From cradle to grave

Today, I took my 9-year-old son to his football match. It’s normally Dad who does the football matches, but it had been almost a year since I’d seen my son play due to having the new baby and he asked if I’d go and watch him. He’s been appreciating some one-to-one time with me of late, which of course I love too.

While he was warming up, I automatically joined the other waiting parents by scrolling on my phone, but as I’m trying to be more active I realized I could use this as an opportunity to go for a walk, get my own blood circulating a bit. I wasn’t in an area I knew very well so I just walked out down the road and after about ten minutes I came across a small church.

I thought it would be good to have a little look around. There was a small graveyard just in front of the church, hidden by tall hedges. The graves looked old and weather-beaten, and I’m sure it had long since closed to new burials.

I first noticed five cross-shaped gravestones, lying flat in a line on the ground. On them were the details of men – figures in the community as their job titles were also engraved under their names, each from the 1800s, early 1900s.

The book of Ecclesiastes came to mind. (I’ve been reading over it this month.) In it, Solomon – the king – writes about accomplishments and the work we do, the things we put our effort into, the dreams we chase, and reflects how all of it is pointless once we’re dead. Not in the immediate years following our death, but the hundreds of years that see us but a distant memory, if that.

There can be great meaning to what we do, if through doing it we help others, but equally we spend a great deal of time doing or worrying about things that have no meaning.

Then I took a good look at everything Iā€™d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

I thought of these men in the ground. Long gone. They probably were highly regarded in their day around the area, but who remembers them, or what they did today?

I then saw a small, quite beautiful, cherub angel gravestone. It was to mark the grave of a baby. I couldn’t tell how old the baby was as the dates had worn away. A little baby without its mother, a mother without her child. I thought of the mother having to put her newborn child into the ground here, the tears that must have been shed, nearly 100 years ago. Yet so many more have been born since – life has moved on at an extraordinary rate but this baby was here once, briefly. This baby’s short life mattered.

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I saw other graves. Some in fairly good condition, others nothing more than a nub of stone sticking out of the ground. No matter what condition the stone, what the status was of the person buried there, or what age or situation they died, they were united by sharing this space. They had once breathed and created memories, but they all ended up as dust and mud, under a gravestone, forgotten or barely remembered.

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I was struck by this stone of a weeping angel.

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It was of two sisters, buried together. One had passed away at age 19, the other had died later age 35. I thought of the parents having to cope with two of their children dying, having perhaps adjusted to the loss of one daughter, only to lose another. Or perhaps they had died too? Who knows the story behind this family’s plot. Who even cares?

There was a striking stone marking the grave of a toddler. Clearly the child of someone of some wealth or importance at the time to afford such a memorial.

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Of course, 100 years ago infant mortality was high so child burials would have been common, but the diversity of the graves in this one tiny patch of churchyard just seemed so poignant to me. Those who lived long, buried next to those who never grew up.

Each one would have been mourned, by wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends and relatives… who now themselves may have departed. How did they live out their lives – happy, depressed, lonely, content…? How did grief shape their futures?

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon sees that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, the wise know more and die, just like fools who don’t know anything and die too. Life is for living he concludes, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, we can chase any number of dreams but without God there isn’t much point to life at all.

As I headed back to watch my son’s football match, I considered today, this next hour, my ‘work’ was to be there for him. To see him smile at having Mum watching from the sidelines. This memory would stay between us two. And when I’m dead and gone, and he’s dead and gone, this moment will be forever gone too.

But, today, it mattered.

 

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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Coping (or rather not!) with a tween’s grief

I feel like I’ve been winded. My tummy feels tight.

I am crying. The tears started and didn’t stop. The happy feeling dissolved.

My heart hurts and I don’t know which way to turn. How to act for the best.

An argument with my 11-year-old daughter caused this. I have to write – I really have nothing else.

I’d said something fairly subtle about finding happiness again and she jumped down my throat.

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Tears for Abi at bedtime

Perhaps it was because I’d just told my six-year-old son that he looked a bit like Abi when he gave me a cheeky grin.Ā  It wasn’t to make him feel sad, it just slipped out. Is it bad to say things like that? I don’t know.

Last night, my son was getting ready for bed and was in his bedroom. He’d been quiet for a while and came into my room where I was feeding my baby son on my bed.

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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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A blob of gum

We cleaned our cars at the weekend, not a common occurrence I’m ashamed to admit especially with a newborn keeping our tired arms occupied enough, but after the recent sandy rain we couldn’t put it off any longer.

However, there’s one spot in my car (the family estate) which I’ll never clean… the boot side window. The reason? An old blob of bubblegum.

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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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Do you want to build a snowman?

I recently sat down with my son and daughter to watch Frozen. I realise we’re rather late as it was a Christmas movie, but at the time we weren’t keen to see it (going to the cinema was just not fun anymore). So I put it on as an afternoon distraction for us on a rainy day, not expecting too much.

I often relate songs or TV shows to Abi that bring back a specific memory of her, so I wasn’t expecting this new film to have much of an impact on me, only that it’s another thing that Abi has missed out on. The children loved it of course, but as soon as it started I felt my grief surface and had a bit of an ‘oh dear’ moment as I wondered if this was going to upset me too much to watch or if I could bite my lip and get through it.

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Guest blog: Collective emotion

[This article was written by my good friend Sali Green, reproduced with Sali’s kind permission]

An unexplainable sadness hit a great many people on hearing of the death of Peaches Geldof. But is it unexplainable? Some feel surprised and uncomfortable that they become part of a collective grief over someone they never met. Others show annoyance that such a fuss could be made about one person when there are so many people suffering in the world. Both reactions are natural, as are the vast spectrum of feelings around and in between them.

Emotions can be intensified because of sad news – the fragility of life; reminding us of our own losses; love and appreciation for those around us strengthened. New life lessons are learned and our young people educated.

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