My failures as a grieving mum

I’ve failed.

Life seems fractured.

Daily events feel insurmountable.

Relationships are strained and unstable.

Work is challenging.

Motivation to care, about much, is gone.

I’m sharing this deeply personal post because I know for sure that I’m not alone. That out there are other mothers, in mourning, trying to hold it all together, being strong every second, achieving amazing things just by getting through a day but feeling like a failure throughout it all. I want to reassure those readers that they are not failures, but that the feeling of failure is normal living with what we do.

Failure is a cruel term. How can I possibly have failed at anything?

I am loved.

I am safe.

I am provided for.

I’ve read all the posts, seen all the ‘grief charts’, know the lingo of the phases and stages… but I’ve yet to see the word ‘failure’ mentioned.

As an independent and determined woman, I worked hard to carve out a career and a stable family home. Then death came knocking at my door and decided to pull the rug from under me.

The feeling of failure is huge, but in order to shrink it I’ve tried to consider exactly where and why I feel I’ve failed.

Continue reading “My failures as a grieving mum”

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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.

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

Children’s books about death and dying

There are numerous children’s books out there which focus on death and dying. I thought it would be useful to share our favourites with readers.

We have always loved reading to our children, it’s a part of our daily bedtime routine. When Abi died, we turned to books as a way to share our feelings, comfort our children and prompt discussion about what happened. We’ve tried books of all kinds recommended to us, but the ones I’ve listed below are the stories we find we return to again and again.

Some aren’t even about death but are ways to reinforce love and security in your child, which is particularly useful at bedtime.

While we have faith, these books are not religious (except for the books at the bottom) and don’t mention God, angels, heaven (other than Up in Heaven, which only refers to heaven as a place rather than relating it to God, although I feel referring to heaven is more easily understood than saying up in the sky, which can be worrying to a child). Even the Waterbugs and Dragonflies story isn’t religious in itself, despite being written by a pastor, you take from it what you will. Being clear about what you believe is important to children and these books offer comfort at a time when life (and death) is confusing.

I recommend keeping a copy of any of these handy if you have children up to about age 12 who are asking questions about death, know of someone who has died or who have experienced a bereavement in the family.

I’ve added links to each book to Amazon’s UK website, where you can read more about them and see customer reviews. I’d also welcome your suggestions as we are always looking out for new books to add to our library.
Our top five children’s books about death

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1. Always and Forever by Alan Durant
This has to be my number one book. It tells the story of a family of animals living together, but when Fox dies, the others are left feeling so sad and are unable to stop crying because they miss him so much. I like this story because it shows the passing of time, through the seasons, and how the friends’ grief changes with it. It also presents the grief in stages, rather than saying that one day ‘everything was okay again’. It shows them starting to laugh again, but still feeling sad and not ready to face their friends. But then they gradually start to feel better and are united in remembering their dear friend. It’s really very lovely.

2. Up in Heaven by Emma Chichester Clark
Emma is the author behind the fabulously endearing Blue Kangaroo series, which my children loved. This is a story of a dog that dies and his owner, a young boy, can’t stop crying and missing him. The story is told from the dog’s perspective in heaven and he sends the boy dreams to help him come to terms with his loss. It’s not religious but is based on the concept that when we (and our pets) die, they go to heaven and have a lovely ‘new life’ with old and new friends. My son regularly asks for this one, I think the way it clearly portrays the difference between heaven and earth appeals to him.

3. Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney
A classic story that inspired my blog after Abi died, which I have written out in this blog post. It is useful to have a copy of this handy and it’s only a few pounds so is easy to get hold of. It’s not that pretty to look at but it’s short and is something that you can read to your child. It offers a way of understanding death and ‘where we go’ that children and adults can draw comfort from. There are also short prayers at the back of the book.

Update:

I am publishing an adaptation of this story which will be a large format picture book that is beautifully illustrated for children and adults to enjoy and treasure. If you’d like to contribute to my crowdfunding campaign to help this book get to market I would be very grateful. Please see the Crowdfunding page for more details.

