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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Barr-Sim

Grief and Growth

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

Mum’s dragging me to the school uniform shop. She’ll probably make me buy stupidly long skirts and a massive jumper for me to “grow into”. Next stop after this is stationary, which is way more fun. This year I’m allowed to write in pen, like my brother! I guess I do love the school uniform shop. It has a smell, a smell like a new stuff. There are these funny round women who help. They barely fit in-between the tight rows of clothes! I’m sent to the back with shirts, scratchy jumpers and a games kit to try on. Some second hand, some brand new. All of it is too big. Ed’s turn next, haha. Just have to hand this pile in to the one scary lady behind the desk. As I’m waiting in queue I look around, bored. It’s hot. I want to go outside. There’s another girl behind me. She’s my height. She has thick rectangle glasses on, short curly brown hair, and moles on her cheek. I think it’s her Dad behind her. He also has thick glasses and a ponytail! They look kind of funny here. Different. She’s new. I’ve never seen her before.

“Hi, my name’s Eleanor, what’s yours?”

“I’m Eleanor too!” Oh my god, she’s also an Eleanor! Bet she’s an Ellie though. I’m the only Ebs in the world.

“Are you joining this year?”


“What year?”

“Five.” Oh my god, another Eleanor in my year! This is the third now.

“When’s your birthday?” She asks.

“19th June.”

“My birthday is 7th June!!”

“Yayy. Let’s go play!”

We hand our piles to our parents and run outside to the sun. She’s new so she won’t know the underworld of this shop. It’s on these pillars so you can run all the way underneath. We pretend we’re explorers discovery this creepy, new world. Maybe we’ll even find a mummy. Then we play hide and seek. Then tag. Eleanor’s cool. She seems like a lot of fun. Let’s see what’s she’s like on the adventure playground when we get to school! I bet she’s really brainy with those glasses!

The first memory I have of the almighty Ellie Rowe. It may not have happened quite like that but that’s what I see in my mind. A discovery of another Eleanor and a childlike bond that, at 8 years old, was made almost immediately. Another Eleanor, another Gemini. There was something different about her from that day and it proved to be a bond that grew as we did. Ten years later and all that’s left is a collection of memories to hold onto. After ten years of exhilarating friendship she took to the wind.

On 8th August 2013 Ellie went to Boomtown and she did something stupid. She took ketamine. A horrible, disgusting drug that I will forever despise. It was pure ketamine. She took a very small dose. She had two and a half cans of lager earlier that day and it was the combination of the alcohol and the ketamine that killed her. It was on that day that someone lost a daughter, a sister and a friend. It was that day that I first learnt about grief. I could write and preach and shout from the rooftops that you should never take ketamine but if we’ve learned anythingit’s that you can’t force someone not to do something. All you can do is educate them and let them do what they wish with that information. I could write all about the culture of drugs and how detrimental it is to everyone, but I don’t like to think of my incredible, fiercely intelligent, hilarious, beautiful friend in that light. Drugs are everywhere, and everyone takes them.

I think back to that day in the school uniform shop. I think about it a lot. The days we shared dressing up for the twenty mile Wessex walk. The days of eating 10 slices of toast in our half an hour morning break. I remember when we had an argument. When she told me, she wanted to still be my friend but not my “best friend” and how crushed I was. I remember when we finally rekindled our connection and would run through town with no shoes on, because obviously shoes restrict your freedom. We would bet on each other to do the most random, stupidest things for 5p. Because, duh, no one ever follows through on a higher bet then 5p anyway and it’s still enough incentive to eat the Haribo you found on the floor or moony out of the bus window. There were the days of getting drunk in the forest when we were supposed to be doing homework. We would take long walks and talk about philosophy and discuss what it would be like to die. She was obsessed with death. She said once that she would like to be murdered somehow because she would want to be aware of what was happening to her, to be able to know what it would be like to die. She once told me that she’d never live passed fifteen. Ellie, you were right about everything, almost, you were eighteen. Again, I could continue writing and writing about every detail of our friendship, about the friendship I saw her give to others. About every moment I spent with her but the joy and heartache I find in thinking about the mundane days we spent together could potentially be rather dull for anyone who will be reading this.

