Biblical breadcrumbs, books and bereavement

 

On Sunday I attended my church’s All Souls service, which is held to remember those we have loved and lost. I have been to this ever since we lost Abi. The vicar’s sermon focused on this passage. What he said resounded with me so much that I had to replicate it here for you to read.

OK, so Jesus is out and about doing his amazing stuff, healing, miracles, powerful words… and the prophet and Jesus’ relative, John the Baptist, is locked up thanks to bad King Herod. John the Baptist was a special guy. He was sent by God to prepare people for the arrival of Jesus. He was a bit rough and ready, shouting at folk and eating grubs, someone we may all think was a bit of an oddball. Herod was intrigued by him, yet scared of the reaction he was causing so he locked him up. The only problem was Herod’s wife, she hated John and tricked Herod into executing him.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14: 6-12)

So, Jesus has just had the sad news that John has been killed, and it is not what he says but what he does that is so remarkable.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14: 13-20)

He withdraws. This all-powerful son of God, the one who people looked to for help spiritually and physically, the one who had all the answers, who was so confident in his faith and understanding of the human race, retreated. He was bereaved. He needed to be alone, to grieve, to contemplate and process what had happened.

Yet, people didn’t care about this, they just wanted Jesus to look after them. They needed fixing, healing, ministering to. They needed him to serve and guide them as he had been. Can you imagine in your grief, crowds of people following you, asking for your time and energy?

Yet, despite his grief, Jesus saw the crowds and went to them. He didn’t say ‘Can I just have a few days off, please,’, or ‘Go away! I’m grieving my friend here can’t you think about anyone but yourselves, you insensitive bunch!’ Did he turn away from them and close his eyes? Did he sit, depressed and numb to their cries for help? Nope, he saw them. He felt compassion for them and began to heal them. He went straight back to his work, not for any other reason than love.

And he didn’t just whip round a few to get some healing done to get them off his back for a bit. Nope, he then performed another miracle by feeding every single one of them. He fed them all, with five loaves of bread and two fishes. There was even some left over.

He could easily have said, right John is dead, I’m giving up on this, I’m fighting a losing battle, what’s the point anymore. But he used his bereavement and ministered to thousands of people, filling them physically and spiritually. John’s death was not in vain. Jesus was not giving up that easily. The message of God’s love would bless others despite this tragedy.

Sat in the service, I thought of the books I’m writing. I considered the ways my own grief may have ‘blessed others’ – the organ donation, the fundraising for Bristol Children’s Hospital, the appreciation and forgiveness of others, the blog writing, and now the books: the children’s book, grief journal and a memoir.

I didn’t plan any of these things, they all sort of happened out of the needs of others – Abi was dying but other lives could be changed from her organs, people wanted to give money in Abi’s memory so the fundraising happened, I heard from people who had been bereaved so the blog writing developed, and by listening to what would help others the ideas for the books came about.

The books, I hope, will be like Jesus’s bread – using one story – the story of our loss – to help many others.

 

 

Would you like to donate to help me publish a children’s book about dying?
Just £1 will make a big difference to help me get the book out there to comfort children like ours who have been bereaved.

For more information click the JustGiving logo below:

 

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Halloween – Trauma or treat?

I no longer buy into the commercialisation of the celebration of evil, horror and fear. Stick a bit of sparkle on a witch’s costume and it makes everything OK, right? It’s only fake.

But I have seen blood pouring from my dying child’s mouth. I have seen the death behind the glassy eyes. I have watched as my child’s skin turned deathly pale. I have watched as her body slowly decayed.

If this makes you feel uncomfortable then perhaps that’s good. For people like me, Halloween brings flashbacks at every turn. When going outside or turning on the TV I realise there’s no escape from it. Cute ghostie cookies to tempt children, family fun spooky events, every shop selling black gorey tat, cartoons being ‘spooktastic’. Then there’s the photos on social media of children I know dressed up to either look like death or like something evil. Great!

That’s not to say I begrudge others participating, I’ve done it myself many times and it’s very hard as my children are so excited about pumpkins and all the ‘fun’ things they see. I am a complete party pooper, I realise that I seem over dramatic. But, while I don’t feel as traumatised now as I did, I know there are many people out there who will be, who have just walked out of a hospital morgue without their child and straight past a shop showing ghosts, ghouls and blood. I can’t bring myself to join in anymore with something that I don’t believe in celebrating.

Our church holds a light party every year which is really popular. I like the idea of focusing on the light in our lives, this world has enough demons already.

