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…
Telling our children that their much-loved big sister wasn’t coming home was quite possibly the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.
Having broken the news to our family, that Abi’s life support would be switched off, we went to see our other children and took them out of the hospital for a walk. We walked up to the toy shop we’d spotted earlier that day, to buy a teddy for Abi and a toy each for them. They chose a small soft brown rabbit for Abi. We left the shop and began to walk on up the street, trying to find a bench or somewhere outside we could talk to them. It seemed important to be outside. It was cold and wet and they weren’t happy at being dragged out, but we came across a (sadly) boarded up church next to the hospital. [I’ve just looked this up and realise it was called St Michael the Archangel, and was made redundant in 1999 due to a low congregation, such a shame but even still it offered us a place to go.] It wasn’t in the best condition at all, but it was quiet, private, and there was a low wall we could sit on.
I sat down and cuddled them both tightly. ‘We have some news about Abi. You know that we said she might die and that she might not come home. Well, we have found out that she’s not going to be able to get better. The doctors have tried everything they can, but she’s not going to come home, ever. She’s going to die.’
My son stared as he listened to this and then put his head in his hands and turned and buried his face in my coat. My daughter stood away and smiled nervously. ‘What? She’s dead now?’
‘No, not now. But she is so ill that she will probably die later today.’
My son still didn’t speak. He wiped a tear from under his glasses and kept cuddled in. My daughter asked lots of questions about when and how, which we tried to answer as honestly as we could. We offered them the opportunity to see her again, but they declined. We weren’t going to push them to do this, but I offered to take photographs of Abi to show them later, which seemed a good way to help them ‘see’ her.
There wasn’t really much else to say. We sat on the wall in silence and comforted them, tears in our own eyes. I couldn’t really comprehend what we were saying but knew we had to focus on them now. Then they began to complain about the cold and wanted to go back. So we walked back to the hospital and they chatted about ‘other’ things, mostly about wanting us to come home. We weren’t sure if they’d taken it in, but we later realised they had, it was just how children do things regarding grief.
The children were taken home shortly after, while we spent more time with Abi. They had moved her to a private room on the side of the ward, where she would spend her last moments. When we saw her again, after the meeting, it was far more painful than before, as we knew for certain that this was the end, that there was no more hope. The tears flowed as fresh as the first moment when it happened, and my husband and I just looked at each other with such pain in our hearts, not even needing to speak. I placed the soft brown rabbit in her hand and kissed her forehead telling her we were there with her and would be until the very end. We had been given a pile of cards from her friends and family and we stood at her bedside and read every one to her, every word, all wishing her to get well soon. It was utterly heartbreaking reading aloud, our voices breaking with grief, and knowing what we knew. The love of her friends came through so strongly, and we felt for them all… about to lose a special person in their own lives.
But we had some way to go yet, as we had offered Abi’s organs for donation. We were prepared that her death would happen that evening, almost so that we wouldn’t have to ‘get through’ another long, difficult night, but it happened that the donation process delayed the inevitable for another 12 hours, into the next morning…
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.
Imagine an average day without someone you love dearly, a child, spouse or close relative you live with – knowing that you’ll never see them again. It’s almost impossible to do, unless you’ve experienced it – I know this now. I could empathise with the anguish, the hurt, but actual continuing grief goes so much deeper and affects all aspects of life, from the mundane routine things to the complete outlook on life and faith.