you feel more alone.
Exactly, I’d been searching for some sort of support group online and there was nothing. It was really tricky and I felt like I couldn’t find anything relevant or helpful. Now there’s a lot more young people talking about their mental health and grief, which is great.
I think death is everyone’s ultimate fear – what it means and the finality of it all. But when people ask you as a bereaved person how you are, it can feel like people don’t really want to hear the honest answer. You can’t say, ‘Actually I’m awful, my world’s essentially just ended and I’ve lost this really important person to me,’ because that’s a socially unacceptable thing to say. It makes people feel uncomfortable, so to protect them you just say, ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ Being really honest about how we feel is not something we’re good at in British society – and especially being honest about mental health, and grief is so tied up with that. I think we’re really scared of the reality of how awful it is to lose someone, that we’d rather not talk about it.
Yep, it can be terrifying for so many of us which is why i guess so many people stay clear of talking about loss. So, what motivates you today with let’s talk about loss? Are you in a different place to how you felt on that Christmas when you first put pen to paper?
I’m in a hugely different place. I started this because I needed it. So I’m partly motivated by my own need to talk to other people about my mum and my own grief, and to try and break through those taboos myself.
The other motivation is the amazing people that I’ve met. I have people email me saying, ‘I’ve been desperate, I’ve been longing to find someone my own age who I can talk to in this way about this loss – where have you been?’ That’s the moment where I think yes, there’s someone who, like I did, desperately needs to talk and to not feel so alone. The fact that I’ve been able to provide that for them through the Let’s Talk About Loss groups and the blog is incredibly motivating, because it’s not easy to spend your life talking about grief. It’s tricky to be constantly bringing up those feelings of real pain, but knowing that other people are feeling less lonely and less confused because of it is incredible.
How does your faith impact let’s talk about loss?
Starting Let’s Talk About Loss feels like an incredible calling on my life and a specific purpose God’s given me. I had a big crisis of faith when I lost mum because I was so angry with God for a long time and felt like, ‘How can this be part of the plan? How can this be part of your grace and your love and your mercy?’ I didn’t think that God was particularly good, but from the start of forming Let’s Talk About Loss I was really prayerful about it and have had to journey deeper into my faith.
Having my faith makes grief different for me because I have a belief that the person that I’ve lost is still alive in some way and can still be part of my life, just in a different way. And so knowing that I will see my mum again and knowing that this is a calling, and my life on earth is just one part of this greater plan, frees me up. Let’s Talk About Loss purposefully isn’t a Christian charity – I felt very led by God to make sure that it wasn’t, because I wanted it to be for anyone. But I am led by faith and I see this as a ministry that will bless many. This is Kingdom building work that I’m doing, and the Creator is doing it through me. So let’s see what plans he’s got and run with that. That’s why, when it’s painful, it’s actually quite easy to keep going, because how could you not when the Creator’s in control?
A meet up is a group of young people, all with a bereavement in common, spending time talking honestly and openly with each other. To be honest that sounds like a fairly miserable way to spend free time. Why do people choose to attend meet ups?
Sometimes I think, ‘Gosh, why do people want to come along?’ The first meet up we ran in Nottingham I fully expected no one to come because I thought, who’s going to have gone online, found a group about grief and think it sounds like a fun Friday night? But it’s so freeing to find a place where you can be completely honest, and can just talk to a group of strangers in a way that no one’s ever let you before. Meet ups are about being in a place where there’s no judgement, no awkwardness, no preconceptions, no rules, and you can just be who you need to be and say what you need to say in a supportive (and sometimes even fun!) atmosphere.
It’s never meant to be sitting down on a hard chair in a village hall talking about something sad for an hour, it’s about living your life with a group of people who also happened to have experienced this massive thing. We’ll go bowling, go for picnics, pottery painting or we’ll go out for dinner. And we talk about everything – the football scores, the weather, where people are going on holiday, but there’s always the freedom for people to say, ‘Hey, I’m not coping with this,’ or, ‘Hey, you mentioned last time that you were going to counselling, how’s that gone?’ That’s something you don’t always have in your group of friends. Meet ups are a time where, once a month, people can come along and know that if they really want to talk they can, but also it’s just a great group of friends who have loads of fun together. It’s much cooler than it sounds, I promise!
