Death shouldn’t be the elephant in the room

It’s the hidden part of mental health

Mental health awareness is really important.

Anything that affects your mental well-being in anyway can leave a lasting impact, but one thing that does have a consistent and present impact is only ever spoken about behind closed doors. The death of a loved one. 

I was 16 years old when my Dad died. I had barely recovered from my teenage angst and was in the middle of my GCSE exams. It was the Easter holidays and it was the day that the Icelandic volcano sent out enough ash to interfere with European air travel for a few weeks.

He was always the proudest father.

He was always the proudest father

For as long as I can remember my Dad had been in and out of hospital with various health issues, and when I was 12 he went into hospital on Father’s Day to have a transplant.

Being 12 years old I had no idea how to even begin to deal with what might have happened if he had died. From birth I was told that Christians go to heaven and everyone else goes to hell. Heaven is good, hell is bad. Which in my eyes meant that unless I knew that someone had been baptised and went to church regularly they were probably going to go to hell, it doesn’t matter if you’re a good person or not. It’s the part of Christianity that I’ve always struggled with.

So four years later when he eventually succumbed to pneumonia I had no idea how to feel. I just knew the night before that I was going to wake up to bad news.

I was numb when my Mum told my little sister, I didn’t want to admit it was true so I pretended I was still asleep. I even went to the cinema with friends like it was just another day, except it wasn’t and I had to be there for my family.

In Victorian times death was a part of life and children were taught about it from a young age, but as a generation obsessed with living longer and looking young it has become hidden.

The problem with never talking about death meant that for many years after I struggled to come to terms with what had happened. As happens with many young Christians, I started to doubt what I had been taught for many years. I couldn’t come to terms with the idea that those views meant that most of my friends and family are going to hell when they die. I would say my family and friends are good people but I had been told that unless they gave their lives to Jesus it didn’t matter how good they were.

So I pulled away. But that meant I had nothing to hold onto, and I had nowhere to get support from, I couldn’t ask my family because they were grieving too.

Death has become awkward for our generation, and in the time that you need them most, teenage friends will drift away because they can’t deal with what you are dealing with.

It’s time that we spoke about it more, it’s time we stop hiding behind closed doors. For me my Dad’s death became a celebration of his life but I watched members of my family spiral into depression. Grief is never the same for anyone, but it should never be allowed to cause depression.


Our last family photo

It’s taken a long time but I processed my grief eventually, I still have days where I miss him more than others and there are days that I don’t feel like doing anything but that it’s not what he would have wanted.

My Dad was my inspiration, he gave me the motivation to work hard, he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and that’s one of the hardest things and one of the most motivating things when it comes to exam time. It’s just unlucky that the anniversary of his death will always be just before exams, I’ll always be a little more stressed and more emotional. But I’ve found ways around it, I always take some time out of revision to focus on myself and make sure I don’t overwork.

I was lucky that my friends were really understanding and without their support I don’t think I’d be the same person today, but that’s not the same for most young people. I watched as all three of my sisters lost friends purely because people don’t know what to say or do.

My family have since become the most important people in my life, it’s made me realise I can’t take them for granted.

My Mum, the strongest woman I know.

My Mum, the strongest woman I know

The only thing anyone knows as fact is that one day you will die. We need to stop hiding it from people, if it makes you feel better to believe in heaven then that’s okay. It’s not okay if you can’t process the hole left behind because nobody else will talk about it.

Six years later I find it hard to tell people my Dad died, not because it’s upsetting, but because nobody knows how to react. Even I don’t know fully how to react when someone dies, do I say sorry? Do I brush over it? For me, I’d rather you just acknowledge that he died and that sometimes I’ll be sad, but his death doesn’t define me. His inspiration in my life does.