The Final Curtain: 'Grief Geek' Caroline Lloyd on dealing with loss
It's said that Irish people are "great at funerals", but death is something we tend to shy away from talking about before it happens. In a new series, Her meets the people who want to start a wider conversation about death and loss. Here, the woman behind The Grief Geek shares the experiences that led her to start the blog...
"I would love to live in a world where it is common knowledge that you do not ‘get over it’, that there is no right or wrong way to grieve."
'Grief Geek' Caroline Lloyd's interest in grief was bourne out of her own. At age 22 she lost a friend died of cancer, and the grief she experienced was "all consuming".
"As this was pre-internet, there was very little bereavement or grief information. I found cliched poems in the cancer hospital chapel and someone mentioned ‘stages’ and ‘getting over it’ after ‘time heals your wounds’.
"If this occurred today, my response would be something like; “Wait. WTF. I can’t deal”, followed by a string of sad emojis. It would be posted on social media with the expectation of lots of supportive, empathic messages in recognition of my loss. Instead, pre social media, there was no support because he was ‘just’ a friend."
In order to try and deal with her pain, Caroline volunteered to be a befriender in a cancer hospital and began researching grief.
"The only way I can describe this bereavement is to compare it to a nuclear bomb going off in my world. I really couldn’t imagine any shoots of life appearing ever again – so all the platitudes and outdated ‘advice’ just made me angry and determined to contribute in any way possible to changing this outdated narrative.
"I was able to access some academic information on grief and bereavement, but I still had to understand the technical jargon. Once I did, it was a lot more helpful than anything anyone had ever said to me. So, it was particularly frustrating that this information had been gathered over 20-30 years, but had not filtered down into everyday language or to non-academic people.
"I despaired that, despite all this published information, people were still saying the same old shite such as 'you’ll be fine when you get over it'."
Caroline undertook training to become a Cruse bereavement volunteer to share this knowledge and help support others.
"I trained to support clients, facilitated bereavement support groups, joined the management committee for my branch, attended every grief and death conference I could find, and helped train new volunteers. I also volunteered on the national helpline at Christmas and undertook further training in traumatic grief, child death, and trained to support grieving children and young people."
What began as a "hobby" has turned into a career, and Caroline is now a published author and bereavement training facilitator. She also started blogging grief theory, as The Grief Geek, "in an accessible way for everyone".
The success of The Grief Geek blog led to Caroline being approached by an editor from Jessica Kingsley Publishers asking if she would be willing to write a book on grief.
"Initially I thought: 'No way!”, I’m not a writer, I’m just a bereaved person trying to help other bereaved people.' But then I realised that after many deaths over the past 30 years – including three suicides, one infant death, two perinatal deaths and several family and friend deaths – I had sufficient life experience to understand grief from both my perspective and that of those around me."
We had a wonderfully uplifting @DeathCafe Dublin No.8 yesterday evening, with plenty of the Irish craic. Thank you to all that made it such a special evening, particularly my co-facilitator @naoise_waldron #deathpositive #LetsTalk #mentalhealth #ThursdayThoughts ☕️?? pic.twitter.com/ugP0SJgMYa
— Caroline Lloyd (@TheGriefGeek) October 17, 2019
Caroline's book, Grief Demystified, was published in 2017.
"I wrote it to debunk those bullshit myths that I still hear even today. I wrote it to help contribute to the normalisation of grief; it isn’t just emotional, and you can do it any way you like. I wrote the book that I so desperately wanted when I had disenfranchised grief and had no idea that that was even a thing.
"Before my time is up, I would love to live in a world where it is common knowledge that you do not ‘get over it’, that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. That there are different types of grief, that grief is not just an emotion, and that it’s OK to tell people how you are feeling and what you need from them.
"We live in a society that can expect us to ‘move on’ quickly, or to ‘get over it’ and that just isn’t how grief works. Our love for the deceased will live within us for as long as we live."