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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What being a mum of 5 has taught me about having babies

I know I say it a lot, but I have given birth to five babies. That’s quite a few! I often wonder how on earth my body grew and birthed these little humans! Knowing all too well how hard it is to get pregnant and the worries for nine months until the baby is safely in my arms, having five children is really something I celebrate every day, even though being a mum is exhausting and has made my tummy very wobbly!

I hear lots of new parents worrying about some of the main aspects of pregnancy and parenting – that is the birth, feeding and sleep. So, I considered what I did with each of my children and how it has affected them as they have grown up.

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I can’t let go of my children’s toys!

We’ve been having a bit of a clear out, which we need to do fairly frequently with six of us in the house. Our boys’ bedroom had become very cluttered with toys, clothes, books and teddies. We tidied it up but decided that as the large buckets of teddies weren’t played with much at all that we’d get rid of them.

Ha, well it didn’t quite work out that way. These were toys we’ve become so used to seeing and picking up that we’d stopped appreciating them. But as we were putting them into bin bags for the charity shop, we were sighing sentimentally over almost every one of them.

My husband was being more assertive about it but I suggested we put them aside so I could go through them again. So they were put into the baby’s bedroom to be ‘sorted’ later (aka taking the clutter from one room to another).

Then we decided to store them in the loft for ‘another time’, only I didn’t want to do that as they might get damp or ruined, and I didn’t like to think of them all abandoned up there (can’t you tell I’ve been subjected to Toy Story on loop this past month!).

So, a few weeks later, I sorted them out yet again! I found an old drawer under the cot and decided to put them all in there. After all Naomi might want to play with them look at them briefly one day! I did manage to make a bag of stuffed toys for charity, but I kept most of the ones we were originally going to put away or donate!

20161130_202240.jpgWhat’s wrong with me. They are just toys!

But are they?

There are a number that we’ve had since before we were married 17 years ago. (Mr Happy and Mr Bump my husband, then boyfriend, bought me. Dastardly and Mutley were picked up during one of many leisurely shopping trips.)

wp-1480537659107.jpgThere are some that belonged to Abi, that I can remember her choosing, holding and us buying (lots of YooHoos, Moshi Monsters and a Puffle).

There are Beany Babies toys that we bought from the regular stall at the annual village fair. Nintendo toys and lovely soft Keel pets.

There are toys that remind me of places we’ve been as a family (Pidgey Pidge the pigeon from our last London trip in 2012 for example).

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All toys that brought memories to mind.

I can’t even store them away. I want them to be accessible even though I could use the space for other things.

The children don’t look at these anymore. Jake, our toddler, might play with a couple (ie, empty the draw all over the floor and then abandon the game for another area of destruction!). They occasionally take one to bed, but really, who plays with all these stuffed toys anyway? They are such lovely things to buy but once you’ve got them home they just become part of the clutter.

What makes it worse is that I was never a cuddly teddy or even a dolly kind of child, it seemed babyish to me. My Barbie had a professional career in the City (and also a beautiful ballgown in case the career didn’t work out and she needed a Prince Charming!). Though you wouldn’t think that now if you saw what has become my secret stash!

As I found myself unable to part with many of them, I had to accept that it’s my relationship with these toys, and the memories they give me, that is what is stopping me getting rid of them. What does it matter, they’ve been with us this long, they might as well stop a while longer!

Tell me I’m not alone in this hoarding of kids’ stuff. Do you have any of your children’s toys you can’t bear to part with?

A grand day out – what Mummy did on her day off

With having to stop breastfeeding Naomi, I knew I would feel sad about it – the transition to the next stage is always emotional. However, I decided I’d focus on the positives, one of which being able to leave her so that I could have a break. Six months with a baby 24/7, not to mention the nine months of pregnancy and three other children to look after is tough. And as much as I adore my children, having some time for me is essential to my mental well-being.

So I’d asked my in-laws (who absolutely love spending time with their grandchildren) if they’d have Naomi for a few hours. They jumped at the chance and made it very easy for me to leave her. I knew she would get their undivided attention.

I was unsure what to do with my day off. I had about five hours of freedom and I know all too well that this isn’t that long! I wanted to use the time wisely but also not overload myself.
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The hypervigilant mumma – will I ever switch off?

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So we’ve been a bit ill again.

Jake’s been the worst hit this autumn. Normally a very healthy child, he’s had a chest infection, sickness and now another cold virus that has brought him out in itchy hives.

On Saturday, I was home alone with Jake and Naomi. Daddy and Joe were at the football, and Jen had gone to a friend’s house. I was making a good dent into clearing up, as we have moved Naomi into her own bedroom, and I then needed to change Jake. As I was doing so I noticed raised red spots all over his legs which he wanted to scratch. I was quite alarmed as it’s most unlike him and he’d been eating well all day.

I undressed him and found more of these strange red marks on his arms. Worried, I phoned 111 and within half an hour I was talking to the consultant on the phone. With Jake not having any worrying symptoms other than this itchy rash, she was happy that he didn’t need to be seen and said it was likely viral or a reaction to something he’d eaten. As he had had another cold, I put it down to that. It was what is called ‘nettle rash‘.

