Following the suicide of a partner and close friend, Jonah Freud and Lola Bute found themselves to be members of what Bute describes as 'the worst members' club in the world'. Together with the writer Scarlett Curtis, they have bravely co-curated Loss and Hope, an anthology providing hope and defiance in the face of grief whilst honouring the memory of those lost. It is published by the independently crowdfunded The Pound Project in collaboration with Eternity, a movement founded by Bute in October 2019. Eternity endeavours to tackle mental health, addiction and suicide collectively, having raised close to £300,000 to date for their four chosen charities: Action on Addiction; Place 2 B; James Place and Youth Anxiety Centre.
Loss and Hope is an anthology of poetry, art and prose which hopes to dispel the nuances and assumptions surrounding mental health, addiction and suicide, and the grief this intertwined trio leaves in its wake. Made up of contributions by writers and musicians, activists and artists including Sebastian Faulks, Sonny Hall, Jordan Stephens and Adwoa Aboah, the publication comes with limited edition prints by Wolfgang Tillmans, Rita Ora and Charlie Mackesy. Loss and Hope was created as a source of support, perspective and hope, to find even in the times when these lifelines might be the hardest to seek out. We must acknowledge that all of the issues in this book will make contact with us at some point in our lives, even if that be indirectly. This is a book for us all, showing us that there is no right way to grieve or to feel.
Hetty Mahlich and Bella Gladman spoke with Jonah Freud and Lola Bute about bringing the book together, what they've learnt about grief, and what the future holds.
Hetty Mahlich in conversation with Jonah Freud.
Hetty Mahlich: What sparked the initial idea for the book?
Jonah Freud: I found that when I was hit by sudden loss, and subsequently afterwards when I was faced with grief, that I kept feeling like I was grieving wrong. The more I spoke to people, the more I found they felt the same thing. I realised that everyone had effectively lost someone close to them to suicide. None of them had ever told me about it, it was this horrible little secret members' club that you only got initiated into when it happened to you, it wasn't something you spoke about otherwise.
HM: Who came up with the idea to produce a book, and how did it begin to take shape?
JF: It was an idea that was bouncing around. My friend Lola Bute and I went to speak to my cousin Scarlett Curtis about it. Scarlett was really instrumental in putting it all into play and developing the book itself. She knew The Pound Project, our publishers, and curated the book with Lola and I.
HM: What is the concept behind Loss and Hope?
JF: I wanted to create an exposé, to shatter the illusion that grief, mental health, or suicide is just a thing that happens and then you don't speak about it. To show people that they're not alone and that they're grieving exactly the right way for them. There's no one way to grieve, the only thing you can do is respond to your instincts and try and surround yourself with love and the comfort that other people have been through this and they're still here and they're okay. We've put something together that gathers 30 people from every walk of life who have dealt with grief in different ways. At the end of each written piece or artwork, that person has got through it. Something beautiful happened because of something awful.
HM: How did you go about selecting the contributors and what kind of things have they contributed?
JF: It was quite a long process. We started with the committee from an upcoming charity event for Lola's Eternity movement. As we worked through it, we realised that quite a lot of those people had been affected by the same loss, which was the death of Kai, who was one of my best friends and Lola’s boyfriend. Although everything we do will in some way be for him, we didn’t want to make a book about one isolated incident of loss, we wanted to make a book about the entire feeling of it.
We wanted to take as broader spectrum of society as we could, there’s contributors from 11 years old to 70, people from non-artistic to artistic disciplines. The brief I gave out to everyone was simply to interpret 'loss and hope'. People who weren’t poets wrote poetry, people who weren’t artists made art, and people who weren’t writers, wrote. Grief is such an implacable emotion, that I think that the medium you communicate it with is not one that can be constrained by one representation. Some people will relate to some parts of the book and not to others. Ensuring the book could be a companion for everyone was really important.
HM: Are books and storytelling still important in the digital age?