4. No Matter What by Debi Gilori
We love Debi’s illustrations (she illustrated Always and Forever above and Tell Me Something Happy below) so this book was a great addition to our collection. This isn’t a bereavement book as such, more a reassuring story of love. It is about a father fox and his son discussing ‘what if this happens…’ ‘will you still love me’. It beautifully gives the message that even in death love does not end. A lovely bonding story.

5. When Caterpillars Fly by Lisa Mallins
We were given a copy of this book by Winson’s Wish (a child bereavement charity) and it is lovely. A collection of short poems written by children about the death of a child or baby. This could be useful if you know that a child will die or if a child has died. It’s also good for parents and older siblings. I couldn’t find a decent link to it on Amazon so you may have to search around the internet or auction sites.
Other books we have found useful or enjoyable to read together

6. Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
This is a love-affirming book based on the premise of ‘my love will find you, wherever you are’. It reassures the child that even though you are separated at times during the day, you are always thinking of them.
7. Muddy Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley
This is an activity book which helps families work through painful and positive memories of the child who has died. Our children completed it once in the early days, which they found hard, and then about six months later, which they found to be a more useful exercise. It helps you to discuss the facts around the death, the funeral and their feelings in a relaxed and engaging way.

8. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
This is another popular bereavement book; however, as it was about an aging badger we found it best suited to the death of a grandparent or elderly relative, as we lost a child, my children weren’t particularly engaged by the story but it has some excellent reviews.

9. Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar
Also illustrated by Debi Gilori, this is a sweet story of two rabbit brothers, the younger asking his older brother to tell him something happy before he goes to sleep. While not a story which is about death, we find we read this often, especially when feeling sad at bedtime. It reinforces giving thanks for the day and ending the day with a positive thought.
Christian children’s books
If your child is interested in heaven and God and has numerous questions, these simple books were popular with both our children so may be worth looking at.

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10. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
A dedication or prayer for each day of the year. It’s simple and the subjects are relevant to children and young people.

11. Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
This is a lovely book with gorgeous illustrations. It covers key stories in the Bible which are simple and engaging.

12. Pocket Book of Children’s Prayers by Christopher Herbert
This pocket book offers short prayers, including some written by children.

I do hope this list has been useful to you. I’d love to hear of any other recommendations you might have.

I’ve linked up with Brilliant Blog Posts over at Honest Mum. Why not have a look at what others have shared?

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

The significance of memorial flowers

Today is Remembrance Day and war memorials all over the country are displaying poppy wreaths in memory of those who lost their lives serving our country. The Tower of London featured a magnificent and moving poppy tribute this year.

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888,246 poppies at the Tower of London commemorating each British and Colonial casualty from WWI

It got me thinking about the symbolism of memorial flowers and what that means to me now.
Continue reading “The significance of memorial flowers”

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

Continue reading “For instructions on grief, please read this leaflet…”

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.]

Continue reading “Halloween just got scary”

Attending a first aid course as a grieving parent

This weekend was stressful and emotional, as well as coming down with the obligatory back-to-school cold.

I finally plucked up the courage to attend a first aid course and it’s taken me some time to process what I learnt, and to deal with the memories and emotions that it stirred up.

Continue reading “Attending a first aid course as a grieving parent”

There’s no such thing as a ‘simple’ gesture

When Abi died, we were overwhelmed by the support we received from the community, from friends and strangers alike. The attention quite naturally faded away in time, but we still have moments where people go out of their way to help us in some way.

These days, it seems the world is a more cynical place; nothing is for free, right? But I’ve seen a different side to life and people. There are so many kind souls out there who think of us and our loss as they go about their own lives. Friends will drop in little treats and gifts (often dragonfly related) which really lift us. Yet the kindness of strangers is something I will always cherish, and not all of them know of our bereavement.

Continue reading “There’s no such thing as a ‘simple’ gesture”