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A British view on grief, Brexit and my sister Jackie




On the 24th June 2016 last year we woke up to find out we had voted to leave the European union. It was also the day that I woke up to find out that my sister had died. So I am dealing with two grief cycles all at the same time. Unlike some though I am counting the days since, other are counting the days to Brexit.

The cycle of grief is very personal. I didn’t really know what real grief was until 24th June last year.

Jackie had fought cancer since Christmas 2016 and I really did think she was going to make it, mostly because she thought she would. It was the quickest 6 months ever.

Grief is all consuming. Grief is a mental health state that we don’t calculate for, we don’t see coming and we completely underestimate.

So I want us to focus on that for a moment. What real grief is like and the impact it can have on you whilst working? How as an employer do you support and help? How do you retain people when they have exposed their grief and human vulnerability?

I so hope that you are some of the people reading this that don’t know what real grief is like and for those that do, I hope you will support me in helping me bring this into the open. We are still so Victorian in our attitude to death and in our ways of expressing and coping. This does not bode well for where we need to be now in this century.

So lets talk about the grief cycle and the dos and don’t of grief. There are points I want to make.

Everyone’s cycle is different so we need to stop being so rigid. In the UK you can get paid holiday and funeral leave for only those we say you can. Do you think that’s going to help with people engagement?

Frankly I didn’t have to face the policy police. I was already going on holiday so that day was a planned day off. My childhood friend texted me when I was in the nail bar getting ready for my holiday.

“ Has Jackie died?………… “ said the text with no emotion.

Then the phone then started to ring.

“ I am so sorry I can’t believe I texted that … “ she said flustered and in high pitched tone.

“ It’s ok” I replied “ I cant believe I am in a nail bar either…….. “

The nail bar assistant looked at me and because we weren’t on the Internet and were human beings in the same space and time she just knew something was very very wrong. I felt the tears start to roll and then the blur and mist descended on me.

Shock is real Isn’t it odd that I got the call and carried on for a good 3 hours, packing clothes, sorting money and going to the nail bar? Stuffing emotions into a box for a length of time also doesn’t help as it surfaces at a later date. Doctors have identified five common stages of grief: • Denial: Well I think mine lasted as long as the nail bar session. • Anger: I don’t think I was ever really angry. Ok I shouted at my boss and put the phone down but that wasn’t me grieving he was just being difficult. Of course my perception of things is fine. • Bargaining: this is the bit where you think you could have done things differently to stop things from happening. Yes I should have been a doctor and stopped cancer. My other sister Cathryn is a doctor and for her the grief was all about the fact she couldn’t help our sister so that’s not fair either • Depression:Its difficult to tell if you are depressed or just sad and grieving frankly. I cried a lot and still have meltdowns but am I not depressed. I have made some major life changes. I read somewhere you shouldn’t do that when your are grieving. Too late! • Acceptance: this is where you get over it… or not. If you think of the UK and Brexit where do you think the UK is on the grief cycle? I actually think we are still in shock. I guess you might or might not know what part of the cycle I am in but is not been a year so I am forgiving myself. (another first for me). I started the year in one mind-set and now I have left work and am looking at doing something really really different. More information on that to follow but I have even brought a website ( oh ok four) and one of them is aglobalbritain.com . The fact that I can buy that website shows just how much in shock the rest of the UK is. During Teresa Mays speech I googled it and no one had brought it so I did! I will never be the same again but I guess for those that have been touched by the hand of grief neither will you.