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Hi, my name is Germaine

This happened to meGermaine 400X760

I was 15 when my Dad died. He and my mum didn’t live together so I didn’t really know him well; there are things now I wish I could remember better, such as his laugh. I visited him every other weekend until I was 8 or 9. I remember the Jamaican dishes he prepared. Sometimes, instead of cooking dinner, he’d ask me if I wanted a takeaway.  He would unknowingly buy me things my mum wouldn’t, like chewing gum and toy guns. He beat cancer once and was one of the country’s longest surviving kidney transplant patients. I thought he was indestructible, we all did.  When it came back, I went to visit him.  At the time he seemed adamant he would beat it again.  In hindsight maybe there was a hint of the loss to come in everything we did during that time. 

After he died, I was angry at him and me for not making enough effort to see each other.  I also found out things about him that made me question whether or not he was a good man.  I wondered what that made me. I found it hard to trust other people because of losing people I loved as I’d experienced a lot of death at that time. In the three years that followed my dad’s death in 2003, my uncle, two friends and a work colleague also died. The death of my father was a magnifying glass in the middle.  All the pieces that made up me were under fierce inspection.  I took a subjective view on myself and an objective view of everyone else to separate myself from loss.

I found myself feeling the physical pain of loss constantly waiting to seize my heart, literally. The pain and, more importantly, the fear of the pain was and sometimes is unbearable. Shunning the fear, I would make a pessimistic attempt at determination. Falling short at an intermittent anger.  The journey hasn’t been an easy one. To this day I’m still finding out new things about myself.  And that, in a paradoxical way, is why it is a good thing he died.  If he didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to tell you this now.  I’m telling you this now because this gives you and me the belief that we can bear the unbearable.  It was finding the belief in myself that gave me the power to turn my anger into the determination to persevere. 

I first came into contact with Winston's Wish (a child bereavement service) after a school mate died in a car accident.  I had recently punched another older class mate for a minor reason.  After first meeting with the Winston’s Wish counsellor, it was suggested I attend a Winston’s Wish weekend.  There I met a boy a little younger than me, his younger sister was there with him.  Their parents had both died from heart failures within 6 months of each other.  I didn’t want to imagine what that felt like. They were both so strong that they inspired me.  I believed in them.  Through them, I believed in myself.

One thing I’d like young Germaine to know is…

That unbearable pain in your heart will fade.

And every second you bear it you become stronger.

If you feel angry, it’s okay. But don’t hang on to it.

Let it go.  Learn to change it into motivation.

You now know one of life's biggest secrets.

Everything changes around us.

Nothing lasts forever.

So make the most of every moment.

The unbearable pain you feel now in your heart

Serves as a proof of your strength every second that you carry it.

The emotions you feel are there to lead you to yourself.

Now you know how precious life is

This will help you to make decisions based on that preciousness,

That will make any pain bearable.

If you have had someone die, one thing I’d like you to know is…

I lost it a bit after my dad died and if that happens to you, don’t worry too much. Trust yourself that you’ll find yourself again.   In the years that have passed I have met many people who have lost someone, including several friends who lost their dads.  The strangest thing was that I was able to understand them and give them what they needed.  I could let them share their loss with me.  When my dad died it was the worst thing that has ever happened to me, but it is part of what makes me who I am today.  More importantly, it’s only through his death that I came to be able to help others in the same situation.  It makes me happy to do so.  

One thing I’d like the people who are caring for you to know is...

The cocktail of conflicting emotions are confusing to witness in someone else.  More so to experience.  Trust and believe in them to find their way through, while being available when needed. Provide them with a space (literal or figurative) to navigate through the turbulence.  Empower them to accept, own and understand their emotions.  Death is the biggest change in our lives and change is a constant.  Coming to terms with your own mortality at a young age is actually an opportunity that can shape a life for years to come.  

I personally didn’t want affection or human contact, although I needed it.  I wanted to wall myself off from others to prevent feeling loss again.  Others might adopt an opposite strategy of needing more affection and contact in order to not feel continuous loss, although they need space too.  Mostly, I wanted to understand what this thing called life was all about.  What I needed were the subtle tools to persevere.  We just have to realise that change is constant, just like learning and understanding ourselves and the world around us. Winston’s Wish provides several methods of remembering the departed and expressing emotions.  Most importantly {being supported by Winston’s Wish} allowed me to see that I wasn’t alone, that other children like me were out there persevering and that I could do the same. And that was the part I had to learn to do myself. With a little help, of course.