Would you like to donate to help me publish a children’s book about dying?
Just £1 will make a big difference to help me get the book out there to comfort children like ours who have been bereaved.

For more information click the JustGiving logo below:

My teenager is growing up, and I’m the one who’s crying

My second daughter, Abi’s sister, is growing up.

OK, that’s not surprising and I should be thankful, she has now surpassed Abi’s age by three years. Yet, now, aged 15, I see this young woman transformed before me. The same height as me, the same determined look in her eye, the same belief that she is right…

She shouts at me to stop ‘staring’ yet I find myself unconsciously gazing in wonder at her beauty and maturity.

All of a sudden.

I’m told (by text) I don’t need to collect her from school, she’s off to town with her friends. Having spent so long trying to establish friendships with new people who don’t know her history, I know how important this is to her.

Yet I’m sad. I’m unprepared.

Her meal is kept warm in the oven, waiting for her to return. She’s straight up to her room after eating alone and happily snuggled in bed chatting online and listening to music with headphones in. She doesn’t see me, or hear me.

I hover outside the now-always-closed bedroom door, finding an excuse to drop by with an harmful of clean laundry. She now tells me to leave it outside.

Of course, I’m busy enough with my other three children not to be completely overwhelmed by this new situation, or so I thought. I have plenty of things to keep me occupied, yet she isn’t one of those things anymore. Only my mind is left to wonder about what she’s doing, if she’s okay, if she still needs me, if there’s anything I can do…

She yells and complains and demands sure enough, but this was once punctuated by funny chats, advice, foot rubs and bedtime reading… the hours of sitting with her at night, now she goes to bed without so much as a ‘goodnight’.

I complained so much about the demands on my energy from her, the neediness, the physical and emotional strain of trying to show love and normality when our world was upside down. She blocked out the pain of grief all too easily, a normal reaction to a then 10-year-old mind. We soldiered on, but we were together.

We spent hours travelling and attending therapy and other appointments to help smoothen this transition to grief. School appointments, GPs, counsellors, therapists… all to get her to this point of what… normality. So, it was worth it, in the main.

This isn’t about wishing she was Abi. This isn’t about making her live Abi’s life. Yes, my nest is busy, I’ll rarely be alone thank God. But this particular darling girl is one of the few connections on earth I have to Abi. They were so close in age and shared so much, just 22 months apart. The memories of Abi all include her, memories she appears to have forgotten, and as she pushes me away it feels scary to know that in a way I’m losing her too.

I suppose this is what ’empty nest’ syndrome feels like. The transition from child, to young adult, to me letting go. With every argument, I am afraid of losing her. She’s of an age now where should could go, sleep at her friends, get away from the memories, let loose and be free of us. How do you be firm when you are so scared of what that will do?

I never dreamed I’d be like this. I’m fiercely independent myself! I left home at 18 with a pay packet and a sure sense that I would be happier living alone. I don’t consider myself to be motherly, needy or coddley. I just love, deeply. Being cut off, because what I say is wrong, uncool, unhelpful, overprotective or challenging, hurts more than I could ever know. I try to say the right thing, on her level, but always seem to get it wrong.

The other day she shocked me with her words. ‘You’re just jealous, Mum. Jealous!’ I wasn’t expecting that. But when I’d had time to reflect I realised she was right, this clever girl of mine. I am jealous. I envy the fact she is more interested in the people in her phone than me. That she wants to spend more time with her friends than me. I’m jealous that she is spreading her wings, and isn’t interested in this ‘dull’ 41-year-old woman.

Yet, I love how she’s growing and changing and seeing her finally bloom. She’s quite late to the party, but she’s picking up speed so quickly and I suppose it’s that which is the shock for me. Yes, there’s the teenage angst, the ‘not fairs’, the miscommunication but I’m so proud of her my heart could burst.

We are so similar and sparks fly, but I live in hope that we will get through these years with her knowing that I love her, and grow older and closer so that, one day, she will be able to sit with me and talk about Abi.

 

Would you like to donate to help me publish a children’s book about dying?
Just £1 will make a big difference to help me get the book out there to comfort children like ours who have been bereaved.

For more information click the JustGiving logo below:

The friends you need through loss

When a friend is grieving, it’s hard to know what to do, how to act, what to say. There’s a lot of criticism for those friends who haven’t ‘been through it’ themselves. These are often the same people who say unhelpful things such as ‘they had a good life’, ‘at least… [insert anything]’, ‘God only takes the best’….

