Ever since I can remember, the sight of the first spring blossoms was something that always filled me with joy.
I’m sure I’m not alone as it is one of those simple signs that winter is gone and lovely summer days are waiting for us, enabling us to open windows, and get outdoors.
Of everything that symbolises spring – lambs, chicks, daffodils and bunnies, blossoms are always the thing that most lifts me. I think it’s because when I was a child, I would walk everywhere, being without a car in the family, so I was used to walking across Cheltenham to get to school or college. It would be like walking in a magical land when the blossoms came out, making the often dull journey more cheerful and interesting.
Last year, Abi had just died and as spring was springing, my head remained in the dark place of my grief. I wasn’t surprised by this at all. So the blossoms passed me by and the sunlight hurt my eyes. But it’s this year that I realised the lifelong pleasure I took from seeing the spring blossoms has gone for good.
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.
The title of this post might seem odd. Perhaps it should read ‘How could you…?’ Why would you discipline a child who was grieving for a lost friend or relative (in our case sibling) and recovering from the trauma of that loss when all they need is love, understanding and security?
We feel we are as fair as possible with our discipline methods. We try to give our children freedom to be themselves within a stable home environment. We’re certainly no experts and of course as children grow and change so do the discipline methods, but over the years I’ve come to realise that discipline is different in every family so I no longer worry that we’re doing it ‘wrong’.
We try to lead by example as we’ve noticed that when we are ‘well behaved’ our children are too, but when we’re too tired to care (which happens perhaps just as often) their behaviour follows suit … to go ‘off routine’ is a risky move which almost always ends in disruption. We aim to teach them the basics such as good manners and the importance of taking responsibility for their actions, but they’ve all been so different in personality that we’ve had to adapt our approach to suit each child. For example, one gets upset at being shouted at and would rather things were explained, the other prefers a quick blast of order and is usually happy to move on.
One of the biggest challenges I think I’ve faced since Abi’s death is understanding my other children’s different reactions. Contrary to my posts about openly talking about Abi and avoiding the elephant in the room, the approach with our children has had to be carefully considered.
Abi has always been in their lives. Her sister is just 22 months younger, so they were very close and did everything together, and Abi was six when her little brother came along, making her a great big sister able to share cuddles and play.
They were with us when she collapsed, they visited her at the two Bristol hospitals and then they came with us to her funeral. They saw every newspaper article, the house full of cards and flowers. They saw us cry and their daily routine disrupted. At that time, Mum and Dad were likely as much lost to them as Abi was to us.
Surviving my bereavement is not something I feel I’ve achieved by any means, yet, but I am beginning to see that in order to survive the loss of my child, I’ve needed to find and maintain a balance between grieving and living.
‘Surviving’ feels like an unusual word to use when I consider that it’s me who is still here with my life ahead of me, but the grief that I’ve seen and have felt has the potential to end that life – socially, mentally, physically or even literally. It’s a scary prospect that sorrow and despair – and, dare I say, an unavoidable self-pity – could easily eclipse everything and everyone that was once so important to me. Nobody knows just how grief will affect them until they are faced with it.
The start of the Winter Olympics has brought back memories of Abi’s excitement for the 2012 London Olympics. It is hard to know she is not here to watch this with us, no doubt she would have loved it.
She followed the London Olympic events with interest and I can remember watching the amazing opening ceremony with her, it was like a mini party at home! We took her to see Zara Phillips carry the Olympic Torch into Cheltenham Racecourse, and danced with the huge crowd to music acts like Labyrinth.
She even held one of the torches, which went to her school briefly, and attended a women’s football game with her dad thanks to tickets given away at school. She was naturally sporty and outgoing so she revelled in the hype surrounding the Games; her enthusiasm was infectious. She even chose an Olympic bed set for her new room, which we now have carefully wrapped, unwashed, in storage.
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.
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.
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.
A few days after Abi died, we were already thinking about how we could somehow give something back to the people who helped her, and as a way to remember her life.
It’s hard to explain why, while sat in a hospital waiting room with my daughter still with us, I had this urge to do something charitable. It wasn’t too strong at that point, I had a lot on my mind with Abi, but I recall ‘holding that thought’ as I felt it would be something we could do when it was over, whatever the outcome.
Abi died from a rare brain hemorrhage that only a CT scan would have picked up, and even still, it was in an inoperable location so she could never have been saved from her fate. The only reason the doctors agreed to operate on her was because she was a child – doctors are parents too – if she had been an adult, we later discovered, they would not have intervened at all. A heartbreaking prospect.