Guard your grieving heart

For many bereaved parents – coping with the worst thing that could ever happen – the next most awful thing is thinking about other people who might be affected by a similar fate. It’s distressing to think that anyone else might have to experience what you have, especially if it could have been prevented.

It’s a good idea to consider the things that are supporting you through your grief, and what is adding to your grief. In my recent post on Still Standing Magazine, I suggested some healthy ways to use social media in grief. Social media is a lifeline for us, but it also makes the world a much smaller place. Now, it’s a matter of a few clicks to find hundreds of people who have lost ‘exactly’ like you have. It can be distressing as the realisation comes that life’s fragility is more certain than its longevity.
Superhuman grief strength makes for super humans!

Forget ultramarathons though, nothing can match a grieving mother’s mental and physical strength (dads too, of course). I liken the strength to that of a woman in labour. The moment of crowning when animal instincts take over and she finds power that she never knew she had, despite overwhelming exhaustion, to push the baby out.

Grief pains create a similar inner strength. Often this is channelled into something worthy… a legacy, a charity, a cause. This work saves lives. Brings hope. Comforts the brokenhearted.

It’s important to remember that almost every campaign, whether small like my book or large like MP Carolyn Harris’s recent victory to scrap children’s burial fees, is driven by the strength of grief. There is a parent who is the driving force of the work. There is a child no longer here because of the work that needed to be done.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the work that has been borne out of a loss which, unlike a normal job, can’t be resigned from easily. Once you start offering support, or to lead a campaign, or fundraising, or write a self-help book, whatever it might be, where does it end? Do you now feel obligated to help heal the world indefinitely? Maybe so, it’s no bad thing, but only so long as it is beneficial for you also…

If that person, that project, that campaign could be handled well by anyone else tomorrow, how would you feel? If the answer is ‘free’, ‘relieved’, ‘better able to cope with your own life’, then it might be worth considering delegating some of your work, stepping back for a period or even completely.

Look after you, so you can look after them

Early on, I felt surrounded by grieving mothers, having never identified with one (not openly anyway) previously. The loss upon loss was heartbreaking. Each story had its own trauma, shock and anger. It’s not just the taking on of other’s emotions but also the sudden awareness that early death and trauma happens to so many people, every single day. The despair sets in and pushes hope out.

It’s important to find some kind of balance. Always check in with yourself. If the person or thing lifts you up, or you look forward to seeing them/doing it, that’s a sign to do more of it. If it drains you or brings you into a depressive or anxious state, step away even for a short time and pursue something more healing and restorative for as long as you need.

I’m not suggesting you stop helping others, or that what you have worked for isn’t worth the stress on you, some people have to be the driving force because there is simply nobody else. The world needs people that care about each other. I’m saying, with as much love as I can, that it is not your responsibility to help everyone, even if they are experiencing exactly what you have.

So, guard your heart. Be aware of your own physical and mental health. Take a step back regularly, reassess what you’re doing and why. Check in to see if there is anything that could be done differently. Healing is a lifetime process that comes in the most unexpected ways, and in its own time. Running from that is unlikely to do you any good, but walking slowly with it is the kindest thing you can do, for you.

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Sunday Notes: Is the Easter story too scary for children?

Having just celebrated Easter, I noticed a definite preference for bunnies and chocolate than the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. Beliefs aside, I wonder if it’s because we feel death is too hard for our children to understand… bunnies are better… right?

I read a blog a few weeks ago where a mother complained about Christianity being taught in schools. That she didn’t want her child to be exposed to stories of torture, human cruelty and the horrific execution that is crucifixion. Especially as an atheist, she didn’t see why her children should learn this distressing aspect of a religion which is supposed to claim a loving creator God. (I’m not saying this mother’s opinion is wrong, I wouldn’t want my child doing yoga in school because it goes against my beliefs, she’s of course within her rights to say the same about what offends her unbelief. This is about what we should tell our children about the real events around Easter.)

I could understand her point, as a mother, I have wanted to protect my children from the death and evil in this world as much as anyone. To focus on the good is the most natural thing in the world. My four-year-old refers to Jesus as ‘baby Jesus’, so to explain to him that the man hanging on the cross is Jesus grown up wasn’t the easiest thing. But I explained it as simply as I could, and he grasped it. He said it was sad and in the same breath talked about Buzz Lightyear.

Watching the news with my 10-year-old son, my heart was broken to see tears roll down his cheeks at the fighting in Syria. The confusion on his face as he watched news story after news story about humans terrorising each other not just in far away countries but in his own county. The evil in this world shown on TV is far more distressing than the story of Jesus.

