Step Up Create

March 8, 2022
E17 – On Grief
The Step Up Create Podcast
The Step Up Create Podcast
E17 - On Grief

Show Notes

In the first episode of 2022, Katie talks openly about the grief of losing her brother Toby in early January, as well as how that has reopened the feelings of loss of the rest of her family of origin. As heavy as that sounds, we try to do this in a light way, hoping to encourage others to be open about their losses and not suffer them alone.

We look particularly at the importance of stories in dealing with death and loss as well as some creative rituals that can help with learning to operate in the world without the person you’ve lost. above all we talk about the need for human connection.

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Follow Katie’s art at an on Instagram at @katieannice

Original music written and performed by Jonathan D. Mellor licensed to Step Up Create S.L.

Hi everybody and welcome back to the Step Up Create podcast. This is my first episode of 2022 and as you will see, it is the second week of March that this is coming out. There’s a very good reason for this big gap. That is so sad one that my brother Toby Carr who we interviewed on the podcast died in the second week of January. And we weren’t really expecting it. I guess that sounds strange to say when we knew that he had a terminal illness. We knew he wasn’t very well. And yet, it did come as a surprise that he actually died quite quickly in the end. We had left him on the second of January and he died on the 10th. And in that time we’ve been travelling back and going through race here in Spain and this kind of thing. And really it only just got back to us sooner before I received a call saying that. We should probably or I should probably get over there as quickly as I could. I didn’t make it in time to say goodbye to him or to accompany him in the moment of death. But he wasn’t on his own. He was with some really good friends and they were there to support him. And I also think that he probably wanted to say goodbye as we did in his lovely house after having had a lovely Christmas together. As you can hear, this is something that probably will never go away as a loss or a grieving process. And that’s okay. So what I thought was, it might be interesting, or useful or helpful to talk about this a bit on the podcast, not really about death itself, although that could be another podcast when I’m ready to have a bit more distance from it. But about grief, about creativity and grief and storytelling, and the importance of rituals and lots of things like that. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve suffered the loss of a close family member and I lost my mother when I was 11 to mental illness. She’s still alive today but she doesn’t recognise me. I lost my father in 2010 to a heart attack, just completely out of the blue. My brother Marcus died in 2017 and Toby in 2022.

