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The power of feeling understood

I am truly blessed with my friends. I struggled with friendship drama in high school and the years following, but I have lucked out in the friendship department these days… My friends see me, understand me, reach out and check in on me even when the news is almost always sad and boring at the moment. I recognise how rare and wonderful that is, especially through grief.

Yesterday was a hard day – the last week or so have been hard. I’ve been waking up in sadness and not able to get out of it. Not sparked off by anything in particular, just constantly there. I was trying to describe this feeling yesterday, and my friend said to me:

There really isn’t much you can do and it’s sucky and sad. I’m really sorry. You keep plodding along through this swamp of grief, and some days the trudging gets easier (and it seems you’re nearing the edge of the swamp), but it’s all still so recent and new.

And I thought: yes! Exactly! That is exactly how I feel, thank you. It felt like a cool drink of water to be so understood – refreshing, a relief.

Later in the day, another friend reached out to check how things were going, and I tried to explain how exhausting it is pretending to be okay when really I’m just so sad. She’s been through grief so she gets it, and she said:

Yes, that’s exactly it – your world stopped by the rest of the world keeps going. You do your best to keep up but it feels inadequate and exhausting.

My eyes filled with tears at the relief of being understood. And it made me realise how many people are walking around feeling misunderstood, and lost, and alone. I know some of this because of the response we get on Diabetic South Africans from people with diabetes finally feeling like they’ve found a community. But I think there are so many sub-sets of people feeling misunderstood because of sexuality or loneliness or other chronic conditions or having lost someone they loved so much and not knowing how to do life without them.

I saw this the other day on Instagram, and it rang so true:

And finally, yesterday a friend sent me this post, which I thought was so beautiful – and so true. One of the things I’ve found so difficult about explaining how I feel to people is that I didn’t just lose my mom – I lost my best friend. I lost my biggest fan. I lost the person who cared about every little detail of my day in a way that nobody else does. And I miss her in a way that is different to the way my brothers and dad miss her. My apple is not the same as your apple…

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Yaa and Petra were on their way to school, when Mansa the school bully stopped them and forcefully took an apple from each of them. Yaa was devastated because that one apple was the only meal she was going to have that day. Petra, on the other hand, was thankful that the only thing she lost was her apple, and not her whole lunchbox, which was full of other goodies. So Yaa and Petra lost an apple each. But did they both lose an apple each? Too many people make the mistake of thinking that just because someone’s tragedy sounds similar to theirs, it is the same. No. No two of anything is the same in this life. You lost your dog, and I lost my dog are not the same tragedy. You lost your hubby and I lost my hubby are not the same tragedy. You lost 100 cedis and I lost a 100 cedis are not necessarily, one and the same. Why? Some years ago, I was fired from my job and was not properly compensated. I was upset about that. Whilst dealing with my anger, I bumped into a friend who had also been laid off from his job. But he wasn’t angry, he was enraged! He was bitter. He was devastated. If he’d owned a gun at that time, he probably could have killed himself or the person who fired him. He had gone mad with rage. His pain was visibly all over him. We’re two friends who’d both lost our jobs so why were our responses so different? The difference was, whilst I had mainly seen my job as a stepping stone to somewhere else I was headed, his job had meant much more to him. That job was his very first job after school, and as the salaries and promotions rolled in over time, so did confidence and respect. That job had helped shape his sense of self and identity to depths he hadn’t been aware of. He had his whole future planned out based on that job, and then in just one day, someone took all of that from him. When that job was taken from him, it felt as though he had been castrated with a blunt knife. His pain was raw. So my friend and I both lost an apple each, but his apple was more than mine. Photo and Words by Nana Kofi Acquah ( @africashowboy (Copyright: 2019). In picture: “Portrait of Widow”- Kayes, Mali.

A post shared by Nana Kofi Acquah (@africashowboy) on

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The Grief Handbook

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