JF: This one’s interesting because Loss and Hope is an anthology. My usual answer would be that books are linear in a way that technology is not. I’m hugely tech positive, it’s making us think in a temporal and spatial way. However, dealing with emotion in a medium that's temporal can be quite unhelpful. Having something that can reground you linearly, is something that only a book can do. But an anthology is not necessarily linear. You can dip in, find people who resonate with you, or you can also use it to ground yourself when you’re feeling so out of it in the world. You don't have to read this book A to B, but if you do, you go on a journey. The way we've formulated this book is that we've got end, middle, beginning, because the process of grieving and the process of loss through hope is that you start at that end point, and finish at a beginning. If it was in a digital format you wouldn’t get that sense of a journey.
HM: As well as hope, what do you want readers to take away from the book?
JF: Hope is of course predominant, it's in the title, but to rid people of the shame of grief is important to me. People talk too much about not feeling guilty in loss, but actually feeling shameful is just as horrible and dangerous. Shame does come with grief, it definitely did in my experience and for others I’ve spoken to. Shame for the fact that they weren’t crying all day or shame that they were. If you realise that everyone feels shameful, everyone feels like they're doing it wrong, then you might not be so ashamed.
HM: What have you come away with through bringing Loss and Hope to life?
JF: It was a hell of an experience because I was editing everyone's pieces, I basically relived my own grief every day for a month. Contributors would send their stuff to me and say, 'So here's my suicide experience, you might like to give it an edit'. I worked on one piece a day, and the mornings would be really horrible, because I was sticking my head into this awful bucket of grief. Then by the end of each day, it was lovely, because at the end of all these pieces is something beautiful. The terribleness is still there, but predominantly, there is hope.
HM: Who else is doing great work in the field of mental health, do you have any other resources to recommend?
JF: Scarlett’s anthology It’s Not Okay To Feel Blue (and other lies) (Penguin, 2019). I'm also really interested in male mental health, it's less talked about and there are less resources catering towards that. I’d recommend men who are speaking about it really effectively, like Jordan Stephens and his podcast WHOLE TRUTH. When Scarlett was doing a tour about feminism and mental health, Jordan was one of the speakers. The tour was mostly women, and Scarlett’s teenage brothers would come and not really get it. Then she got Jordan on, and afterwards, they suddenly got it, it made sense. They realised, 'This isn't something that just affects people like you Scarlett, with your pink hair and your anxiety, but also can affect people like me who likes sports and feels fine most of the time.'
These are also some Instagram accounts I would recommend:
@timeisaway - some beautiful crate digging music to wile the anxiety away.
HM: What future plans do you have to continue spreading your message?
JF: We’re in development stages. There’s some talk of doing a podcast, but definitely writing more books and stories. Eternity is doing an event, but I definitely see it as something that lives on, both in helping people dealing with grief and also to stop the things that cause grief. For me, I’m thinking a lot about male mental health and suicide prevention. Hopefully later down the line, there will be a platform and portal for people to be able to talk through.
Bella Gladman in conversation with Lola Bute.
Bella Gladman: Where did this all start for you?
Lola Bute: None of this would be happening if it weren't for Kai, my boyfriend and one of Jonah's best friends, who we lost to suicide last year. It's all very much in honour of him. It destroyed a lot of our lives, it was such a shock and we were all unable to understand how to deal with it. I never began to understand mental health until then, it was something I would always hear about but never thought would affect my life. I was a 19 year old girl and felt like I was never going to be the same again. The experience has really made me want to try to help people to understand that it's okay to lose yourself and hate the world and feel like you're never going to be okay again, because the hope that you feel when you finally think you might be okay again- there's nothing like it, you feel like you can breathe again.
BG: Tell me about Eternity, what does it do?
LB: I came up with the idea to start the movement last summer when I was in treatment for trauma and addiction. I thought, I'm either going to continue self-destructing or I'm going to turn my life around and make the people I've lost proud and really try to make a change. Eternity supports four charities, all of which are really close to my heart: Action on Addiction; Place 2 B; James Place and Youth Anxiety Centre. I'm nine months sober now, but as someone who struggles with mental health and addiction issues, I can understand the severity of what these charities are dealing with. I believe that addiction, mental health and suicide all come hand in hand, and yet these issues are so overlooked and misunderstood. They can't be fixed by just taking away the drugs or the alcohol. My goal is that one day Eternity will become its own affiliated charity and deal with them all as one collective.
BG: How did Loss and Hope come about?
