Does it get any easier? Grief five years on

I somehow thought it would be easier to grieve as the years passed.

I feel I need a badge or something.

I’ve survived five years.

I’ve moved into the second stage grief club… that’s for the more experienced grief survivors. The ones who are asked and can give advice to the unfortunate newbies.

But at five years I’m still sad. I still miss her. The memories aren’t as fresh, but they are still there.

The other day, I sat with an elderly man, in his eighties, and we shared the usual small talk about ourselves and family. While pleasant enough, he was a man of few words. He didn’t often make eye contact and appeared to want to keep himself to himself. His answers brief and clipped.

As I gabbled on, to fill the awkward silences, as I tend to do, talking briskly about my children there came the inevitable time when I had to mention Abi. My daughter who died aged 12.

He looked right at me. He dropped his gaze again and ever so softly that I could barely hear revealed he too had a lost child. A child he hadn’t mentioned to that point. His child died around 35 years ago, aged just 17. The middle child.

My heart opened up to him then, my perspective changed, knowing he has lived not just five years but a lifetime of grieving.

I didn’t care about etiquette then. I gently laid my hand on his thin, frail hand and he looked at me again. With tears in my eyes for both of us, I said simply, “I’m so sorry.”

He continued to look at me, sightly stunned. A delayed reaction of a man who rarely mentions the child who died.

His grief and mine were very different. He went on to say they were advised at the time not to grieve forever, he felt his child wouldn’t want him to. Even so, the pain of childloss was still there and could be brought to the surface in a moment. From what he said of his other children, the impact was still felt, unsaid, the family forever scarred by loss.

I’m not over it. I’m living with it, and I suppose pretty well. I’m working, creating, homemaking. I’m still a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I’m still me but behind my eyes and in my heart is the small hole pierced by the sword of grief.

On special days, memorable days, I cry. The memories press into my present mind asking to be replayed. I start them, but then find it too much.

I miss her so, so much…

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I miss the child her and the young adult her. I miss everything about her.

I remember it all. Her being alive, her dying, her being gone. I haven’t forgotten the sound of her voice, her quirky mannerisms, the infectious energy she seemed to radiate. I treasure those memories and hope, when I’m in my eighties, I  will be able to talk about her the same way I do now.

I’d love to tell you that it gets better. It doesn’t, not really, but it gets a little easier with time. But just because this is part of you now, that’s no reason to give up, to succumb to the despair. Grief may be part of my story, but it’s not my whole story. I take comfort knowing she is safe, with Jesus, and also that Jesus is with me. So we can never truly be apart.

Related posts

The 3rd year anniversary 
The 1st year anniversary

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Opening up the wound – when the grieving parent withdraws

This time of year can be fraught with emotion and grief for those who have lost loved ones, particularly if that is a child. For those whose birthdays are also this side of Christmas, it can seem like a double grief. Memories of Christmas past, thoughts of Christmas present, and worries for Christmas future. It is hard to find any joy in the season at all.

What I want to write about here is for those of you supporting and loving a bereaved parent at Christmas. You will have seen them though their bleakest times, the aftermath of loss, the pain and heartache as their lives, and very selves, shift and change to accommodate their new grief. It may have already been many years…

While you know that this time of year will be hard, when you see your loved one crumble in grief after a long time since their child died, it can seem somewhat odd. They were – are – OK. They’ve adjusted. Their life is changed but they seem to have recovered.

Now it’s Christmas. Or now it’s their child’s birthday. Or now it’s the anniversary of the day their child died. Maybe it’s all those events at once. And they have become withdrawn, pale, grief-stricken. It’s been so long since you’ve seen them like this. It worries you. You don’t know how to be. You don’t know what to say.

But, I ask you not to fear this pain too much. It’s necessary you see. Grieving mothers and fathers need to open up the scar to let the pain out, a bit like blood-letting of the old days.

On the special days we need to release the pain, the love, the sorrow for that one child, whether they died last month or years ago. We often don’t expect it ourselves, it just happens. It’s our way of connecting with them again. It’s our way of being a ‘parent’ to them again. It’s our way of showing them that even though we have laughed and danced and acted relatively normally, we still miss them to our core.

There’s no real way to reach someone on days like this, and don’t worry that you can’t, they don’t need you to. But, they need your presence. They need that silent love that needs no words. They need the strength of another to carry them through the days until the wound slowly closes over again.

No books, no quotes, no signs of hope are needed right now. Whatever that person needs, they will take. Even if it’s just lying on the sofa staring into space, or sleeping, or watching daytime TV while everyone is out being sociable and ‘family’. And give it to them, with grace and love and no expectations of ‘snapping out of it’ or ‘cheering up’. The parent’s love-pain will soon travel from the wound in the pit of their stomach back up to the heart, and they will return to the present. But, right now, they just need to be with them again.

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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.

