In pursuit of happiness (in grief)

As I was waiting for my son, I stood next to another mum with a young boy. She laughed and smiled as she tickled her toddler’s tummy and said cheerfully to me, ‘Doesn’t this good weather make you feel so much better!?’ I gave one of my template smiles in response. She was a lovely woman, clearly enjoying life at the moment.

That was me, once.

I can’t smile blissfully and appreciate a sunny day as a reason to be happy. I won’t ever again think the weather makes me ‘feel better’ – sunny days are shrouded in a dull gloom.

As it happens, the sun does make the days easier to bear than the dull days, but they only mask what is always inside, briefly turning the darkness to light. Other people’s sudden joy has me running for cover.

Grief is like staying indoors on the sunniest day. Some days, you don’t care that it’s sunny outside, you keep your pyjamas on and bolt the door. Other days, you are desperate to get out and feel the warm sun on your face, but the door is stuck fast and no matter how hard you try you can’t get out, you’re trapped.

That’s grief.

At this point in my grief journey I have discovered how my anger and emotion has retreated inward. My mind and body feel at war, resulting in paranoia, fear, frustration and pain. Yet I’m trying to smile through it all, to experience happiness again. I want to be ‘healed’ of my sorrow more than anything, believe me, but grief is an incurable illness. I just have to learn somehow to live with it.

Happiness is something my family wish for me, too. My daughter made this badge for me a few months after Abi died, a simple gesture which expressed so much. I carry it in my purse as a reminder to see life through her childlike eyes rather than my weary, sorrowful ones.

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My children want a happy mum, and my hubby certainly wants his happy wife back. But ‘happy’ feels like a swear word to me. I wince at the very mention of it. I shy away from admitting a happy moment, wracked with guilt and feeling confused. But, in order to survive, I must find a kind of happiness or this grief will eat me away like a disease.

I do feel happy feelings. I smile when my baby laughs or does something clever. I can laugh and even crack jokes. I’m still the same me, only shattered into pieces that don’t quite fit like they used to. Love is my only glue.

But grief is a heartbreaker and a homewreaker.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my hubby more than ever but, boy, it’s hard to live on different levels of grief all the time, to see each other every day and be reminded of the pain, to be reminded of our first child’s life and sudden death, to have to parent our other children ‘normally’ through our deep sadness and anxieties.

I can understand why marriages fall apart with the strain, it seems almost inevitable. It’s so much harder to ‘move on’ while staying together, than to split up and start afresh. But we are, so far. We’ve been married 16 years next month, but it’s almost as though we started again the day Abi died. Things changed, our relationships changed. Family became fractured. It’s ‘us’ but not as we’ve always known it.

I conserve whatever happiness I can muster for my hubby and children, and them alone. I have nothing left for anyone else. There’s no one I need to please or give myself to but them, and God. That’s hard to live with though. I don’t care much now for surprising, gift buying, and putting others first. At the moment, grief wants me all to itself.

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Just like the recent solar eclipse, grief came like a shadow and covered my happiness, blocking it from those I love most. The difference is that my eclipse shadow isn’t moving across like it should. It moves a fraction to allow a glimmer of light through but won’t budge any further.

That sounds like depression… you know, the dark clouds and all that, but it’s not depression, it’s grief – the death of my eldest child that cast a permanent shadow over my life. While the clouds of depression pass over, grief itself is not a gloomy cloud that will simply blow away.

As unbelievable as it sounds, I’m not feeling self-pity, strangely. I’m ever considering that I’m not the only one in this world who is unhappy, who has lost somebody. I am actually very thankful for all that I have had and have today. I know too well I’m not alone. I don’t feel sorry for myself, despite my experiences. I cling to hope and to the promise of God’s unconditional love.

So, I will look for reasons to smile and be thankful no matter how heavy my heart is. With every smile or every laugh I know I am trying: trying to live, trying to make sense of the pain, trying to adjust, trying to somehow find happiness again.

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How TV alienates the grieving

I saw a trailer on Sky the other day for the next big thing in hospital drama – Critical. A fictional series based on saving (or not) the life of a patient filmed in real-time (over an hour). The filming looks slick and the actors serious. It’s sold as being ‘ground-breaking and the most realistic hospital drama to date’.

Great!

Not!

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I’ve long-since wanted to write about why I find watching TV so hard now. Since Abi died, every telly programme seems to feature a death, a trauma, an argument, distress, pain, gore, fear… I instantly felt alienated by my TV, which is something we use every day for a bit of light relief. We’ve been living on trivia and gentle humour – endless episodes of QI, Would I Lie to You?, anything with Jimmy Carr in it and the comediens that usually feature with him. I’ve pretty much exhausted all those and have moved on to Top Gear now! My new ‘happy pill’. Sigh.

We have the whole Virgin Media Cable TV package, yet we can only watch a fraction of the channels simply because we can’t bear the programmes that are put out. Each night we scroll through the listings and there is nothing cheery on at all! And all of it sandwiched by the News, which isn’t much better (I’ve written about how I conquered that particular battle here)! We’ve even got Sky Movies and Netflix to widen up our choices, and some days I just put on a Disney Pixar film as that’s all I can handle!

The hard thing about this is that we used to really enjoy watching telly. We could easily watch a good old murder mystery – Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise, Silent Witness etc – but we’ve not watched one since February 2013. Not that Abi was murdered, but it’s that these programmes inevitably have blood in, a dead body, perhaps a scene with someone performing CPR, grief, crying… ahhhh!

