BLOGS/INTERVIEWS/CASE STUDIES

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GOOD GRIEF – I feel lighter and enlightened – by Kerry-Jane

It was with great interest and trepidation that I signed up for the Good Grief Festival after hearing about it from Bamestream. The festival is a wonderful event designed to aid people in the grief process, or those that wish to learn more to aid others, it was also a celebration of life.

I attended a few of the Grief School workshops and talks hosted by an array of brilliant people, professionals and experts that included Bamestream members. I used the term trepidation as I have what could only be described as a phobia of death, which at times causes me to have severe anxiety, it is irrational, but I hoped attending and confronting the dreaded topic would ease my fears and phobia.

The Substance Misuse and Death talk piqued my interest due to two of my immediate family members having battled with addiction issues, one more seriously than the other. Due to the current pandemic attendees of the festival did so online, but it didn’t take away from the experience and it still felt personal and intimate.

I was surprised to hear the statistics on addiction, and death by addiction in the UK. It is shocking to know that statistically we have the highest drug death rate in the whole of Europe. Yet, there is still little to no help for the addicts or their families that suffer in the wake of the death of a loved one.

A topic arose regarding guilt for feeling relief when an addicted loved one finally succumbs to their addiction and passes; this struck a chord with me and it was a relief to hear that somebody had similar feelings to mine.

When my sister was in the darkest depths of her crack addiction and was homeless, stories filtered back to me in the small town where I live – tales that filled me with sadness and pain, never embarrassment because I knew that beneath the exterior of the shell that she was still in there. She was just trying to survive to get the medicine she desperately needed; attempts to prostitute herself, theft from loved ones, selling anything of value to her for £30 a time, living in a tent in a field, and numerous suicide attempts had become her life.

Prior to her severe addiction and throughout her relationship with narcotics, I spent sleepless nights wondering if she would overdose and be found dead, she’d already had a visit to ER due to her overuse of cocaine, and prior to the crack addiction she was extremely aggressive and spent her nights high and her days on a comedown being non responsive and hostile, so by the time I had worked out that she was addicted to crack, I had partly mourned the loss of my little sister, she hadn’t been there for the last 2 years.

A part of me waited for the relief, just so nobody had to spend sleepless nights worrying or if she had been beaten to death by a boyfriend in a drug fuelled fight. It wasn’t until I listened to these incredibly wonderful, courageous, academic women who too expressed these same feelings that I felt the burdens release and I let go of my own burden of guilt.

My sister spent time in prison for a drug related crime and came back clean and had furthered her education – but sobriety is a lifestyle choice and a battle she contends with daily, but she’s a fighter.

The workshop maybe didn’t heal my phobia, but it certainly left me feeling a little lighter and enlightened.

Death during times of Covid-19

Susie is a member of a well-known family in the Nottinghill Carnival community. Her sister passed on unexpectedly last year, not long after the family had lost another sister and now the matriarch of the family has also passed on. Her mother’s death happened during the times of Covid-19 restrictions and that meant the family were not able to have a traditional funeral and mourning rituals.

It’s tough, but I am doing what I have to do, it’s tough and we haven’t even had the anniversary of my sister’s passing yet and now mum. We have had 3 – one after the other. Mum’s was a different ball game but her passing went ok all things considered and because she didn’t have Covid it was a lot easier. I’ve heard some horror stories.

The experience for the family was not as bad as it could have been and that’s because mum’s death was not directly related to Covid but due to other health complications. Having said that, Covid had a serious impact on the way that the family mourned.

Mum had been hospitalised for two weeks, and when they told mum that they did all that they could do for her, she asked to be sent home and she lasted a weekend. She wanted to be home, so we were able to spend time with her and talk to her. I heard people say that they saw their loved ones go into an ambulance to the hospital and that’s the last time they saw them, which is really heart wrenching, so I gave thanks we didn’t have to deal with that”.

The family used our local funeral agency not the one in mum’s area and the staff at the agency remembered them because of the two previous death, and offered invaluable support. The impact of Covid means that many of the grave spots are already taken “we were very very fortunate to get a spot behind one sister and next to my other sister. Everywhere else was taken up but there was just one spot available, it’s so strange because we walked around looking for a spot and found that one right there and now they are all together”.

We didn’t do a nine nights, everyone did a candle vigil in their home on the nine night, and the hearse left from outside the house. The neighbours came out and other local people came out and we had some prayers said outside the house, we had some pan music.  

The funeral service and the eulogy were at the grave side and it was on zoom so the family who couldn’t attend in person. “It was a hot day, so people went under the trees – everyone was well scattered. It was completely different experience and it worked. It was added stress and pressure, but I had no control about the situation so I couldn’t get too worked up about it. It was ok. It was a different set of people who came to the house, Other family members came to the cemetery but stayed in their car because they were shielding and waved and said their farewells. which meant that there were about 40 people but all scattered. There was no gate keeper at the cemetery, I heard that some people turn up to other cemeteries and get told it’s too many people and get turned away. There were about 40 people but all scattered, it was alright, it went ok”.