My younger son starts school this year and already I’m saddened at exposing him to the big wide world that is school life. The anxiety as he learns new things and his world expands, the struggle of trying to find his place among a classroom and being told off for not doing the expected thing. School of course, has so much excitement to it, but I know that it brings fear and worry too. But of course he must do it, to live a protected life away from other people is not to live at all. I want him to find his way to God through an understanding of what happened, not that Jesus brought him some chocolate.

At Christmas, we throw ourselves all in… with bells on. Christians and non-Christians alike gather gifts and decorations to express their joy of the season. The school plays often feature a nativity where the children learn that a baby was born and that’s why we are all doing this Christmas thing. It’s an innocent, happy occasion. A baby Jesus is the most harmless image in the world. We are comfortable with a chubby baby, gentle shepherds and donkeys.

Easter, which in the Christian church is like Christmas with extra tinsel, is the marking of the resurrection of the King. The cornerstone of our beliefs. It’s our biggest day.

But Jesus’s death must come first.

I attended the Good Friday service at my church as usual and saw familiar faces and a reasonable attendance, but it was nothing exceptional. There were a number of empty seats.

The Good Friday service is reflective but there are hymns and crafts for children and we think about the way Jesus’s death relates to our lives, to who we are. As a bereaved mother, I often think of Mary watching her son be strung up by these hunters. And, while my own grief is opened up, I take immense comfort from this.

Still, it’s about death, no one really wants to talk about that bit. Why celebrate death? Where is the love in all this?

By contrast, Easter Sunday service is heaving, standing room only. So many new faces and a buzz of celebration. The party is here…

Outside of church, in the family life, there are chocolate, eggs, bunnies and chicks. We have made Easter colourful, fluffy and child-friendly, we can focus our attention on the commercial aspect of buying gifts and treats. ‘Jesus has risen from the… erm… oh, but look, let’s go and find some chocolate!’

Can children not cope with the evil in this world, the evil way Jesus was killed? I find that they can. I have struggled myself in the past to explain the story to my children, I know it’s not easy. But children can handle far more than we realise. My children aged just 5 and 10 had to handle the sudden traumatic death of their much loved sister at home. All children will experience a personal loss of some kind. I like to teach them that because Jesus was God, he knew that the people wouldn’t understand and would be scared so they would kill him, which is an emotion where most of the evil in the world today comes from anyway. But he also knew that he would come back to life, not as a spooky ghost but as a living breathing man. I teach them that because he is God, he came back to show us that he loves us and has a wonderful place for us to go to, when it’s our turn to die.

Celebrating is great, but sometimes we can learn a lot from the tough stuff. The Easter story is not meant to be frightening, it’s meant to be the most hopeful, comforting story we humans have and that, in my opinion, is the most important story of all.

5 ways to do self-care when you’re grieving

Self-care is a power hashtag. Women of all ages and stages of life, in particular, are proclaiming the importance of making time for themselves amidst the busyness of life. Self-care encompasses anything that helps us unwind or makes us feel good, even for a moment, from little things such as sipping a hot cup of coffee and reading a book to spa weekends and aerobic workouts. The point is to not forget about you while you’re busy spinning numerous plates, and particularly when life is going wrong or is throwing up more challenges than usual. Taking a moment to care for ourselves is one way to help us find hope and restoration when we are up against it.

Instagram is one place that people share the ‘self-care’ moments. A quick search calls up nearly 500,000 posts, the majority of which are are exercise, beauty or food related. It can be easy to compare how we ‘invest in ourselves’. The gorgeous picture of a beautifully designed latte froth or candles by the bath can all feel a little unrealistic, and also that having this moment somehow makes everything okay, the audience are reassured, we’ve admitted a struggle but don’t worry it’s not too messy…

But we all know that Instagram gives only one view. In fact, one of the simplest forms of self-care is to switch off your devices and avoid the temptation to compare altogether.

Self-care is not just a nice thing to do, it’s not just a nice photo, it’s an essential part of survival. Taking time for yourself will lift a mood, improve self-esteem and dilute stress to name a few benefits. I find it makes me calmer, less irritable and clears my mind.

Being kind to yourself when you are grieving

Because grief is so personal, how you find your peace is also different for each person. In the early stages of grief, people want you to feel better. Good friends will support you with food, company, or practical tasks to ease the pressure. In my grief, I didn’t know what I needed and felt guilty for any act of self-care. When you’re grieving, self-care in the traditional sense is very hard to do. I had been a busy working mum who made time for regular exercise, reading books and lunches with friends, but found I couldn’t do any of these. It was another layer of grief to lose my ‘self’ too.

