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:

Advertisements

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.

From cradle to grave

Today, I took my 9-year-old son to his football match. It’s normally Dad who does the football matches, but it had been almost a year since I’d seen my son play due to having the new baby and he asked if I’d go and watch him. He’s been appreciating some one-to-one time with me of late, which of course I love too.

While he was warming up, I automatically joined the other waiting parents by scrolling on my phone, but as I’m trying to be more active I realized I could use this as an opportunity to go for a walk, get my own blood circulating a bit. I wasn’t in an area I knew very well so I just walked out down the road and after about ten minutes I came across a small church.

I thought it would be good to have a little look around. There was a small graveyard just in front of the church, hidden by tall hedges. The graves looked old and weather-beaten, and I’m sure it had long since closed to new burials.

I first noticed five cross-shaped gravestones, lying flat in a line on the ground. On them were the details of men – figures in the community as their job titles were also engraved under their names, each from the 1800s, early 1900s.

The book of Ecclesiastes came to mind. (I’ve been reading over it this month.) In it, Solomon – the king – writes about accomplishments and the work we do, the things we put our effort into, the dreams we chase, and reflects how all of it is pointless once we’re dead. Not in the immediate years following our death, but the hundreds of years that see us but a distant memory, if that.

There can be great meaning to what we do, if through doing it we help others, but equally we spend a great deal of time doing or worrying about things that have no meaning.

Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

I thought of these men in the ground. Long gone. They probably were highly regarded in their day around the area, but who remembers them, or what they did today?

I then saw a small, quite beautiful, cherub angel gravestone. It was to mark the grave of a baby. I couldn’t tell how old the baby was as the dates had worn away. A little baby without its mother, a mother without her child. I thought of the mother having to put her newborn child into the ground here, the tears that must have been shed, nearly 100 years ago. Yet so many more have been born since – life has moved on at an extraordinary rate but this baby was here once, briefly. This baby’s short life mattered.

wp-1488016017659.jpg

I saw other graves. Some in fairly good condition, others nothing more than a nub of stone sticking out of the ground. No matter what condition the stone, what the status was of the person buried there, or what age or situation they died, they were united by sharing this space. They had once breathed and created memories, but they all ended up as dust and mud, under a gravestone, forgotten or barely remembered.

wp-1488016026372.jpg

I was struck by this stone of a weeping angel.

wp-1488016030095.jpg

It was of two sisters, buried together. One had passed away at age 19, the other had died later age 35. I thought of the parents having to cope with two of their children dying, having perhaps adjusted to the loss of one daughter, only to lose another. Or perhaps they had died too? Who knows the story behind this family’s plot. Who even cares?

There was a striking stone marking the grave of a toddler. Clearly the child of someone of some wealth or importance at the time to afford such a memorial.

wp-1488016033926.jpg

Of course, 100 years ago infant mortality was high so child burials would have been common, but the diversity of the graves in this one tiny patch of churchyard just seemed so poignant to me. Those who lived long, buried next to those who never grew up.

Each one would have been mourned, by wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends and relatives… who now themselves may have departed. How did they live out their lives – happy, depressed, lonely, content…? How did grief shape their futures?

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon sees that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, the wise know more and die, just like fools who don’t know anything and die too. Life is for living he concludes, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, we can chase any number of dreams but without God there isn’t much point to life at all.

As I headed back to watch my son’s football match, I considered today, this next hour, my ‘work’ was to be there for him. To see him smile at having Mum watching from the sidelines. This memory would stay between us two. And when I’m dead and gone, and he’s dead and gone, this moment will be forever gone too.

But, today, it mattered.

 

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

 

Forgiveness Series: 4. Forgiving yourself

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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.

 

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).

wp-1480537842822.jpg

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?

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.

