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How do you cope with the sudden loss of a loved one & the aftermath that follows?

This blog is written by my amazing Stepson Scott Siegel. It's an open, honest, raw account to show his personal experience of the sudden loss of his Mum and the grieving process to date. But it's also to show others (especially men) that it's ok to talk about this stuff openly.


His wish is that it helps someone along the way who may be struggling with the grief of a sudden loss. So please share this far and wide and let everyone know no matter how old you are, whether you're a man, women, girl or boy. It's ok not to be ok and it's healthy to talk openly about how you feel and what you're experiencing through grief.


Scott's Mum died at the start of this year 2024. She was someone I didn't know well but I'd met her a few times and she was a really lovely lady. My husband and her still had a great relationship and they'd done a brilliant job of co parenting Scott and Emma over the years whilst maintaining an easy relationship.


The loss has been shocking for them all and this account below gives you some insight of the unexpected loss of a loved one and what has followed from Scott's perspective.


Scott's account


Preface


It has been 63 days since I lost my mum. She was only 56, and I was 27. This is the first time since that day that I have felt comfortable enough to write anything relating to mum down. I knew at the time that I wanted to document how I was feeling as it was happening. The pain, the anger, the unfathomable feeling of numbness that hit me harder than anything I had ever experienced before

in my life. But I couldn’t.


At the time I wasn’t sure if my desire to do this was to help others, or to help myself, and looking back at this retrospectively, I think I knew the answer. It was to help me, and that’s why I never got round to it. Part of me knew it would help. It would allow me to express how I was feeling openly and honestly without fear of judgement, or that horrendous look of sympathy that I still dread. But to be frank, initially at least, I didn’t want to feel better. I know that sounds strange, but I didn’t.


I didn’t think I had any right to feel happiness considering what had happened.

I can now sit here, with a fresh mindset, comfortable In the knowledge that I deserve to be happy. I deserve to enjoy life, and that this is precisely what mum would have wanted for me and my wonderful sister, Emma.


However, that doesn’t mean that this is somehow now easy to navigate. That is why I think now is the right time to try to document how I was feeling at each stage of this process, the challenges, the tears, the painful nights, but also the good moments that did still exist even though I didn’t appreciate them at their time. Writing it all down will hopefully give me a better understanding of the shitstorm that has been the past few months.


I will do my best to discuss each feeling chronologically, but at times the feelings I will speak about overlapped each other, and showed themselves weeks after I thought that particular feeling had left. So putting them in a clear order isn’t wholly accurate, or truthful to the people reading. I will however, do my best to explain them individually, as they arose for me.


Whilst I am confident this process will help me, I am hopeful someone else can also find it useful at least to some degree. But before anyone reads any further, the one thing I want to stress above everything else, is that this is my experience. As cliché as this sounds, everyone deals with something as painful as loss differently, and that is evident even within my own family.


There is no right or wrong, and if you take anything from this, I would like to assure you that your feelings are valid. If you feel angry, you have every right, and if you feel sad, again, you have every right. The feelings I will discuss, may not be in the order your or anyone else will or has experienced them in, nor is it to say that these are the prerequisite feelings for loss.


My experience is my experience and yours is your own. Take comfort in that.


Numb


I left my work in a panic, Emma had called, twice. She wouldn’t tell me what was going on, but I could tell by her voice that something was wrong. The drive over felt like an eternity, every potential situation ran through my mind. I was trying to find solutions for a problem I didn’t even know. I made up false scenario after false scenario in my head, each time confirming to myself that we would be OK, that I could solve it for her, or my mum or whoever it was that needed the problem

solved. But not once, in that whole car journey, did I consider this a possibility.


Even when I arrived, and saw a police car outside, Emma standing there, I still couldn’t work out what was going on. I don’t think my brain wanted to accept it as a possibility. But when Emma told me our mum was gone, I felt cold. I couldn’t understand. I just kept asking her how this had happened, I had seen my mum the night before and she was great.


Generally, I don’t cry a lot. Not since I was little anyway, but almost instantly the tears started to stream down my face uncontrollably. I didn’t get a lump in my throat, or watery eyes, or any of the other warning signs. They just started, and wouldn’t stop. The next few hours felt like a blur. I went home, sat with my girlfriend Gemma in a dark, quiet room, cried and did nothing. I didn’t even want the Television on. I knew I wouldn’t watch it, and the sound of people talking was deafening. I stumbled through the rest of that day, telling the people that I

needed to tell, but largely, I sat and did nothing.


