Coping with grief as a young adult

OPINION Alesha Arrowsmith shares her experience of losing her mum age 21 and coping with grief.

When you lose someone you love it can feel like your whole world stops while everyone else’s keeps turning.

I was 21 when I lost my mother to cervical cancer. Your twenties are supposed to be the most exciting time of your life, experiencing new things, meeting new people and starting your journey through life as a young adult. I had to accept that the trajectory of my life was not the way I had planned it to be.

You may have heard of the 5 stages of grief; Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, however, these emotions are non-linear and come and go as they please.

Allowing yourself to experience each emotion and getting comfortable with the fact ‘I am right where I need to be’ is important. I tried to fight every single stage and struggled with allowing myself to have a good cry, but once I stopped resisting my emotions things got a little easier.

Be patient, be kind and give yourself time.

Coping with grief is all about trial and error. One of the main things for me was letting go of any unfair expectations I had put on myself. Grief can be physically and mentally exhausting, slowing down and allowing yourself to heal at your own pace is an essential part of the journey.

Every experience has a silver lining. Talking to someone who you trust and who will listen to you can create a great support system and network. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay. I found those who just ‘showed up’ and genuinely cared about my well-being made all the difference.

Going back to the basics -– Nourishing, resting, exercise and H2O.

Do not overestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Implementing a good night routine and aiming to get a full eight-hour sleep will do you wonders. Try taking a hot shower, doing some light stretches or yoga and putting your phone down a couple of hours before bed. I would also recommend investing in a weighted blanket.

Nourishing your body and keeping hydrated are also important. Keep it simple! An easy way to get in your 5+ a day is through smoothies. I made a range of different smoothies jam-packed with fruits and veggies to get my daily intake. I also cooked recipes from my childhood which I found solace in. Get yourself a nice drink bottle, it’s a great physical reminder to keep hydrated throughout the day.

Journaling is also a great therapeutic tool. Find a quiet spot, with your favourite tea and let your thoughts and feelings out onto your paper.

Exercise and keeping your body moving may help reduce some stress. Start with some light exercise, even if that means just taking a walk in nature to get some fresh air. I started with home workouts and went on walks and after some time I returned to the gym. Going back to my local gym was the hardest thing for me. This was our special place that we would go to daily. The first time I went back I put on obnoxious headphones and kept to myself. Within the first week I had members come up to me offering their condolences and I broke down in tears. That’s okay though and it’s all a part of the journey and staying connected to my community was important for me.

The only time I cried in front of my mum before she passed away was when she told me “everyone needs their mum”. I reassured her that I was going to be okay. There are still some days when I struggle. I’ll hear a song that reminds me of her, or I’ll visit a place we used to go together.

It will take some time but things will get better! A lot of the things that used to upset me I now find comfort in. On those challenging days, I will often think about what my mum would say and I find my strength in that.

In New Zealand about 160 women develop cervical cancer each year.

Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to prevent if the cells are detected at an early stage. All women between 25 and 69 should have regular smear tests every three years.

Everyone’s journey is different. I found talking to people was extremely helpful.

The Cancer Society and Mercy Hospice offer free counselling services to whanau. Click here for more information about cervical cancer screening.

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