Thankfully my sister lives close by so she was able to pop out and get me some Piriton and Calamine lotion. And, once dosed up, the rash started to look less angry.

I phoned Daddy at the football game. While I didn’t want to disturb him, I knew that he’d want to know this had happened. He was understandably worried but I reassured him that I was keeping a close eye on Jake, who was watching all the telly and eating all the chocolate at this stage!

As I sat there, I considered the state of hypervigilance we are living in. With young children, it’s natural to be anxious – it’s how we survive, but our personal anxiety runs much deeper now. I am so close connected to them that I almost feel everything they do, trying to absorb their pain or unhappiness. We are ready to act in an instant, we never switch off and we are always on guard. That’s not including the times when they get ill, when it goes into overdrive! Sometimes I feel like I might collapse with anxiety.

It is exhausting – physically and mentally.

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The fine line between love and hate

Shocking celebrity deaths, Brexit and now Donald Trump… if anything, you can’t say 2016 has been boring!

Trump is not a man I like, his views worry me and the fact he now is one of the most powerful men in the world worries me even more. However, through the how’s and why’s, I’m trying to believe that much of what he has said in his campaign is hype, to attract attention, to get people engaged in whatever shape it takes – a bit like a child being told off for being naughty because negative attention is better than none.

Seeing the news about violent protests and lives lost following the election of Trump, I was reminded of this post I wrote 18 months ago, after the Conservatives got into power. Yes, I’m afraid nothing changes, and we are just as sore losers when things don’t go our way.

Whether someone throws a stone at someone who doesn’t agree with them, sends angry messages online, or gossips behind their back, the physical impact might be different but the basic emotion is still the same – hate.

Trump hate. Political hated. Social hatred. Many of us wonder where this comes from. Why, when we all want to live, prosper and be happy, do we end up caught up in these vicious battles?

I wonder if it is because hatred starts at home. Hatred starts with just two people.

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Reinstating our children’s bedtime routine

The last time my hubby and I sat in front of the telly in the lounge with our children all in bed upstairs was around 4th February 2013, over three years ago.

We always had a fairly reasonable bedtime routine for our three children. Upstairs around 8pm, get ready and then a story. As Abi and her sister shared a room, they often listened to the same story. Being just 22 months apart made bedtime easy.

However, it was bedtime when Abi fell ill and suddenly passed into a coma due to a ‘catastrophic’ brain hemorrhage. At the time, I was reading a book to her sister while her dad was looking after her in our bedroom. Our son was already in bed and, though awake, was drifting off. It wasn’t that unusual for someone to be ill so there wasn’t much concern over Abi’s condition. This of course changed dramatically when she became disorientated and quickly lost consciousness. My hubby called me and I knew it was bad, though not as bad as it turned out.

So, we went from a sleepy, unwinding bedtime to full-on panic, screaming, crying in a matter of minutes. Paramedics. Mum in tears. CPR. Lights on bright. Shock and trauma. If I dare to close my eyes I can still see and feel it all now so clearly.

When we came back from the hospital a few days later, without Abi, we naturally wanted to reassure our son and daughter. Our daughter struggled at night in any case so I slept in her bed with her for about a week. Then we began to gradually fall into a new routine of all going upstairs together at bedtime and us reading to them and settling them before going across the landing into our bedroom and watching tv until we went to sleep. We’ve been doing that ever since, even with the arrival of two more children. Our bedtime routine is now at least two hours long, with play time and endless stories, and we rarely get into bed to start watching tv until 11pm. Then we watch a show and fall asleep around midnight before waking up in the morning and starting all over again. We’re knackered!

It’s not all about the kids

We’ve always known it’s not healthy, but then, what is? We never thought it would be forever, but then it’s become the norm. A few months ago, I met a mum in the park and her parting words to me have stayed with me ever since: ‘It’s not all about the kids’. This is so simple and truthful, because while we’re busy giving our all to the children, physically and emotionally, because we never know the hour, we have very little left for us.

Yesterday, our children’s counsellor asked us – ‘When will you be ready to sit downstairs again?’ We looked at each other. We’ve never discussed it. We just get through the days.

But, she pointed out, drawing out bedtime and staying upstairs is only adding to our anxiety. We, as parents, are reinforcing the fear that something will happen to one of them, and they, as children, are getting the message that we are there because there is something to fear. So they aren’t learning how to cope, how to soothe themselves, how to get by without us.

But there is something to fear! We saw it all up close and in detail. That crazy moment when the bright light of our lively, super-fit daughter was snuffed out, like that. No warning. No buildup. It’s inevitable that, in the aftermath, we are living on the edge… we all need reassurance!

Yet, with two new children, the subject of routine is coming up. As every parent knows, routine is key. It doesn’t have to be military but a simple and consistent routine makes for a much happier family. Children like confident parents, they like structured discipline, it keeps them safe. But despite knowing all this, I feel it’s a hopeless cause. I can’t take my own advice!

As my hubby and I had both discussed this with our children’s counsellor we saw this as a hurdle we needed to get over together. This is crucial as so often I am the one at the therapy meetings while my hubby is at work, and while I relay the things discussed it doesn’t make an impact if he hears it second hand.

