The Grief Network

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For many, Mothers Day is a time to show appreciation for the matriarchs in your life. Or, if you’re a mum yourself, hopefully it’s all about kicking back and getting spoiled. This particular day is generally marked by breakfast in bed and gift-giving—spa certificate, soy candle and hand cream aplenty. 

But for some, it’s not all flowers, picnics and high tea. Whether you’re celebrating another figure in your life or have a less common experience of motherhood, Mother’s Day feels different for everyone. For Rachel Wilson, it’s about acknowledging her mum whom she lost to cancer in 2018. 

After struggling to find a supportive community to turn to in the wake of her mum’s death, Rachel founded The Grief Network. The self-professed “sh*test network in the world”, provides young people who’ve lost someone a space to connect and share stories through meetups and events in London. Last year, Rachel hosted a ‘Sh*tmas Party’ celebrating ‘fully-fledged grief humbuggery’ during the often arduous festive period. We’re all in this together, and these seasonal holidays remind us of that.

We’ve admired Rachel’s work with The Grief Network for quite some time. So, we figured this is an apt time to chat about processing loss around this time of year, and how to be a supportive friend for those who are.

You started The Grief Network after struggling find support groups for young bereaved people. Why is it so important to foster a community with people of a similar age who have these experiences? 

I think when you’re bereaved at a young age, you feel incredibly isolated because you likely don’t know many other people who’ve experienced loss at such a formative time. For me, I felt like an anomaly and meeting other people my age totally took that feeling away. It’s a relief to be able to literally see, at one of our meetups or events, that you aren’t alone in what you’re going through.

How did you celebrate mother’s day growing up? Do you have any particularly special memories of it? 

Not particularly, which is why it’s ironic that I dread it now! I remember one time when I was quite young getting up at the crack of dawn and decorating the kitchen with all these paper hearts and flowers and making some complicated card for mum – I remember it because she cried when she saw it all, she was so touched. But other than that, I think I used to send a card or some flowers, but we didn’t do anything special. Which is why it’s annoying that all the marketing around it is now so difficult to drown out – it’s so much more pointed than it once was!

Have any new traditions around mother’s day emerged since you lost your mum? 

I’ve only had one since she died, and I bought a bunch of lilies – her favourite flowers – and just went for a walk with a friend to avoid some of the other mother’s day stuff, particularly brunches or lunches. This year, I’ll probably do the same. We send flowers to my grandma too, because mum’s not here to do that, but she wouldn’t have let her go without! 

Although there’s nothing wrong with celebrating mother’s day, is there anything you think society/companies could do better to be sensitive to people with different experiences and family situations at this time of year?

It should absolutely be celebrated. I think most people don’t feel angry at others showing their mum love on Instagram – it’s more that it makes you feel forgotten. So if you’re publicly posting about your mum, just add a little acknowledgement that not everyone has a mum present or gets to be a mum, for a whole variety of reasons. The acknowledgement is what makes it easier for people for whom the day is really sensitive, because it makes us feel like at least we haven’t been forgotten, or we can still be included in commemorating it, whatever someone’s relationship with mothers or motherhood is. 

What advice would you give to people currently experiencing their first Mother’s Day without their mum? 

Prepare and be kind to yourself. You’re naturally going to feel pretty rubbish, and it’s natural for the anticipation to be worse than the day itself. If you’ve got a friend who can come and spend it with you, ask them. If not, maybe spend it with any remaining family, or spend it commemorating your mother in a way that makes you feel close to her. But don’t beat yourself up for feeling like shit. And communicate – literally tell your friends a week before to check in on you, even if they’re going to be spending the day with their mums. Even though it’s nice to think everyone would remember naturally, don’t leave it to them to forget, because it will just make you feel worse on the day. 

Do you have any advice for people with friends who have lost mothers? Is there anything we should say or avoid saying on mother’s day? 

Just check in, if you can’t spend it wholly or partially with them in person. Acknowledge that it’s a difficult day, and acknowledge it in the run-up, too. Often anticipating the day is harder than the day itself. Ask them questions about their mum or what they would have done with their mum – can you help them with forming any new traditions, or commemorating their mum? They might not take you up on it, and that’s fine – but acknowledgement and showing that you know it’s hard for them is key.

As well as The Grief Network, are there any other resources that you would recommend, especially for bereaved young people?

We’re seeing such a movement now, which is so great. Let’s Talk About Loss, The Dinner Party, The New Normal and the Griefcase are all really great meetup groups for young bereaved people. There’s also the Daddy Issues Podcast or Dead Parent Club podcast, and platforms like Siblings Grieve Too, Your New Normal or Young Orphans on Instagram. Too many to name! There’s a whole community out there, and we’re becoming more visible, which is amazing. 

Tell me about what’s coming up for you in regards to The Grief Network and your other projects!

We have a Q&A with leading grief counsellor and Sunday Times Bestselling author Julia Samuel (1 April, Second Home), and a meetup in collaboration with Yara & Davina as part of their Arrivals & Departures installation at Somerset House (23 April). We’ve also just launched a collaboration with London College of Fashion, as part of their Bring Your Own Object series, and you can catch our radio show on Foundation FM. I’m also currently finishing my first novel, which is half a love letter to London and the 2010s, and half an exploration of what it’s like to be young and to be coping with anticipatory grief. And a lot more to come!

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