By Alicia Ward
‘I would usually advise my clients to keep busy…’, my grief counsellor said over Zoom, ‘that’s why it’s so hard at the moment. You can’t keep busy, go out and meet your friends.’
Most people describe being 21 as their peak in life. But I couldn’t care less. Everything felt so trivial and meaningless.
October 2020. Not only was there a global pandemic, a sudden apocalyptic, surreal reality that had been thrust on us all, but I had tested positive for COVID-19. I was stuck in my bedroom in my house at uni. It was the lowest I have ever felt and I couldn’t just ring my Dad for advice and hear his rational and positive encouragement. A week later I was going to turn 21; what is meant to be an amazing milestone to be celebrated. Most people describe being 21 as their peak in life. But I couldn’t care less. Everything felt so trivial and meaningless.
Three months earlier I had lost my Dad. Over the last few years of his life, as I was starting to mature and become an adult, I could feel us transitioning from Dad and daughter to close friends. We went out for drinks in bars together and met up for lunch in my revision breaks; but I still felt like a little girl again when I was over at his house, with the fire going in the wood burner, hearing him blasting out Led Zeppelin or Dire Straits in the kitchen whilst he made one of his epic Sunday dinners.
He was friends with everyone; you couldn’t walk down the street in Leeds or his home-town of Macclesfield without hearing ‘Si! Nice to see you! How are you?’. Over a hundred lined the street at his funeral, with only 30 of us allowed into the church.
I have days where I cry at nothing, like dropping a plate, and others where I feel so numb to it all, like I am watching it happen to someone else.
It was safe to say I was in shock for about six months. Maybe I still am. I felt, and still feel, so lost, some days wishing that I would just die to be with him again and then other days feeling happy and full of life, as he would want me to be. I replay that horrible day over and over again in my head, traumatic memories flashing through my head whilst I eat my breakfast and then a few minutes later my head is filled with mundane tasks like choosing what type of bread to buy. I have days where I cry at nothing, like dropping a plate, and others where I feel so numb to it all, like I am watching it happen to someone else.
Seeing Simon Bray’s grief photography project on the One Show with my Mum, I told her to turn it off. I couldn’t face it. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it and later looked it up. I felt connected to it, with my photography hobby being something that I do to clear my head and keep myself busy and creative. I thought it was amazing what Simon Bray did and I wanted to help others too, as well as myself.
I knew there were other students feeling the same as me. Not only were we grieving, stuck inside and constantly being reminded of death as the pandemic dominated the news, but we were also expected to produce high level essays, reports and presentations to tight deadlines. I wanted to meet some of these people who knew a lot about how I was feeling. I wanted to listen to, and share, their stories.