A woman who lost both parents, her sister and then her best friend in quick succession, has spoken about her struggle to cope with the grief.
Joanne Arrowsmith says that the weight of multiple bereavements left her feeling anxious, depressed and empty.
Joanne’s parents died of cancer and then within a few years her sister died suddenly. The day after her sister’s funeral her best friend died unexpectedly.
The pain was almost too much to bear, but now she is finding the strength to live again – through her music.
The musician has written a song in honour of those she lost, and says that knowing she would be making them proud is what keeps her going.
‘I have suffered a lot of loss in a short space of time,’ Joanne tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I lost my dad to cancer, then two years later my Mum also died of cancer.
‘My sister then died suddenly and the day after her funeral, my best friend Libby died.
‘Libby was only 36. She had a chest infection, which led to sepsis and tragically it was not picked up by the hospital. She died less than 24 hours after being admitted.
‘Libby’s death hit me so hard and continues to do so. I never really knew what the term “rock bottom” meant until I was in it. Having to survive the loss of the people I thought I couldn’t live without – the pain, the emptiness, the numbness, the shock.’
It was the frequency of the tragedies that really destabilised Joanne. There was never time to process a loss before a fresh wave of grief hit.
‘I was still trying to grieve for one of my loved ones when another would die,’ says Joanne.
‘I started to have dark thoughts. I started to think I didn’t want to live. I just wanted to be with them all, wherever they all were.’
Despite her inner turmoil, Joanne pushed on – she kept singing and performing – but nobody realised how she was really feeling.
‘People kept telling me how strong I was,’ she says.
‘They would see my smile, see me up on stage singing and entertaining people but the truth was, I felt like I was dying inside.
‘I think I hid my pain well. Nobody would have seen me in the breaks crying in the toilet, wiping my tears before I had to put that smile back on and get on stage. They wouldn’t have seen me lying on the living room floor sobbing the night before.’
The psychological effects of grief can be incredibly intense. For Joanne it was a deeper feeling than sadness, it made her question everything about herself.
‘My self-confidence was shot to bits.
‘I felt like I wasn’t enough. I thought people were laughing at me. At one stage, I was checking in the night that my dog was still breathing. I was terrified of who I was going to lose next.
The turning point for Joanne came after a friend gave her some kind words. She might not have know it at the time, but it was exactly what she needed to hear.
‘One day when someone told me I was strong they also said, “they would all be so proud of you”, the statement really struck a chord.
‘Something was keeping me together, although to this day I am still not sure what. I still went to work, I even built up my own little dog walking business after I was made redundant, which happened around the same time.
‘I travelled around the country performing – even when getting out of bed was difficult.
‘I came to the realisation that I think my loved ones would be proud of me and when I realised this, I had an even stronger urge to continue to make them proud.
‘I had to live my life for them and in honour of them. I had to live out some of the plans I had made with my best friend, my soul mate – plans we had made just three weeks before she died.’
This revelation changed everything for Joanne and kicked off the process of bringing her back to herself – but it hasn’t been an easy journey.
‘This past year I have been on a journey of self re-discovery,’ Joanne tells us.
‘Grief does change you – you’ll never be that same person you were before the pain took hold of your being – but, little by little, you can try to find those lost parts and put them back together.
‘There’ll still be big cracks and it’s an ongoing process but I’ve been trying to find new ways to live.
‘I have discovered mindfulness, meditation, being kind to myself and self care.
‘I keep a gratitude journal and write in it daily to celebrate the things that I do still have in my life. I read daily affirmations, feed the birds every morning, I grow and care for my plants.
‘My singing and performances were so important to the people I lost.
‘My mum, dad and Libby would be at every gig they could and their support over the years was wonderful.
‘I was so used to seeing their faces smiling back at me. As I am gradually rising from the dark place I was in, the song that I wrote, called ‘Proud’, encapsulates what they mean to me.
‘They loved to watch me sing, so to write a song in memory of them is very special to me.’
Joanne’s single is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music. Joanne’s hope is that her story and her music will help other people who are struggling with grief.
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