Loving my children after losing my child

While, of course, I loved my children before Abi died, that love has changed quite dramatically since.

I gave birth to Abi, back in 2000, and it wasn’t long before my second child was on her way. She arrived when Abi was 22 months old. Back then, I worked 4 days a week and my husband and I had been married just three years. We’d just about settled into our first home together when we had to move to a larger house. I’d only been in my new job about three months. There was a lot going on. On top of that, I suffered what I later realised was Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following my second child’s birth. It was fast, furious and unbelievably painful, and a stress to both me and my child that still has repercussions today.

Life felt hard. It’s fair to say, I can’t remember much of the early years with the two girls and I’m thankful for the photos we took, as it reminds me that it was – in the main – a good time in our lives.

But back then our lives were like many other people’s – more about getting stuff done, getting us to places, sorting things out, stressing about work. There wasn’t much time to water the roses let alone stop and smell them! We complained about all the ‘normal’ problems of parenting that I see countless people complaining about online today. At times, I’m sure it felt like my children were sent to ruin me, not bring me joy!

After a few years had passed and life seemed more settled, and me recovered, we had another child, this time a son. His home birth was much more positive and calm. I finally felt in control and confident in what I was doing. Life was good again, and we were more able to see the wood for the trees and appreciate each other. We made some really good memories. But it still had its challenges, challenges that almost tipped us over the edge, challenges that – today – mean nothing…

When Abi died, in 2013, I seemed to remember every time I lost my rag with her, or ignored her or didn’t go to an assembly because I was working… I regretted a lot. Yet I also began to remember the things I thought I’d forgotten. Memories of the little girl came back to me, they were always there, just squashed by the trials of life.

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Dealing with my son’s sudden illness while grieving my daughter’s sudden death

Experiencing one of my children falling suddenly ill has revealed much about how grief has impacted me, as a mother who is grieving the sudden death of another of my children.

Last weekend, my son scared us. The anxiety and fear flooded back in and we fought with everything we had to hold it together.

Losing Abi was the worst thing imaginable

When we lost Abi, we were reassured by the doctors, as best they could, that her brain haemorrhage was a one-off, a rare and unpredictable bursting of blood vessels in her brain stem. There was nothing they or we could have done to detect it or prevent it.

It started on 6th February 2013. Abi blacked out at school momentarily and fell down against a handrail. She laughed it off initially, as she wasn’t a clumsy child, but she had hurt her back when she fell. I picked her up from school when she text me to tell me her back really hurt (she brushed off the faint as it was so short). It was unusual for her to complain about anything so I was happy to go and get her.

After an uneventful day at home, I just assumed she needed a day off school to get over any bruising. She seemed OK until about 8.30pm when she suddenly said she felt terrible, it was like she was coming down with ‘flu. By 9.30pm she was in a coma on our bed and we were performing CPR on her. Terrified. Four long days later we turned off her life support.

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How I found faith in church after losing my child

Picture the scene: It’s Sunday morning. Our church holds three morning services. Early doors for the quiet ones, 9.30am for the traditional worshippers (organ and choir) and 11.15am for the ‘modern’ worshippers and those with children. With three children, you can imagine which one we go to!

We rush, ever on the side of being late rather than early. Our older children are dragging their feet, having been forced away from the comfy sofa and electronics. Our toddler is charging ahead, keen to get to the toys!

We enter to smiling faces from the welcome team, people who volunteer to say hello and help visitors when they arrive. The church is bustling, so much so that I think there must be an event on! There are familiar and new faces mingling together. The last of the coffee is being served and our three head straight for the biscuit barrel (a bit of bribery on the way!) and each choose one before taking their usual seats.

My hubby busies himself with coats and chatting to another dad about football. We are seated with other families with children, old and young, and new parents with babies in prams. There are also couples soon to be married seated somewhat nervously at the back, waiting to hear banns read. There are couples who’ve been married for decades, there are single people and friends sitting together. There is a pretty even spead of men and women, and the congregation includes people from many different backgrounds and heritages.

I take in the mix of people attending this service and it is pretty humbling and also uplifting- especially having read only a few days before how church attendance is dwindling as the elderly population die off! To see the range of ages was really encouraging. The people in this place were not ‘strange’ or ‘a minority’, they were there simply to be with like-minded people to worship the God of creation, to take time to reflect on their lives and situations. It didn’t feel ‘religious’, it felt natural.

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The dark side of grief – craving escape from the mental and physical pain of loss

I recently went for my first month check-up at the doctors, to see how I’ve settled taking the antidepressants.

For anyone who has not taken antidepressants before, or who hasn’t experienced anxiety – and especially for those grieving mummas out there who are finding that anxiety and depression are adding to their grief, I wanted to share my experience.

Firstly though, I want to stress that feelings and emotions around anxiety and grief are different for everybody. I may know someone who feels similar things to me, but it will still be unique and personal to the individual. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your mind as well as your body and seek help.

