Beth French: Let's Talk About Loss
By Beth French, founder and director of Let's Talk About Loss.
My name is Beth French and I am the founder of Let’s Talk About Loss. It’s a support organisation for young people aged 18-35 who have been bereaved. As well as running Let’s Talk About Loss, I work full time for The Prince’s Trust, a charity I love. I am also learning the drums!
Life with a different perspective
I never expected to start a charitable organisation. I hoped to work for a charity and I’m passionate about working in the voluntary sector, but starting my own charity was not on the radar.
Tragically, I lost my mum when I was 20 years old - she had cancer of the bile duct and died when I had just finished my second year of university. After you’ve been bereaved, life is never the same again. That’s not to say it’s not good again, but your perspective shifts and you have a new aspect to your identity that is not shared by many other young people. Especially if you are bereaved young - you can feel weird, and different. I felt alone in my grief and however wonderful my friends and family were, I wanted a group of friends who knew exactly what loss felt like. I also wanted to talk openly and honestly about how I was feeling; to break down the taboos surrounding grief. That is where the idea for Let’s Talk About Loss came from, and where my passion for supporting other bereaved young people started.
Building a community
Let’s Talk About Loss started as an online blog, and I was so scared about publishing the first post. My brother read it and encouraged me to share it on my social media, but I felt vulnerable as I didn’t know many other young people who had been bereaved - would anyone understand, or be able to relate? Within a few hours the blog post had received hundreds of comments and shares, and I was getting messages from people I didn’t know thanking me for writing it. It turned out that, far from being alone in my feelings, I had struck a chord with countless others who had been bereaved and were also suffering in silence. I started blogging regularly and accepting blog posts from many others who wanted to share their stories. A large following of people developed very quickly, all desperate for a safe space to talk about their grief.
When I started the blog, I didn’t expect it to grow into a meet up, and when I launched the first meet up in Nottingham, I never expected it to grow into multiple meet ups across the UK. I didn’t have a plan or goals; I just responded to a need that I had myself and that I saw in others. Anyone can write for our blog, regardless of age, which I love and I think is useful. But our meet ups are run specifically for 18-35 year olds, by 20-35 year olds, as we champion the importance of peer led support.
The power of peer support
Talking honestly and openly about bereavement is so important, but it can also be exhausting, and only four years on from my mum’s death, I have to be really careful to protect myself as I run Let’s Talk About Loss. We are specifically not a support group, and we do not offer any sort of professional help or therapy. We are simply a peer-led group of young people trying to navigate life after bereavement, and sharing that journey together. I have a wonderful team of volunteers who help with hosting the meet up groups, editing our blog submissions and answering emails. It’s important to me that my mental health, and the mental health of my volunteers, is always the priority, as you can’t look out for others if you are not looking out for yourself. Some days are harder than others as the charity grows and more and more young people “join the bereaved club”, as we like to say, but I could never moan; it is an honour and privilege to lead Let’s Talk About Loss, and to meet so many strong and inspirational young people.
When we hit bumps in the road, we simply try to be as innovative as possible by thinking outside the box, and talk to the young people in our group to learn from them the best course of action to take. An early learning curve for us was the importance of a good meet up location. For many young people who attend our meet up groups, it can initially be a scary place to share personal information and talk about their grief. For our first ever meet up, we met in the home of a group member, and although the evening went really well, we quickly realised that the environment wasn’t quite right. It was a challenging time as we looked for better venues that were free, quiet and appropriate, but it was important that I worked with the group and asked for advice on what they thought would work well. Young people have so many amazing, creative ideas and I am no expert on grief; it still surprises me every day, so it’s important that I am listening and learning every day. Overcoming hurdles is always so much easier when you work collaboratively and challenge yourself to think creatively.
I am constantly proud to run Let’s Talk About Loss. It’s not the number of Instagram followers, or the awards I win, that make me proud. It’s the amazing young people I get to meet, and the way that their lives are completely transformed with just a simple, peer support group that meets every month. Our groups are so laid back and informal, but I’ve seen people completely transformed by them. We always encourage everyone who needs it to seek more professional support alongside attending Let’s Talk About Loss meet ups; I’ve seen people try counselling for the first time and love it, I’ve seen people go to their GP for the first time, and I’ve seen people laughing and joking with new friends despite previously not leaving the house in months. The power of friendship, and of peer support, is incredible, and the transformation I see in our amazing young people is by far the thing I’m proudest of.
A positive future
It’s a really exciting time for Let’s Talk About Loss, as we are now in the process of registering formally as a charity. That will solidify us as a legitimate organisation supporting bereaved young people, enable us to reach more individuals, and hopefully access more funding opportunities. We have plenty more plans too: we’re keen to design bereavement cards that are appropriate for a young adult audience, create a podcast that smashes the taboos around death and grief, and hold events across the UK that think differently about how we talk about loss. I also hope to see more meet ups launching across the UK as we try and provide peer support to more young people than ever before. It’s such an exciting time!
I believe that it’s vital we listen to young people, give them opportunities to share their ideas and create platforms for their voices to be heard. As a young person myself, I feel it’s important that I listen to other young people about what is best for those I am supporting. Grief in 2019, like many things, is very different to grief five or ten years ago, as social media usage increases and the understanding of mental health changes. I listen to lots of experts on grief of varying ages and they are all helpful, but as a young woman who lost her mum at 20, I believe I too, despite my young age, have something important and helpful to say.
Here are my top 3 tips for starting out:
1. Believe in yourself. Don’t let your age, or anyone else’s doubts hold you back. If you believe in your idea and have the passion to start it, then what are you waiting for? Every day you wait is another day the world remains unchanged, so stop reading this article and get out there and change the world!!
2. Grow your knowledge. My second tip is to follow lots of activists and campaigners who you can learn from on social media, read lots of books, and listen to lots of podcasts. Making change is really hard and it’s important to listen to others and learn - from their mistakes and their successes! Your idea must be unique of course, but surrounding yourself with other changemakers will help inspire you and keep you going when things feel tough. (I really recommend Be The Change, a book by Gina Martin, whose campaigning made upskirting illegal - it’s THE book for how to make change.)
3. Practise self-care. My third tip is to make sure you are taking care of yourself. You might think that this is less important, because self-care won’t change the world. But it’s the most important, because if you don’t take care of yourself, your ability to change things will be lessened and your ideas and dreams will have to be put on pause. Please prioritise looking after yourself, making sure you have people around you to support you, and get plenty of rest. You can’t change the world when you’re too tired!
Article Published: 1st October 2019
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