“Part of me just wants to lock myself away and not talk to anyone,” says Laura Whitmore.
We all know what grief looks like. Or, if you believe what you see on screen, what it is ‘supposed’ to look like. It’s Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic, burying herself under her duvet and refusing to leave her bed for weeks on end. It’s Hilary Swank in PS I Love You, finding it impossible to go about her day. It’s the single tear falling from Simba’s eye as he paws over Mufasa’s body in Disney’s The Lion King.
Except… well, it’s not. Grief is messy, and complicated, and utterly unique to the individuals experiencing it. And that’s something Laura Whitmore knows all too well.
The Love Island presenter recently spoke to Kate Thornton on her podcast White Wine Question Time. And Thornton, rather than assuming how Whitmore might be feeling in the weeks after the death of good friend Caroline Flack, opened by asking a simple question: “How are you?”
“I’m OK,” Whitmore replied. “I just got back from South Africa yesterday. I think it’s really good to talk. [But] part of me just wants to lock myself away and not talk to anyone.”
Whitmore continued: “I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I am and sometimes I feel guilty. I’m like, ‘I’m fine, I’m here, I’m ok’. It’s people who aren’t here, the family of Caroline, and I feel guilty for so many people asking how I am because I’m here.”
“It’s a weird one. I don’t really know how I am. It changes and then sometimes I’ll be watching TV and I’ll laugh at something and you feel guilty for laughing and then you’ll forget and then you’ll remember so kind of all over the place.”
Acknowledging the fact that there’s no one way to grieve, though, Whitmore added: “I suppose there’s no right way or wrong to feel.
“It’s just whatever you feel in the moment and talking about it. It’s so important that we talk.”
It’s a staunch reminder of something we here at Stylist have been trying to impress upon our readers for some time now: that everyone mourns death in different ways at different times.
When we lose someone we love, we may be furious, or numb, or knocked to the floor with the weight of our sadness. We might want to lie in bed for weeks, or throw ourselves straight back into work, or lose ourselves on dancefloors for a couple of months. We might need to be surrounded by people, or we might need to be completely alone.
We might need to laugh, or cry, or just feel… well, feel nothing for a little while. All of that’s OK, because there’s no “wrong” way to feel loss. And, if you’re looking for a film or TV show that hammers this point home, then you’d be best looking back to the early 00s.
In Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s critically-acclaimed episode ‘The Body’, viewers watched as their favourite characters responded to the death of Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland). Xander (Nicholas Brendon) was angry, losing his temper with doctors, refusing to talk to anyone, and punching walls. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) was panicky and anxious, unable to focus on anything other than tiny and seemingly insignificant details. Tara (Amber Benson) was endlessly calm, supportive and accepting. And Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was broken, crumpled, barely able to function.
Meanwhile, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) couldn’t stop crying. Giles (Anthony Head) was doing his best to stay strong and fix everything. And Anya (Emma Caulfield), a former demon turned human, behaved… well, she behaved in much the same way as normal. She was perky, upbeat, and flippant. And she kept asking childlike questions about Joyce’s body, so much so that she eventually drove the people around her mad.
However, when she was informed that her behaviour was 100% not OK, it was Anya who delivered the episode’s most painfully relatable monologue on grief.
“But I don’t understand!” Anya says, voice cracking with emotion. “I don’t understand how all this happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her and then she’s… there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore.
“It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And Xander’s crying and not talking, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, and no one will explain to me why!”
Anya’s right, of course. Death is stupid, grief is messy, and loss defies all logic. And she, like all of us in the real world, is just doing her utmost best to get through it.
So let’s do as Whitmore suggests and keep talking. We need to keep talking until there is no “normal” way to grieve. Then, and only then, will bereavement shaming cease to exist.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.