I was pacing the landing with my teething baby at 3am last night and all I could think of was you. As anyone who has been bereaved knows, the build up to Christmas is never easy. If you have children you try to retain the excitement, the magic, the wonder of Christmas. Yet behind the smiles, lies an anxiety, a dread, a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach that represents the gaping void left by loss. This Boxing Day marks 20 years since you were cruelly snatched from us that bitterly cold morning. Twenty years! The same length of time that you were married to my mum. I was 14, you were just 45.
When you experience a traumatic bereavement, whether as a child losing a parent or a parent losing a child, your world is irreversibly changed. The wounds are deep and the scars only partially heal. I was reminded of this only three months ago when we experienced two close family bereavements and the scars were reopened. Old memories were reignited and the full force of raw emotion came crashing down once again.
Yet there is also the possibility for reflection and growth, heightened empathy and compassion, and a greater understanding of the fragility and precious nature of life.
[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.]
Some days I feel like grief has slapped me in the face so hard. This was one of them, about four months (in July) after Abi died. I wrote about this particular day as it was a full 24 hours of challenging thoughts and emotions…
The death of a child, quite naturally, has a huge impact on an entire family and the aftershocks can be widespread and ongoing. In my case, my immediate family (husband and other two children) were emotionally torn, yet we had to find a way to continue to live our lives together, finding new routines and ways to be without pausing.
It’s without doubt that our relationships with one another have changed in some ways; thankfully, we are strong and this has bonded us further together, but it’s certainly no smooth path as each of us battles with our individual feelings, worries and fears.
After Abi died, we kept people informed via Facebook, which was a great help to us as it saved having to contact lots of people at an impossibly difficult time and also prevented any misunderstanding about what had happened to her – many people who knew Abi were incredibly worried… Very soon, someone had set up a dedicated Facebook page in Abi’s memory, which rapidly spread and had around 700 likes.
We came upon this story when preparing Abi’s funeral and the vicar read it out. We knew many people of all ages would be there and wanted a reading that everyone could understand and, hopefully, find comfort from.
The note about what to write in a card to a grieving person in my last post seemed to strike a cord with some readers. Some recognised the uncertainty of what to do for the best, others realised they’d never considered how this simple gesture could be interpreted by the recipient, others recalled past occasions when they felt they should have perhaps done it differently. So, I wanted to focus a little more on this.
In this crazy first year as a grieving mother, I’ve learned an awful lot about bereavement. Far more than I expected to know at my age, having lost a child so suddenly. Just like many people, I was living in blissful ignorance of this feeling before my daughter died – oh, how I miss that! Now, I’m part of a different club; a club I never intended to join and can never leave. One thing I know for certain is that I still cannot believe she’s gone for good; I still pray she’ll just ‘come home’ and give me a hug, like she used to.
Grief is so many things and is different for everyone, but, for me, I find it is mostly quiet, unheard, unspoken. I’ve had amazing support from some truly wonderful and inspiring individuals, but equally I’ve experienced the side of grief that people (specialists) warned me about. It seems it is generally left to the bereaved to ‘put away’ their grief somewhere, and, indeed, the bereaved do try to find a place for it, to fit it around their ‘normal’ lives, we would surely go insane if we didn’t. But, almost a year on, on the surface I’m doing well but I live that rawness of loss as though it were yesterday every day, those early weeks before the true mourning kicked in…
A friend shared an insightful diagram with me called ‘The whirlpool of grief’, which I thought would be good to share here (see illustration far below).
As soon as I saw this, it made perfect sense to me. I recognised the many elements to the ‘process’ that were illustrated. I call it a ‘process’ because I see that there are various stages and emotions to work through before an adjustment is made through mourning and acceptance. The stages aren’t linear, however, and move in cycles.