Can you help? Life without you – a new resource for grieving parents

I’ve been planning for a long time a way to support grieving parents in the early months of their loss. Those days are like a car crash, where panic sets in, shock and fear overcome every aspect of life and even breathing is difficult.

The resource is a journal called ‘Life without you’, which will guide you through any stage during those first months and years of grief. It is still in the early design stages but is coming together brilliantly and will be available spring 2018!

It is not advised to have therapy for around six months, to allow you time to adjust in some way to the shock of grief, and this is advised for a reason. However, you need some kind of outlet (blogging is one of them). Yet, not everyone is a writer, not everyone finds themselves able to string words together when they feel most vulnerable.

This resource will guide you through gently; the pages will be designed so there’s no blank page to overwhelm you. It will offer a space to explore, to vent, to offload, when it’s impossible to do this in other ways (I found I quickly clammed up around family as a way to protect them from upset).

It will also provide a lasting memorial of those early days, which are crucial to your life and how it will be going forward. Just like your child’s birth is marked with joy and celebration, a million photos and gifts, your child’s death has a place to be remembered in detail.

This journal won’t help you ‘get over’ anything, the only cure for grief is to grieve. But it will support you in your adjustment to a new normal. Whatever that is.

Part of the journal will include some of the common areas of life that are impacted by the loss and the grief: work life, marriage, faith etc. (Note, I am openly Christian, but this journal will not be about religion. Grief opens up this area so it is an invitation for you to review what you believe alongside all your other emotions.) I hear from so many bereaved parents – whether they have lost a pregnancy, an infant or an adult child – and each has different focus in these areas.

I really value the comments and messages I receive and I would like to include some of them in my book, which I hope will offer a wider view of child loss rather than just my experience. I hope the book gives comfort to those who find themselves in this grief club.

I would very much appreciate if you could complete the questionnaire below and send it to me. I would welcome any comments on any part of it, and especially if you have advice you would share with someone else going through the same thing.

It will be confidential except for your first name and country. I would also like to include the first name of your child and their age when they died (please leave blank if you don’t want this). I receive the form by email and I will respond to you by email. Any contributions I use in the journal will receive a complimentary copy of the journal. Thank you!

There is also a waiting list option on the sidebar of my blog. If you would like to be contacted when the journal is ready, or know someone who might, please leave a name and email and I will be in touch. Oh, and I will be posting updates and support on the 100days Instagram feed and my own Facebook page.

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Forgiveness Series: 4. Forgiving yourself

One of the hardest aspects of grief – as a grieving parent – is forgiving yourself.

Children die every day. And, for every child that has left this world, is a parent left wondering what they did wrong, how they could have prevented it, why they weren’t in their child’s place.

Abi’s death could not have been predicted nor prevented, yet still I wondered what I could have done to save her. If I’d have noticed sooner and taken her to hospital… had she had some injury in her past that may have caused her hemorrhage… or perhaps things I did or didn’t do in the pregnancy and birth affected her. Then there was the guilt of every single time I lost my temper with her, or punished her, or said no to her.

Even, as in my case, where there is very little scope for ‘blame’ or ‘regret’, guilt still found a place in my loss.

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Forgiveness Series: 3. The Fourfold Path of Forgiveness

In The Book of Forgiving, Desmond & Mpho Tutu offer a process called ‘The Fourfold Path’, which helps us to move from a position of anger and resentment to one of forgiveness and (inner and outer) peace.

This part makes up most of the book, but I have outlined the basic elements of the path below:

Telling the story – this is you talking, and talking, and talking, about what has happened – the shock, the pain, the fear, the details. Getting the story out, again and again can help you to process the events and move towards understanding and forgiveness.

It will also help you to ‘own’  the story. I owned the story of how Abi died by talking and writing about her death, in all it’s real and painful detail. Yes, it’s all devastating to hear or to read, but it’s also MY story and will forever be. Talk about your pain – whether that’s a traumatic death, a life-changing medical diagnosis, an offence or abuse – and own your story. Try to do this factually, without the addition of things you thought happened or were in the another person’s mind.

