If you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?

One of the books that I’m reading at the moment is ‘If I Could Tell You Just One Thing’ by Richard Reed – a collection of the best pieces of advice he has received that cover the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions:

When I ask people for their best piece of advice, I urge them to really think about what they consider to be most important. I put the exact same question to everyone: Given all that you have experienced, given all that you now know and given all that you have learnt, if you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ruthie Rogers owns and runs the Michelin starred Italian restaurant The River Café in London. She is also a cookbook writer. Her son suddenly passed away from a seizure when he was 26 years old.

Ruthie likens grief to a tsunami: ‘One minute you are safe on the beach looking out to sea, and then it strikes you and you are drowning.’ Richard asks Ruthie if there is any advice she can pass on to someone being hit by such a tsunami of their own. Her answer, he says, ‘reflects just how terrible an experience it is’:

As much as I would like to, I don’t think I can, because people were giving me advice and none of it worked. The only thing that got me through it was the love for my children, the closeness and tightness of our family…

For Ruthie, five years on, ‘the waters are still rough, but you learn how to navigate, you learn what you can do, what you can’t do, the times you need to be prepared for.’

I’ve been reflecting on this chapter, and how as a member of the ‘grief club’ – that club I didn’t know existed until I was part of it – has made me hold onto Ruthie’s story and to consider her story of grief against my own. It’s that search for connection, like for like I guess. I often reflect on how many stories there are of grief all around us, and how I didn’t see them before I too, was part of this somewhat ‘secret’ club.

My view of the grief club as 'secret' started to make more sense when I got to Nitin Sawhney’s chapter. Richard describes Nitin as a 'writer/producer/musician/composer.' He is also a trained mathematician, lawyer and accountant.

Nitin’s piece of advice is this:

Do not let others define you and your life. Do not be defined by other people’s expectations of you. Do not be defined by time, either by what you’ve done up to this point, as that is the past, or by your ambitions, as that is the future. Tune into yourself and define yourself by being your authentic true self in every given moment. Find out what things feel good for your soul and do that. That’s your freedom that you have. And it gives you the ballast to resist a world that’s trying to manipulate or categorise you in some way.

I don’t think I am yet wise enough to answer Richard’s question of what is my best piece of advice. Maybe one day I will be able to. But I think for now, Nitin’s advice goes a long way for members of the grief club. We are our grief, in a world that so often wants to sweep it under the carpet so that they can just hear us say that everything is ok. It’s a manipulation really, an inability to be our authentic selves. So let’s not let others, or their expectations of us, define us or who we are. We are our narratives of grief, and to connect to our grief allows us to heal.

But as Richard says in the introduction to his book, we must also remember that:

…while everyone’s path through life is unique, we can all benefit from the knowledge of more experienced walkers ahead, who can tell us of the most beautiful things to see and guide us to the safer places to cross the river.