What a baby sock taught me about grief

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This tiny sock, apart from being utterly cute, revealed a lot to me about how my shopping habits have changed over the past 14 months.

Abi had not long turned 12 and, now that she was at secondary school, she had become more interested in fashion; New Look was a particular favourite shop of hers.

It was great shopping with her; typical mum/daughter time like I imagined when she was little. I loved our sprees and would happily spend money on clothes for her as it was a pleasure to see her growing up. She was great company. But then she died…

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How do you discipline a grieving child?

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.

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An elephant in the room

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There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting,
So it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?” And “I’m fine”
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.

We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything – except the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.

For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.

Oh, please say her name.
Oh, please, say “Abi” again.
Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.

Can I say “Abi” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me

Alone…

In a room…

With an elephant…

(by Terry Kettering)

Say her name… but not too much, Mum!

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.

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Surviving grief

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.

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Fundraising … far more than charity

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.

Having seen the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal promotional material at the Bristol Children’s Hospital, it seemed an appropriate cause and we’d decided the best place for any donations.

Grand Appeal

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.

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Counting your blessings after the death of your child

At times in the past year, I’ve heard it suggested that at least we have our other children to keep us going. It’s never said to mean that Abi’s death was any less distressing, but as a way to comfort and reassure.

I’ve often thought this myself too. When I feel mournful, I consider how it’s my two children needing me that gets me out of bed, that stops me feeling too sorry for myself and gives me a reason to live on. But it’s a constant struggle between the despair of my loss and being ‘thankful for my lot’.

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