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

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.

Coping with Christmas after the death of your child

I’m aware I’ve not written since Abi’s birthday, and there’s a reason.

Like last year, I’ve found myself lost in a blur of grief and unable to write at all. It’s almost like there is so much to say that it’s impossible to write clearly. Sometimes I find that life is back in focus and I’m getting on with things, but then I’m reminded – constantly, what with the coming of Christmas and my duty as mum to make sure my other children feel able to ‘get excited’ – that my darling Abi is dead. That she’ll never open another present. That her Christmases are memories to me now.

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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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Halloween just got scary

[I didn’t post this blog about Halloween at the time, I suppose to avoid offending anyone or to put a damper on the fun, but reading back on it, it’s certainly worth sharing. It’s not a major worry for me now, and who knows how I’ll feel about it in the years to come, but it’s a classic example of how trauma and grief can distort things.]

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Child Benefit… a sore subject for the bereaved parent!

Oh the irony. Having just had a baby, I’ve finally got round to filling out the claim form for child benefit, the same day we receive our first correctly adjusted and reduced payment (for two children instead of three) following Abi’s death 14 months ago.

Dealing with the Child Benefit department at HM Revenue and Customs has perhaps been one of the most upsetting things we’ve had to do since Abi died.

Having received her death certificate (oh how hard that was!), there were a number of practical admin type things we had to change: direct debits to clubs, savings accounts… and child benefit.

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Double grief

Living with grief means that I often sit outside of myself and reflect on my troubled mind. I’ve recognised that my thoughts surrounding my grief are two-fold: I need to deal with the trauma, the post-traumatic stress, from both mine and Abi’s perspective.

First there are my ‘selfish’ thoughts about what happened to ME, a mother suddenly losing her 12-year-old daughter, and then I need to try to comprehend what has happened to HER, the physical pain and reality of the life leaving her body, separating her from all she has ever known.

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New life, new grief

And so, our new baby son was safely born six weeks ago. It’s taken this long for me to have the will to write again, although I’ve jotted thoughts down as they arose and have again found many things surprising.

It was the perfect home birth. Four hours in labour and out he popped, small and perfect. Then a few cups of tea and a doze on the sofa before our other children came down to meet him. I know all too well the importance of a positive birth experience in the emotional recovery of the mother. I’ve experienced the bad side of this myself, but this time it was even more important that I had a good experience. Not just for my well-being but for my husband’s and children’s. We’d all seen enough trauma already.

So we were naturally delighted to meet the little boy whose purpose, it seems, is to give our family new hope. Friends and family have shared our joy and relief that things went well.

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Tie a leopard-print ribbon…

Abi’s memorial has a cherry blossom tree next to it, but it’s only young, having been planted last May with her ashes. The first small buds are starting to form ready for springtime.

So, while it’s still small and not much to look at, it is a poignant reminder that life carries on… Soon there will be pretty pink flowers over Abi, reminding us of her vibrance, joy for life and beauty.

To commemorate Abi’s passing, we bought lots of small ribbons in bright colours… blues, pinks and funky leopard print.

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We tied them all over the tree and were really pleased with the result. It looks pretty for a young teen and suits her style.

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Even so, we can’t believe that this is all we can do for her, but at least it’s something. Tending a grave or memorial is such a vital part of still feeling like her mother, by doing practical, motherly things for her; just like I would help her with choosing hair accessories or makeup, I want to ensure she always has pretty flowers and looks presentable.

I have no idea how we will do this over the years… will our tributes change as she ages, or will she always be aged 12/13 in our eyes? That is something we can’t possibly decide now and will have to face with time.