‘You Are Not Alone’ by Cariad Lloyd

WHITEBALLOON guest BOOK REVIEW by Polly Windsor, who finds comfort and reassurance in a book which reflects her own experience of the enduring and unpredictable nature of grief.

Cariad Lloyd started ‘Griefcast’, an award winning podcast about grief and death, in 2016.  She is an actor, comedian, improvisor and writer. This book, ‘You Are Not Alone’, is her first book about grief. When Cariad was fifteen, her dad died. She became the ‘person-whose-dad-had-died’. The book recounts her journey with grief and death, interwoven with stories from ‘griefsters’ she has met along they way, while interviewing them for her podcast. I came across this book when my Mum gently left it out for me in my bedroom when I was visiting her in January 2023. January is not my favourite month of the year as it marks the anniversary of my Father’s death, which happened when I was fifteen (a striking parallel to Cariad). This year, this book has been an antidote to my worry about whether it is ok to still feel at sea with my grief, even fifteen years on from my Dad’s death. Cariad allowed me to pause and be present with my grief, with memories of my Dad. She reminded me how grief goes on, that it’s painful and tender too. It is especially comforting to know that I am not alone.

In ‘You are Not Alone’ Cariad writes candidly about the raw, funny, out of body and mind experiences which occur when grief is prevalent in one’s life. She talks about the way that grief is messy  (she calls this ‘griefmess’) and the laughter that it can induce. The laughter of ‘griefmess’ is something I can relate to. To have it identified, to have a word for it, feels reassuring. My grief mess is clunky and awkward to bring up, it can cut a conversation in half. Somehow Cariad’s writing makes the unmanageable business of unspoken grief, manageable. There is a poignancy of reading Cariad’s entwined personal vignettes alongside her musings about how grief need not be something to be ashamed or afraid of. Cariad highlights the confusion of grief which is both ‘universal and unique’.

Cariad welcomes us, the reader, into her life, her world, her club – the DDC ‘Dead Dad Club’ – although you are welcome to replace the initials with those of your own club –  DMC = ‘Dead Mum Club’ for example. The inclusivity of the club(s) one may be a part of, and the way they can be adjusted to your own grief or loved person is supportive. I found that Cariad’s inclusive language and spirit added a layer to my sometimes fragile skin. When I uncover the next layer of my grief, I might reach for this book to remind me others have trodden this path before, albeit in different shoes and socks. Cariad is careful however, not to exclude those who aren’t in the club, to allow those that may not know how others have felt in the grieving process to delve into this grief space without judgement.

In this outstanding wandering dialogue with herself and others, including The Rev’ Richard Coles, Philippa Perry and Steven Mangan, Cariad allows their voices, stories and tales of their dead loved ones to be seen and heard. She is careful to leave enough space for other people’s stories, to allow their dead loved one’s to live in these pages too. Each of these people’s thoughts and feelings of their grief, allowed me, the reader, to feel a little less lost in the tidal wave of grief that can engulf me. Cariad’s generosity in including these stories invites the reader to delve further into their understanding of their own grief. I felt curious about other people’s experiences and how they compared with my own experience.

I was especially excited by Cariad’s view that, the 5 stages of grief (a theory or model, that I was aware of when I lost my Dad) don’t happen in a linear kind of fashion, they are not something to be ticked off a list. Grief comes in waves and Cariad writes about her waves throughout the book. The ‘waves’ tell stories of uncertainty, banality, hilarity and heartbreak amidst the chaos of life, alongside grief. From my own grief experience so far, there often isn’t any rhyme or reason why I might feel overwhelmed or underwhelmed, numb or present, alive with tears or out of control from one day to the next. I might be reminded of something my Dad did or said which knocks me off kilter, or I may feel warmed that someone has brought him into the conversation. The waves of grief continue to crash, but as Cariad puts it, they ‘just get further apart’. This astonishingly honest book creates a new language for the way that we talk about grief. The more we talk, and importantly, listen to others stories, the more aware we can be. Once we have awareness of ourself or another there can be more empathy too. I hope that more people (myself included) can ask, ‘Who are we remembering today?’ (although probably not in a job interview, that might be strange!) – a question that Cariad asks at the start of every podcast. This functions as an open question, a chance to be curious about someone no longer physically on this earth.

As grief books go, this was the one which I felt best gave me permission to talk more about my dead person, my dad, with fondness, joy, angst, brilliance, sadness, courage and glory. To revel in my own journey, knowing that others face similarly awfully fantastic, heavy, heart-wrenching conversations and experiences each day. That the confusion of grief remains but that other people are often alongside it with you. The ‘griefmess’ may subside, or ebb and flow, but there will always be the next thing where you wish they were there, and that’s really hard to stomach sometimes.

In reading ‘You Are Not Alone’, I truly felt closer to someone I had never met, someone walking alongside me on my unfolding journey. I have a feeling this book will do the same for many other people too. ‘You Are Not Alone’ is a powerful reminder that it is ok to do grief, death and dying your way. A hopeful, helpful, non guide-like guide to our present exploration of life and death.

Polly and her Father, Bill

This review is written by Polly Windsor. Polly is training to be child counsellor using the arts. She is an artist who enjoys having open conversations about grief, death and dying.

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