They'd both been very poor in Cyprus, but here they had a chance to make a living.
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They arrived with no qualifications, no English and no money. What they did have was a strong work ethic and a lot of hope. Their lives were spent working in factories and, eventually, they were able to provide a decent home and a stable life for me and my sister, Kayti.
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They weren't young when they died — in their 70s — but somehow their ageing had taken me by surprise. I remember visiting my dad one day just after he'd washed his hair and hadn't had time to slick it down with his usual squirt of Brylcreem. It was almost completely grey. When had this happened? When had he got old? The Brylcreem had always made his hair look much darker, and we used to look at old photos and joke about his "movie star" looks, while my mum rolled her eyes. To accept your parents have aged is to accept that you have too, and I suppose I've never really felt my age.
But after they died I was faced with the uncomfortable reality of my own mortality. Of course, my brain knew that my parents wouldn't live for ever. My heart, however, hadn't quite caught up. Eight years on, and it still affects me. When I hear someone whinge about visiting their parents at Christmas, it's all I can do not to groan out loud. I want to shake them and possibly give them a good, hard slap. I want to say, "Don't you realise how lucky you are?
Instead, I make some comment about how they should enjoy it while they can, as both of my parents have died and there's nothing I'd love more than to be in their position. An uncomfortable silence usually follows along with a muttered, "Yes, I guess you're right," and a swift change of subject. If discussing death is still taboo in 21st-century Britain, multiply that by 10 and you get an idea of how people react when you say you've lost both parents.
They just don't know what to do with that information. You don't need to do anything, by the way — a simple "I'm sorry to hear that" is always appreciated. There's an awkwardness, almost embarrassment, attached to being an adult orphan — not for me, for others. I find this frustrating and stupid. In a day and age when it seems no subject is off limits for scrutiny — sex, addictions, which celeb did what to who — this most everyday of subjects is avoided. I don't wear an "adult orphan" badge. I don't go round saying, "Hello, I'm Eleni and both of my parents are dead.
I believe that we're all more the same than we are different, and life stages such as this are what bring us together. Yet I can almost taste other people's aversion if I broach the subject. As if it's bad form to talk about it at all. Maybe this is connected to the fact that we all know we'll have to confront adult orphanhood at some point.
My personal experience, by the way, is that the middle-aged are the worst. People in their 40s just don't want to discuss death or bereavement, as if by talking about it, they may catch it too. Perhaps it's too close to home and they don't want to see what is waiting for them down the road.
Children, on the other hand, seem more relaxed. When my eldest son saw photos of my parents he said, "Yeah, they look really old! And the young will ask the two questions most of us want answers to: how old were they?
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What did they die of? They try to make sense of it. I've found that most people over 60 seem more relaxed to have these conversations, too, perhaps because many have been through it. When my parents died there were some very good friends, great family members and lovely colleagues, all of whom rallied round. But there were also some hideous experiences.
And unfortunately they tended to leave a more lasting impression. I remember going to work in a particular office a few weeks after my mother had died. It was a place I was known, where I'd worked shifts now and then, and where they knew what had happened as I'd worked there during my mum's illness.
On my first day back, nobody said a word.
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In fact, they didn't mention it the whole week. Adult orphans are expected to just get on with their grief quietly. We're allowed a week's grace at the most, then after that we're expected to have dealt with it. To have got over it. To anyone who hasn't lost their parents, here's some news: you never get over it. I'm not trying to startle you. It's a fact. You get through it, yes, and you'll probably get used to it, but you don't get over it. A piece of your life jigsaw has been removed and, however much you rearrange the other pieces, they never quite fit in the same way again.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. For me it makes complete sense that everything changes; if we accept that, in some profound way, our parents help shape who we are then surely their deaths will affect us deeply too? The pain of loss can often feel overwhelming and trigger all sorts of painful and difficult emotions.
While some people may not understand the depth of feeling you had for your pet, you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend. While we all respond to loss differently, the level of grief you experience will often depend on factors such as your age and personality, the age of your pet, and the circumstances of their death.
The role the animal played in your life can also have an impact. If you lived alone and the pet was your only companion, coming to terms with their loss can be even harder. While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of owning a pet, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and when the time is right, perhaps even open your heart to another animal companion. Grieving is a highly individual experience. Some people find grief following the loss of a pet comes in stages, where they experience different feelings such as denial, anger, guilt, depression, and eventually acceptance and resolution.
Others find that their grief is more cyclical, coming in waves, or a series of highs and lows.
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The lows are likely to be deeper and longer at the beginning and then gradually become shorter and less intense as time goes by. Still, even years after a loss, a sight, a sound, or a special anniversary can spark memories that trigger a strong sense of grief.
The grieving process happens only gradually. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Feeling sad, shocked, or lonely is a normal reaction to the loss of a beloved pet. Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run.see url
Time has proven that in caring and sharing comes healing
For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it. Write about your feelings and talk about them with others who are sympathetic to your loss. Sorrow and grief are normal and natural responses to death. Like grief for our friends and loved ones, grief for our animal companions can only be dealt with over time, but there are healthy ways to cope with the pain.
Here are some suggestions:. Reach out to others who have lost pets. Check out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups—see the Resources section below for details. If your own friends and family members are not sympathetic about pet loss, find someone who is.
Rituals can help healing. A funeral can help you and your family members openly express your feelings. Create a legacy. Preparing a memorial, planting a tree in memory of your pet, compiling a photo album or scrapbook, or otherwise sharing the memories you enjoyed with your pet, can create a legacy to celebrate the life of your animal companion. Remembering the fun and love you shared with your pet can help you to eventually move on.
Look after yourself. The stress of losing a pet can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Looking after your physical and emotional needs will help you get through this difficult time. Spend time face to face with people who care about you, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly to release endorphins and help boost your mood. If you have other pets, try to maintain your normal routine. Surviving pets can also experience loss when a pet dies, or they may become distressed by your sorrow.
Maintaining their daily routines, or even increasing exercise and play times, will not only benefit the surviving pets but can also help to elevate your mood and outlook, too. Seek professional help if you need it. If your grief is persistent and interferes with your ability to function, your doctor or a mental health professional can evaluate you for depression. One aspect that can make grieving for the loss of a pet so difficult is that pet loss is not appreciated by everyone.
As we age, we experience an increasing number of major life changes, including the loss of beloved friends, family members, and pets. The death of a pet can hit retired seniors even harder than younger adults who may be able to draw on the comfort of a close family, or distract themselves with the routine of work.