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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

 

Guest post: Thoughts of loss and hope at Christmas

I was pacing the landing with my teething baby at 3am last night and all I could think of was you. As anyone who has been bereaved knows, the build up to Christmas is never easy. If you have children you try to retain the excitement, the magic, the wonder of Christmas. Yet behind the smiles, lies an anxiety, a dread, a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach that represents the gaping void left by loss. This Boxing Day marks 20 years since you were cruelly snatched from us that bitterly cold morning. Twenty years! The same length of time that you were married to my mum. I was 14, you were just 45. 

When you experience a traumatic bereavement, whether as a child losing a parent or a parent losing a child, your world is irreversibly changed. The wounds are deep and the scars only partially heal. I was reminded of this only three months ago when we experienced two close family bereavements and the scars were reopened. Old memories were reignited and the full force of raw emotion came crashing down once again. 

Yet there is also the possibility for reflection and growth, heightened empathy and compassion, and a greater understanding of the fragility and precious nature of life.

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Remembering Abi on her 16th birthday 

Having just seen Abi’s 16th birthday come and go, I realised it never gets easier. This is her fourth birthday in heaven.

Abi’s 13th birthday was ten months after she died, in 2013. It felt unbearable. She was so looking forward to becoming a teenager, she’d already been thinking about what she might do.

We had a diamond paperweight engraved with her age and placed it on her memorial, along with balloons and flowers. We felt helpless as we should be celebrating, not mourning.

Then her 14th and 15th birthdays came and went. We always seem to get hit by seasonal bugs about this time of year, so I remember last year passed without too much stress as we were all ill.

Each time it is hard as I’m reminded of everything from the pregnancy, the birth, the love, the joy, the sorrow… and watching her youngest brother playing is a reminder of the innocence of those early years with her.

Then turning sixteen. Sixteen! Her friends have changed, they are growing up, as they should. Abi should be giving us grief of a very different kind!

So what to do. As ever I began to withdraw as the day approached. Not knowing which way to turn. It’s hard to buy cards and gifts with no place for them to go…

A lovely blogging friend suggested marking the day by giving the children a present each. At Christmas, we give each other gifts as a way to remember the love of Jesus, so why not do something similar?

Our older children sensed gloom, I felt hopeless, but I needed a thing to do. So on the morning of Abi’s birthday I snuck off to the shops and bought them all a gift. With people Christmas shopping in their droves now it was the first weekend of advent, I was focusing on buying flowers and gifts for my dead child. I pretended otherwise to the cashier who chatted away about Christmas.

I bought something for me and Dad too and some beautiful bright yellow flowers for Abi. I bought some wrapping paper with cupcakes on it and that afternoon when the children were all a bit bored and tetchy we opened them together.

wp-1480432074903.jpgWe also had a cake. We sang happy birthday next to Abi’s picture, our toddler knowing exactly who Abi was and happy with singing to her picture (and his eyes closely on the cake!). The baby enjoyed her first taste of cake too.

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Abi’s birthday always seems to offer us pink, purple and blue sunsets

The gift sharing went really well and I think is a positive tradition that Abi would approve of and that could give us a consistent way to mark her birthday.

Do you do something similar to mark your angel child’s birthday?

A letter to you on your sixteenth birthday 

Abi

I pause before even writing a word as the thought of you turning 16 in heaven breaks my heart all over again.

I’m sorry sweetheart. I know you are safe, I feel that, but I feel so lost without you near me. You’re the one who is safe, I’m the one running scared.

My mind and body are a bit stressed out. All the love you should have had, all the time, the energy I should have spent on you is bundled up inside me because it’s had nowhere to go.

I wanted you to meet your new baby brother and sister. Your baby brother is so much like you I wonder if God just gave us the same soul. The baby, too, is happiness itself. It’s as though we’ve been given these extra joyful souls to help us live with the sadness of you being gone. And we feel it every day. We laugh, we have fun, but underneath it all we are missing you.

Your sister misses you, deep down, she just hasn’t worked out how to express it. I can imagine that the pain is so great that it’s far too complicated to face. There have been so many times when she’s needed you, for company, advice, support. Growing up is hard and I know you would have been a great big sister to her. Sharing your clothes and makeup, teaching her hairstyles, sticking up for her at school…

Your brother talks of you often and I know he thinks about you more. It’s too painful sometimes for him. The realisation of what grief means, how that makes his eyes instantly water and puts a lump in his throat. He loves you still and believes Jesus is looking after you.

Me and Dad are doing OK. At times it feels we’ve clung on to our family by our fingernails, but as long as there’s something to cling to it is worth it. We are complete worrywarts now, but that’s understandable given you left us so suddenly.

Your friends are all grown up now too, all seeing their 16th birthday this coming year. It hurts a little to see them getting on and growing up without you but I know you are never far from their thoughts.

We just all miss you so much. I can still hear you. I try to imagine what you would say or do. Would you be a second degree black belt by now? Would you know what career you wanted? What experiences would you have had?

What I do know is that you would have planned your 16th birthday the moment you turned 15! I expect it would be a slap up meal or a party of some kind. there’d be a big cake, lots of friends, music and laughter.

But it’s not to be.