As a bereaved person, you suddenly realise that there are people out there who have been fortunate to live a long time without having to deal with a significant bereavement themselves. Suddenly, those people seem alien to those of us in the ‘grief club’.

However, the non-grieving friend is one of the most important people in the early stages of grief. How can that be when they don’t understand what we are going through?

Well, it’s exactly for this reason that they are so important to us.

When Abi first died, people who had adapted to their own loss offered me support, and as a now bereaved-adjusting mum, I too find myself drawn to support friends who are experiencing loss. Yet there’s something important I’ve noticed about the distinction between those of us who have been there and those of us who haven’t.

When sitting with a friend in their rawness of grief, they are able to open up about the experience, the emotions and pain of loss. But I often hear, ‘it’s not as bad as your experience (losing a child)’. The sense that they can open up and ‘complain’ about their grief is stifled by my own loss. That I had a rawer deal. That they shouldn’t grumble. And that’s simply not true.

By our nature, we compare ourselves to others – our relationships, pregnancies, children’s milestones, jobs, homes, lives… we live by comparison. Grief is no different.

There’s a period following the death of a loved one where the bereaved are in limbo – this is the period that holds the shock, despair, trauma and strain of the loss before the person is ready to join the ‘grief club’.

I am mindful of supporting friends at different stages of their grief.

The initial stage is fuelled by anxiety, anger and fear. No one will understand what the person is going through.

This is where the non-grieving friend can offer the best support.

Rather than stepping back, they should step forward.

Offer to sit and listen, for hours, every day until that story has been told. The bereaved will have a chance to ‘own their grief story’ – to talk about it as though they are the only person to ever have lost someone they loved, to emphasise all the trauma and stress that has impacted them as a result of this loss, to cry and say how much they miss them without fear of affecting the listener’s own grief story. This is their time, and it’s vital to helping them transition into the grief club.

Once in the grief club, they are welcomed by people who’ve been there, who have had loved ones die of the same thing, who are setting examples of how they channel their grief and how they live on without them.

There is a very good place for the people in this club, but initially, as a way to honour the departed and to process what has happened, the grieving need their story to be unique. We all experience loss but every loss is unique and deeply personal.

The death of my daughter, the loss of my pregnancies cannot and should not be compared to the impact of the death of someone in old age or someone who has died from illness. My loss is hard, of course it is, but so is yours.

My advice to the newly bereaved is to seek out friends, experienced or not, who are good listeners, who don’t mind sitting on your sofa for hours passing you tissues, nursing a cold cup of tea (cold tea means they’re listening not bustling around trying to be helpful which would only fog your brain further). Seek out those friends who won’t burden you with their own losses and problems, who say few words, who will smile and lift your spirits a little. It’s your turn to be listened to. And never, ever, apologise for feeling the way you do.

Staying married when you’re mourning

I realise not everyone who reads this is married, or even in a relationship, and we all have unique experiences, but I wanted to give my perspective of marriage after loss, which some may relate to or take comfort from.

One of the first things we heard after Abi had died – quite unbelievably really – is that ‘most marriages fall apart when a child dies’. It’s true, we heard this and read this as we were handed leaflets about getting ‘help’.

So, as well as coming to terms with the huge shock of losing Abi, we then faced the ‘likelihood’ that our once happy life would be forever shattered by her death and no matter how hard we fought it we’d be so broken that we couldn’t stay together. Our lives literally torn apart.

It was, to say the least, a very bleak time.

Yet here we are, four years after Abi’s death having just marked our 18th wedding anniversary.

It’s undeniable that the huge stress of death – and the death of a child – has an impact on a relationship. One day we could be so close we were almost the same person, the next we seemed to be poles apart as we rode out different waves of grief.

Because the loss of a child changes you, it’s inevitable that it changes your relationships too, and the relationship with your spouse or partner is often one of the closest you have apart from the one with your child.

The love we felt for each other hasn’t changed, if anything it’s stronger and we don’t argue about ‘silly’ things anymore (well, not as much). We are quicker to forgive. We move on to finding joy again as quickly as we can.