Establishing a new normal

Last night we worked out a new plan; nothing too far off what we’ve been doing but much tighter in terms of timings. In grief, it becomes very hard to give a damn what the time is, so this demands a lot of emotional effort.

My hubby took our 2-year-old up first at 7.45pm to put him to bed, with just one story. He shares his room with our 9-year-old son so has been used to going up with him. At 8.15pm, he took our 9-year-old up to bed and read him a couple of chapters from a book. He was at first insisting on the usual game of bedroom football, but my hubby was brilliantly firm and calm.

Our toddler protested at the lights out so soon after his story and began to wail. We allowed our 9-year-old to read to himself with his small bed light. And then my hubby said good night, confidently, and left the room.

I was settling the baby in our bedroom and saw him standing on the landing not really knowing what to do. Years of sitting with them in the darkness until he heard them sleep was hard to undo like that. But he went downstairs and made a cup of tea. The boys kept quiet and stayed in bed.

At 8.45pm, it was our 14-year-old daughter’s turn. We like to read to her still and bedtime is a key time of day when she can talk about her day or her troubles – time that is essential at that age. But rather than doing this at 10.30pm when I was tired and irritable, I told her I was going to read to her at 9pm and then leave her to go downstairs at 9.30pm. And this was exactly what I did. I read, we had a quick chat, and I left. She did ask what if she needed me, and I simply said, we are downstairs. She got up to use the loo but didn’t come downstairs once. A good start!

So, at 9.45pm I was sat on our sofa, with my hubby, watching a programme we’d been following (from our bedroom telly). And boy, was it weird! I felt like a child doing something I shouldn’t!

I was uncomfortable, on edge and waiting for someone upstairs to call or need us. With four children up there it was inevitable that one of them would need something at some point. But no, it didn’t happen. I worried about the baby on her own, as she has never been out of my sight at night time. But apart from waking for a quick feed at 10pm, she was happy to settle down.

Then I worried that they were all being too quiet, I know too well that it’s when they are quiet you need to worry. I can tell when my children are genuinely ill when they go quiet.

Then, feeling fed up that I couldn’t relax, I went through a phase of thinking ‘Why are we bothering doing this? We can sit up there with them, it’s not doing any harm. We can start this tomorrow…’ the grieving mother in me fighting with everything to keep still and force myself to focus on the telly as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I was out of my comfort zone, and I realized that my comfort zone isn’t being chilled in front of the telly, it’s being on edge, tired and frustrated upstairs waiting for our children to call out.

Maybe we can do this?

It took a while, but we both gradually relaxed a bit more, we even cuddled up! We went to bed at 11pm, a bit too quickly as though we had been itching to get up there all along and back to our ‘safe space’.

Before we went up, I began to think that I could get the last load of washing out of the tumble dryer now instead of in the morning. And I realized I could get my daughter’s packed lunch ready for the morning, rather than rushing like we usually do. And this made me realise that with hopefully better rested children and more time for us, we could go to bed feeling less like we are ‘fire fighting’ and more like we’re winning at this parenting lark. Each one of us should benefit from a more structured bedtime and mornings – where we are all tired – will be a bit less stressful.

I am already exhausted thinking about doing it all over again tonight. It’s emotionally draining, feeling like we’re pretending to be assertive and like we aren’t afraid. But we have to consider the long-term impact on all of us by carrying on with our hypervigilance.

I may be a mother of five children, I may have children of all ages and stages, but I am still learning about parenting… and grieving… and living. I think it’s called ‘winging it’. I treated myself to a fab Selfish Mother sweatshirt with this slogan to remind me that I don’t need to do it all. (Incidentally, they donate a big part of the proceeds to charity.)

I hope that in years to come, our children are able to understand what we went through to give them a stable home, and stability is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone.

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Social media – the friend I hate to love

I was desperate for a break. What with a new baby, my hubby having a miserable time and facing a tonsillectomy, and changing my teen daughter’s school, the last few months have been a tad stressful to say the least. I’d booked us a week in Cornwall with my two sisters and their families about six months ago and I couldn’t wait.

The run up to a holiday is always stressful, sometimes I wonder why we bother as the sheer effort of packing a family of six seems too much. It was even harder this time with everything that’s been going on as well as end-of-school-year activities and work deadlines to get on top of…blahhh! I felt like I was drowning in things to do. My phone has been permanently in my hand as I use it to manage so much of my life, but I had begun to resent the way it also saps my attention.

I’m in demand from all corners. While each member of the family constantly need me in some physical or emotional capacity, I also have a home to run, clients making demands and bills to pay. I also have a whole other life’s worth of demands on social media making me feel compelled to comment on or like posts (even though I know I don’t have to). I know I’m all too guilty of letting this bad friend distract me from all the other crap that I should really be thinking about.

So, as well as getting to spend some quality time with my sisters and their husbands and children, I really looked forward to taking a break from the social media life, in fact the entire internet! Keeping up with my stresses as well as, it feels, the stresses of masses of friends and acquaintances has not been doing me any good at all.
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