Anxiety, however, is a mental illness, grief is not and it can be very hard to tell the difference especially when you are living it day in day out. A big problem for me about why I got to this point, was when I told anyone my story (ie, my daughter’s sudden death) and that I had anxiety they responded with ‘Of course you’re anxious, you’re grieving’ and then the anxiety was ignored because it was put down to grief. This created a build-up of symptoms that led me to the brink of breakdown –  I simply couldn’t cope if grief was going to be this horrible to me.

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Family dynamics after the death of a child

We have just returned from a holiday in the New Forest, in Hampshire, UK. We went last year our first proper family holiday since Abi died, and found it to be a very healing place to go. We found the thought of visiting our usual holiday spots simply too difficult without Abi with us.

A big part of grief is realizing that so many favourite places become out of bounds, at least for the first few years. In fact, the whole concept of ‘holiday’ has changed for us now. We find it hard to plan ahead, to choose destinations, to get excited about going anywhere without all our children with us.

This year, we invited one of our daughter’s friends with us. She’s a lovely girl who has been friends with my daughter for many years through primary school. Even though they now go to different secondary schools, they have remained close. Continue reading

Book review: Through the eyes of a lion, Levi Lusko

I was contacted by the publicist in Nashville, Tennessee, for the pastor and author Levi Lusko, to review a copy of his first book, Through the eyes of a lion.

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The press release said:

‘On December 20, 2012, five-year-old Lenya Lusko went to heaven while in her parents’ arms after a massive, unexpected asthma attack. With a ferocious personality and hair that had been wild and mane-like since birth, they called her ‘Lenya Lion’. But a few days before Christmas, Levi and Jennie Lusko had to leave the hospital without their vibrant daughter.

After Lenya’s death, Levi had to make a choice – one that anyone going through dramatic events has to make – to give up or to live. In Through the eyes of a lion, Levi explains why he chose to live, and not just survive – but live with the fire and passion that comes from acknowledging that there is more in this life than what can be seen with the naked eye.’

One afternoon, I had a few hours to myself so I decided to start the book. I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I got a highlighter out and highlighted sections that reached out to me most. I read the book in two sittings, which is pretty impressive as reading for ‘pleasure’ for any length of time has been hard for me since Abi died. I have only managed an hour at most. It even inspired this post which I shared about my faith.

There was much about the story which resonated with me. From the way Lenya died so suddenly. That her parents were with her when she passed. That she was one of four children. And that Levi encourages us to see life with fresh eyes – to see what has been invisible to us until now.

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Thoughts of God and Grief – reflections on suffering

It’s been a while since I wrote about my faith. I’ve been somewhat stuck in a mental block of grief and anxiety. But I read a book the other day that resonated so much with me that I found almost an awakening. I will be reviewing that book in another blog post, but I found myself pouring out words of faith, words that have been muted up to now.

Writing about my faith isn’t always easy, mostly because I don’t want to alienate those readers who don’t believe the same. But I can only hope that my words spark some thought and continue to bring comfort. My religious posts are the least popular, I presume because people simply don’t want to know, can’t relate or dislike the idea they might be ‘preached to’. One thing I’ve learned about talking to bereaved people is not to talk about God! But if my words speak to one other grieving parent I will know it has been worth writing.

In the not too distant past, religion and belief played a key part of everyone’s lives. Life was fragile, death was a daily fear no matter what age. As we have developed ways of extending our lives and knowing more about how to keep ourselves healthy, we have settled into a frame of mind that is no longer fearful of our death and now more about enjoying life, getting pleasure from material things, chasing personal goals and aspirations.

We grow up believing that we will live to a ripe old age, that we have plenty of time. So we don’t need to worry about God anymore, we don’t need to think about ‘what’s next’. When death takes someone we love, we are surprised, shocked, angry that it could happen at all, and the trauma stays with us. Yet death is the most certain thing in any life. For every thing that lives will die.

We live as though death is an illness. We live as though death is an inconvenience. We live as though death is the end.

It’s not.

How can it possibly be? Continue reading

A (grieving) mother’s little helper – will antidepressants numb the pain?

I’ve been sitting here staring at the packet for half an hour.

Antidepressants.

These little pills, I know, are offering me the chance to numb my mind for a while from the anxiety and depression that’s taken hold of me. I’ve resisted them for so long that it feels strange to finally be here. As I said in this post, I can’t help feel like I’m failing.

I wonder if I’m really depressed enough to take them. After all, I’m generally okay. I’m not walking the streets in my pyjamas. I don’t feel a black cloud above me all the time. I’m still functioning as I always do, albeit with my mood swinging on a pendulum. I can be switched on one day, enough to write posts like this, but the next I can only stare at the screen blankly, my mind a fog.

But is this enough to start these tablets? I’ve spent over two years avoiding using them. I know this is a last resort for me.

I’ve been here before you see.

Do I really want to go here, again?

The answer is no. I don’t want to go here again, but I feel I must. Continue reading

How did Jesus feel about child loss?

