This week we had the absolute best chat with Amber of The Grief Gang fame. Amber lost her mum to a heart attack when she was nineteen and it changed her world forever. She used the experience of being bereaved at an early age and fused that with her natural ability to natter to come up with an absolute diamond of a podcast. The Grief Gang looks at loss straight on and aims to take the stigma out of conversations around bereavement. And all before the age of twenty five. Mind blown? Justifiably so.
Emma: How’s everybody doing?
Amber: Fabulous! How are you both?
Robyn: I’ve just been on a run so sweaty but jubilant
Emma: Oh, that’s nice – I have tea sweats, which are less healthy. Amber, thanks so much for making the time to chat with us today
Amber: Absolutely ladies! Thank you for reaching out
Emma: I think we’re both really interested in this online grief community and how people are turning their own pain into love and care for other people
Robyn: Yeah, I love how the grief community is just filled with so many wicked people. Am I a massive narcissist for saying that?
Emma: No, I agree – it’s like there’s this bond of shit that we all share. But it’s beautiful shit –
it’s like magic
Amber: Literally, I’m obsessed with the online grief community! I spend about 90% of my Instagram time on Grief Gang rather than my own personal
Robyn: Yes! Also interesting it’s almost exclusively women
Amber: Oh very!
Emma: How do you balance the time spent on other people with your own mental health? I know around Other’s Day we do a lot of intense caring for people, and it’s wonderful, but we then need a day off afterwards to stare at a wall
Amber: Good question! To be honest, I’m still trying to find that balance. Because it’s something I am SO passionate about, it’s really hard to switch off from. Myself and Poppy from The GriefCase spoke about this on our Live on Wednesday and how sometimes we suppress our own grief because we run supportive pages
Robyn: It’s like eating the Bruce Bogtrotter cake of other people’s emotions
Emma: YES! I think sometimes we (I) hide behind the help so I don’t have to access my own grief…
Amber: YEP! That’s me too🤣
Robyn: I definitely think I can wilfully avoid my own grief by being like ‘I’ve got to fix this other thing, I’m fiiiiine’
Emma: Like, pop it down for a second and all of a sudden it’s a week later
Amber: It’s coming up to my Mum’s four year anniversary next week, and I only really realised around last week. Whereas last year, at the beginning of June I was fixated with the countdown to the day. But this year, just had sooo much going on, that’s it’s sort of sat on the back burner
Emma: Yeah, I hear you – I think a lot of people will be feeling that same thing this year
Robyn: That countdown is the pits. I’m a monster
Emma: You’re not a monster
Robyn: I am to Jamie. I’m just restless and snappy. I’m a little thunderstorm
Amber: I’m the exact same!
Robyn: Yep, poor old Jamie. And he’s not good with extreme emotions so he just sort of rides it out
Amber: Men and grief can be HARD! As we said earlier, it is heavily female oriented on the grief community. I know about a handful of accounts run by men!
Emma: Yeah, there’s so much work to be done still getting guys to feel ok not feeling ok
Robyn: And the men who talk about it tend to just do gallows humour to style it out. It’s definitely a different kettle of fish for most men
Emma: Amber, how does your countdown usually manifest itself? I’m often just a wreck
Amber: Thinking back to last year, it was just all I could think about everyday. I would make sure that week of Mum’s anniversary my schedule was clear and no one could access me
Emma: That’s what I do too
Robyn: Yeah, Emma is like this. But how does someone like me (needing to take affirmative action) help someone like you two (going offline). I feel like I’m a disaster at it
Emma: For me, it’s distant care – knowing you’re there if I need something, but not feeling pressure to be something for you. I still find it really difficult to express sadness and anger in front of people.
Robyn: It’s tough. I’m a fixer. And I can’t fix Emma’s (and friends like Emma) problem when she’s sad and I know that but it’s a real toughie knowing the balance between stepping back and being accessible to her. Does that make sense?
Amber: Makes sense 100%. I’m a fixer too. I think too because we run accounts around grief, we feel we should know the answers and what to do! I’ve had friends who have lost and I know I can’t fix it, no one can. I just make sure my presence is known to them always!
Emma: Actually, speaking of distant care, I’d love to know how you’ve found the community during lockdown, with your Insta-lives and posts in general – have you found more people responding, and has the emotional quality of those responses been different to pre-lockdown?
Amber: MEGA – the interaction has gone through the roof! People are definitely being forced to sit with their grief during lockdown and it’s revealing a lot of feelings and emotions
Robyn: Do you think it’s because people have more time to sit with their feelings?
Emma: Absolutely makes sense. It’s bloody horrible sometimes, even if necessary
Amber: I know it’s definitely made me for sure. Pre-lockdown, life is busy. You have your everyday distractions and then it just went radio silent. I know work for a lot of people was their biggest distraction. Take that away from the equation and it’s like 🥴🥴🥴. But I would like to hope that sitting with the really ugly feelings, does something for the better
Emma: I wonder what it is about online communities that seem so much more accessible to people than talking to friends and family
Amber: I think because it’s not biased!
