Mark Lemon: Living with the impact of grief.
Mark Lemon, Father, Author, Podcaster & Speaker, lives in Bristol with his wife, Simone, and two children Otis (age 9) and Thea (age 5). Here, ahead of World Mental Health Day next month, he shares his experiences on dealing with the death of his father, and why he wished he had opened up about his emotions whilst he was still a child.
‘On Tuesday 12th May 1992, my world changed forever. I woke up, got dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast. My dad finished his coffee, picked up his briefcase, and waved goodbye to me in the doorway. This would be the last time that I would ever see him. I was 12-years-old.
At 3pm my teacher asked me to go home urgently. I will never forget that heartsinking feeling at the thought that something terrible had happened. I arrived home to be greeted by police cars and the sound of my sister crying in the front
room. At 3.20pm my mum took me upstairs to the spare room to tell me that dad had died. The room was filled with the most unimaginable pain and loss. My mum kept saying that she didn’t know what we are going to do, or how we are going to live without my dad.
Later that day my uncle sat me down to tell me that dad was murdered by another man. I will always remember going up to my bedroom, dropping to my knees, and crying myself to sleep. I kept asking myself over and over why this had to happen to my family. From that moment my life changed forever.
The impact of grief and trauma as a boy instilled in me a lack of confidence in myself.
When your role model, friend and father is cruelly taken away from you, all of your trust in life extinguishes. As a teenager, my grief took over and manifested itself in emotions of anger, anxiety & depression. School life became a secondary priority for me, and I felt different to my friends and peers. I struggled to open up to those around me, and I had subconsciously struck a deal with myself to lock the pain away in the darkest corners of my mind. The consequences of this affected my mental health throughout my teenage years.
When I left secondary school I struggled to find purpose, direction and meaning in my life. All of my friends went to College & University, and apart from a few temping jobs, I found it difficult to feel confident in my abilities. But deep down, I knew that the only way I could live my life was to make peace with myself.
In my late teenage years, I discovered a passion for music and singing – I had found an outlet for positively channelling my grief. Singing gave me a sense of release and I enjoyed the creative side of writing songs. I have always been fascinated by the power of words, especially when getting them out of my head and onto paper. Writing is something that I would recommend to anyone struggling with grief and mental health. Words carry a subconscious meaning and without knowing you’re downloading your deepest and darkest thoughts onto paper.
In 2000, I reached out to The London Music School to enquire about joining their singing & performance diploma. The school invited me to an audition and I was asked to sing two songs in front of the course leaders. I remember travelling back to Cambridge on the train feeling a sense of worry that I had failed the audition. Two months later, I received a letter to say that I had been accepted onto the course. This was the start of a new chapter in my life.
The grieving process is strange. No matter how you experience it, one day you are fine and the next the grief hits you like a sledgehammer. If I had access to the type of bereavement support available today, I would’ve started my grieving process at an earlier age. There are now lots of fantastic charities available to children such as Winston’s Wish.
It was only later in life that I realised my grief had affected my mental health. When I was 26-years-old, I reached out to bereavement charity, Cruse. After a number of sessions, I was in a place where I could move forward with my life. Sharing my thoughts & emotions with someone outside of my family gave me a safe space to be able to live with my grief.
Bereaved children and young people are now expected to navigate their way through the added pressures of social media, body confidence, school, and now the impact of Covid-19 has instilled a feeling of anxiety and depression. Charities are struggling to offer face-to-face bereavement support and we need to teach all young people how to channel their feelings for the good of their future. I believe the power of creativity is a positive tool when expressing feelings. Whether its music, writing or drawing, simply getting strong emotions out is a powerful process that has always helped me with my own grief and mental
The impact of grief at an early age can stay with a child for the rest of their lives, but it shouldn’t affect their mental health. I want all children and young people to know that through this life-changing time, you can go on to achieve good things in life.’