LB: I was planning Eternity's first charity event, which has unfortunately been postponed due to COVID-19, and I knew I didn't want it to be another one-off posh charity gala, loads of rich people that spend loads of money and don't really understand what they're giving money to. I wanted it to mark the start of a movement. I spoke with Jonah, who's on the event committee, initially about doing an Eternity book and asked him if we could speak to his cousin Scarlett Curtis who's a published author. We went to meet her together, and it all went from there. The title Loss and Hope worked so well because they come as one and, however difficult it might be to find, you can't have loss without the hope that comes out the other side.
BG: Tell me about the contributors and putting the book together.
LB: Scarlett and Jonah were really amazing, I honestly don't think it would have been possible without them and there's no one I would have wanted to do this with more. Scarlett worked really closely with the publishers and Jonah edited the content. We all got different contributors on board, there are some who are our friends that knew Kai, but we wanted this book to be for everyone, about different stories and experiences. I was so excited that I managed to get Julia Samuel on board, because I was given her book Grief Works (2017, Penguin) just after Kai passed away. You know when you're a bit starstruck when you think someone's so amazing and they're a part of something you're doing? We were also able to include a poem by my best friend's brother, who we lost as a result of the issues this book is addressing. That felt really special.
BG: What have you come away with from producing Loss and Hope?
LB: The book has been a really healing thing, for all of those involved. Writing became one of my first, healthy coping mechanisms. For me, journals are usually those places that you never really want to have to look back on. By sharing that darkness, that despair, that hopelessness, I'm now able to help other people by showing them how I've come out of that place. My pieces in the book are equal tributes to Kai and also to my friend Ila who I lost last year. Being able to write to them felt almost therapeutic, because I was able to say to them that I'm okay now, I'm at peace.
BG: What's next for Eternity?
LB: Kai was a talented, amazing young artist with such a unique mind, and not to be defined by the way his life ended. That's why I wanted to make Loss and Hope, to be able to collaborate with different people and honour Kai's creativity whilst also helping people going through something similar. Eternity have been working on several other collaborations, firstly with The Elder Statesman, which was Kai's favourite brand. It's so colourful, full of tie-dye and just so him. I designed all these cashmere friendship bracelets with them, and you can wear them and know that you're never alone. They've made a huge six foot, maybe bigger, cashmere quilt out of one of Kai's paintings, one of my favourites he ever made, that says, 'Who will beat the test of time, who will fall and who will climb?' for the auction at the Eternity event. It's so beautiful.
We've also worked on a collaboration with Loquet London as part of their Charms for Change campaign. We created an Eternity bracelet which is launching in April, the colours are taken from one of Kai's paintings. Alongside that, I've been working on a short film with two amazing young filmmakers, Finn Constantine and Dave Spence, and we have the charity event coming up. Life is really hard and throws you curveballs all the time, but the thing about it is, you can learn how to grow with whatever hits. Together, I really think we can get through anything.
Exclusive excerpt from Loss and Hope by Adwoa Aboah, activist, model and founder of Gurls Talk.
I look at these photos and I see a different person staring back at me. The darkness had overtaken me, the grey had engulfed my life, I was broken, exhausted, and the light had completely left my eyes.
The pictures were taken four years ago by my boyfriend at the time. Three weeks earlier, I had tried, like many others before and many others after, to take my own life.
I look at these images now and my heart breaks. I mourn the girl I once was. It’s almost as if I’d like to jump into the photo, kiss away the tears, hug her forever and tell her that she’s not alone, tell her that many others suffer with mental health problems but that there is light at the end of the tunnel, tell her that this too shall pass. It will return but it will pass.
I love that girl in the photo, I remember her and everything she went through to get me here today. For anyone suffering today, tomorrow and always, please know that you are not alone. Today we celebrate you. Today we remember that this is no joke. Today we remember the families who have cared and lain awake worrying, the nurses, doctors, treatment centres, sisters, brothers, wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, sons, daughters, and best friends. Today we remember the ones here and the ones gone. We will do the same tomorrow.
For the rest of my life I promise to shine light on this illness that so many times is forgotten. I promise to give the unheard a voice whenever I can. I promise to remember the girl in that photo and everything she had to go through, and to protect the woman I have now become.