Exercise: Tell your story to your stone, whisper it or shout it, but hear your voice say the words to the person who you want to forgive. Explain why you feel the way you do, talk about how you want to move on from the resentment. Then, when ready, write your story down, the whole thing. Get it out and work through the key points. This will help you to see where the roots of the problem lie. You can always destroy or delete it afterwards. 

Naming the hurt – It is very important to name your hurt. When we bury our true feelings we only seem to suffer even more because of it. Marriages crumble under the weight of unspoken resentments and unacknowledged hurts. When we ignore the pain, it grows and spreads like a tumour that eventually drains us and affects all our relationships.

This happens a lot in grief. After a death, people stop talking about the deceased. No one wants to mention their name because it reminds everyone of the loss, so nothing is ever said, and this silence screams at those most deeply grieving. If you feel angry, admit that – to yourself and maybe others (the authors guide you through this). Put a name to your emotions and they won’t seem so scary and overwhelming.

Exercise:

  1. Hold your stone in your dominant hand. Name out loud a hurt you are feeling. As you name it, clench the stone.
  2. Open your hand. As you release your fist, release the hurt.
  3. Repeat this for each of your hurts.
  4. Write down all the things you have lost and name the feelings that accompany those losses. What does your heart tell you. What is the weight of your loss. Name it so you can heal it.

In my grief, I felt so many emotions. Sometimes they all came at once and led me to feel overwhelmed. Other times, I went through periods of anger, or depression, or anxiety. Recognizing these helped me immensely, and while I still have periods of these feelings, I now know that it is better for me to allow them to happen than to try to bury them because they are too painful.

Granting forgiveness – This is how we move from the position of victim to one of a hero – a hero being someone who takes their pain and uses it to do something awesome like forgive and love others. All of us are human and are all capable of love, hate, beauty, cruelty, indifference and goodness. It would be nice to think there are those who are perfectly good, but that’s just not the case.

It’s easy to say ‘I forgive you’, but incredibly hard to mean it. You’ll know when you do, because you’ll feel able to breathe deeply again, your shoulders will relax and yes, it will feel like a weight has lifted off your shoulders. What you may actually find is that you begin to grow through forgiveness – that spreads to all areas of your life – your past, your relationships, even the person who cuts you up on the motorway…

Exercise:
1. Take your stone and wash it. You have spoken to it, clenched it and now you will cleanse it.
2. Get a bowl of water and dip the stone in three times. Each time you dip the stone in say ‘I forgive you.’
3. Write down what you have lost by not being able to forgive. Write about the person who has harmed you – why do you think they have done what they did? Now write how this experience has made you stronger. Has it helped you grow and show empathy for others? Write your story again, but not as the victim, as the hero. How did you deal with the situation and how will you prevent such harm happening to others?

For a long time after my loss, I felt like the perpetrator in a battle of resentment and anger. Why wasn’t I being forgiving? Why didn’t I forget? Why wasn’t I moving on? This only led me to clam up even more. It became a vicious cycle. I knew that in order to break this cycle I had to open my heart to forgive. Not to ‘make up’ or ‘tolerate’ but to truly forgive. It wasn’t easy, but it did transform my life and my grief.

Renewing or Releasing the Relationship – Having worked through your path to forgiveness, you’re left with a ‘what next?’ You can now decide what will happen to your relationship with the person you have forgiven. You can renew the relationship, using your forgiveness to create a new connection. Or, you can release the relationship, putting the person and the emotions related to them behind you. It is possible to release a relationship and forgive. Forgiveness is not about putting yourself in another vulnerable position. In cases where the perpetrator isn’t asking for your forgiveness or is no longer alive there isn’t a relationship to have. It can take a long while to get to this stage of the process, but when you do it will be immensely beneficial for you and your peace of mind and heart.

Exercise:

  1. Decide whether you want to renew your stone as a thing of beauty (paint it or place it somewhere), or to release it back to nature.
  2. Write down if it was possible to make something beautiful out of what you had. Was it difficult to do this. What did you learn about renewing and releasing?

The final post about forgiveness looks at forgiving yourself.

 

Forgiveness Series: 2. The forgiveness myths

In my first post about forgiveness, I outlined the impact resentment can have on our physical and emotional health and wellbeing.

