What Disney’s Inside Out taught me about grief and loss

I recently took my daughter, age 12, to watch Inside Out. It was a rare day that we had alone and I felt it would be a poignant film to see together.

Having researched the film (which I have to do with anything I expose my children to), I was impressed by the reviews which said the film offered a unique way of viewing how our emotions work in a way that children could relate to. I initially wanted to see the film because I thought it would give my daughter further insight into why she might feel the way she does and then have more understanding of her emotions. All this wrapped up in an entertaining Disney Pixar movie!

But I wasn’t prepared for the film to speak to me! To my grief. To make me think about Abi, too.

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A grieving mother’s bucket list – catching frogs and drinking good coffee!

I recently bumped into an old friend, someone I’d not seen in around 20 years. We had a nice chat about the main aspects of what we’ve done with our lives, as you do, and we got onto the subject of fitness. My friend revealed she was entered into a marathon and was working out a lot to reach her targets. She also talked about some of the achievements she’d done in terms of education, travel and career. All impressive stuff!

While she wasn’t being boastful at all, in fact I found her lust for life quite refreshing, it made me realise how my ‘big plans’ have changed.

She quipped that she’d only a few things left to do on her ‘bucket list’ and would have to think of more. Clearly this woman was driven to try everything and anything, to feel alive and have a sense of accomplishment. But then she asked me what I would like to do, my mind went blank.

‘Erm… I don’t know.’

She looked at me as though I was a bit strange.

‘You must have something you want to do or somewhere you want to go in life?’

Again, blank.

‘Erm, no. Not really.’

She looked at me a bit quizzically, like I had answered in a foreign language, and then changed the conversation and we soon after parted ways.

While it was nice to see this friend, the exchange bothered me, for two reasons. Firstly, why my friend, who knew of my loss, wouldn’t instantly think that a ‘bucket list’ would not be top of my agenda, and secondly, why on earth did I not have a bucket list?!

Am I really dull to not want to climb Mount Everest, see the Grand Canyon or swim with dolphins?

Am I missing out on life by not running the London Marathon, going to Wimbledon or making a fortune at work?

Possibly….

I used to have plans – places I wanted to see, things I wanted to do. I used to have a huge drive to succeed in business. I used to push myself in my fitness by entering races and striving to get fitter. I get bored easily, so I like change. I was always coming up with ideas or doing something just to keep life interesting. I am still a bit this way inclined, I like to have a project on the go and I’m sure the reason I live in a bit of a muddle is so that my life doesn’t feel ‘complete’. I don’t see myself growing old and happy to sit on the sofa all day, plumping pillows and only drinking wine with my Sunday lunch… I like life to be secure yes, but also a little bit crazy, compulsive and evolving.

But my big plans changed the day we lost Abi, and it wasn’t until this encounter with a friend that I realised this.

Abi was fit and healthy. She was hardly ever ill other than the usual bugs. She was a child of big ideas and adventures – when she was 10 she wrote a list of all the countries she wanted to visit (when she was married!).

But, on 6th February 2013, within 30 minutes, she went from being well to slipping into the coma she would never wake up from.

Life is fragile, so yes, it needs to be lived and appreciated, I know that more than most. Sometimes I feel I am slowly starting to think about the future and what I’d like to do with the life I have left, but because I’ve lost the secure feeling of thinking this will be more about me aging and being incapable than being alive or dead, I find it hard to plan much about what I do next year, let alone tomorrow!

My happiness, my fulfilment, comes from pure love now. The family I have made.

From my children – all of them, seeing them grow, learn and change (I avoid feeling sad because they are moving on to the next stage, I welcome them growing up because I know it’s a privilege!).

I enjoy amazing sunsets, sunrises and skies. I love photographing nature.

Tasting a delicious cappuccino. Feeling the rain on my skin. All the small things.

Today, for example, I found a tiny baby frog and put him on my finger and showed him to my boys. That was pretty awesome to me!

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My life is less about chasing dreams and more about appreciating the moment, because I will never know when it will be gone.

The only thing I have on my ‘bucket list’ at the moment is to write a book – although if I’m sure I told my friend that, she’d have rolled her eyes and looked a bit vacant – everyone wants to ‘write a book’, how dull! But I would like to write a book based on this blog, a book for grieving parents to help them navigate some of the aspects of grief that aren’t obvious – things like this!

I would also like to get fit again, although I’m focusing on yoga stretches at the moment to balance my mind rather than pushing myself to any physical limits, and I am more focused on my business at last so I’d like to see that grow further.

Just because I don’t have a clear list of ‘do before I die’ does not mean that I don’t want to do anything! Quite the opposite! It’s just that I won’t live my life with a tick list. If I swim with a dolphin or run a marathon I’ll be delighted and feel a sense of achievement, but equally, if I don’t, I won’t feel like I’ve failed myself.

Ultimately, my ‘bucket list’ is simply that I can live a long enough life to see my living children grow to be adults with families of their own: healthy, happy, faithful and loving. It might not be everyone’s idea of living, but it’ll do for me!

The dark side of grief – craving escape from the mental and physical pain of loss

I recently went for my first month check-up at the doctors, to see how I’ve settled taking the antidepressants.

For anyone who has not taken antidepressants before, or who hasn’t experienced anxiety – and especially for those grieving mummas out there who are finding that anxiety and depression are adding to their grief, I wanted to share my experience.

Firstly though, I want to stress that feelings and emotions around anxiety and grief are different for everybody. I may know someone who feels similar things to me, but it will still be unique and personal to the individual. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your mind as well as your body and seek help.

Anxiety, however, is a mental illness, grief is not and it can be very hard to tell the difference especially when you are living it day in day out. A big problem for me about why I got to this point, was when I told anyone my story (ie, my daughter’s sudden death) and that I had anxiety they responded with ‘Of course you’re anxious, you’re grieving’ and then the anxiety was ignored because it was put down to grief. This created a build-up of symptoms that led me to the brink of breakdown –  I simply couldn’t cope if grief was going to be this horrible to me.

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Family dynamics after the death of a child

We have just returned from a holiday in the New Forest, in Hampshire, UK. We went last year our first proper family holiday since Abi died, and found it to be a very healing place to go. We found the thought of visiting our usual holiday spots simply too difficult without Abi with us.

A big part of grief is realizing that so many favourite places become out of bounds, at least for the first few years. In fact, the whole concept of ‘holiday’ has changed for us now. We find it hard to plan ahead, to choose destinations, to get excited about going anywhere without all our children with us.

This year, we invited one of our daughter’s friends with us. She’s a lovely girl who has been friends with my daughter for many years through primary school. Even though they now go to different secondary schools, they have remained close. Continue reading

When celebrities die – Why are we still so ‘shocked’ by death?

Yesterday, the news reported that Cilla Black – one of the UK’s ‘national treasures’ of entertainment, had died. The Media was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the news. bafta_arrivals_4_wenn2748821 Then social media saw a flurry of posts as people shared their own ‘shock’ at her death.

Cilla? Dead? That cannot be? Even Bruce Forsyth said he was shocked… perhaps because being 87 himself, he considers her to be far too young. Continue reading