I’m saying that not because I want to scale up the hierarchy of grief which I’ve heard is the thing you know, there’s this hierarchy of who was the most affected by this death or whatever, or who’s the biggest Griever which is actually bullshit because we really don’t know whose biggest approver we know, externally in terms of who’s related to who and that kind of thing, but we never know how grief affects us each individually and that is probably one of the most important things about it. And it’s a little bit like creativity where each creative in our own individual ways and we each grieve in our individual ways. There are some things that are common, and that might be particularly that grief can’t really easily be controlled. So especially in the beginning, I’ve found in all cases, but especially now with Toby, because that’s also bringing up and connecting with my grief for the rest of my family. I find that I sometimes just randomly burst into tears and that can be even in a professional situation. And I don’t know now I’ve said it I feel like oh, now everyone’s gonna think I’m less professional. I can still teach a class without crying and I was still teaching classes the day after Toby died let’s just be clear on that. But there are moments where grief just takes control. It completely causes you to well up and to not be able to continue very well with what you were doing. I am extremely good at self control and that’s probably something that I’ve had to unlearn. In recent years. Unlearn controlling everything and getting on top of it and continuing to allow myself to feel more of the grief and sort of especially in moments where it’s appropriate to to just let myself wallow in that a little bit. And that’s a little bit what I’ve been doing over the past month and a half or two months, however long it says two months now. There have been days where I’ve been not very productive. To be honest. That is why I stopped taking on new commitments and rather just stuck with the ones I already had. Because I knew I needed this kind of space. The days where I’ve just been sort of looking at old photos and I’m remembering really lovely times together. And there have been other days where I’ve been extremely productive and I’ve been able to sort out many of the many many things that need sorting out after a next of kin dies. And that is something that is also a huge burden. So any of you that are going through this not just the grieving process, but also the process of sorting out everything. The legal side, the financial side, all of that stuff, just the house. My heart goes out to you as well. And I kind of understand how that is and one of the most useful pieces of advice that I’ve received over this time has been to not worry about whatever the way you’re dealing with it kind of to to forgive yourself more. I was getting into a situation where I was worrying that I wasn’t feeling deeply enough. I wasn’t crying as much as I was the day before. And so maybe I should you know, allocate some time and feel it more. So this is the other end of the scale and other people who may be on this end of the scale of okay, I need to get things done. I don’t know you could be at either end of the scale. It doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s all about just accepting how you are at that moment, trying to get yourself the most amount of space possible. For me, I’m willing to admit I’ve been really lucky because the job that I have and the support of my partner has enabled me to be able to just take some time out or not continue with getting new commitments, worried that much about new clients and be able to dedicate some time to healing myself. Obviously that’s something that is really important in the type of work I do as well. I can’t actually really be there to support other people. If I’m not actually okay myself. So, if you can take some time do that. The most important thing has been just kind of accepting that grief works in different ways for different people that there’s no real way there’s no solution to it. You just have to go through it. That’s probably something I’ve learned over the years with the different grieving processes I’ve been through. The biggest thing that has also helped me is creativity and being creative. Now. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since my brother died. And I haven’t really created anything that you would say is a piece of art or or anything like that. However, I have tried to continue to live with a creative outlook. And that links back to what we’ve talked about in other parts of the podcast. And that is really inspired by how Toby was so over Christmas. Toby wasn’t doing that. Well. It wasn’t like he was all happy families and everything was fine. He was extremely ill and couldn’t really do a lot of things outside of the house. So the way he dealt with this is I think the way you dealt with other larger challenges such as kayaking the entire shipping forecast, and that was simply breaking it down into smaller parts into smaller challenges. So instead of it being this huge mountain that you need to overcome, okay, what are we gonna do for the whole of the Christmas holidays? It became what is the one thing that I’m going to do this day, and he identified that he couldn’t spend time with the children outside because he tied him out and he wasn’t really able to interact properly, but he could inside and so he really thought through okay, what can we do together? How can this work? What will we eat? How will all of this fit together? And that made it so that we were able to have these mini adventures within a very calm Christmas break? And when the kids needed to go outside, we took them outside for a run to the park and Toby had a rest. So the point I’m getting at is that sometimes things can feel like an enormous challenge and grief can feel like an enormous challenge but if we apply creativity or creative mindset to it, it can start to feel like something a little bit smaller and more manageable. Now, you might be thinking, Okay, you’re talking about sorting things out afterwards. Are you talking about actually the process of grieving? We’re talking about both really, so they tend to come together unless you are in a situation where someone else is sorting everything out by sorting things out and talking about the legal financial, the house, all of that stuff. If someone else is doing that, then you can sort of focus on your process, although you’re probably working as well and you do need to move forward and do stuff. So it really is about I think balancing, doing and being and making space to be making space to feel those feelings, but also setting yourself these little creative challenges every day. And for me in terms of creative challenges. I just got back last week from sorting out the house and this is physically sorting out the house. That’s a horrible job for anybody who’s done it. You know what I’m talking about. The worst of it is probably going through really personal things, like mementos that the person has saved, and also getting rid of clothes. And so I had to deal with this. And I had to deal with it on my own because I needed to my partner to stay with the children and I needed to do it in another country and also to get it done in a way which was both ruthless and also honouring in terms of memories, mementos, all of that. Toby kept hold of everything and as I went through his house, I found things that just brought up other grieving processes like my dad’s passport, just a whole load of stuff. Barber jackets, my dad’s my mom and dad’s wedding telegrams, sympathy cards from my other brother’s death and for my dad’s death, stuff that was just like, oh my god, could this be any more difficult really? And the only way of getting over this has been for me to look at it as a creative challenge and to really set my sights on what do I want to achieve? What is the goal here? I want to achieve this house being rentable, with all of his stuff in it, I mean, non personal stuff, all of the furniture and beautiful pictures and things like that. And I need to get through this in a way which is both feeling my feelings but at the same time, getting it done. And that’s a massive challenge. I think I said on social media is one of the most challenging things both physically and mentally, emotionally that I’ve ever done. Physically because you’re literally picking up stuff and moving it around emotionally because you’re selecting all of this and mentally because you’re constantly asking yourself, Am I doing this? Okay? Is this is this what he would have wanted? And of course, at some point, you have to just go well, he’s not here anymore. I’ve just got to get this done. So I would clause that itself as a creative project because I tried to frame it as moving the house from a house which is just costing me a lot of money each day is there with no one in it towards something that could be enjoyed by other people that respects everything that he built, but isn’t so personal that other people find it. Weird to be there. So that’s kind of one creative project, and not the creative project was the funeral itself. And I think this is obviously more creative than than sorting the house. Out, which was perhaps technically more destructive than creative, although we could discuss more about that later. In terms of creating the memorial for someone. This can be something which is a really beautiful experience, both for the people who go to it and for the people who organise it and I was lucky here that Toby had also learned from so much loss in our family that it’s actually very helpful to write down as specified and listed as possible of what you would like your funeral to be like, and he did this he had it in his phone, which luckily, I have the code for. And I was able to read through that and then with a group of friends of his add on a whole load of other innovations to it. And I think, I guess because Toby lived such a creative life, we were really, really careful to ensure that he also got a creative death in a way. And so for me, this experience was actually really beautiful. It’s obviously not the first funeral I’ve arranged but I was able to contact with people from different stages of his life, coordinate them with in terms of the speeches they would write, and they would give. We also had an absolutely beautiful order of service put together by one of his friends who he specified, would be very good to do because she has amazing taste and great graphic design skills. And so that itself was a beautiful memory of this whole process. We carefully chose the music we put together flowers that came from different parts. of the country, and we’ll leave some stain actually put them on top of the coffin. It was something that was beautiful, not only in the sense of the creation itself, but also in the process, which is something we so often talk about in terms of creativity, this process of getting together a group of people who were really important for Toby, and having them work together to create something. It was just amazing. And it’s also true that Toby had an amazing set of friends who are now lucky enough to be in contact with many of them now. To consider my friends as well. But it really was, the process was so healing to be able to do that. And that is the importance of rituals as well. So you might think that if you’re not religious, it’s unnecessary to have a funeral and it probably isn’t necessary for you, but it’s not unnecessary for everybody else. And this process of ritual have the ability to have that space to cry to say goodbye, and above all to share stories. So for me, one of the most important things of the past few months, has been showing stories about Toby and I say this not because I’m always banging on about storytelling and how important it is. And I do believe that I believe it’s really important that it connects us as humans and everything else that I could tell you about storytelling or you can see me during all the videos or whatever. It really, on a human level has really helped me. During the funeral, we were able to share stories. Even the day he died. We went down to his friends his house, and we were able to sort of talk about him and talk about some stories about him which are just small stories that were important to us. And obviously at this stage in the grieving process. None of us were able to really talk about it without having tears coming to our eyes. And that’s okay. As time has gone on. We’ve been able to do it. And, you know, the funeral was a space for sharing stories. And the pub afterwards was an amazing place for sharing stories as publishing. And that wasn’t a sad moment. That was a sort of celebration of life moment. And I know that sounds like a cliche and it sounds a little bit annoying, but it is about celebrating someone’s life. It’s about remembering them so really who they were and not this person who was ill towards the end and who was older towards the end. But what was this person like in their life at different moments in their life, and the way that we get that is by sharing stories with people who were really there. It’s been amazing to share all these stories, and that’s gone on beyond the pub beyond that event. So it is so important that we keep sharing stories about people that we’ve lost. I read somewhere that there’s some saying that we die twice once when we physically die, and the other when someone on Earth mentions our name for the last time.