In the second chapter of The Book of Forgiving, Desmond & Mpho Tutu explain what forgiveness is not. This might seem odd, but there are many things we assume about forgiveness that only add further barriers to our ability to forgive.

Forgiveness is not weakness
We greatly admire people who are forgiving, who seem to move on from their hurt or ‘cope with their loss’. We don’t think they are weak, far from it; we tell them how strong they are, yet somehow, if we forgive, it can feel as though we are giving in, being weak. Forgiveness requires immense strength, but it also offers complete freedom.

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Forgiveness Series: 1. Why forgive?

Grief is a complicated emotion. In the early days, life’s trivialities pale into insignificance. Little disagreements or annoyances fade away as you are thrown into the stark reality that life is precious. Arguing about whose turn it is to put the bins out seems petty and pointless, which of course it is.

However, over time, grief can breed resentment and anger as you try to find your place in this world without your child and try to understand other people’s emotions. You’ve changed, they’ve changed, everything you ever knew has changed.

These feelings are always natural, as I described in my post about the Whirlpool of Grief. However, it is easy to get caught up in the cycle of anger. Once you focus on those feelings, it is hard to move on from them. This leaves you feeling bitter, lonely and hopeless, and others feeling unable to help you or understand you.

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Book review: Through the eyes of a lion, Levi Lusko

I was contacted by the publicist in Nashville, Tennessee, for the pastor and author Levi Lusko, to review a copy of his first book, Through the eyes of a lion.

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The press release said:

‘On December 20, 2012, five-year-old Lenya Lusko went to heaven while in her parents’ arms after a massive, unexpected asthma attack. With a ferocious personality and hair that had been wild and mane-like since birth, they called her ‘Lenya Lion’. But a few days before Christmas, Levi and Jennie Lusko had to leave the hospital without their vibrant daughter.

After Lenya’s death, Levi had to make a choice – one that anyone going through dramatic events has to make – to give up or to live. In Through the eyes of a lion, Levi explains why he chose to live, and not just survive – but live with the fire and passion that comes from acknowledging that there is more in this life than what can be seen with the naked eye.’

One afternoon, I had a few hours to myself so I decided to start the book. I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I got a highlighter out and highlighted sections that reached out to me most. I read the book in two sittings, which is pretty impressive as reading for ‘pleasure’ for any length of time has been hard for me since Abi died. I have only managed an hour at most. It even inspired this post which I shared about my faith.

There was much about the story which resonated with me. From the way Lenya died so suddenly. That her parents were with her when she passed. That she was one of four children. And that Levi encourages us to see life with fresh eyes – to see what has been invisible to us until now.

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Children’s books about death and dying

There are numerous children’s books out there which focus on death and dying. I thought it would be useful to share our favourites with readers.

We have always loved reading to our children, it’s a part of our daily bedtime routine. When Abi died, we turned to books as a way to share our feelings, comfort our children and prompt discussion about what happened. We’ve tried books of all kinds recommended to us, but the ones I’ve listed below are the stories we find we return to again and again.

Some aren’t even about death but are ways to reinforce love and security in your child, which is particularly useful at bedtime.

While we have faith, these books are not religious (except for the books at the bottom) and don’t mention God, angels, heaven (other than Up in Heaven, which only refers to heaven as a place rather than relating it to God, although I feel referring to heaven is more easily understood than saying up in the sky, which can be worrying to a child). Even the Waterbugs and Dragonflies story isn’t religious in itself, despite being written by a pastor, you take from it what you will. Being clear about what you believe is important to children and these books offer comfort at a time when life (and death) is confusing.

I recommend keeping a copy of any of these handy if you have children up to about age 12 who are asking questions about death, know of someone who has died or who have experienced a bereavement in the family.

