Lifelines: Coping with loss

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ANNE Chilton gives her advice on loss. If you are affected by any of the issues in Lifelines and require further advice, contact Relationships Scotland (


My friend’s mum died last month. They were very close and my friend is devastated. She works full time and is still having to deal with all the practical things around her mum’s death, like the will and sorting out all her possessions.

She is really struggling and could do with some time off to get it sorted. When I suggested this, she said she had already taken the allowed time of five days off and that this should be enough. She seems to feel that as five days is what is granted, this should be sufficient time and so it’s her own fault that she hasn’t got it all sorted. What can I do to help her?

It’s strange, isn’t it, that at the other end of the life cycle, new parents are given lots of time off to adapt to the changes in their lives. Yet, when a life ends, we allow such little time. Most employers give a week off to deal with the practicalities of losing a family member, but then the other aspects of sorting out what is left behind somehow have to be fitted in with all the other bits of living.

At the same time, we also expect people to manage the emotional impact of having lost someone. It doesn’t seem fair. These days it appears there is no space for gentle grieving or slowly letting go, nor allowing time to experience the significance of the life lost and the storing of memories.

Maybe your friend needs to understand that although five days is what her employer allows, she should think about how much she really needs. She could speak to her boss to see if it would be possible to take a little more leave to get things sorted. You could also reassure her that five days isn’t enough and that it’s not her fault. Losing someone isn’t just about practicalities, and a few days is insufficient to give justice to a life lived.

I lost my daughter 26 years ago. She was five years old and had meningitis. It was such a sudden thing – one day she was with us, running around causing mayhem, and the next she was wired up to machines in hospital. It seemed as if life went from perfect to a nightmare in the blink of an eye, and I don’t ever seem to have fully got back to enjoying life. On the surface, it may seem to others as if I have, but not a day goes by when I don’t think of my wee girl and miss her. I read things that say we should grieve and move on, but inside I know I can’t. I wonder if something is wrong with me.

No two losses are the same, and losing a child is the one people dread more than any other. While other people might acknowledge the depth of that loss, they really don’t want to consider the implications for themselves. I wonder what it is that makes you feel you shouldn’t still feel it so keenly? I would guess that when she was born a whole lifetime of what you wanted for her and how you would care for her appeared in front of you. All those dreams are still inside you – they didn’t die when she did. The grief of losing a child doesn’t end when their lives do. Even though she isn’t here, you are still her mum and she is still part of your life. Of course you continue to grieve.

You say you feel you should have let go by now. Consider that maybe you don’t have to – allow yourself to miss your wee girl and to carry on loving her. Find a place for her in your life in a way that is meaningful to you. Whilst your daughter is not here, your love for her is, so don’t hide it away.

Twitter: @RelScot