I think that’s really beautiful and it’s something to bear in mind. When you are remembered people and when you are struggling with grief and you think oh, God, this is so annoying. Now I’m bursting into tears again, and I’ve got to give a video conference in five minutes. How am I going to sort myself out using actually this is a service to me, it’s making me feel better eventually. And it’s also service to that person. It’s remembering all of those moments that you had together, even the bad ones. The other thing that I’m working on, and this is also a bit of a gift to me, I think at the moment but it may turn into something which is not a gift, which is a big creative project is Toby’s book. He mentioned in the podcast back in November that he’d got this book contract and he was writing the book and putting it together. Unfortunately, he didn’t finish it. And he did leave a lot of notes. So I have decided that I will put it together or curate it. And I’ve spoken to the publishers about it. And I’ve got all his notes here and putting together one of the first chapters that he didn’t put together himself. I keep thinking oh, I hope that he is looking down or whatever. If you can look down we never know. I’m seeking. Okay, she’s doing the right thing. But I do know that he would love to see his book in print as we all would, wouldn’t we and so I’m working towards getting this booked as well as I possibly can. And I understand that won’t be as well as he would have done it himself. And Bert is providing me with quite a nice insight into part of his life that I wasn’t always part of, which was his kayaking and I say I wasn’t always part of it. I was there when he went off to trip but no, I was very supportive of all of the trips and things but I wasn’t actually there. And there are a few people who were actually there and I’ll be reaching out to them on social media as well to help me to fill in some of the gaps on this. But otherwise, he spent a lot of time on the sea on his own. And those moments of reflection are captured in his notes. And so hopefully it’s a case of tidying up his notes a little bit and sorting out what goes in and what doesn’t go in and that will be it. That sort of hopeful side of it. But in any event, what it is is a large creative project, which I think will really help me through the process of grief. And this is something that I know about through art therapy, and how creative projects can help you to process emotions. And they can also help to hold them as well. There’s this idea of a creative object being a transitional object, which means that it contains this information for you these emotions so that you don’t feel like you’re struggling under their weight the whole time. I certainly find that and I’m hoping that once I finished getting through quite a lot of things that I’ve got to get through I can also get back to painting and that might be painting grief. It might be painting other things as well and trying to use some of the learnings perhaps from this now, fourth, intense grieving process of accessing emotions and dealing with them. And that might sound like I’m some kind of rookie in terms of dealing with emotions. It shouldn’t do. I think we’re all rookies in one way or another one dealing with emotions. There’s plenty of theory we can rely on. I’ve read a lot of it. I’ve experienced a lot of it for all the training I’ve done, but nothing really prepares you for actually feeling grief. So one of the things that has been helping me actually is another podcast, which is called grief cast. And it’s run by comedians, and they see the day come in, there’s always an interview, and someone comes in and talks about their grieving process and who they’re remembering. And it’s done in a way which is light, fun and not overly impressive, which I hope I’ve kind of adopted for this podcast so far. We’ll see just is actually really helpful to go, oh, that happens to other people as well. And one of the things that I learned from that was that there’s actually a concept, which I’ve found very helpful. Which is when you lose what’s called a knife’s witness. And that would be a brother or a sister of parents or very close friend who’s been with you for a long time. And especially when you lose one of the last ones of those which is what’s happened to me. Toby was the last member of my close family. So I kind of only have my own memories to rely on in terms of my childhood and the things that were lived back then. And that’s especially tough when you lose a life’s witness. And again, this doesn’t have to be a member of your family. It was someone who’s been around for a very long time with you and seeing you going through lots of different stages in your life. Anyway, this was a concept that came up in grief cast, and I found really useful to go oh, okay, so that’s also what’s affecting me now. And that’s also why I’m feeling


