When Grief Equals Love

By Lizzie Pickering

Long-term Perspectives on Living with Loss

Autobiography | Wellbeing
106% funded
307 supporters
Writing in progress

Publication date: TBC

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When Lizzie Pickering's young son Harry died 21 years ago, she set out on a journey to understand what grief is and how to live with it. In When Grief Equals Love, she shares the lessons she's learned from her own experiences and those of others, who share their thoughts in this moving and tender book.

When we talk about grief, it is natural to think about grief for someone who has died. But grief is experienced in so many situations - death, divorce, diagnosis and workplace change. In the ripple effects of coronavirus on individuals and society. The refugee crisis, loss of home and community; racial grief, ancestral grief, anticipatory grief through a terminal diagnosis and the big one, cumulative grief, when many of these pile up and become too much to bear.

Over the last 21 years, since the death of her son Harry, through working for 12 years in the children’s hospice world and more recently helping companies deal with change, Lizzie Pickering has listened to many people describing the mental and physical effects of grief; what has helped them to survive, grow and even thrive. Each one has required a different tool kit depending on their family situation, culture, neurodiversity, metabolism, diet and individuality. And each of these responses has created potential difficulties for those around the grieving to cope, to walk beside them and to empathise. Lizzie has seen people turn away from the grief of their friends and has had friends walk away from her when they couldn’t cope with her as a bereaved parent. Thankfully these are outnumbered by the friends who could withstand the loss and overshadowed by the strength of the community around her; her grief tribe. Her grief tribe. In this book they share their own stories of survival, showing the depths of sorrow and the heights of joy that we humans can endure.

When Grief Equals Love is about survivors' strength; the joy of breathing again, the joy of living and thriving when it was never thought possible. It describes how Lizzie went from the moments just after Harry took his last breath, when part of her died, through the panic attacks and physical symptoms - not being able to drink, eat or function - until she slowly, over many years, learnt not only to breathe properly again but to feel lucky to be alive.

Lizzie shares her diaries, written in the early years after Harry’s death, with observations on the grief of his siblings and family, what helped and what hurt. Revisiting those diaries 21 years on, the book progresses with thoughts on time passing and what has changed. The memoir includes interviews with bereaved friends who share their own insights into how they too have investigated their many different forms of grief. Lizzie provides a toolkit based on what has helped and what she recommends to the clients and companies she now helps with grief guidance.

In most lives, unfortunately, some grief and loss is inevitable. But living with grief can still be living. This book is for those going through grief and anyone who might need to support them. There are no easy answers, but nobody should have to cope alone.

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  • Lizzie Pickering avatar

    Lizzie Pickering

    Lizzie Pickering is a Speaker, Grief Investigator, Film and Podcast producer. Her main work is offering Grief Guidance to companies through presentations, podcasts and 1:1 sessions. Educating people about grief and helping them back to work following major life changes, from bereavement, to diagnosis, divorce and workplace change.

    Lizzie is passionate about changing the landscape for people who have to face life and work when the rug has been pulled. Her firm belief is that if grief is faced and worked through gradually, if people are well supported, there is a rich seam of energy to be found from surviving it to live well.

    Lizzie says: ‘My strange advantage in this work is that I am not a therapist. I have had therapy and found it incredibly helpful, but I have also investigated many other forms of help from physical therapies, the strength of a grief community, books and podcasts, memoirs and grief fiction, yoga and meditation What I have learned in the last 21 years is that opening up conversation and investigation makes grief support accessible to all, especially for those who might not want to unpick their lives too much, but do want to find practical ways of moving forward, learning how to survive their grief.’

  • Chapter 4: Life Lessons

    In some ways I was aware that our appreciation of life had been changed and was even enhanced by what was happening to us. Our world had caved in and yet our grief-stricken state allowed us to appreciate the smallest things, the truest friends and the unconditional love of our family.

    Some friendships didn’t stay the distance and others proved to be strong. Throughout my grief I was aware of the privilege I felt in looking after Harry and I realised how much we were all learning from him. I have always had a huge awareness of the fragility of life – maybe due to my miscarried and stillborn siblings. As a teenager I read war poetry and prose avidly, Testament of Youth and Primo Levi from cover to cover, and had a fascination with illness and death rather than a fear of it.

    I remember when I was fourteen, one of my parents' closest friends, Lionel, had suffered a slow and early death in his fifties from Alzheimer’s. On the day of his funeral, I asked his widow Gwen if I could stay with her that night. I realised that she was going to be alone and desperately wanted to be with her. Thank heaven my parents allowed me, and that evening we sat up, the pair of us crying, laughing and talking about life, death, the universe, the bigger picture, and also about Gwen’s son who had died years before. How she would never recover from her son’s death and how even her husband’s death could not hurt her in the same way although they had been happily married for years.

    I suppose that was my first hint of the pain of the death of a child, straight from the mother’s mouth, yet here she was now, on her husband’s funeral day, allowing me, a fourteen-year-old, to be alongside her and share it with her. It was a night I would never forget.

    I have also always believed that nature will continue to outwit us and this has never been more evident than in 2020 with the advent of Covid19. We live in a society where so many people are driven by money and status, people don’t have time for death anymore; it is seen as failure, rather than part of life. The unthinkable.