Emma: Oh, for sure
Robyn: There also isn’t the same burden of emotional responsibility. Like, you’re responsible, but family and friends cover so many other bases. You connect with people on a very pure level
Emma: And maybe a degree of separation through the screen..? What works for trolls also works for grief sharing
Amber: Massively. You can offload to someone and not fear that you may have sent them on a wobbly!
Emma: Ha ha, I love that phrase
Amber: With family and friends, everyone thinks that they will be the people you can speak to about your loved one. But it took me a very long time to see that we grieve for people differently
Robyn: I think anyone who’s gone through a big trauma gives off a sonar. We seem to be drawn to each other. It happens so often you’ll click with someone and a few months later you’ve been through the same stuff
Amber: For example, me and my brother have the same Mum but grieve for her completely differently, so the conversations are different
Robyn: It can cause real issues, right?
Emma: Do you mind if I ask how old you and your bro are?
Amber: I’m 23 and he’s 29 – I was 19 when she died. We butted heads soooo bad. I moved out about four times
Emma: That’s it – it’s never just the grief or the death of the person, right? There are always surrounding circumstances; surrounding stresses.
Amber: Oh yes – the death is just the starter!
Emma: And I wonder whether that’s why this younger generation (I’m going to be cavalier and include us in that, Robyn) goes online for community – because it’s a place where those stresses don’t exist
Robyn: I think so
Amber: Definitely. Plus, we live in a digital age now, so it’s at our fingertips. Having a shit griefy day? Open up your Instagram. Easy as
Emma: True, true – digital is just part of who we are. Isn’t that wonderful? It warms my stone heart to see so many people working to open up these conversations
Amber: Oh I just love it! When I see all these new accounts popping up out the ground I’m like 🥰🥰🥰
Robyn: It really is. If we had felt more understood when we’d lost our Mums (my Nan is who I’m actually referring to when I say Mum) I think it would have been so much easier. That isolation, when no one else has been through it yet is so tough
Emma: Yes, and I think it would’ve helped me in particular to access that grief and not feel like I had to just get on with being ok. What do you think it is about grief that makes people want to share and help others after the fact?
Amber: For me, I just wanted to feel related to. I didn’t want to think I was an alien anymore for these thoughts in my head
Emma: Yeah, 19 is such a young age to lose somebody so close to you. For what it’s worth, I’m really sorry you went through that
Robyn: Yep, you were so young. I’m so sorry. I think for me, it’s partially a memorial, making something really good out of losing someone who was too amazing just to be gone. And selfishly just to feel understood and not like I was losing my mind.
Amber: Thank you lovelies. I sometimes pinch myself, like, OMG I survived that?!
Emma: Same! I was a few years older than you, but before it happened, the very idea of that loss was unthinkable
Amber: Oh yep! I used to cry thinking about my Mum’s death when she was perfectly healthy?!
Emma: OMG, me TOO, through my whole childhood. I thought I was the only one. Worried kids
Amber: I love to talk about my Mum, she was so FUNNY! I want everyone to know that
Robyn: Do you think your Mum would dig what you’re doing?
Amber: Mum was a very charitable woman. Our door was always open to anyone who needed it, it was never quiet. She was everyone’s agony aunt
Emma: She sounds bloody amazing
Robyn: Yeah what a woman
Amber: Proper little hero. She was only like 5ft4 but a true powerhouse
Emma: I feel like the tiny ones are always the strongest ones
Robyn: My Nan was similar and I think that as well as losing her as a person, losing her as a safe space and a sanctuary was so difficult
Emma: 100% – these women were so much more than just people in our lives
Amber: Oh yep – our safety blankets
Robyn: And you’re like, how do I navigate the world now. It’s like a terrifying change cos the safety net is gone
Amber: I wrote a post about this actually. I said how Mums are the glue, take that glue away and everything comes apart. But with time, you and your family will find a new kind of glue. Hopefully a very sticky super glue, that puts things back together again!
Emma: Oh, I love this. I want that extra sticky glue. So, you turned your experiences into a podcast – do you process your grief through conversation in general?
Amber: Yep! I basically hit a wall last year with my grief and was like fuuuuuck. Started searching the Internet for grief podcasts I liked (I love a podcast) and I didn’t find anything that really spoke to me. So I was on a sunbed in Morocco and said, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna start one myself’. I can’t write for shit, nor draw. So I was like cool I’ll just chat shit on a podcast
Emma: I can’t draw either. Please can all have a grief drawing session? The outcome will be hideous, but I feel like we’d have fun doing it
Robyn: And then all get tattoos of our pictures
Amber: This would be fun!!
