Counting your blessings after the death of your child

At times in the past year, I’ve heard it suggested that at least we have our other children to keep us going. It’s never said to mean that Abi’s death was any less distressing, but as a way to comfort and reassure.

I’ve often thought this myself too. When I feel mournful, I consider how it’s my two children needing me that gets me out of bed, that stops me feeling too sorry for myself and gives me a reason to live on. But it’s a constant struggle between the despair of my loss and being ‘thankful for my lot’.

The thing is, the children become the entire focus. As long as the children are okay is all that matters. The adults feel the pain of them losing a sibling, of being thrown into the face of death at such a young age and naturally want to protect them from further harm. But where does that leave me? I’m fighting a daily battle trying to be a decent parent while wanting to crawl under a rock and let someone else do it. It’s hard to write this without it sounding uncaring and totally selfish, but that’s the trials I’m living with and it’s hard to admit it. But grief is selfish. In my darkest days, when I’ve felt like ending my own life to free myself from the pain, my children haven’t been in my mind at all. It is a truly frightening and unnatural prospect not to care enough to want to live with the pain of loss anymore.

I’ve often had to push my own pain of her death aside to focus on helping my children adjust, making sure life continues as normal even though, without Abi, my heart feels ripped to shreds and I want to run from every reminder of her and my loss. As a mum, my daily routine is school and then clubs… so I lived the absence of Abi every day, throughout the day.

I recall taking her younger sister to her martial arts classes soon after Abi’s death (it was a weekly hobby they’d shared for years) and I would be gulping down tears knowing that Abi should be there too, putting a brave face on so as not to embarrass my daughter. Abi loved this club and had achieved her black belt just two weeks before she died. I needed to continue the routine as her sister was also due to grade, we didn’t want her life disrupted anymore than it had been. Looking back, I’m not sure how I did that with such composure. But I was mum to my other daughter as well as Abi so her needs had to be met as they had before, regardless.

At times, I’ve wondered how I can possibly help and guide them to be happy and carefree when I feel so much inner despair myself, and I don’t have all the answers to their questions. I have received helpful support from the child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish, though my doctor said with so much going on the best thing would be to put my feelings away until such time as my family was more stable and I could afford the head space to focus on me. But I worried when that time would come!

After Abi’s funeral and the main bustle of activity had passed, I was left with the task of getting our family back on track. But there were many times when I just wanted to be left alone, to let my grief out as it demanded, not to push it aside because of them. As a parent, you immediately put your emotional and physical needs at the bottom of the list, in everything, but the wave of grief is so powerful at times that it’s hard to avoid, especially when your energy already feels depleted. You know those tired moments you get when all you want to do is sleep and they’re not cooperating at bedtime… it’s harder to be patient with the things kids say or do.

I haven’t necessarily hidden my emotions from my children, indeed, it’s the very fact we included them in everything from the outset that has helped them process the loss and to move on as they have done. They’ve seen me cry, but they don’t like it, it naturally upsets them too. (Just as I can recall that awful feeling of seeing my own mother cry at times when I was a child, I know it can be very unsettling.) Yet I know that they should see me cry over Abi so they realise that it’s okay to express sorrow. This was fairly natural in the early days but, as time goes on, they’ve moved on further than I have. To them, a year ago is almost a lifetime and I get asked why I’m still getting upset about it. Why I’m being ‘moody’.

I don’t want them to look back in years from now and remember how Mum changed when Abi died and how they were always living in their dead sister’s shadow, but, by putting my feelings aside for them, I’m also aware that I sometimes feel resentful. I get annoyed that they can move on so easily. I feel upset that I don’t feel allowed to grieve. I have to park my feelings so that their young lives aren’t consumed by everything Abi when all I want to do is think of her.

I have found the trivial disagreements and daily dramas particularly hard to deal with. When they are complaining about something like not wanting to go to school, not getting something they want or not wanting to do something fun, I have to stop myself screaming ‘At least you’re bloody alive and can do these things!’ knowing that Abi would likely have jumped at the chance to go to school or join in the fun. My tolerance is strained. And, while I know the rationality of what would be the worst that can happen if they did do something challenging, they don’t. They are still more themselves than I am still me.

Of course, I know they are just children doing and saying what’s perfectly normal for their ages, and life certainly isn’t this strained so often these days, but it’s been a noticeable element of grief. I don’t blame them for how they are at all. This isn’t about my love for them or my understanding of their reactions, it’s about how grief takes hold and messes with your head when you’re feeling tired and vulnerable. I’m not now a perfect mother who hangs onto every word her children say and lives for every moment in a permanent state of bliss, happy to let them have whatever they like, never scolding, existing purely for them. I still view that my role is to raise my children to be kind, considerate and morally balanced adults, who will have the confidence to get out there and live happy and fulfilling lives. They aren’t meant to protect me from my grief or to keep me busy looking after them… I’ll still have to let them go and let them live their own lives one day.

So, I don’t always count my blessings that I’ve got two children out of three left. Yes, I am blessed to have two other children who bring their own wonderful characters to our family unit and I love them so deeply for who they are, but Abi was a person in her own right. It’s not a child I’m grieving for, it’s her. The funny, happy, sunny girl who always lit up my day. The girl who taught me a lot about myself, about being a better person. The girl who had no fear and didn’t mind making a fool of herself. The girl who was so popular and easy to love. She was just a great girl and I miss her.

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  1. Pingback: Surviving grief | Chasing dragonflies

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