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Then the endless shows about bodies and health! We used to enjoy watching Casualty or ER, pretty easy viewing for a Saturday night, but now I rush to the remote if anything remotely medical is on the screen.

Every channel, every night there is something about death and trauma – it could be a drama like Holby City, this new Critical, or a documentary-style show like Benidorm ER, 24 hours in A&E, or as I’ve said, gritty crime thrillers.

We used to watch these shows just like ‘everyone else’. They didn’t bother us much at all, they were happening to other people. In fact some of the documentaries gave fascinating insights into how much our NHS staff have to put up with to save lives day in day out, and I feel it’s stuff we need to see in order to understand what goes on. But I can’t watch anything now. I see someone pass into death (the flatline is just horrendous!) and I am thrown back to the moment my daughter died. I see blood and CPR and I’m thrown back to the terrible moment I had to perform CPR on my daughter when she collapsed. I see people crying, screaming, pretend grieving and it cuts deep to know I feel it for real.

It is easy to say ‘switch it off then’, ‘read a book or do something else’. But our bedtime routine is long and drawn out, putting our children to bed; our days are hard trying to get on and live normally. TV is our escape and watching light-hearted silliness for an hour is essential to help us unwind before trying to go sleep. The Rev. Kate Bottley from Gogglebox once said something about how her day is a mixture of highs and lows – one minute she’s burying a baby, the next she’s dancing around at a school assembly – so she watches ‘trashy’ telly as a way to zone out a bit from the day. I totally get that. One minute I’m mourning Abi, the next I’m laughing on the floor with my children – a constant life/death ride.

We live with real life trauma and sorrow and hardship every day and I feel it’s becoming ‘critical’ that TV offers us more in the way of positive stuff, shows that inspire and give us a lift. I’m all for pretending, but why not do pretending happy instead of pretending sad?

So, as ‘brilliantly accurate’ as Critical may be, I won’t be watching. I’ll be too busy channel hopping!

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What on earth do I say to a bereaved mum? It’s simple, STALL

It can seem like there’s plenty of advice about what not to do when it comes to grief. I’ve written a number of emotional posts about how some people get it ‘wrong’ when talking (or not!) to a beavered parent, such as this one and this one. While my rants are only one element of my complex grief emotion, I am, in the main, very accepting that people can’t be expected to ‘get it right’ all the time when dealing with such a sensitive issue (though I have heard some true howlers!).

But there are times when it’s worth knowing just what bereaved mums like me want from our friends and acquaintances particularly in the early days.

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You are my sunshine – a birthday poem

My darling Abi,

I recall you lying on your changing mat when you were a tiny baby
Those early months just you and me while Daddy was at work
Finding my feet with this miraculous little person
Who had grown inside me for nine months

I found I would sing ‘You are my sunshine’ to entertain you
It came so naturally to sing that song, it became ‘your song’
I know why now…

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
you make me happy, when skies were grey,
you’ll never know dear
how much I love you,
please don’t take my sunshine away….

You were my light and my joy, but now you’re gone
The light has dimmed.

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I dreamt of you

In my morning sleep, the sleep before the day begins, I saw you

Clear, real, here

You were standing on the landing, in the doorway to our bedroom.

From my bed, I talked to you

Like I used to

You up and ready for the day

Me rousing from sleep

You looked a year or two older, taller too

Your hair still long and golden

Your face was beautiful

Luminous and radiant

xxx

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Baptism blessings

On Sunday 26th October, we baptised our 12-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son and 8-month-old baby. It feels remarkably comforting and joyful to say this.

It’s been cleansing for me too, as I fell away from my faith for a number of years. It seemed to heal the hurt that I’d experienced, to dissolve the anger I’d once had with Church.

The day started well as all the children were well! The baby had a sniffle but I’d been praying for us and the godparents to keep well amidst the endless rounds of seasonal colds and tummy bugs, so I was glad we were all okay.

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Celebration blues

I’ve not been blogging or networking much lately. I’ve been feeling run down, very low about Abi and generally snowed under with work and family life. I feel flat and pretty much overwhelmed as again we face more special occasions without our girl.

It’s particularly busy this weekend as it was my hubby’s 40th birthday yesterday and we are also having our children baptised… all three together … on Sunday. It should be a wonderful time of celebration and excitement, but when you’re living with loss, times like this turn into the bleakest of winter days.

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Word of the Week: Loss

It’s World Mental Health Day today, slap bang in the middle of Baby Loss Awareness Week. So I’ve been thinking of loss – physical loss, mental loss and biblical loss!

Of losing three pregnancies in my life, of the little beans that I didn’t get to meet. Of little Bella who we thought would bring more joy to our already happy home, which then turned into such a tragic story of baby and child loss. I’m pretty realistic when it comes to pregnancy. I know it doesn’t always go to plan, that if a pregnancy ends in the early days then it’s not meant to be, but it doesn’t make it any easier to have that hope taken away. It’s a physical and mental loss.

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For instructions on grief, please read this leaflet…

Dear Doctor,

You’ve stood with me on this journey

You saw my daughter being rushed into your ICU

You stabilised her

You kept her young body going

Gave us hope after hope that she might wake up

You showed empathy when that hope was gone

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