On your birthday, we will probably carry on like every other day. There’s no need to buy in food or balloons and decorations. There’s no need to do anything other than visit the place where we laid your ashes. There aren’t many days where I wouldn’t quite happily join you, yet I somehow strive on. This life can be so very hard but there is so much to live for, I’m not entirely sure what yet but I feel it must go on.

So keep your light shining through us, and through everyone who knew you. We love you so much darling.

Happy birthday.

Mum

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

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The expectations of a grieving mother on special days

Now that Mother’s Day has passed, I feel I can exhale. I have a little more breathing space (until Father’s Day which is another tough one). I posted on Facebook yesterday about how hard I find the run of ‘special (bloody) days’ I face. It feels like I’m charging at each one like it’s a brick wall and, by Mother’s Day, I simply go splat!

If I’m honest, I have always found ‘special days’ difficult. As an introvert who doesn’t like ‘fuss and nonsense’ I have developed an association with attention on me being difficult. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like letting my guard down. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like showing my emotions. Difficult perhaps because I’m simply protecting myself from disappointment or hurt…

My childhood, brought up in poverty, was still a good life and we appreciated what we had, but it doesn’t create much sense of anticipation either. Never expecting much, trying to ignore what others have that you don’t, being more thankful for a simple homemade cake than a big party and fuss, keeping a lid on your emotions…. It’s a humbling existence, which I’m not complaining about as I’d much rather have this than be the type of person to cry into my drink because I didn’t get the handbag I wanted.

Unfortunately, as a result, I find myself being irritable and grumpy on special days. I will brush off well wishes and shush people who try to be nice to me. It’s not something I’m proud of at all and I do try to be more open to accept love from others, even my husband and children, but it’s always with a tinge of feeling uncomfortable and wanting it all to be over! I will find myself deliberately busying myself with chores just to avoid the feeling that I must ‘sit down and be Queen for a day’. I clearly have no idea how to be kind to myself!

As I’ve got older and a heck of a lot wiser, I’ve realised I’m not a bad person for being like this. I’m just not the type of person to court attention or expect a big fuss. So, with any special day like my birthday or Mother’s Day I almost ‘vant to be alone’… as Greta Garbo once said.

The expectations of performing a role or being some kind of ‘perfect’, special person make me cringe. For me, rather than feel awesome, days like these always remind me of my failings… of actually not being a ‘perfect’ mother, or not being the ‘perfect’ wife. And then I make myself feel worse as I’m irritated at not throwing myself into it and enjoying some much-needed attention! Attention I know, deep down, I do deserve but just can’t cope with.

Recently, I’ve come down hard on my older children (disciplining your other children after you’ve lost a child is an emotional nightmare, but it’s proven to be essential and worthy of a whole other post, like this one).

I’ve been unpopular. I’ve heard my name shouted and horrible words said in anger. I’ve beaten myself up as I feel tired and emotional, always trying to hold it together yet always managing to give way to my frustration, all the while trying to work out if I’m disciplining as a caring parent or just taking out my grief on them. Failing, failing, failing….

Of course, I’m not really failing, but since Abi died, the expectations of special days adds yet more pressure to me.

Now it’s the same but harder still, as I feel the expectations of grief on these days, as well as on Abi’s special days. I want to hide from the world and get stressed about how I’m feeling. Due to how I am, I know it’s no one’s pressure but mine. I clearly like to beat myself up!

This Mother’s Day was tricky but also revealed a lot to me about why I am the way I am and what I am thankful for – and hence inspired this reflective post.

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A new way to mark the anniversary of our daughter’s death

Another year has rolled around since Abi was last here… on 6th February we were forced to remember the day she collapsed. On 10th February, we thought of the moment we sat by her bedside as the doctor turned off her life support and said goodbye. But mostly, we were reminded of the time when she was ‘ripped’ from our lives.

Three years since we last saw her, heard her, held her, smelt her, laughed with her, kissed her…

Each anniversary has been quite different.

The first was maddening, filled with panic and desperation to cling onto every single moment of grieving her. But then the hope of a new baby was just weeks away to distract us from our misery. Our rainbow baby arrived just two weeks later.

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I refuse to give up on Christmas even though I’m grieving

When I’ve looked at the search terms people use to find my blog, my heart aches. These are just the Christmas-related search terms for my blog this week:

‘Coping with the loss of a child, on what should be their first Christmas’
‘Christmas loss of a child’
‘Christmas cards appropriate to send after losing a child’
‘How to get through our first Christmas since my daughter was killed’
‘First Christmas after the loss of a child’
‘Coping with death of a child at Christmas’
‘Coping through Christmas without my daughter’

These words have been typed by real people, parents, living with real and raw grief, most likely in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep, through tears, in desperation for some website somewhere to tell them just how – how on earth – they can get through the next six weeks in the run up not to mention the actual days of celebration without their child. So many parents feeling suffocated by and lost in the hype and pressure to be excited.

Christmases past

Last year, I wrote this post about how to celebrate Christmas after the death of your child, which some readers may find useful, it’s certainly been read many times already these past few weeks.
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