As part of National Grief Awareness Week (December 2-8), Health Improvement Coordinator, Ian-Shorley Harlow, shares his story around the loss of his parents in the hope that it will help others who may be suffering grief in silence, as “quite often behind a smile, there can be something totally different going on”.
Most members at Grimsby Health & Wellbeing Centre will know Ian for his friendly, outgoing and caring personality that has become everything that the Centre represents. However, less will know about his struggle dealing with grief, reaching a breaking point seven years ago and gradually rebuilding since.
At the age of 19, Ian lost his father to cancer and more recently in 2010, Ian’s mum passed away also to cancer. Talking about his mum, Ian said:
“When she passed away, my whole world stopped. I went through a period, quite a long period where I just didn’t care about anything. I more or less lost the will to live if I’m honest. But me being me, I didn’t say a lot about it, I just got on with it.
“I could feel myself getting pulled deeper and deeper down and of course I knew what it was all about because I’d been through a similar thing when my father died.”
After his mum’s passing, Ian turned briefly to drinking and comfort eating, putting on three stone in weight. Despite grieving her loss, it wasn’t until four years later that he sought help, when an accident on his bike in 2014 left him unable to work for five months.
Pictured: Ian with his late mum Violet.
For a long time I didn’t want to think about my mum because if I did it just reduced me to a quivering wreck. I just stopped myself thinking about her totally, a bit like an ostrich with its head in the sand.
One of the things I’ve learned is you have to be ready to deal with these things at the right time for you and no one can put a time limit on that. You can have assistance and guidance, but the actual dealing with it, you have to do that yourself.
I went through counselling and for me to go and ask for help I have to be at my wits end – so I did, I went to the Doctor, sat in front of him, broke down in tears and said: “I need help””.Ian
At this time in 2014, Ian was working as a Fitness Instructor at Immingham Swimming Pool, however, was ready to leave the fitness industry and go back to where he started his career in the caring profession. As fate would have it, the role of Fitness Supervisor for the then Toning Suite at Grimsby Leisure Centre was being advertised, and Ian was encouraged to apply. Ian said:
“I was pointed in the direction of the toners and thanks to that, work has helped me through a really difficult time in my life. To be able to do something that you love is a powerful thing.
“It’s given me fitness combined with the more caring, human connection of helping people. That’s why if someone talks to me on a personal level about work, I can get very emotional about it because it means so much to me - it’s given me a lot and helped me massively.”
Within the last two years, Ian is now able to manage the grief better and describes how “something just seemed to drop” and he can now often think of his parents without the strong emotions of grief attached.
Ian also feels that the difficulties he has faced have given him a greater understanding, compassion and empathy towards others. In his new role of Health Improvement Coordinator, he is able help people from all walks of life right from the beginning of their journey, following a GP referral via the Active Forever programme. His experiences with grief make him able to relate and connect to many of the members who use the Wellness Hub who may have experienced similar.
Pictured: Ian with members Christina and Rosie in the Wellness Hub at Grimsby Health & Wellbeing Centre
It’s something that’s always going to hurt, but I’ve got to a place where quite often I can think about them and smile and laugh at some of the memories. If you love someone totally and unconditionally that doesn’t stop when they pass away– you take that with you for the rest of your life.Ian