    Cures for disease are quite rightly being sought, but there is scant care for those who are long-term, terminally ill, those who can’t be cured. That is left to the many families like us to administer behind closed doors, at least that is how it can seem when you are in that position. People are frightened of this horror amongst them, especially when it is a child who is facing their mortality. Death is hidden now in the UK (with the exception of Ireland) – even pre-Covid, bodies were hurriedly taken away by undertakers, nobody given time to say goodbye, to linger over and accept the benefits of grief. We fight illness until the final moments, a denial of what is inevitable, rather than celebrating the life that has been lived.

    So in facing Harry’s death, once we were able to think coherently we wanted to make the most of every second, to love him and relish our time with him, however painful that was going to be. We were also determined to give him as normal a life as possible, to appreciate friends and family and have fun.

    We were inundated with letters from friends during the early weeks of Harry’s diagnosis and they truly lifted us. They were proof that there were people who were prepared to join us on this terrifying journey into the unknown.

    Part 2: Grief Diaries

    My diaries illustrate what we went through 21 years ago, and also tell our story, which mirrors that of many other bereaved people whose grief starts on diagnosis, and carries on beyond the death of their loved one. At the time I felt the need to write and remember, partly for my own peace of mind and partly for Cam and Emilie should they wish to know what they had lived through when, due to their young ages, they might not remember it all. I wanted them to know that they really grieved and honoured their love for Harry. Writing, with no pressure or timescale, and only when I felt like it, was cathartic. In some way it helped me to make sense of what was happening to us, when at times it felt like an out-of-body experience.

    5th October, 2000

    Harry’s lung collapsed this morning. It has been a long day. We decided under guidance from the staff at Helen House to put Harry on IV as soon as possible. Yet again we have come straight here rather than consulting our GP or the hospital. We are now at a stage where there is no point in going anywhere other than Helen House – we do not want Harry resuscitated or put on life support. An impossibly hard decision to make, but one we both feel strongly about. Harry has been depressed this summer about not being able to join in everything with his friends and some of his friends are not around as much as they were. They are fit and active. This is so hard for him. This situation can only get worse and worse and the thought of him deteriorating with a bright mind but failing body is horrendous.

    I have a constant sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, a nagging reminder of what we are facing, a reality check. It’s the pathetic knowledge that we have no hope. As a parent I would do anything to protect my child - to make him better - but I can’t. I suppose that’s the main thing that parents at Helen House Children’s Hospice have in common; we cover a whole host of different illnesses, but in order to walk through the doors your child has to have no hope of a cure. We have had all hope taken away; they are incurable, untreatable and terminal. We are stripped of our maternal or paternal rights to protect our children.

    Harry is breathing quite well and is in a deep sleep, I feel relieved and know he is in the best possible place. We seem to be entering a new phase with Harry as his lungs collapse more frequently and with less notice.

  • 11th May 2022 105% funded!

    Thank you to everyone who has enabled When Grief Equals Love to get full funding - and more! I am so grateful that together we will help people to better understand the messiness of grief, and hopefully to support others in need.  I hope it will help bereaved people to feel less alone.    Copies can be pre-ordered via Unbound, so do please urge anyone you think might be interested to order via the…

    22nd February 2022 67% Funded after just 4 weeks!

    I am so grateful to you all for your generous pledges, enabling When Grief Equals Love to have reached 67% funding after just 4 weeks! Here is a short thank you film, which also welcomes everyone who pledged following Em Clarkson and Alex Light's  'Should I Delete That?' podcast and if you haven't heard it, the link is here: Should I Delete That?

    Together can do this and help to open up conversations…

    4th February 2022 Sharing some of the Stories of people who have contributed to When Grief Equals Love

    48% of the way to publication after 2 weeks! Thank you everyone.  A way to go, so please let’s keep up the momentum for When Grief Equals Love to fly.  Here I talk about the people who have generously shared their stories in the book - their long term perspectives on what has helped them cope with grief and what they have learned.  I am indebted to them all. Please watch and pledge if you are able…

    1st February 2022 The Lancet asks for more ‘Death Literacy’ - why this book is relevant.

    The Lancet is highlighting the need for more death literacy.  Please watch my short film to find out why When Grief Equals Love is relevant.  Thank you to everyone who has pledged so far.  

    28th January 2022 Thank you to everyone for an amazing first five days - and can we reach 40% by the end of the weekend?

    Thank you to everyone who has pledged so far, we are 36% of the way to publication after 5 days! I can't thank you enough and it feels very special to have your names in print for believing in this work. Together we will help people to better understand grief and hopefully enable those grieving to feel less alone.  

    26th January 2022 Lizzie reads an excerpt from When Grief Equals Love

    Thank you to everyone who has pledged so far and please spread the word. I can't believe that on Day 3 we are at 25% funding, that is AMAZING!  This book is for everyone - for anyone grieving, anticpating grief and supporting others - and for those living with the challenges of illness and disability. For medical professionals in the hope that it helps a greater understanding of your patients. None…

    24th January 2022 When Grief Equals Love funding is Launched!

    Thank you to the brilliant team at Unbound and especially Katy and Cassie for all their support in the run up to the crowdfunding launch!  I'm so happy to be part of the Unbound family and can't wait to get this book out into the world.  Thank you to anyone who is able to pledge. 

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