Grief. A bizarre and painful feeling. But somehow a feeling that I have found to be most “human”. It gives you a connection to death. It ties a string between your beating heart and the concept of it. We are mere mortals and death is around us. Grief is an unavoidable feeling. At some point in our lives we shall all experience a loved one dying. I’ve often thought through my experience that I should be more rational, that I am being dramatic, I’ve not lost a mother, a father, a sibling. She was my friend. I had other friends and I since have made more friends. However, I was connected to her in so many ways. We practically grew up together and I am a believer that you can’t compare tragedies. Due to recent events I have come to feel similar feelings. Different and yet all too familiar. And it’s this that has reminded me that my loss at 18 was colossal. Of course, I am still sad about Ellie but it’s different now. Recognising these emotions, that pain and how to deal with it. I truly have no idea how I got through it. And even now I have days where I am made aware of it. Grief strikes and knocks you to the floor at any moment it chooses. Grief is a powerful force and cannot be measured. And although I wrote most of this a few months ago, it is now her 'death day', as it’s been known as, the 5th year anniversary of her death. So, amongst these thought out and layered emotions about what grief has been like, I actually feel rather retched. I miss her dearly, so I guess it is simply a day of mourning. But I’m heading off to some yoga, with a good book to read on the way. I will then go on to the Hampstead Ponds for some swimming, connect with the earth and elements. On all days I feel like the hippiest version of myself needs to come out.

Onwards on the trajectory I had originally written: Bizarrely, grief has shaped me in ways that I couldn’t possibly have imagined. Ellie died when she and I were so young. I had just left school with hopes and ambitions of going to drama school and no idea about how to do that. The two of us were planning to go to India on our gap year. Suddenly I was in flux. Suddenly I was thrown into a no man’s land. At an impressionable age I was shifted off course. Me and the friends around me were in pain and were floating in a haze of disorientation. There is no way that that will not affect you. I felt like I had to grow up incredibly fast, that I couldn’t soak up my carefree youth, the abandoned nature of not knowing what was next. But through learning to deal with painful emotion you learn more about yourself and the mechanisms of your human nature then you would by any other means. I guess I got a job, that helped. I got drunk a lot for a long time, that helped for a bit but not quite in an appropriate way. I cried about the loss. I laughed about the joy of the past, I was filled with love for what we once had. I picked myself up. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. With my friend Carmen, we scattered some of Ellie’s ashes on the summit. We raised money for a charity, Umbrella Nepal, in her name. I moved to London and began a new chapter of my life. I was heading into the world as a functioning adult and I was soon to be off to drama school. And through all the excitement and the hilarity the grief still stalks me. I was going through my old laptop and came across an old file that I'd saved of a email conversation I'd had with Ellie, about 10 years ago. I don't know what possessed me to save it all but I suppose there was something about it that I felt was important to keep. It was all about her having lost a dear friend, Ruby, to cancer. In it she wrote "Imagine a regular part of your life, like Ellie Redwood or Carmen, suddenly ... gone". And it wasn't too long before we didn't have to imagine it, and it wasn't Ellie Redwood or Carmen, it was her, herself. And there I was again, thrown into it all.

But I understand myself in an intricate and complex way. I know when it’s all too much and I need to be by myself, I can feel myself behaving in ways that I don’t like, and I need some space. I know when I need my friends and human contact. I know when I need to be by the sea or with my dogs.I feel like I have a wider understanding on my philosophical and spiritual views. Views that shape the way a person can live. I have built myself to be truly who I am. To carry what I have inside proudly in my smile, in the shake of my booty on the dance floor, in my mad and unkempt hair, in my complete lack of fucks to give about what people think of me. This does come from many things: from my parents, my school, my star sign but lots of it is Ellie Rowe. In knowing her and learning from her and in losing her. Of course, I would happily trade these life lessons in for Ellie to still be in the world but no matter how many ‘what if’s’ or wishes nothingcan physically do that. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that life can cause the greatest pain but when you rise from that pain you can achieve enormous things. That there’s always something to learn from it. You have been shattered and you have glued your pieces back together, the scars of the pain still visible but are necessary to shape who you’ve become today. They are beautiful in their painful way. Grieve. Take your time. Feel that emotion. Honour it. It won’t go away if you try to brush it under the carpet it. It needs to be respected. Never forget it. Never lose it completely. Don’t cherish it, as the only thing you know and understand, but learn from it and grow from it. It hurts. It gets easier. Rise. Don’t listen to me, I’m preaching my thing, you have your own process, do what you need to do. Human’s ability to cope is phenomenal. You, whoever you are, are phenomenal.

My shopping list today consists of: lager, ice cream, sunflowers, apples and skittles.

“We rip out so much of ourselves in order to be cured of things quicker that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time you’re with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything, what a waste … Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill, or with it the joy you felt.” - Call Me By Your Name Screenplay by James Ivory

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