It was two years before I could do anything remotely relaxing. I tried a gentle exercise class with meditation but my anxiety went through the roof as I lay there feeling my heartbeat slowing. As the group were guided into peace and relaxation, I felt a panic attack developing. Suddenly I was being transported to Abi’s hospital bed and experiencing how it must have felt for her to die. I was forced to close my eyes yet I felt tears coming. Meditation was like dying to me. Despite being fit, exercise had a similar effect and triggered panic attacks, so I avoided anything that raised my heart rate.

I finally went for a facial, but again, I had to fight the urge to run. It’s crazy as it seems such an innocent, ‘lovely’ thing to do. I wanted to talk about trivial stuff as she applied the lotions, to help distract my mind from the expectation of relaxing, but the therapist insisted on turning the lights down and being as quiet as possible (which would be great normally but not when that reminded me of a dimly-lit intensive care ward).

I couldn’t read a book for years after Abi died. I read, oh yes, I read a lot, but it was all about grief, death, therapy related. I read a lot about faith as I sought answers to my questions. There was no head room for escapism in popular fiction.

In those early years, I had to find a way to care for myself without the painful reminders and anxieties. It wasn’t easy. I had to think outside the box. Here are five ways I found time for myself:

Journalling – It’s no surprise that writing became my main way of relaxing. I mixed it up between blogging on the computer and writing in journals. Writing using ink and paper is actually very therapeutic as it works on different parts of your brain, enabling you to process and release emotion. It was this that inspired my grief journal. I always feel calmer after a writing session.

Walking – Being outside getting fresh air is a popular stress reliever. In my grief haze, I’d look intently at the details of everything: the patterns on the pavement, the shapes of the trees, the clouds and skies. Walking allowed my mind to wander and helped me process my thoughts. However, on difficult days the walks needed to be somewhere different, so I could be anonymous, as the fear and stress of having conversations with people I’d bump into was too much.

Resting – Not wanting to see anyone is a common aspect of grief. Just having a space at home to be peaceful but without going out was helpful. My bedroom often is a place I like to lie down in the day, as I can look out of the window, watch the birds and clouds, rest and reflect. With a busy home, finding solitude is near impossible but I grabbed moments when I could.

Showering – Baths are nice but often too much hassle with a busy family, and again they gave me too much time to think, but showers I have found to be therapeutic. There’s something about the water pouring over you and down that washes you clean yet cloaks you in warmth and comfort. It’s a safe, quiet place to cry and pray.

Photography – Being behind the lens gives me a fresh perspective on what I’m seeing. By focusing on the detail of a moment, I can almost step inside it, and forget the overwhelm and fog around me. This is why Instagram is my preferred social media app, as it’s a way of sharing images without the information overload of the other networks.

These self-care moments helped walk me through the bad and not so bad days. Exercise, facials, meditation, could all wait until I was ready. Four years after Abi died I started to read fiction again. Five years on and I felt able to exercise. I have enjoyed a massage at a spa. My creative mind has returned and I have written books, and been able to genuinely enjoy crafts I once loved such as knitting and baking.

It may sound like I’ve returned to myself and that I’ve recovered the person that I lost, but that’s not entirely true. I still struggle and have wobbles. I still use food as a comforter. I have some dark periods where everything feels hopeless, but knowing ways I can help myself, gently, without guilt or fear, goes a long way to getting me through them.

What about you? What are the ways you look after yourself through difficult times?

The baby nobody mentions

Dates are always important when you’re grieving and even though I try hard not to get on the anniversary train, it’s impossible not to think of ‘this time xx years ago’.

Abi died on 10th February 2013 aged 12 years old. I’ve posted before about the days leading up to us turning off her life support. We have four days of being reminded and also trying not to remember. But, in truth, this period of mourning starts much sooner than this. Of course, I think of Abi every day, but 26th January is a particular day that no one but me secretly remembers.

On that date, we celebrated as Abi finally graded for her black belt in kung-fu, something she loved and had worked hard for over four years.

On that date, I mourned the death of my baby… what would have been our fourth child.

I recall the overwhelming emotional effort to hide the fact, to hide my shame and despair. It very nearly broke me. But I focused on Abi, on all my happy, healthy children. It was all I could do not to go insane.

Having decided to have a fourth child, I had miscarried our first attempt at 7 weeks, just as I was coming round to the idea of being pregnant again. Yet, to my utter surprise, just five weeks later I was already pregnant again. I was so confused by my dates that I didn’t realise until I was eight weeks gone. So, when I did find out, I was convinced this one was meant to be.

But it wasn’t. Early scans showed problems.

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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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

For more information click the JustGiving logo below:

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.

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