Robyn: Actually we both have Mum tattoos
Amber: I have two and I’m desperate to get out of lockdown and get another
Emma: I’ll draw you one…
Robyn: Yeah, the chats are great – I could talk about grief for hours
Amber: There are so many layers!
Robyn: It really does inform so much after you’ve lost someone. There’s the pre-loss you and the post loss you
Emma: Yes, new beginnings
Emma: The post-loss me is a much more well-rounded person that pre-loss
Amber: Oh for sure. I believe a part of me died when Mum did
Robyn: Oh what next?
Amber: I’m feeling a poem! Hold on, I’ll dig it out
INSERT IMAGE OF POEM HERE
Robyn: That’s so beautiful
Emma: So so lovely
Amber: I’ll be screaming like a bitch when I get it done
Emma: That’s how you know you’re doing it right. Where’s it going to go?
Amber: My two now are on my ribs and it annoys me that I don’t see them all the time. So I’m thinking on my forearm
Emma: Like a little support moment every time you see it
Robyn: That’s where I had my last one!
Emma: Quick Father’s Day question for you… Do you notice any difference between the Father’s and Mother’s Day stories and emotions people share with you?
Amber: YES! This Father’s Day, I have had an extremeeeeely bigger number of people than Mother’s Day. But also, I have noticed in a good handful of them, some are more open about how their Dad wasn’t actually all that great. But lots still want to share that they still love them!
Emma: Yeah, we noticed that too – people seem much more ok with expressing anger or disappointment with their Dads
Amber: Whereas around Mother’s Day, they were just all lovely entries and stories about their Mum. Not one bad one. So to see a few entries this Father’s Day, saying their Dad was actually a dick, was like fuckkkkk. It breaks my heart
Robyn: That’s really interesting – our Father’s Days seem to be quieter, but with more complicated scenarios. Because we’re talking about estrangement, bereavement and fertility issues as well we speak with a lot more people who are estranged, or like you say, had a difficult relationship
Amber: And it is totally valid for them to voice that and feel like that. Just because their grief and story isn’t the “Hollywood” version, it’s still valid
Emma: I think it’s good for people to be able to voice that – it’s a lot harder to say the bad stuff out loud around people who knew or know the person
Robyn: For sure. Human relationships are so complex
Amber: YEP! Not long ago at The New Normal’s meetup we discussed this. And how if your loved one wasn’t that great, it’s okay to voice that and feel what you gotta feel
Emma: Love this as a message
Amber: But their meetups have done WONDERS for me and my grief
Robyn: Is it a different vibe in a meet up?
Amber: I only attended my first one because I interviewed them beforehand, and now I’ve never left
Robyn: I’ve never done a group
Emma: Me neither
Amber: Come along! Both of you! They all have a different vibe
Robyn: We will. When we can leave the house
Amber: So, Grief Networks is nice – very social. In a bar, alcohol flowing. GriefCase is more personal – we sat round a table, went round and spoke. And then I attended TNN and it was just like having a chat with bunch of mates!
Emma: Oh, never give me wine and set me talking about grief
Robyn: Remember when we went to that grief play Emma…
Amber: Do tell
Emma: Yes, we went to see a one-woman play about grief either on or very near to my Mumiversary
Robyn: The audience was like, 10 people, all jammed into a little room, and we both went hysterical because it was so sad, and made everyone else feel uncomfortable
Emma: It was INTENSE
Robyn: We laughed after. In a way…
Amber: Ha ha ha. You know when something is so intense you don’t know what the fuck to do but laugh
Emma: We laughed through the tears
Robyn: I think I had like a snot dribble at one point
Robyn: Like Sonia off Eastenders crying. Maybe people thought we were part of the performance
Emma: In a way, we were. Ok, I have one more question for you
Robyn: Oh and I have a great closer question!
Amber: Go for it!
Emma: If you could give one piece of advice to somebody navigating loss, what would it be?
Amber: TALK. I know it’s so cliche. But it really is just talk. Find your tribe that you can talk to about it. That may not be your friends or family (I know that’s shit) but there is an online community who are willing to hear you and see you and really really care!
Robyn: I am aggressively nodding to this
Emma: Very much me too
Robyn: Ok, mine now: where do you want Grief Gang and the grief community in general to go in the next few years?
Amber: Ooooo. I would love Grief Gang and the grief community to be listened to not just by people who are grieving, but the world. Grief is something we will all experience in life, some earlier than others. Some later on. So if something is so inevitable for all of us why are we not talking about it!
Robyn: Yes, yes, yes to this
Emma: Absolutely 100% yes to that! One day, we’ll take over. Watch out, world
Robyn: For sure
Amber: They’ll thank us one day!
Robyn: Thank you so much for chatting to us about this. Such a good natter
Emma: It’s been awesome – thank you so much again for being part of Other’s Day!
Robyn: We will, there’s no getting rid of us now
Amber: Can’t wait
Robyn: I gotta wee so bad
Amber: I peed whilst texting
Emma: This feels like an appropriate ending