much more pressure than then I felt before and also why I’m connecting so much with grief that I felt for other members of my family and it’s not like a solution to this. Just one thing that’s helped me actually have been a few people or don’t mention them by name, but you know who you are. One of my school friends from when I was really little, came to the funeral and she was my friend. She wasn’t really my brother’s friends that we all used to hang out in the village. But she made the effort to come to the funeral and I think she came to my brother but actually, well, I found it amazing that she came because she is one of my life’s witnesses and the same goes for another friend who is Toby’s oldest friend who was there as well. And it did actually really help to have them around and it just connect with these people who’ve known me for ages and I may not be in contact with them all the time. I haven’t seen this old school friend of mine since basically Sixth Form College, although we’ve been in contact on Facebook and things, but it was just nice as a reminder, like, Okay, you haven’t lost everybody. There are still people who’ve known you for quite a long time. And what’s also really nice is that we managed to reconnect with some family friends who have live in the same village as my brother used to live in. And they knew my parents when it was really early on in their lives, and they were fun and dynamic and none of this illness had plagued them at all and they were awful and, and young and and that’s so to my parents that is so easy for me to forget about because I didn’t experience it. I didn’t know them and I find it very, very hard to remember my mom before she was ill, for example, and even I think that was one of the bad side effects of doing a lot of therapy is that you tend to in one way or another demonise your parents and so I sort of had this image of my dad and thinking about all of the things that he instilled in me which are maybe not that helpful. And I spent a lot more time thinking about them then all of the positive things that he instilled in me and connecting with these friends of my parents has helped me to reconnect with my dad as a good person as somebody who really helped me to visually. That’s a little bit about life witnesses. As you can see, it’s pretty difficult to talk about life witnesses. And I think that’s probably just something that never actually goes away. So after all of that, what are my takeaways? I think my takeaways, really that we need to talk about grief and we need it needs to be in the open we need to feel feel it and allow ourselves to feel it. Also to not let it be the only thing that we think about and that can be tough in the beginning and that’s fine. But after a while, we need to be taking steps to get back on track or creating things or getting on with work or whatever. In the knowledge that there will be moments when grief will take over. Because grief is not listening to you and your self control. It’s doing what the hell it once and stories are so important stories about parents, my parents that I was just talking about stories about my brother’s stories about the family, sharing them and also listening to them receiving these stories. That’s what keeps someone’s memory alive. And that’s what’s really special about having interacted with different people of different family members over your life. I hope this has been kind of helpful, and it’s a weird one. And it’s a lot more personal than perhaps I normally would do. I could probably talk now about what it’s like raising my voice and telling my story and I won’t do that. It’s a tough one. It’s hard. It’s hard for me to show up emotionally on this and it’s hard to just be open about it. But the reason I’m doing it is to hopefully encourage other people to be open about it. Grief and death. We need to talk about them some point it’s helpful to talk about them

and then get on with other stuff and get on with living. There’s this idea in therapy that life is all about little deaths and life is all about loss and then creativity or creativity and loss so you lose things you build the build them up again you lose something else you build up again. That’s a continual process. So you get to choose whether you see life as a losing process or you see life as a creative process. I choose creative process. That doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t feel like it’s a big old losing game. But we got to get back on it and think about what you could create from here. So that question again, what is possible from here. So I’m going to leave you with the sounds of the beach in Flushing, where my brother used to spend a lot of happy hours swimming with his friends walking on the beach, or just looking out at the sea. We’ll be back with a normal podcast next week. 

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