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GUEST BLOG: My experience of grief, the loss of my Mum and how I now run a greetings card shop.

SNAP exists because, aside from a selection our random vaguely creative, stupid jobs, in 2010 I watched my mum die of ovarian cancer in a hospice in Bolton. A situation so surreal it resembled a Victoria Wood sketch- but with more tears, more bunches of flowers, and more cups of tea than anyone could ever need. I learnt a lot about a care system that I had no idea existed, a lot about the physical process of dying, and a lot about the best way to transfer ashes....turns out Tupperware really is key. Watching someone you love die really is a game changer, or at least was for me. It completely reset my understanding of fear and risk and led me on a path to where I am now. For the first few years of the business I fought my fears with the reassurance that I wasn't dead. Literally that was my benchmark. Death. Am I dying? No? Then its OK. VAT bill? No worries. No customers? No worries! Still alive. But as you move through the ongoing journey that is grief there are some glaringly obvious flaws in the system. And the first is people really don't know what to say.  It creates an exclusion zone of awkwardness that is only penetrated by very close friends or people who are robust enough to deal with any potential fall out. I felt uncomfortable mentioning it (and still often do), not because how I feared I might respond but how uncomfortable I may make others feel.  In the situation of a dead parent in my early 30's I became the benchmark amongst friends, the leader in a race that I really would have preferred not to have entered. A club that no one wants to join. Slowly, over the years I have gained more members to my exclusive club. It's VIP entry and the eligibility criteria is strict, and brutal.

Now I sell greeting cards for a living. I thought this would be a simple task. Cards are just cards right? I had no idea when I began what a tsunami of stories would arrive at my door. Or how touching, sad, funny and sometimes challenging those stories would be. Almost every day someone comes in and needs to send a 'difficult' card. They often tell a story while they choose their card. A story about how the person died, or how they are probably going to die. Their age, their circumstance. Before we know it, a card has turned into a chat about sadness or pain or memories or what to say to someone you don't know very well. Or what to say when you know someone very well. What to write. Abstract shapes and images suddenly on cards take on new meaning. Flowers, trees, triangles. What colours and patterns are OK to say "I care, I'm thinking of you."

These stories occasionally take me and my emotions by surprise. A teenage boy once came in and knew he was supposed to send a card, but it was the first sympathy card he had ever sent. A friend's mum had died. His choice was youthful and creative, and suited his style. I was pleased he had chosen something that was relevant, and he felt able to write something. It was very touching, and left me a complete wreck afterwards!

And when my mum died I received a card from a friend's mother, a woman I knew but knew very little about. It was open and honest, and spoke about the loss of her own mother at the same age. It was, I'm sure, incredibly difficult for her to write, and took me completely by surprise. In between those too many cups of tea,  shopping for the perfect funeral outfit and wondering how on earth I had found myself firmly parked in grief central, it offered a comfort that still endures today.

Helen Fisher, is the proud owner of SNAP Store London, selling fab gifts, cards and wrap to the East London (and beyond). Have a look at her lovely products online or if you're in the Bow area, drop by and say hi- she'd love to see you!

SNAP 465 Roman Road, Bow London, E3 5LX

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