Grief is not fun – but comedian Jack Rooke has tips to help you smile again

Clockwise from above: Jack with his best friend Olly in 2012: "We looked out one after the other and turned our adversities into determination", Jack with his father Laurie – "I was a mini for him" – and left with his brother Alan and niece Charlotte in 1998, proud father Laurie meets Jack for the first time, in July 1993 Jack's parents created "the curliest, plumpest child you have ever seen".

But, says comedian Jack Rooke, who lost his father to cancer and then his best friend to suicide, openness, honesty, and lots of fond memories will help you smile again

At three or four years old you could have asked me about my family and I would have told you that I had two wonderful parents, Chris Evans and Vanessa Feltz. My extended family included the glamorous Aunt Pat (butcher), my uncle Les (Battersby) from the north and my various cousins ​​Zippy, Dipsy and Wellard, the German Shepherd. I seriously told this to people on the bus during my childhood obsessed with television in the mid-1990s.

In reality, my parents were my father Laurie, a curly black taxi driver, and my mother Josie, a curly multi-grower who did every job she could get. I had two brothers who were 21 and 13 years older than me, but these two curly lovers from Mill End, Hertfordshire, made me the curly, plump, white child you have ever seen.

I was like Roald Dahl's Matilda – a bit inappropriate. I loved reading, talking and irritating everyone with incessant questions. Unlike Matilda, however, my parents loved me incredibly. I loved pop music, the Spice Girls, different color gradients in pink and magic. But I never felt like I wasn't enough of a boy with a man. Even though he loved his cars and pubs, he always seemed to accept me for me and didn't care what anyone thought. My father Laurie.

I was a mini of him and spent most of my free time as a child with dad. He would drop me off at school on the way to Heathrow Airport. At the weekend, we paused to see my Nan before going about our other favorite pastimes: driving to London in his black taxi and misusing his "waiting for older passenger pickup" sign to get free parking so we could could walk around and explore.

Then our adventure days with the black taxi came to an end because dad started to suffer from back pain. He has had numerous appointments with doctors, specialists and nurses. He lost a bit of weight. Then some weight. He complained again about the pain. He saw his family doctor again. He really got pretty sick. When I look back, this spring and summer of 2008 was the last time I saw myself as a child. I was 14. I was in 10th grade at school, designing plays in the theater and going to Watford with my friends to hang around.

Over the weeks it became clear that Papa was bedridden and would not get better soon. One night in early September I saw him with the heater on and lying in bed under a duvet, but I couldn't stop trembling violently. I ran down the stairs to tell mom I was scared, but we had no idea what to do. I would give so much now to hug this frightened teenage child who just wanted to fix things but felt so overwhelmed.

On September 18, my cousin Amy and some friends took me to my relief. I had a nice night: we went to a shop in London and looked at some bands. But when I got home, I went into the living room and found everyone sitting in a semicircle, as you can only see on EastEnders when there is bad news.

I remember Dad turning his head. he couldn't look at me My best friend around the world couldn't look at me. And I just knew it. At that moment I knew what was coming. I felt all the hair on my body rise to the ceiling. I felt all the adrenaline in my arms, legs and chest start to throb. And all I said was, "I don't want to know."

I ran up to my room and slammed the door. My middle brother Dean, with whom I had never really got on, came up to me. He knocked on my door. I did not answer. He came in, sat next to me and put his arm around me. I asked, "Is it the C word?" Dean nodded. It was kidney cancer. There was a tumor and it was big.

I have a strong feeling that my childhood can be divided into three parts – before dad's cancer, during dad's cancer and after dad's cancer: the grief years. While dad's cancer was so short, it changed me. It turned me from a boy to a man. From child to adult. Someone who had shortened something important – the effects of which cannot be fully understood or easily articulated. To be a dying little child.

Mom and I had known that Dad had cancer for ten days. Nowadays I think back and forth whether his late diagnosis was in some way a blessing in disguise or not. He didn't suffer long, but on the other hand, ten days was never enough time to process what was happening. The questions come quickly and dense and make you chaotically dizzy and at the same time violently deaf. You realize that you really have no control over the situation.

Dad went to a hospice. Mom and I sat next to him, talking about nothing and trying to make sure he knew we were with him. Every time I wanted to cry, I left his room because I didn't want him to see me upset. I slid down the walls of the waiting room and fell into a heap sobbing until a nurse or relative came and picked me up. I felt like the loneliest 15 year old in the world.

That day when I left I hugged Dad drifting out of consciousness and said, "I love you, I love you so much." He just had enough energy to lift his head up and kissing my lips on the head. It was the last kiss I ever had from him. I had decided that this was my farewell. That was it for me. I was ready. Half an hour later, Mama returned home. She stood at the front door and said, "He's gone." I have to say that the first feeling I had was relief. A feeling of calm came over me that the horror of the past ten days had ended. Dad fell asleep at eight past eight. Mum next to him held his hand and told him to just let go. To tell him that she loved him with all her heart. That she would take care of the boys. That he no longer had to fight. In a way, I'm happy – almost proud – that despite all the tragedy, fear and sadness, his last moments were surrounded by nothing but love.


I went to the University of Westminster, the first person in my family to go to college to do a BA in journalism. It linked my dream of studying in the world's media capital to be affordable (thanks to a grant) and close to my mother.