But that’s not to say we haven’t had a tough time of it. Our marriage is strong, despite the stress, but it’s changed. Your child’s death changes not who you are but your outlook; the things that are important to you shift and grow. You can so easily live on two different parallels though:

One of you is grieving ‘too much’. The other is not grieving ‘enough’.
One of you may want more children. The other doesn’t want another child (and risk more heartache).
One of you may want to move house. The other may need to stay put.
One of you may find it hard to work again. The other may seek solace in being busy.
One of you may want to talk about your child every day. The other may not want to be reminded.
One of you may find faith. The other may lose it.
One of you may fall out with family. The other may be the one who keeps family close.
One of you may take offence at misguided comments. The other may be forgiving of others.
One of you may want to campaign for injustice or charity. The other may want a quiet life.
One of you may crave intimacy and reassurance. The other may find it hard to express love.
One of you may openly develop depression and anxiety. The other may hide their true feelings.
One of you may laugh. The other may cry.

From these examples it’s easy to see how a couple can so easily find a void in their relationship as they try to find a place for their grief.  These don’t all apply to us but elements of each do, and I’ve heard from others who have found the same.

The strain is immense yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end.

The hardest thing for me in the first couple of years was not that I’d fallen out of love or that any of the things above were too much to bear. It was that my own grief was so consuming that I wanted to leave to find the space to ‘be with it’. I had, I suppose, several ‘fight or flight’ moments and the grief was constantly telling me to run!

I could be overwhelmed by the smallest things – sorting a pile of washing – and just want to run away from it all, because I didn’t want to sort washing for us all who were alive, I wanted to sit in a quiet room and grieve for my daughter. I wanted to cry and wail, curl into a ball, not pretend I was okay and go through the motions of life.

I wanted to start afresh. Where I wouldn’t have to look into my husband’s eyes and know that he is hurting too, where I wouldn’t see Abi’s birth, life and death in his face every day, where I could give myself new things to look at that would ‘mask’ the painful memories. At times, this feeling was suffocating but I pushed through it.

I knew that, for me, leaving was not a healthy option. I ultimately loved my husband, and we had other children, but my grief was constantly whispering in my ear that I would be better off letting it run my life. I could leave if I wanted but I knew I’d be left alone allowing the grief to eat away at me, it would always be the reason why, it would redefine my whole life. And it was that which stopped me, in those deeply depressed moments, silently crying over the washing basket as I wrestled with myself.

My marriage has survived so far and we are together because we want to be, we love each other, we desire each other, we treasure our family. The grief has found a place and we seem to have adjusted, but I always have a nagging doubt in my mind as I hear of ‘delayed reactions’ where one of the parents has a crisis later on in life.

As you know, we have added two more children to our home, both so quickly after losing Abi, we barely had time to breathe! Yes, it’s been the most wonderful blessing but we have also had to find a place for our marriage amidst the sleepless nights, weary bodies and minds and fractured nerves! Having another baby doesn’t ‘solve’ any problems if you’ve lost other children, if anything it creates new ones, but it’s still such an amazing part of our life and I know that God has turned our pain into a blessing.

There’s no denying that while we try to be fair, we treat our younger two differently to how we treated our first three when they were younger. There’s more love, fewer rules! We don’t love them more than the others, just differently. Our parenting style has shifted, we still have the same principles of parenting, it’s just we perhaps give them more of our time and are more patient and forgiving. We don’t fret about the hours of sleep lost, and now treasure the little ones running into our bed in the middle of the night for a cuddle. We’re of course also experienced now we are older and know what we’re doing. My husband is an amazing father, he always has been but he takes an even more active role in parenting now and helping around the house. It’s things like this that help keep a marriage together when you’re juggling so much.

The statistic that most marriages break up after a loss hasn’t actually been proven, yet it still remains something people believe. Of course, some marriages do fall apart but the death is likely to be one of a number of factors that decide the relationship is over.

Like any difficult time, in a marriage it’s important to ride out the waves together, even if that means you’re not on the same wave, as you’ll both be together when the waters have stilled again. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even today, and I don’t know how life will affect us, but I think I know now that we will always try to stay together, and I feel blessed we have made it this far!

 

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My 9-year-old son came home from school with his ‘life quote’, which sums it up very well. He explained that no matter if your car gets dented or broken on the journey (if someone dies), you can still rebuild your car so that you can carry on.

 

Would you like to donate to help me publish a children’s book about dying?
Just £1 will make a big difference to help me get the book out there to comfort children like ours who have been bereaved.

For more information click the JustGiving logo below:

Sick with grief

No one ever told me that my grief would make me feel so ill.

As they broke the news to us that Abi was going to die, I thought of only her, then our family… and everything about how we’d live without her.

I was prepared – and expected – to feel depressed, but the physical symptoms that gradually took hold were more of a shock.

