'I had no space left.' The grief and heartbreak of losing two people at once.

"The disease has spread", his oncologist told us. "It's incurable."

It was March 2020, two weeks into the first national lockdown at the height of the pandemic. My fiancé Ben had just been handed a death sentence at a cancer centre in London. 

The malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumour that had been removed from his back the previous summer had metastasised. Now, there were lesions in both of his lungs. 

In the weeks that followed the news, I swung between terror, panic and denial like a pendulum. We became prisoners in our own home, drowning in death tolls, oncology consultations and medical jargon, only leaving our flat to attend chemo and to walk the loop around our local park in a bid to conserve our sanity. 

Watch: 5 things about grief no one tells you. Post continues below. 

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I was terrified of losing him. He was my best friend, my twin flame, my husband-to-be, the father of my future children. How would I go on living, I asked myself, in the absence of the person I knew I couldn't live without?

I wouldn't, I decided. He would be one of the lucky ones to defy the odds and beat it. Over the next seven months, we explored every treatment pathway possible — surgery, chemo, off-label drugs and genetic testing. Different diets, vegetable juices, medical cannabis and herbal supplements. Meditation, past life regression, hypnotherapy and counselling. But nothing helped him — not even the slightest bit.


When the NHS suggested end-of-life care, we ignored their advice and flew to Mexico to begin treatment at an alternative cancer centre instead. Giving up was simply not an option. A month in, Ben was rushed to hospital with severe breathing difficulties. 

Diagnosed with COVID-19 and acute pneumonia, he was transferred to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator.

Twenty-four days later, on November 14, I received the phone call I had prayed would never come. Ben had died — his body had shut down from acute liver failure, compounded by his disease. 


The pain of his death was agonising; an unrelenting, all-consuming, mind-body experience, complete with a laundry list of mental and physical symptoms, like brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue and pain. 

Some days, I was convinced I was actually dying. Some days, dying felt welcome — like the only thing that would grant me respite from my grief. 

But I had to find a way to carry on living, if not for myself, then for the people around me, who loved me. Forced to grieve in lockdown in the absence of community, I put pen to paper and poured my pain into writing. 

I read countless books and documentaries about life after death, mediumship, loss and grief. I found a therapist, talked a lot, and built a community of 25,000 grieving hearts online. As time passed, I noticed something remarkable happen: my grief loosened its grip. 

I began to recognise glimpses of the version of myself before cancer, COVID and death had consumed her. Then, just like that, another terminal diagnosis hit.

Nine months after Ben died, my dad was diagnosed with stage-four cancer and Alzheimer's dementia. He was gone within four weeks.

Losing Dad was nothing like what it had felt like to lose Ben. In fact, I didn't feel much at all. The pain of Ben's death raged throughout my body like wildfire — but with Dad, all I felt was numb.


At first, I thought there was something wrong with me. That perhaps the absence of any real emotion was a reflection of the distance I had felt between us at times. But now, almost two years later, my grief is just beginning to express itself. 

Now, I'm beginning to feel the immense loss of losing a parent. 

It seems my grief for Ben took up every last inch of me; that there was no space left to grieve for another person. I've since discovered that there’s a word for this. It’s called cumulative grief — you don't have time to process one loss, before you incur another, whether that be a loved one, your health, your job, your home, or something else.


Scientists are now beginning to recognise the experience of loss as a type of emotional trauma. 

In his 2014 book The Body Keeps The Score, Dutch psychiatrist Bessel Van Der Kolk stated that trauma results in a fundamental reorganisation of the way the mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about but also our very capacity to think.

The brain's circuitry is literally rewired as a result of the trauma through a process called neuroplasticity. Our ability to function properly is impaired, and the most basic survival and defence mechanisms are prioritised above anything else.

It makes sense, then, that it takes some of us longer to get to grips with and begin processing another loss. If we're to continue functioning with any semblance of 'normalcy', we can’t possibly process it all at once. Our minds, brains and bodies are only capable of carrying so much.

In the wake of my loved ones' deaths, I've learned that grief does not follow a linear trajectory of clear-cut stages with a beginning and end. Grief ebbs and flows and takes on different shapes as time passes.

There's no right or wrong way to grieve, and there is certainly no timeline to it. It takes as long as it takes. 

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Feature Image: Lotte Bowser/Instagram