My Bible reading is quite sporadic at the moment, but I have been rereading the gospel of Luke. One morning, I had some time to myself so I picked it up and began to read. It was the time in Jesus’s early ministry when he was healing the sick.

I read about the account of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead.

‘Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. Just as he arrived at the gate of the town, a funeral procession was coming out. The dead man was the only son of a woman who was a widow, and a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart was filled with pity for her, and he said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he walked over and touched the coffin, and the men carrying it stopped. Jesus said, “Young man! Get up, I tell you!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.’
(Luke 7: 11-15)

The words ‘his heart was filled with pity for her’ jumped out at me from the page and repeated over and over in my mind. I continued to read but was drawn back to this passage. It was hard to digest any other words.

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Dreams of moving on

I wrote a post last September about how hard I found it to declutter our home. We were having a car boot sale and kept coming across things that brought back bittersweet memories. Abi’s belongings were still everywhere – a forgotten hairclip, a school pen – and I found the thought of getting rid of things we had ‘when Abi was alive’ (a new marker in our family timeline) too hard to bear. But, a year on, I’ve arrived at a very different place.

In my life, I’m beginning to make changes. Changes that mean I’m starting to move on.

It’s actually taken me a long time to want to write that in a post. ‘Moving on’ is one of the hardest terms I know relating to grief. It makes me feel physically sick and mentally stressed. I have a number of books that all offer ways to help ‘people move on’ that I avoid picking up because to wish it is to want to erase the memory of her. But, it’s essential that I at least try to come to accept it.

This hasn’t come about the easiest way. I haven’t just woken up and thought right, time to ‘get a grip’. The past year has been a huge struggle and I think in large part owing to the fact that, as time moves away from my last day with Abi, I am desperately trying to claw it back. ‘Moving on’ is so very hard when your child is dead.

I was able to realise that I was sinking further and further into depression. I felt like I was standing in sinking sand but had managed to hold on to a branch to stop me being fully submerged. Now, I’ve built up enough energy to try to pull myself out.

I’m looking at my life from the outside in, rather than in the self-absorption of grief. I see a woman who is tired, stressed and lethargic. I see a marriage that is strained. I see a home that is stuck in a time warp, reminding us constantly that we are living with trauma. I see a family suffocated by the memories all around them, in every face they see, every step they take.

Yet, as I try to bring some new order to our home and the daily changes are feeling somewhat positive, and right, I can’t escape the torment that this brings.

At night I dream of Abi and my dreams are stressful. I wake up often with palpitations, my broken heart tearing me from my rest.

I dreamt that my hubby and I had decided that Abi’s ashes needed to be moved. They were buried in our local churchyard and her stone was constantly hidden by mud and dead leaves, so much so it was almost sinking into the earth. So we asked the vicar and some close family to hold another service where we exhumed her box of ashes in order to move it to a nice place.

It was evening. The box was brought out. I held it. It was slightly shabby where it had been buried, the light oak was dark and beginning to rot. I held my girl’s remains and choked back tears.

I remember looking at my hubby and wondering what we were going to do with her ashes; now questioning why we had dug them up in the first place! It was a bit awkward as we realised we had nowhere to put them. I thought that we could put them in a pot and have them at home. I felt a yearning to have Abi close by. But I didn’t voice my thoughts as I knew it wasn’t right. We both knew that, really, she belonged back in the ground.

This dream struck me as my conflicting feelings of wanting to let go (not of Abi but of my grief) yet cling onto Abi and keep her close. I suppose my subconscious was telling me that I can’t bring her back. That the Abi we knew isn’t on Earth anymore, even if her remains are. That I could dig her up and rebury her a thousand times but it wouldn’t change a thing.

I feel, with help, that I can move on in grief. That I can create new memories, as our family is so different to what it was two years ago. I have to let go of a lot of the past. Not of Abi. I will never get over losing her; her life and her death are engraved on my heart. It’s the material and sentimental aspects of grief I feel need to change.

I have to put aside the many photos and mementos, replacing them with simpler versions that enhance rather than dominate our home. We have decided to stay in our house so we will need to completely transform our home into a new space where new memories are made. I want to create a new nest shaped around the remains of what we have. I want to find new interests and ways to use my mind, to spend my time wisely.

I can see, clearly, how in the first two years of grief I have clung to the familiar. Our home and its contents hasn’t changed much. We haven’t travelled far. We’ve stuck to our routines. The familiarity was my comfort blanket. But now that familiarity threatens to draw me into a downward spiral. By keeping things the same, by always everything ‘Abi’, I struggle to find the breathing space I need to live, and that which will allow my other children to just be. And living is what I want to do. I want to treasure this life I have and to live it for Abi as well as for me.

So, while it’ll take time to sort through the clutter that is spilled all over our home, clutter that shows I’ve been clinging onto the loss, and it’ll take money to pay for new carpets and furniture, it’s a transition I feel ready to take, and that’s the most important part. Knowing this feels good and my hope is lifted. I know the journey will be fraught with the guilt and grief that I must feel. I just have to let it be.