I’ve added links to each book to Amazon’s UK website, where you can read more about them and see customer reviews. I’d also welcome your suggestions as we are always looking out for new books to add to our library.
Our top five children’s books about death

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1. Always and Forever by Alan Durant
This has to be my number one book. It tells the story of a family of animals living together, but when Fox dies, the others are left feeling so sad and are unable to stop crying because they miss him so much. I like this story because it shows the passing of time, through the seasons, and how the friends’ grief changes with it. It also presents the grief in stages, rather than saying that one day ‘everything was okay again’. It shows them starting to laugh again, but still feeling sad and not ready to face their friends. But then they gradually start to feel better and are united in remembering their dear friend. It’s really very lovely.

2. Up in Heaven by Emma Chichester Clark
Emma is the author behind the fabulously endearing Blue Kangaroo series, which my children loved. This is a story of a dog that dies and his owner, a young boy, can’t stop crying and missing him. The story is told from the dog’s perspective in heaven and he sends the boy dreams to help him come to terms with his loss. It’s not religious but is based on the concept that when we (and our pets) die, they go to heaven and have a lovely ‘new life’ with old and new friends. My son regularly asks for this one, I think the way it clearly portrays the difference between heaven and earth appeals to him.

3. Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney
A classic story that inspired my blog after Abi died, which I have written out in this blog post. It is useful to have a copy of this handy and it’s only a few pounds so is easy to get hold of. It’s not that pretty to look at but it’s short and is something that you can read to your child. It offers a way of understanding death and ‘where we go’ that children and adults can draw comfort from. There are also short prayers at the back of the book.

Update:

I am publishing an adaptation of this story which will be a large format picture book that is beautifully illustrated for children and adults to enjoy and treasure. If you’d like to contribute to my crowdfunding campaign to help this book get to market I would be very grateful. Please see the Crowdfunding page for more details.

4. No Matter What by Debi Gilori
We love Debi’s illustrations (she illustrated Always and Forever above and Tell Me Something Happy below) so this book was a great addition to our collection. This isn’t a bereavement book as such, more a reassuring story of love. It is about a father fox and his son discussing ‘what if this happens…’ ‘will you still love me’. It beautifully gives the message that even in death love does not end. A lovely bonding story.

5. When Caterpillars Fly by Lisa Mallins
We were given a copy of this book by Winson’s Wish (a child bereavement charity) and it is lovely. A collection of short poems written by children about the death of a child or baby. This could be useful if you know that a child will die or if a child has died. It’s also good for parents and older siblings. I couldn’t find a decent link to it on Amazon so you may have to search around the internet or auction sites.
Other books we have found useful or enjoyable to read together

6. Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
This is a love-affirming book based on the premise of ‘my love will find you, wherever you are’. It reassures the child that even though you are separated at times during the day, you are always thinking of them.
7. Muddy Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley
This is an activity book which helps families work through painful and positive memories of the child who has died. Our children completed it once in the early days, which they found hard, and then about six months later, which they found to be a more useful exercise. It helps you to discuss the facts around the death, the funeral and their feelings in a relaxed and engaging way.

8. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
This is another popular bereavement book; however, as it was about an aging badger we found it best suited to the death of a grandparent or elderly relative, as we lost a child, my children weren’t particularly engaged by the story but it has some excellent reviews.

9. Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar
Also illustrated by Debi Gilori, this is a sweet story of two rabbit brothers, the younger asking his older brother to tell him something happy before he goes to sleep. While not a story which is about death, we find we read this often, especially when feeling sad at bedtime. It reinforces giving thanks for the day and ending the day with a positive thought.
Christian children’s books
If your child is interested in heaven and God and has numerous questions, these simple books were popular with both our children so may be worth looking at.

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10. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
A dedication or prayer for each day of the year. It’s simple and the subjects are relevant to children and young people.

11. Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This is a lovely book with gorgeous illustrations. It covers key stories in the Bible which are simple and engaging.

12. Pocket Book of Children’s Prayers by Christopher Herbert
This pocket book offers short prayers, including some written by children.

I do hope this list has been useful to you. I’d love to hear of any other recommendations you might have.

I’ve linked up with Brilliant Blog Posts over at Honest Mum. Why not have a look at what others have shared?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Water Bugs and Dragonflies

We came upon this story when preparing Abi’s funeral and the vicar read it out. We knew many people of all ages would be there and wanted a reading that everyone could understand and, hopefully, find comfort from.

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