It is Grief Awareness Week from 2 – 8 December 2021.

One of the messages from the Good Grief Trust, who run the week, is, ‘Your story could be someone else’s hope’. This certainly rings true.  

At Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England we know that stories give others hope. When there is hope, there is also space for healing, compassion, and solidarity.

Grief Awareness Week is important. We do not talk about the processes and experiences of dying, death, bereavement, and grief anywhere near enough. As a result, people who are dying and those who are bereaved often feel isolated and alone.

You might expect me to say that. I am the Chair of Dying Matters, a culture change campaign seeking to generate conversations about dying, death, bereavement, and grief. The campaign aims to normalise the experiences we all inevitably have. I also Chair the Support After Suicide Partnership which brings together organisations involved in the specialist job of supporting those bereaved by suicide. And I am a commissioner for the UK Bereavement Commission.

But it is because of what I have learnt through personal experience, not because I hold these roles, that I believe we must talk more about dying, death, bereavement and grief.

Over the past six years, two people I love very much, my brother and Mum, have both died. Through these experiences I have learned that

  • By learning more about the process of dying, I found it easier to understand what is happening and why
  • Sometimes people think talking about a person will be too painful, so they say nothing for fear of upsetting you. I don’t find it upsetting if people ask me about Andrew or Mum. I want to speak about them, and I want others to as well
  • We can help each other by sharing our stories and our wisdom. I learned so much from others. A colleague and friend from 20 years ago wrote me a letter telling me everything they had learnt when one of their parents were dying. Others shared their experience via Twitter. The sharing of experiences really helped me
  • Grief is not linear; sometimes I can feel completely fine and sometimes I don’t. And that is fine. There are no rules about how, when and where we grieve
  • I take great joy and comfort in creating ways to feel connected and building new traditions, especially ways to mark their birthdays and other special days
  • When people we love die, the process of grief is about re-establishing who we are. If my older brother is dead, do I have a brother, am I still a younger brother?

We know that talking about death, dying and bereavement is important and ultimately helpful. It can also be difficult, particularly if there is trauma associated with the death. Reaching out for help is important. For support after bereavement, there are some excellent resources, including: