Hayling Island dad shares grief battle over his late father through letter to younger self in new book ‘Letters from the Grief Club’
Ryan Davies, 31, struggled to cope with his feelings of grief after tragedy struck and at the age of just seven, lost his father Paul to a brain tumour.
Growing up, Ryan often found himself isolated and alone, unable to process his own feelings as a little boy grappling life’s obstacles without his daddy.
He dealt with anger issues, being unable to articulate what he was going through at that time to his peers, and resorted to bottling up his feelings and often closed himself off to family and friends.
But fast forward to today and Ryan, from Hayling Island, says a grief club he stumbled on while on Facebook with his wife was the ‘starting point’ to almost ‘beating’ the grief he’d struggled with since he was a boy.
Today, his contribution to Letters from the Grief Club, a book encompassing people’s letters about all types of loss, from losing a parent or a sibling to parents who lost a child or a baby, have helped change his outlook on grieving.
In the book, Ryan has written a letter to his younger self, telling him that to grieve is OK.
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An extract from the letter says: “Cry until you can’t cry any more and don’t let anyone tell you it makes you less of a man, because it doesn’t. Men are so often expected to be strong, to man up and to be the tough guy, but it’s okay to admit you aren’t okay.”
Talking about the emotion behind the letter, Ryan explains: ‘The part I’ve written about is a letter to my seven-year-old self. It gives advice of how not to be how I was. Not bottling it up, accepting help around you, reassuring yourself that it will all be OK in the end.
‘When I was younger I bottled it all up and I didn’t grieve properly in all honesty.
‘This helped me to open up.
‘There was nothing like that for me before because I decided to bottle it up and I’ve seen and lived through the affects of what that’s done.
‘Since I was seven I’ve really struggled to show any sort of grieving about when I lost my dad and I came across Letters from the Grief Club and the Grief Club itself and read about it a bit and it opened me up to speaking about it a bit more.
‘I’ve got two daughters and I wanted to show them that grieving is OK, a natural thing to do.’
Letters from the Grief Club is a compelling book revealing letters of grief from 54 contributors who felt isolated because of their experiences of loss.
Two years ago, Ryan took the first big step to sharing his story with other people, working with the charity Lets Talk About Loss – a monthly meeting of a group for people aged 18 to 35 to address the reality of losing someone close to you when you’re young.
Through the support of his wife, Kat, Ryan has not only accepted his own feelings, but also captured a new way for his daughters, Alaiya and Lulamae, to cope with the absence of their grandfather through ‘Grandad Sky’, a mechanism to make Paul a part of their children’s life.
‘My two girls never met my dad but my wife still wanted him to be a part of their lives as well as still being a part of my life,’ he explains.
‘We came up with ‘Grandad Sky’ and he sits on a cloud on the moon. When it rains the girls imagine he’s tipping a bucket of water over them.
‘We want to do as much as we can without scaring them and making them aware that they can talk if anything was to happen to someone close to them.
‘Grandad Sky has helped me massively as well.’
A difficulty Ryan has struggled to comes to terms with his whole life is that the trauma inflicted on him from such a young age meant the memories he shared with his dad got completely ‘wiped out’.
‘A lot of people can still remember when they were younger,’ he explains.
‘But I don’t really have any memories past his death which is also a hard thing.
‘The trauma of it all wiped everything.’
Ryan hopes that through contributing to this book he can help other people like him who suffered in silence.
Speaking of his childhood, Ryan says: ‘It’s feeling sad most of the time.
‘I would have loved to remember the times I had with him. I have pictures of me and him and we have some old videos but it would be nice to remember him through the times I had with him that isn’t just looking through pictures and videos.’
Becoming a member of the grief club behind the charity Lets Talk About Loss was a major turning point but it was the relentless support from Kat that helped Ryan help himself. She encouraged him to get involved with the charity as a ‘good thing’ to start processing his grief.
The charity’s founder, Beth French, set up the organisation in 2018 after losing her mother to cancer three years before and realising a lack of support for those in her age bracket who were also bereaved.
A safe space for young grievers to support one another was the ultimate goal and after opening the first group in Nottingham it has boomed into a thriving collective of 34 groups nationwide and hopes to open another in Portsmouth.
In the pandemic, Beth looked at different ways to help people talk about their grief while lockdown restrictions took hold. She posted a call-out on social media asking people to share their stories of loss and to do it in memory of the people they had lost.
‘Hundreds and hundreds of people got in touch,’ Beth explains.
‘Through Lets Talk About Loss we know so many people with the most amazing stories and I think people really wanted the opportunity to share a bit of their experience.
‘Ryan’s story in particular, where he talks about being a father and ‘Grandad Sky’ is amazing. It makes me feel really emotional. It’s so nice for other people to read. What we hope is that people early on in their grief might read it and think, “I’m not the only one who feels like this” or, “I’m not alone in this” – because they’ll be able to hear other people’s experiences as well.
‘We focus on groups being relaxed and almost like a social group because for a lot of people they feel quite nervous about talking about grief and opening up, especially for men. That starts to create friendships and it helps people to open up because they can trust other people.’
When Ryan got involved with the other book’s contributors, he discovered a deeper understanding of what grief was in all its different forms which helped him open up.
‘It gave me an understanding of what other types of grieving there are,’ he explains. ‘The grieving process was different to each situation.
‘They’re very much about supporting people with grief.’
Ryan’s letter continues: “To the seven-year-old Ryan, I know you are scared and frightened, and don’t know how to handle the loss of Dad – just know this – one day you will have a family of your own, a family you will treasure so much the thought of any loss so enormous is something you can’t even imagine.”
Letters from the Grief Club is available to preorder through Amazon, W H Smith, Waterstones and directly through the publisher’s website, uk.jkp.com.