The people closest to me knew first, and the messages of condolences started to flood in. I desperately wanted to appreciate this, and now I do take comfort that people cared, and were thinking of me, but at the time, I couldn’t help but feel how completely and utterly wasted their sympathies and thoughts were. It didn’t make me feel anything. It didn’t change anything, and nothing anyone could say would achieve the only thing I wanted.


At this stage, I don’t think I could have explained to anyone how I felt regardless of how hard I tried. Mum had died so suddenly, and without warning, so the shock had taken over my full body, and for the next week or 2, all I felt was complete numbness. I felt as though I was alive, but not really living. Life was just passing me by. I would wake up, sit in the same place for hours on end, before trying to

sleep, and then repeat.


The mere thought of food made me feel sick, and I couldn’t sleep for more than an hour or 2 at a time. I have never felt less like myself than I did for those few days.

Personally, I think my body went into self-preservation mode. It knew I couldn’t accept what had happened all at once, so it started to shut down, block out parts of my brain that would make me feel a certain way, only letting in certain feelings at certain points. It turned me almost robotic.


Denial


I don’t think I ever denied what had happened, and I also don’t think the word forgot is accurate. But I did for brief moments slip into blissful ignorance and find myself believing mum was still with us. This didn’t happen often, and it happened mainly in the period between mums death and the funeral, when as I said above time just seemed to stand still.


I would be eating my breakfast, and think, “I better call mum to tell her about this”, then remember. I just don’t think I was ready to accept she was gone at this stage. I wont dwell on this particular feeling too much, as it was something that I mainly experienced in that interim period, but I thought it was useful to make people aware that acceptance isn’t an easy step that comes automatically. Especially when something happens so suddenly, sometimes your brain takes some time to catch up with real life, and this is perfectly OK.


Guilt


The next real feeling I remember feeling was guilt. I had seen my mum just the day before she passed and that interaction will live in my head for the rest of my life. I loved my mum, she knew that, I know that she knew that, but I wouldn’t say we were an overly affectionate family. We aren’t cold, but we don’t tell each other how much we love each other or how much we mean to each other every day. Don’t get me wrong, I did tell my mum I loved her, of course I did. But it wasn’t constant like some

families. It was more of an unspoken agreement that we all knew.


That day, mum had come to mine and Gemma’s home, handed in some ironing (Yes – my mum still did my ironing at 27), sat down and had a quick chat before heading off. The interaction wasn’t a bad one, we didn’t argue, we didn’t fight, we had a nice normal conversation about our week, our upcoming plans and then she left. But still to this day, I sit and think about how I should have acted. I should have gotten up and hugged her, told her how much I loved her, how much I appreciated her. But I didn’t. I wish I had, but I just didn’t, and I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for not saying or doing something more.


The guilt discussed above was very specific. I would replay that day in my head over and over, reaching the same outcome, I wasn’t happy with how I left it. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t to know, that if I were to say bye to everyone like it was the last time I would see them, then I would drive them, and myself insane and that mum probably would have thought something was wrong with me if I had done, as it just wasn’t the way we behaved. But it doesn’t seem to help. Hopefully in time I will start to come to terms with how I left things with my mum. Maybe not. That is something I am going to have to live with.


I’d like to say this was where the guilt stopped for me, but it wasn’t. Guilt wasn’t just specific to this one situation. For weeks, even months after mum passed I felt extreme guilt for doing anything. I was worried people would judge me for doing normal day to day activities, for trying to distract myself with work, a food shop, television or whatever it may be. I felt as though they would think I didn’t care, or that I was fine. I wasn’t. I knew that. But I worried others wouldn’t understand. So whenever a glimpse of joy presented itself, be that a funny episode on the TV, or a daft conversation between people in my office, I instantly felt guilty beyond belief that I had enjoyed something.


Throughout this stage, I criticised myself far worse than anyone else could have over this, refusing any real happiness in my life. One thing I want to make clear at this juncture, is that this isn’t appropriate and it isn’t how I ever would have wanted Emma to live, or any of my friends and family for that matter. Enjoying something, doesn’t diminish the love you felt for the person, and it doesn’t mean you don’t care

they are gone. I would tell anyone in a similar set of circumstances to grab the tiny specs of happiness with both hands and hold on to them vigorously. But for myself? I hated the fact that I could be even briefly OK without her.


I want to reiterate this point as it has taken me much longer than I would have liked to realise this. Please know that you should never feel guilty about taking joy from a situation. Bad things happen to good people all the time, but refusing yourself joy and happiness because you feel cheated by life is only self-fulfilling, and the quicker you can smile and not feel guilty, or like you are doing something wrong, the better you will begin to feel.