Continue reading

Grief is a thief 

While death is something I accept as part of life, the impact of a death, especially that of my child, troubles me. Her death has been and gone, she is at rest now, yet the ripples of that loss pass over me constantly. I’ve largely accepted that she’s not coming back, I’m making the best of it, but nearly four years on I find myself battling with the after effects of grief and am becoming aware of all the many ways it had impacted my life… who I was…who I am…

It is therapeutic for a victim to write to the perpetrator of a crime or injustice, so, I have written here to grief:

Dear Grief,

You have robbed me of my heart, a heart which perpetually aches, is tired, weary. A heart which is too scared to love deeply yet carries the scars from loving too much. A heart which beats so slowly at times that it seems it might stop, yet at other times races as if it’s trying to run away from the hurt you’ve brought upon me.

You have robbed me of my passion, blinding my eyes from the pleasure of reading words on a page that could take me to places of escape, tormenting me when I try to relax by tightening my muscles and clenching my teeth, mocking me when I try to create, or plan or dream dreams…  why are you even bothering?!

You have robbed me of my compassion, I feel unable to give to others, I absorb their troubles as though they were my own yet becoming detached when it becomes too much. I’m too scared to care for fear of the pain, running, hiding from the horrible memories that are ready to surface at any moment.

You have robbed me of myself, remembering the person I was and feeling confused by the tired, fear-filled eyes staring back at me in the mirror, wondering about the point of life if there is only more grief to come.. focusing on the maybes, forgetting how to find the joy.

You have robbed me of trust, in them, myself, life itself… everything becomes a new thing to fear, by day fearing the future, by night reliving the past.

You have robbed me of my sanity, nails chewed, tablets swallowed, relationships strained, a mind fraught with what is and was and will be, the toll ready to chime at any moment, living on the edge. No one can tell me it will all be okay when you know what I’ve seen.

You have robbed me of my clarity and put a million distractions in my path that simply tempt my heart away from the truth, the truth that bites into me when I least expect it. The distracted mind becomes quickly overwhelmed with too much to process and not enough capacity to take it in. My tank is full, drowning my tired mind in pointless, relentless thoughts.

You have robbed me of my sleep, brought me nightmares, a racing heart. In the stillness of night you sit on my bed and watch me. You jab me awake, making me gasp for air, disturbing my rest with the dread of what or who might be next…

Grief, you’re a thief that stole far more than my child  on that horrible night… but I won’t let you win. I have just enough strength to fight back, to stop you leeching my energy further. I will not allow my darling girl’s memory to be clouded by you, Grief. She is heaven, you are hell.

But through all this and even though it is crap, I respect you and I forgive you, Grief, you’re only doing your job after all and I need to continue on the journey with you. But I will use you to build me back up, to develop resilience, to give me strategies for the future so that I need not be afraid of what you might do to me again. I can’t cheat death, but I won’t give up trying to overcome you.

From a broken-hearted mumma.

IMG_3734

 

The hardest thing to admit…

After you’ve lost a child, you somehow find ways to live on. You don’t actively seek ways to help your situation, the adjustment sort of happens by itself.

When people say to you ‘I don’t know how you cope’, you look at them blankly, and most likely simply say ‘I just do’. But it makes you realise you have been coping! Inside you’re thinking how exactly have I coped? Am I a bad mother for coping the way I have? Will I ever feel on top of this?

There are things in my life that have changed for the ‘better’ in the three years since Abi died. We had our first rainbow baby a year after her death. A huge new adjustment on top of the trauma of early grief, no matter how joyful a blessing his arrival was.

There is no doubt at all that he is a blessing and has not only helped us to see hope and feel joy again but has also helped family and friends. This little boy has a clean slate, no trauma or pain or sorrow, no worries or fears, just simple happiness and wonder at what life is. I wish I could bottle that!

We’ve also changed our home in a big way to what it was. We finally have the kitchen of our dreams after years of waiting and dreaming. We have added another bedroom giving us some much-needed space. We’ve had all the manky old carpets replaced and had new double glazing fitted, as well as having most rooms professionally redecorated. Big, expensive jobs that needed a remortgage to achieve but have enabled us to start to love our home again without leaving or eliminating the memory of Abi.

