Surf’s up!

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Blazing sunshine, smiling faces, lots of laughs and a beginner’s surfing lesson. These aren’t the things that came to mind when I began searching for grief support groups in Bristol. More often than not, it was the church hall, stale biscuits, fold-out chairs and maybe even a bit of drizzle if you are as dramatic as me. So, goodness was I glad when I stumbled across Let’s Talk About Loss.

My name is Kieran, and I lost my Mum to MSA (Multiple Systems Atrophy) when I was 19 – not a kid but not quite an adult either. Despite the ever-growing change in our relationship as my responsibilities as carer grew and her independence diminished, I was lucky to have her around for much of my formative years: the “have you done your homework” days, or the “that’s so unfair” teen boy years. I remember a particular occasion, aged 15, where Mum asked me to film my bedroom to make sure it was tidy – you’d think we had bigger fish to fry, but in my wheelchair bound Mum’s head… apparently not.

Finding people to talk to

When a parent dies when you are young, it’s like you are left to free-fall without a parachute while everyone around you is being helicoptered well into their 20’s and 30’s. So, who could I talk to that “got it”?

Fortunately, I found Let’s Talk About Loss, who recently took on The Wave – a surf school in Bristol – for our September meet up. Booking a surfing session for early September, particularly after this year’s less than wonderful summer weather, we were unsure if we had bitten off more than we could chew. However as if by magic, summer arrived at the beginning of September and in 28°C heat, the gang made our way to The Wave.

We each arrived, excited and a bit apprehensive about how this would go. Swimming cossies on and surfboards selected, we began our dry land surfing lesson. What proceeded were a series of “how’s he doing that?”, “this is not gonna go well” and in my best Pam voice “oh my Christ!”, as we attempted to follow our instructions on how to pop up on a surfboard. True to our name as a support group for “young” people, the ‘point break’ references went straight over our heads with only the ‘surfs up’ reference landing with the entire group.

Hitting the waves

Having mastered standing on a stationary surfboard on dry land, it was time to take to the “bay” (look at me with the surfing lingo) and put everything we had learned(?) into practice. Wave number one and I was standing straight away. What a pro, this surfing lark is easy I thought to myself. Wave number two quickly brought me back to reality as I forgot everything and wiped-out instantly. Ego check complete, I looked back at our group and what I saw still makes me smile to this day.

I didn’t see a group of people whose young lives had been dominated by grief. Instead, I saw joy. Wide smiles as people stood up for the first time. Giggles as they caught their first wave. People who had only just met hugging and cheering each other on.

A photo of Kieran, a white man, standing on a surfboard at the wave, an inland surf school

Ahhh, I thought, this is what Let’s Talk About Loss is all about. Yes, there are tears, we get sad sometimes – we are grieving youngsters after all! But as I observed our gang embracing the activity at hand, I realised that often it is just the safe space of like-minded people LTAL provides that is needed to feel normal and connected with others.

Epiphany had, surfing complete and hearts full; we headed to the surf shack to grab some food and have a little chat. We shared our lost peoples’ favourite hobbies, some tears and had a few more laughs. Before we knew it time ran away with us, and 4 hours had passed since the start of the surf lesson, and it was time to head home.

As I sat in my car driving home, my grief level topped up, I couldn’t help but think of my Mum and wonder what she’d think of me going surfing to process my grief (she couldn’t even swim!). But that is the beauty of LTAL, and I will always be grateful to The Wave and LTAL for providing this space for us. I feel lucky to have found such a wonderful charity and look forward to many more meet ups to come.

Kieran Cotton, Bristol meet up Host

Find out more about our Bristol meet up here. Email us if you’d like to write something for the blog!