I went along to a meet up for the first time recently. We went to an exhibition and there was a group of people that I wouldn’t have ended up hanging out with otherwise. We had different sets of values, different dress codes, different life stages. We were all getting along having a nice conversation and someone eventually brought up their loss. All of the things that felt like differences just fell to the ground. What mattered was our shared experience. We were working through similar things like having to attend funerals or working out how to continue jobs.
I’ve realised that not talking about it isn’t going to stop it from happening, so we might as well unite and talk through it. The first seven or so years after Dad died I didn’t acknowledge it, because my logic was that the less I acknowledge it, the less real it is. Which I know now is terrible logic! I was really impressed by a meetup being about gathering around this one shared thing in a way that you can’t always do. Sometimes with friends who haven’t experienced a bereavement it can feel like you jump off the stage into the crowd and everyone moves apart rather than getting ready to catch you. I was blown away by how well everyone held each other in the space at the London meet up.
Why does let’s talk about loss work specifically with 18-35s?
I lost mum when I was 20 and I’m now 25. I understand that the age limit can be a barrier, but I think there’s real power in people knowing who’s going to be at a meetup and what to expect. Between the ages of 18 and 35 things are really changing, whether you’re going to uni, moving out, having kids or applying for jobs. You’re doing those first things without the person you’ve lost which is an incredibly isolating time. It’s also an age range where a lot of people are living apart from their family or friends and they need a support network around them.
Being the founder of the network you’ve been given access to places and have influence over certain things – what doors have been opened for you?
It’s been fantastic. Every follow on Instagram, every email, every time someone comes along to a meet up it’s genuinely still amazing to me. It’s also heartbreaking that there’s so many people who need this community, but so amazing that people want to get involved and come along. It’s particularly meaningful when people contact and say they want to be volunteers and to host a group. So every little bit of influence I have is genuinely a shock. It’s been amazing to be able to support so many people.
I’m constantly learning about my own grief and the grief of others – I was invited to be in the BBC documentary that popstar George Shelley made called ‘Learning to Grieve’. George’s grief was really different to mine and it got me thinking about what bereavement looks like for young people of different characters and backgrounds. I was then able to better understand what the grief of the people who come along to the groups looks like. I have also recently been invited to lecture on grief, talk to staff bodies, and be interviewed at a book launch.
Where do you see Let’s Talk About Loss being in five years time?
I have a lot of big dreams and I’ve always been quite ambitious. But I also want Let’s Talk About Loss to be led by God. I want to be flexible and reactive to what his plan is and also for Let’s Talk About Loss to be led by the people who need it. I might say, ‘I’d love to start a podcast’ but actually is that what people who are bereaved need? What is it that they want? What is it that will make that reality easier for them? The biggest dream is simply that we’ll grow and there’ll be meet ups in more places. At the moment, lots of people get in contact and they’re just too far away from the group to be able to come along. Every time I can’t offer immediate support it really hurts because I know how frustrated I would be if I lived in Edinburgh and the closest group to me was Manchester! I would love there to be more groups in more cities and towns, and that’s really the growth strategy.
I also want us to be innovative, youth-led and original. For example, earlier this year we put on an exhibition in Nottingham that we won funding for, which came as a result of people saying, ‘It’s all well and good that you have a blog, but I’m not a writer. I use pictures or photos or drawings, and I want to tell my grief story in that way.’ The exhibition was called ‘When Words Hurt’ and it was so powerful to see people’s photos, drawings, murals, graffiti and sculptures of grief. That was such a great example of us being led by the young people who use our service.
Let’s Talk About Loss is creating a different narrative to feeling alone in something you can’t voice out loud. When I went to Bangladesh with Tearfund for three months I was grieving a lot. I felt quite sad and confused that I wasn’t able to do what I was there to do. I suppose it showed me that discussion around my grief was necessary for some kind of healing to happen in pursuit of wholeness. I guess for me that’s where I see the crossover between We Are Tearund and Let’s Talk About Loss – both are about doing community well, so that a better future can be brought closer.
To find out more about Let’s Talk About Loss check out their website.