I’m in the final few days of pregnancy as we wait for another baby girl to arrive. We’ve adjusted to our new son and now we know we’ll need to adjust again, through tiredness and worry and fear, through joy and happiness and hope.

I am naturally anxious for a safe delivery and keen to meet her after all these months of getting to know her as she has been growing inside me. I long to see her tiny fingers and toes. To smell her head. To hold her close for a feed. To feel that rush of love whenever I cuddle my child.

But…

…this wasn’t the life I wanted.

Admitting that is hard, very hard, because I know how fortunate I am. But when someone is going through a major trial, saying ‘there are others worse off than you’ often doesn’t help at all.

I know there are other people living in terrible situations and I am thankful for what I have been blessed with. If I died tomorrow, I would be very happy with what I have achieved in my life.

But still… this wasn’t the life I wanted.

I look at my amazing kitchen, the one that replaced cupboards hanging off the walls, rotting wood and a grotty floor. It’s now clean, bright and functional. I like it, knowing it’s new and just as we want it makes my life easier, but the joy of it has never been felt.

Because now, of course, material things don’t matter. It has helped lift my spirits, as having a nice kitchen that looks clean when I’ve cleaned it helps me when I feel depressed. Having a home that I know we have invested in and that has space to spread out helps me not feel so hemmed in. I feel comfortable in rather than irritated by my surroundings. But I’d still switch it all back in a heartbeat to have her back, to be back to complaining about my old kitchen or lack of storage.

It’s similar with our new child and this pregnancy. I can feel at times a sense of sorrow. Sorrow that I’m living on. Sorrow that I’m taking such joy in my new children knowing what I’ve lost. Sorrow that my other children have had to adjust to this too, but live with their own anxieties about illness and death that we have to try and help them with.

I feel love and happiness for my rainbows, how can I not?! The love I feel for them is so deep it hurts. In many ways they have saved us from despair. Yet I can’t ever feel the simple joy of a new parent at the arrival of a baby, because it’s always tinged with pain.

I know people who have lost a child and wanted another, it’s natural to want to feel that rush of love again, but to think that it would somehow replace the grief, or make it less painful, is misguided.

To have another baby or babies after a loss brings up unique emotions. Despite wanting the baby more than anything, you realise that this child is here because another is not. That the grief you felt for your lost child is what helped create this new one. That part of them is in this new baby, when your core is screaming out for your dead child.

It’s an admittedly negative way to reflect on the birth of a child, but it’s essential to acknowledge. Grief and blessing when blended together bring emotions that no one can warn you about. Life is always a complex mix of looking simultaneously forwards with hope and backwards with regret.

I realised that I’ve been thinking thoughts like this recently. I suppose a typical mother’s guilt response to the excitement I feel at having another child after thinking my chances of having any more children were over before Abi died. I also recognise it as typical pre-birth jitters, the fear of the change and of the whole aspect of ‘coping’.

It is my grief’s way of taking the edge off my joy as I marvel at my blessings. Life is not about simple joys any more, there will always be an underlying emotion, a fear, a hankering for what once was…

Yet I am grateful for life.
I am grateful for the people in my life.
I am grateful for Abi.
I try not to live with regret.
I try to move forward each day.
I try to use what I have learned.

I am realising it is possible to cope. That joy through grief is still joy, and that in fact the grief I feel is actually a way of keeping Abi close to me as my life and needs change.

This post may seem somewhat sombre, self-pitying, defeatist but it’s those kind of thoughts I don’t want to keep to myself. It’s those kinds of thoughts that are taboo, that isolate the grieving from others. I have to release them in order to cope.

No. I didn’t want this, but it’s what I have and I will allow the sad feelings to accompany me along with the good. I will remember that my life’s perspective is changed for the better because of what I have been through, even though my perspective on mortality has changed for the worse.

My children have enriched my life, I only hope that I can return that gift by enriching theirs.

image