As the year 2021 comes to an end, we find ourselves battling through the new strain of Covid19, omicron.
As we enter 2022 and continue to push through this global pandemic, it becomes difficult to overlook the amount of grief and loss people continue to face. We all see the posts online of folk paying tribute to their departed loved ones.
The news has felt selectively silent on the level of loss felt this time around, but we hear of the insurmountable grief people are facing. How have we been grieving in a time like this and how do we begin to normalise conversations on grief, death and loss in a society that struggles with this conversation? What does the online and media representation of grief look like? Are black, Asian and ethnic minority stories of grief and loss being factored in? Are we finally talking about the impact of loss? Have we found a way to acknowledge the pain of death and grief?
‘Let’s Talk About Loss’ founded by Beth French
When you are first bereaved it’s an incredibly isolating moment. All of a sudden your life has completely changed and there are so many emotions – anger, sadness, emptiness, confusion. These are just a few. It’s tough for anyone, regardless of your age or your cultural background. However, in 2015 when I was bereaved at the age of twenty I realised that the support offered for people who were grieving was centred towards white middle class people over the age of fifty. I knew that needed to change. Selfishly, I wanted to have a support group of people my own age. But also I knew that we were only reading the stories of a certain type of grief. A very British middle class experience of grief and that was not what grief was like for everyone. Without allowing diverse voices into the space people are left in that initial state of isolation feeling that no one can understand their experience of grief. And that can be very damaging to people’s mental health.
Grief and black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities
Having an online space makes it so much easier to listen to different voices and understand the experience of others. One of the first resources I found was the Bereavement Room podcast hosted by Callsuma Ali. Callsuma is really passionate about telling the grief experience of the black and brown diaspora and interviews her guests so well. As a white woman, I knew that my experience of grief was significantly impacted by my white privilege. So listening to other people talk about their experience ensured that I fully understood all the different ways grief can impact us. I keep working hard to ensure that our blog contributors are from diverse backgrounds and have recently started doing ‘weekend takeovers’ on our ‘Let’s Talk About Loss’ Instagram page where I hand over the account to someone I admire in the grief space and allow them to share their story exactly how they want to. I’ve been prioritising applicants for that who are from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities as so often they just do not get heard.
Offline we still have work to do. We have over eighty volunteers and hundreds of people attending our meet ups, but only a very small proportion of them are from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities. This is something that I am acutely aware of and looking to understand better and change in the right way. We are setting up a Racial Justice Advisory Board very soon to ensure that our decision makers are from black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities as well as looking to partner with leaders in this space and work with them to improve everything we do.
Singer George Shelley’s BBC Three documentary ‘Learning To Grieve’
In May 2017, George Shelley lost his sister to a horrible tragedy. He talks about the grief and depression that followed her loss in this BBC Three documentary.
I was delighted to be asked to appear on the George Shelley BBC Three documentary, ‘Learning To Grieve’. Overnight we went from a handful of attendees at our Nottingham meet up group (our first group) to hundreds of people from all across the UK asking to come along to a group or set one up in their local town or city. It was so powerful to hear a man talk openly about grief and mental health issues too as the grief space is heavily dominated by women.
George is an amazing guy and it was such a privilege to speak to him. So many people watched that documentary and for the first time saw another young person speaking about how grief had affected them, and what the impact of grief was on their transition into adulthood. It was a ground-breaking documentary and it must have started so many important conversations.
When Let’s Talk About Loss addressed Grace Dent’s widely shared article for The Guardian: ‘British grief centres mainly around the making of sandwiches’.
Oh gosh, that article! As soon as I saw the headline I was shocked. It is such a white British experience to have tiny triangle sandwiches at a funeral and although many people might resonate with that, to claim that all British grief centres around those sandwiches is a gross overstatement. It has completely whitewashed the grief experience and overlooked the different cultural experiences of grief. White triangle sandwiches in a cold village hall is not everyone’s experience of a wake and I’d like to see a publication like The Guardian acknowledging that and commissioning a much more diverse range of people to write on grief.
How to address grief with someone?
My best advice is always that to say something is better than saying nothing. It might be that you aren’t 100% sure about how someone is experiencing their grief. Perhaps they have had a lot of help from friends and family or perhaps they have been left to deal with things by themselves. Regardless of someone’s cultural background it is important simply to let them know that you are there for them and can support them. Do not be surprised if their experience of grief and loss is quite different to your own and ask them how best you can support them. That is why I set up Let’s Talk About Loss – to encourage everyone to talk more openly and honestly about grief and loss and to try and make grief less of a taboo in society.
You can find out more about Let’s Talk About Loss and the work we do on our website: www.letstalkaboutloss.org where you can read our blogs and find out more about the projects we run. If you’d like to contribute your own story for our blog or volunteer for the organisation in any capacity we would love to hear from you. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to chat to Beth.
Watch Learning to Grieve.
George Shelley recently released a new single dedicated to his grief journey following the loss of his sister.