Sadness


This may seem like a fairly obvious section. But I guess I am using the word sadness due to the absence of a better, more accurate word. Clearly, losing a parent is sad, but I think what I felt throughout this period was more than that. It physically hurt. I would lie in bed at night and think about mum. I would wake up and think about

her. I struggled to focus for any length of time on anything that wasn’t mum, and each and every time I did think about her I felt like my heart was being ripped apart all over again. The guilt that arose when I did find joy in something, almost always, instantly, turned itself into sadness each and every time. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking how much happier each of these fleeting happy moments would have been if none of this had happened, and mum was still around.


What once gave me happiness now seemed to make me sad because I knew she wasn’t there to live it with me. The “sadness” came mainly from the finality of it all. The fact that I would never hear her voice anymore. That she wouldn’t get to see my amazing nephew grow up, or that she would never see my own kids. It hurts knowing that every possible piece of happiness that the future holds for me, and for Emma, all the big monumental events we have yet to come, she won’t be around to experience with us.


People suggested I look at photos of mum, and hang these on my walls. I will do that, and I have started too, but initially, it was too painful. I wouldn’t smile and think of the fond memories (of which we had a lot). I would look at the photos and crumble under the extreme weight of knowing that we will never get to experience those simple pleasures together again. As the time went on, I got better at suppressing some of this sadness. At least externally. I would manage to hold in the tears when I was in other people’s company, which at times wasn’t easy. But

this reared itself when I did manage to get any sleep.


If I did succumb to the exhaustion of living life on 3 or 4 hours sleep per night, I would have horrific nightmares. They always revolved around mum, and losing her in some way. I would wake up screaming, shaking, sweating and with the most

gut wrenching pain if my stomach. It was like my body was making me relive that moment over and over and over again, so each new day felt like a monumental task. Life was more challenging than it had ever been before. I want to take this moment to thank my wonderful girlfriend Gemma who never once throughout all

of this made me feel less of a man for my emotions, and who regardless of how many times I woke her up screaming, refused to go and sleep in our spare room for a full nights rest. I am so thankful for you.


Anger


I am not generally an angry person. I am pretty laid back, and I don’t get overly stressed, irritated or resentful of things. I believe we each have a path and a purpose and that things happen for a reason. However, after a while, the sadness I had been feeling started to turn into just this, resentment and anger. Thankfully, for me, this didn’t last very long. But for a while, I was irrationally angry that this

had happened to us. It didn’t seem fair. Mum was a kind person, and would have done anything for anyone. She didn’t have a bad bone in her body, and I would find myself, fairly regularly, sitting and thinking that someone else deserved this more than her. I resented the fact that so many criminals, and horrible people the world over got to continue their life and she didn’t.


I don’t pretend that I am a saint. I have done things I am not proud of, and things that if I could change I would, but I would like to think I am a kind person with a good heart, and I just couldn’t figure out why this had happened to me and my family, and that bred a level of anger and hatred within me. It felt so personal. Like someone, or something was out to get us. Almost as if life had robbed me of

something, and for a while I hated everything, because I was frantically looking for someone or something to blame for what we were going through and I just couldn’t find the subject for my hatred.


My birthday wasn’t long after mum passed, and I think this heightened the anger I was feeling. I wanted it to be over before it had even begun, because I hated the fact that she wasn’t there for it. I guess the anger stemmed from the sadness I felt about her missing out on life. See what I mean about all of the feelings merging into one? Mother’s day followed fairly quickly after this, and again I wanted it to be over. I hated seeing the posts on Instagram, the loving messages people were sending to their own mum, and once more it left me feeling cheated that I couldn’t do the same.


I didn’t want anyone else to be happy because I knew that I couldn’t be.

That sentence itself in isolation sounds horrible. But it’s how I felt. Why did other people who didn’t even appreciate what they have get to experience such happiness when my own families lives were in ruins.


Thankfully, as I said, the anger didn’t last too long for me. The analytical side of my brain kicked in fairly quickly. I knew that being angry at the world for something that no one had any control over was irrational. I knew deep down the posts others sent about how much they loved their own mum wasn’t a personal dig at me. But had I not had a great and inspirational bunch of people around me, I think this stage could have lasted significantly longer than it did.


You want someone to blame. You want there to be a villain in your story so that you can seek some form of vengeance. At least that’s what I wanted. But once you accept that life can sometimes just be pretty shitty to good people, that anger starts to fade away pretty quickly. It doesn’t make it feel any less fair, but the anger starts to diminish. There is no rhyme nor reason to why these things happen to people, sometimes you need to accept that life is just that, life.