I shared this link about how grief affects us physically on my Facebook page, and wasn’t too surprised to find many of you have felt similar symptoms – some debilitating, some mild, but all as a result of the grief. These symptoms, however, are mostly during the early weeks and months after the loss. I didn’t really notice anything until about a year after and they got worse…

I developed a weird thing with my heart – in that I have noticeable ectopic beats and a type of tachycardia that causes palpitations. (Part of me thinks I am so aware of my body now that I’m conscious of my heartbeats, I probably wouldn’t have  noticed this a few years ago.) It’s not bad enough to have me on medication, but it is bad enough to make me anxious to the point where I’ve been scared to go out or be alone. It has greatly improved now I’ve lost some weight, am more active and eating better, and I think was made worse by the pregnancies, but while I’m now able to function again, I’m nervous (make that terrified) about exercising. I’m scared that raising my heart rate will trigger palpations, and then a heart attack. It’s so bad that I almost have a panic attack just thinking about it. There are countless stories of people dropping dead when running or exercising, usually fit and healthy people, and this only adds to my worries and my excuses not to do anything. 

But I’m so tired of being scared. I’m so tired of saying to the children ‘be careful’, or of saying to myself ‘you’d better not’. Of living in fear. I ran half marathons and 10ks with relative ease before Abi died, I got such a buzz from being fit! But every one of my symptoms – however real they were (as they were genuine medical things, not ‘imagined’) – have been brought on by grief. 

It’s commonly believed in the medical profession that 90% of illness is caused by stress, and grief is just a form of stress. I didn’t take myself to the doctor at the slightest thing before Abi died. I didn’t worry about exercise or food. I didn’t worry that putting butter on my toast would kill me, or that if I ran I might keel over…  I miss that me, the me that worried about obvious stuff but didn’t let it stop me.
But I still have a bit of that old me left. The me that refuses to quit. The devil is telling me to stay down, God is telling me to get back up!

In January, I wrote this post about easing myself back into exercise, by going for gentle walks and getting outdoors more. Doing this, when I can and when my mind allows me, has been beneficial.

So I have taken the next step and started looking into exercise, raising my heart rate. I signed up for a local netball group but I was too scared to put pressure on myself, so I went out for a run. At least on a run if I wanted to stop and go home I could. After months of procrastination, talking myself out of it, crying, fear, anxiety, another bar of chocolate, I put my trainers on and went.

It felt good. I ran for 15 minutes and didn’t collapse or struggle. I went at a gentle pace but was surprised how good it felt to be back out and having that mental space while my body felt energized. It’s a far cry from the hours of running I was capable of before Abi died, but I have a new agenda now. To build up my confidence to enjoy exercise for what it is, not what it might do to me. We’re all going to die, so I may as well live!

I don’t know if I’ll do another run. I might, I don’t want to put this out there and feel I have to now commit to it, but it’s a start.

It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.

Should I take antidepressants for my grief?

Dear grieving mum,

I’m sorry you’ve found my blog by searching with the keywords ‘antidepressants’ ‘grief’ ‘death of my child’…

I’m truly sorry.

Behind each of my posts, I see parents read my blog searching for the answer to this question because they are looking for some respite from the strain of coping with grief while having to get on with life. Their last hope is that a pill will get them through it.

Back in 2015, I wrote this post about starting antidepressants, something I had tried so hard to avoid. I didn’t see how any pill could help my grief, but I knew the anxiety was consuming me and I needed help.

While I have certainly experienced the benefit of taking medication for anxiety and depression, I’m in two minds about the use of antidepressants for grief (and trauma). They haven’t changed what has happened, or made me feel ‘better’ about it, they haven’t stopped the flashbacks, they didn’t replace talking about it with a trained professional, but they did help me get through the days, they did mute the constant anxious chatter in my mind enough for me to think about other things for a change.

Having had two more children since Abi died, I have dramatically mixed emotions – my heart is torn in two constantly, as I wouldn’t have had my two little ones if Abi was still alive. It’s hard to know that they wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be experiencing love and joy all over again if she hadn’t died, but then her death has ‘given’ something wonderful to help us live on without her…

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I’ve continued on antidepressants on and off since first taking them. I was on them most of my last pregnancy and came off for a few months around the birth. I went back on them again about a month after I had my baby (so if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and worried about taking antidepressants – don’t, my baby is perfectly healthy and very bonny, my own fears about this were unnecessary).