The Smoke Radio student station was led by a committee of elected second years, and a man named Olly was the head of the news department. On the surface, Olly was a Jack the Lad guy. He was 24 years old, a second year journalism student who had a good five years for everyone else in his and my year. He was always surrounded by a similarly good looking group of second year boys whom I found intimidatingly fit.

I volunteered for the charity CALM (Campaign Against Misery) and told him I wanted to create a radio package about the suicide prevention campaign and the magazine for the broadcaster. Olly loved the idea and wanted to know more. He told me very affectionately and frankly that he had dealt with some of his own mental health issues, so the whole thing agreed with him and he would support everything CALM and I tried to do.

There was something about Olly. It felt like we agreed that we wanted to spur each other on to be successful. We kept an eye on each other and rooted each other to turn our adversity into determination and ultimately happiness.

Jack advertises his award-winning stand-up show about coping with his father's death

Jack advertises his award-winning stand-up show about coping with his father's death

He was the one who ran and hugged me the most after I performed at a fundraising gig for CALM called Save the Male and got my first standing ovation. I will always remember him saying, "That was you, Jack! You were on stage. This is what you should do – it was career-determining. You should be so proud. I'm so proud of you. "Honestly, it was the first time I heard the words" I'm proud of you "said by another man since Dad.

But after he left the university, Olly tried to find his feet. He just didn't wear very well if that made sense. Instead, life bore him. Olly had a more complex mental illness than any of my experiences with anxiety and depression.

We last spoke on the phone on Dad's 62nd birthday. We talked for a good hour, starting with how we both struggled with our radiators and how we both had a bad time. We ended the call with plans to visit me and I promised that I would come to him in the spring. I would like to believe that these were real plans. Plans that Olly wanted to keep. But unfortunately none of these things ever happened.

It was the day before my last fringe in Edinburgh for my show Good Grief – my last attempt to get a seat for the festival. I saw two lucky texts and then noticed a few missed calls from my friend Claire. There was an answering machine message from her: “Hello Jack. Could you call me please? We have to talk. & # 39;

I immediately thought: it's Olly. I called my mother in a panic. And, bless my mother, she told me that I was completely stupid to calm down and concentrate on what I had to do.

So I did that. And then I took a deep breath and called Claire back.

"It's Olly. He died. Last night. He committed suicide and I'm just calling to let you know." Then she burst into tears and I was just deaf.

When I hung up the call, I felt my legs grow heavy like sandbags. I couldn't walk. I just didn't know what to do with myself. I was in total, total shock and devastated at the same time because I felt like I was seeing it coming. I felt like I had heard Claire's call in my head before and told me that his demons had won and he had.

A loved one's suicide can often feel like a series of mistakes. The what-if questions run around your head at night. "What if I only …" "How didn't I notice …" "Why didn't I say …"

Suicide shows the failures in our society, in the media, in our government, in our health services and in all ways in which we can effectively try to protect the most vulnerable. And in the most difficult moments, suicide feels like a failure of the love that we have for those who are important to us. But what I've learned since Olly's death is that this mistake is not true.

It is so important to understand that no one is to blame alone. There is never a specific reason why someone felt so bad that they committed suicide.

Suicide is one of the worst tragedies in human experience, but I promise that happier times will come back. No matter how hard it feels for someone to accept suicide, life goes on and people adapt and grow.

I am still trying to live my life believing that Olly really wanted to live. This Olly tried to get better. I had hoped so much that it was a mistake – an attempt he didn't want to make successful – but when I found out that there was a letter and a forensic doctor's conclusion that it was intentional, I wanted to keep trying CALM to support as best I could. I had to focus on raising awareness of suicide prevention and making myself feel like I was doing something positive in my memory.

Jack with radio host Gemma Cairney at the 2018 Costa Book Awards

Jack with radio host Gemma Cairney at the 2018 Costa Book Awards

Ultimately, it is important that we work together to ensure that suicide is not seen as this massive failure, but as something we can address, accept, and educate about – and that it is not valid for the people we love in times Option feels the crisis.

Jack's support tips a friend who is lost a loved one

  • Tell them that you love them and that you are there. Remind them that you are not afraid to talk about it.
  • Tell them to drink water.
  • Remind them to be kind to themselves – that they feel more than just sadness.
  • Remind them in a very sensitive way that they still have a future, even if they cannot or will not see it for a while.
  • Buy them cookies. Not cheap. M & S – the round ones covered with chocolate. And make them a lasagna.
  • Keep them in your thoughts and in your invitations to the pub.
  • Keep them up to date on the fun things in life that grief can pull away.
  • "Like" her Facebook / Instagram posts or tweets about everything and all angry insults. Remind them that they are not alone.
  • Give them your Netflix password and hug them when they need it.
  • Make them stupid – a collection of old photos, written memories, or jokes.
  • Let them sit with you to clear up all their boring life administrators they may have to catch up on without feeling alone.

This is an edited excerpt from Cheer up the F *** by Jack Rooke, price £ 16.99, to be released on July 30 by Ebury Press. Order a copy for £ 10.99 from whsmith.co.uk by 9 August by entering the code YOUCHEER at checkout. Book number: 9781529108231. General terms and conditions can be found at whsmith.co.uk/terms

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