Emma


I am 4 years younger than Emma, and she has always looked after me. Whether that be giving me more money at high school when I had lost mine playing pitchy (a coin toss gambling game), or organising every single family present I have ever given. I genuinely could not have wished for a better older sibling than her. We have always been close, and I have always wanted to be able to protect her and look after her the way she has always done for me.


My parents split up when I was 2. They always had a great relationship, and were a perfect example of coparenting following a divorce. But I think because of this, as I got older, I did feel some level of responsibility to be the man of the home for my mum and Emma. I have done my best over the years but largely I think Emma has stepped up for me more than I ever have for her. When she told me about mum, I couldn’t stop myself from crying, I was struggling to speak, and kept losing my breath, but she sat next to me, held my hand and told me everything

would be OK.


I would like to add this wasn’t a one time occurrence, she did the same for me, time

and time again. She was in the exact same position as me, she had experienced the same loss as me, but even then she was looking out for me. I don’t think I will ever be able to thank her enough for that. For anyone that doesn’t know Emma. She is unapologetically honest, determined, kind, organised, analytical, and generally a rock hard superstar. She is now an amazing mum to my nephew Jude, who I briefly mentioned above, and who is a complete beacon of joy in such a dark time for us all.


The very few smiles I had in those first few weeks following mums passing were at Jude’s face, his innocence and happiness was and still is contagious. So thank you wee man. Emma – if you are reading this, this is for you. You are an inspiration to me, and I love you more than you ever know. I know we don’t say it enough, but I won’t make the same mistake I did with mum, so I will continue to annoy you by telling you that as much as possible. I want you to know that regardless of how strong you feel like you need to be, you don’t. I could not have gotten through this without you. Thank you.


Be Kind to Yourself


I have always been close to my mum. Emma has always called me “Golden Boy” because my mum did everything for me, and I could never really do any wrong in her eyes. She wasn’t always the best at giving advice, that’s what Dad was always good at. But she would listen, without judgement and put you at ease just knowing that she would do whatever she could to help. Be Kind to yourself, is something mum used to say to me fairly regularly, and I think I would like to

pass this on, as it really has helped me a lot in life. I am definitely a perfectionist, and I strive to be the best at everything I do. I can’t help it, I am ridiculously competitive, and cant stand losing. But with that comes pressure.


Some people feel outside pressure from parents, teachers, coaches etc, but my main source of pressure has always been from myself. That’s not to say my mum and dad didn’t want me to do well, they did. But first and foremost they wanted me to be a good person. I would like to think I have succeeded in this regard, but it doesn’t stop me piling on challenge after challenge and expectation after expectation on myself. I said previously that I don’t get overly stressed, and that is true. But I am hard on myself. If I don’t feel like I have done well at something, I let myself know that, and this on the odd occasion has led me to be quite ruthlessly self-deprecating. I wouldn’t do this to anyone else, especially not the people I care about, but for myself I feel quite happy to do it for some reason.


My interpretation of Be Kind to yourself, was never tell yourself how amazing you are, and allow yourself to make bad choice after bad choice because “it’s ok to just be you”. But more so, to just make sure you give yourself a break once in a while. Life is hard, you might not always stick to your diet, you might not always pass the exam first time, or wake up feeling like the best version of yourself. But that’s OK, life is challenging at the best of times, and no more so than when something so

traumatic as losing a loved one. So just stop, do what feels right for you in the moment and be OK within yourself.


Closing


It has now been 78 days since I lost my mum, and the feelings I have discussed above, are largely still daily occurrences. I still generally cry in the shower before work, and if I don’t cry in the shower, I realise on the drive in that I haven’t, and start to cry then. I still feel guilty for smiling too wide, or laughing too hard, and each day I still wish that things could be different and that she could still be with us.


I don’t want this to come across as a sad “ending”, as that’s not the case. Just because I still experience these feelings, and thoughts, isn’t to say that things haven’t improved. I definitely cry less, my nightmares now aren’t every night, and I can now occasionally think of memories of mum and take some happiness from them.


This horrendous journey that was forced upon me and Emma, and many others, including some of you reading this, is not an easy one. It is not a short one. There is no timescales, or manual on how to manoeuvre through this. But if you take each day as it comes, roll with the punches that each day throws at you, and most importantly be kind to yourself. It will improve. Life will start to feel more colourful and less bleak as each day goes on, and the memories that once made you angry and resentful will make you smile. I am not quite there yet. But I know that it is out there for me, and I will find it at some stage when the time is right.


Good luck, and thank you for reading.


Scott x


For more support around grief or if you are struggling just now, grief encounter supports children and young people through the grieving process and Mind UK

lists 13 different organisations to help support bereavement. If you need someone to reach out to now, then please contact 116 123 to speak to the Samaritans.



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