Nine months after giving birth, I am weaning myself off very slowly, my hormones feel more balanced so I feel it worth a try. I now see them as something to help me more with the emotional demands of pregnancy and coping with a newborn rather than my grief. So maybe you’re reading this from a similar perspective, having had a rainbow baby or considering trying again. I think it’s sensible to consider the impact on your physical – and therefore mental – health when you have so much to process and your mind and body will be flooded with hormones.

While the tablets were helpful at giving my mind a break, there is something ‘depressing’ and negative about being on antidepressants! Just knowing I’m on them reminds me that I am grieving, that I can’t cope, that I need help… but being on them has helped get me through some very bleak times and enabled me to get dinner on the table and now work again.

If you can combine pills with some talking therapy (with someone who understands post-natal depression and trauma, not just a chatty counsellor) then it will be much more beneficial. I see the pills as a way to help me open up. While I’ve not done it myself, I have heard that EMDR therapy is good (and supported, in theory, by the NHS).  This is usually performed by a private psychotherapist.

It’s natural to carry a lot of unresolved grief emotion around with you as you distract yourself with new babies, new jobs, new lives… I’ve been there, when I had my son a few weeks after Abi’s first anniversary, I knew the pregnancy was a distraction from the grief, but I needn’t have worried, it came back to get me! I saw a good maternal psychotherapist (privately, as all the GP could offer was a telephone number with a 12-month waiting list), but it was worth the expense.

The therapy gave me the safe space to say out loud all those things I needed to say, to someone who wouldn’t judge me or try to ‘make it better’, who wanted to hear me say the unspeakable. Things like wishing Abi was here rather than my new son, talking about the layers of guilt I felt for loving him and not know what to do with my love for her, for battling with resentment and anger – things no mother ever should have to think about saying. Still, they needed to be said.

Pills won’t ‘cure’ your grief, but they will help you get through therapy to get to a point where you feel more like yourself more of the time than not.

Does this resonate at all? I hope you have an understanding GP. I think if you are asking the question ‘Should I take antidepressants?’ then you already know the answer. Anxiety and depression cannot be shrugged off in a walk around the block or a night out with friends – this is deep and hourly. For your sake and for your family’s, put yourself first and they will only see the benefit, and you will be able to live – and grieve – again.

As you feel a bit better in yourself you will be able to feel more like looking after your physical self too. If you’re not already – take some good vitamins and minerals, keep active, force yourself to try something new. I find that since my loss I’m sensitive to minor deficiencies which only make my anxiety and worries worse, so I take my vits every day, look at ways to get some time to myself and try to keep fit without being obsessive – all things that help develop mental strength.

Your grief is so new, so complex, so personal. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to get on with things… It’s about finding a place for all that while giving your children (and your identity as mummy to all your children) the space to ‘be’. Read my blog and see how my mood and grief has changed over the years – sometimes I am bleak and vulnerable, other times I feel more positive and hopeful…  being on meds has certainly helped me get to today without going crazy.

I hope this has been of some help.

Take care.

Kelly x

Would you like to donate to help me publish a children’s book about dying?
Just £1 will make a big difference to help me get the book out there to comfort children like ours who have been bereaved.

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Mindful steps to better health

It’s still January… having consumed our body weights in rich/sugary/fatty foods in December, we now have the guilt trip for said festive indulgence as fitness gurus and media know-it-alls show off their fit-ness or sell us the latest diet that will make us ‘beach ready’ by summer.

We know the rules around this, it’s okay to put on half a stone at Christmas because we’ll burn it off in the new year. But there’s actually a far more important side to this whole ‘health’ circus… mental health. 

We’re usually too busy to stop and consider that the manufacturers of the food and fitness gear know as well as us that those DVDs and smoothie makers will be gathering dust in a few weeks.

Many of us feel like we are skating on the edge of sanity, holding down busy jobs, bringing up children, keeping the house going and the bills paid, dealing with some really traumatic stuff, let alone making sure we’re blimin’ ‘beach ready’.

Most of us are dealing with so much stress that food (or drink) has become a comforter. When I’m stressed I find myself reaching for the biscuit barrel. In the evenings, I sit down in front of the TV after a tiring day and often snack a bit more (I don’t drink so food is my ‘treat’).

Many people started the month alcohol-free or ‘on a diet’. After the Christmas binge, this is fine for the first two weeks but then it soon gets dull. Most of us give up when we restrict ourselves (or feel we are being restricted), which then ends in more binges and guilt.

Nine months ago, I was about to have my fifth baby and I had no energy to care for myself. Pregnancy, grief and hormones resulted in an addiction to food.

I didn’t have the willpower to consider what I was putting into my body. I could barely put a meal together and shopping was a challenge. I opted for quick and easy options. Fast food and takeaways added to the mix.

I felt hungry from the baby (and children) sapping my energy… So I ate.
I felt peckish because I was bored stiff sitting around unable to move far… So I ate.
I felt I needed something to fill the void in my stomach when I felt low and confused about life… So I ate.

Seeing the superfit on TV only played on my inadequacies further.

Are you having twins?! Nope just a massive cream bun!
Are you having twins?! Nope just a massive cheesecake!

There was the time I ate an entire cheesecake (not an isolated incident!)… a full-size one with the red warning nutritional label shouting at me to stop. There was not one thing good about it, yet down it went. I felt terrible. I vowed that the next day I’d avoid any sugar or processed foods… but if course I didn’t. In any case, I was so confused by the conflicting health advice I didn’t know where to start!

I was a perfect candidate for a January ‘lose weight in a week with a superfood, superburn diet plan’. However…

…the last three months I’ve been intentionally looking after myself, mentally and physically. I’ve taken a daily multivitamin and probiotic, cut right back on processed sugar, fat and wheat. I eat more vegetables and mostly cook from scratch. I’ve established a better bedtime routine. I’ve started reading books again. I already feel much better for it.

Looking after yourself starts in your head; train your brain to love yourself for being alive rather than punish yourself for eating foods that you enjoyed. What we eat and how we exercise are directly controlled by our mental health. Get mentally well and you’ll eat better and want to move more. I’m all for improving our health (with the dramatic increase in diabetes we need to do something), but it’s about taking small steps to make big changes: moving more, getting outside, eating well, reading a book, doing absolutely nothing once in a while…

Now that I have the food side of things pretty much under control, I plan to get back into exercise. But I’m not going to join a gym, get a personal trainer, or run a marathon… (not yet anyway), I’m going to go for a walk, and that walk will become another and another, and then I may want to walk a bit further or possibly jog. Either way, it will be a slow but positive progression to find a pace and an activity that suits me and my life at the moment.

My 90-year-old grandma is old but she is mentally alert and still has a job! Her secret isn’t kale, or smoothies, tracking her heart rate, or busting a gut in circuit training… it’s real food, sensible portions, daily physical activity, friends and family, reading and crosswords.

If you’re feeling like you’ve failed before you’ve started, keep going at your own pace and remember, even if you’re tiptoeing you’re still going in the right direction.

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If you enjoyed this post, why not see what else I’m talking about:

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You don’t have to ‘get over’ your grief just because it’s Christmas

It’s no surprise that Christmas is a difficult time for the grieving. For us, the period begins with Abi’s birthday at the end of November, we then have the four weeks until Christmas and then New Year, followed not long afterwards by the anniversary of the time we lost her. Next February will be four years…

In the first two years, the stress was more to do with getting through the Christmas period without her…  the first birthday, the first Christmas without one of your children there is unbearable, there’s simply no other way to describe it.

But as our lives are gradually adapting to living with our loss, I have found that Christmas has changed. We are able to still ‘do it’ for our other children, and having them has helped us – my husband and I – retain some sense of seasonal spirit. But the whole period now brings back memories of Christmas past.

The thing with Christmas is that everything is repeated a million times – the same films on telly all month, the same songs on the radio and in the shops, the same routines and traditions of crackers and stockings and favourite foods.

But with all this repetition comes the frequent reminders of the last time we heard those songs with Abi, the last time we watched the films with her there with us, the foods she loved, the stocking that now stays empty. We have films on our Virgin Tivo Box saved from that last Christmas of 2012 that our other children love to watch. Every moment of every day is a reminder of that last Christmas, and not knowing what was going to happen just six weeks later. Then the anxiety resurfaces about what might lie in store for us… I can’t bear to think about it.

The hardest part has always been hiding our grief from our other children, and even each other. We have been open about our grief and our loss, but we don’t want to be seen crying on Christmas Day. We don’t want to cause upset and spoil things. We have to retreat to the bathroom or swallow it down. It hurts, and it drains us. There’s a huge element of putting a brave face on. 

We still keep Christmas intimate – it’s our family time and we tread through it carefully. We learned quickly that it wasn’t possible to pretend it’s all okay and not get stressed so we now keep things low key. I hear from many people who are struggling with the pressure to ‘get over it’, just for Christmas. But I know from experience that it actally makes you feel better if you stop pretending. Yes, crying and grieving and being upset isn’t nice. It’s not comfortable to do around others but it is what it is. Hiding it will only make it hurt more. 

For those of you who are struggling with ‘feeling the joy’ that others expect, read this fantastic blog post: Stop forcing yourself to be happy. The most common search on my blog is ‘how to cope with Christmas after my child’s death’, and my Christmas posts are the most-read at the moment. So, I hope this post reaches you, the mother or father who is awake in the early hours, your chest aching from crying, and your head throbbing with worry…

‘Your job is not to make everyone else feel good about themselves, especially if you’re currently mired in grief or reeling from tragedy or terrorized by the worst adversity you’ve ever experienced.

Rather, your job is much, much more important. Your job is to grieve. Remember, grieving isn’t this sort of passive act where you just wallow away. Grieving is active and intentional. Grieving requires that you show up and live while you wade through the shit you’re going through. It’s the process of standing up, day after day after day, especially when you don’t want to. If you find yourself in good spirits along the way, great. But that is not and should not ever be the goal.

There is nothing–and I mean nothing–wrong with you if you don’t feel happy or positive or singy-songy this time of year. You’re not inadequate for grieving. In fact, if anything you’d be less than human if you didn’t grieve your losses.’

I hope you find some comfort and peace in these words, and I’m sorry, truly, that you are going through this. x

 

I’m weaning my baby, see you in six months! 

So I’ve made it to the six-month mark. Hooray!

As much as I love newborns (I’ve been blessed to have five after all), I find it exhausting, especially with a toddler too. I know that six months is a key stage when weaning can get more established, the baby might sleep longer at night and is generally more sociable (i.e., I can give her to someone else for more than an hour!). It might sound harsh, but as much as I love my bambinos, being a parent on call 24/7 is the hardest job there is.

Weaning means I can get out a bit more…. oh, hold on, I’ve just remembered, no, it doesn’t!

You spend the first six months with your new baby pretty much at home or only visiting a few places due to fitting around feeds and sleeps, feeling generally knackered and drowning in nappy changes and washing, and frankly, CBA (can’t be arsed) to organize yourself to go further than the local shop…

…to gallop into the second half of the first year to find yourself spending it pretty much in your kitchen. Suddenly, the thought of breastfeeding on the sofa watching daytime telly because you’re pinned under a cranky baby seems appealing. You realise that all the progress you’ve made is swapping one room of your house for another.

When my husband comes home from work and asks me in a jolly ‘I’ve-been-out-all-day talking-to-adults-and-drinking-hot-tea-in-peace’ voice what I got up to today, I look at him ‘adoringly’ with bits of apple puree in my hair, milky dribbles on my shoulder and a cranky baby on my hip whilst stirring a pot of random homemade sauce on the hob and say ‘not much’.

The feeling of being unproductive is pretty dire for me, as I like to feel I’ve achieved something. When I look back and realise that all I’ve done is feed, change and wipe up all day, it’s not really much to shout about. Yes, there are fantastic moments scattered throughout all that, I have brilliant quality time with them, but I can’t help feeling that most days I’m a robot doing the same thing from breakfast till bedtime.

Let me explain the average day. By the time the baby has had breakfast and been changed, the toddler wants changing. Then I need to get dressed and have my own breakfast and clear away the breakfast things that the others left behind. Then the baby needs her mid-morning bottle, and she wants a nap. Then the toddler wants lunch. Then the baby wakes up and wants her lunch. Then they both need changing again. We have about an hour or so before she wants another bottle and, oh look, it’s 3pm; Joe will be home in a minute and I have to collect Jen from school. We go outside, briefly, in the car to collect her. Then whip up a culinary masterpiece that they all will love quickly make a meal that they are guaranteed to moan about, and give the baby and toddler a snack. I change them both, then it’s 5pm and the joys of getting the meal on the table.

Winter makes this much worse as it’s a case of how many layers can you put on a wriggly baby and toddler before dragging them out into the cold? I find myself saying ‘Oh it looks like it might rain’ so often I swear they will become phobic of all weathers that aren’t mild and sunny (though not too sunny as that’ll involve Factor 500 suncream and hats and gallons of water).

Admittedly, it’s easier to feed older babies on the go these days with ready-made milk and food pouches, but it’s the physcial time it takes to get out. By the time I’m ready to go out someone is hungry or needs changing. I promise myself every day that ‘tomorrow’ I’ll get up at 6am and be super organized, but it never happens.

Just like after the birth, I know this will get a lot easier as they get older, but for now, the children don’t care so I might as well hibernate till spring!

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