Don’t sweat the small stuff, pray it!

Since Abi died, prayer has become part of my day. I didn’t often pray before, except in church or the occasional Lord’s Prayer. Now, my prayers are more like mini conversations with God. Sometimes, I read a psalm or sing a worship song. Sometimes I read a passage of the Bible aloud, slowly. I rarely have time to sit in silence and pray, as my house is just too busy, so I often find myself in the loo or shower – multitasking my only quiet time to talk with God.

The prayers I have said over the years have also changed. I started by crying out to God, whispering prayers of sorrow, praying for comfort and protection. Gradually, my prayers are ways to say thank you for the blessings in my life, to say sorry for messing up all the time, to ask for help. I then was able to intercede for others outside my immediate network. Praying for the healing of another person you don’t know is surprisingly powerful and shifts the focus away from the self and towards a love for others.

But I’m not a very good pray-er. I say the wrong thing at times, I try to say holy, eloquent words but get jumbled, I lose my train of thought. I wish my prayers had more depth and, I suppose, like my writing were grammatically correct!

I sometimes write my prayers down as that’s easier for me than talking off the cuff. But what to pray for can sometimes leave me stuck.

I recall a scene in the film, Bruce Almighty, where Bruce has died and meets God in heaven. God asks him what he prays for most, Bruce replies ‘world peace’. God smiles and says ‘That’s very good, if you’re trying to win a Miss World contest. What do you really pray for…?’ To which Bruce replies, ‘That Grace [his ex-girlfriend] is happy’.

And that’s a useful way to think about prayer. Of course, I often pray for the big events going on in the world, I also pray the common prayers in church, but what God needs me to do most is to pray into the stuff that matters to me.

A friend, who was in deep grief, met with me and we prayed together. During that prayer we prayed for our lost loved ones and for the people who were missing them, but we also prayed for what some would think ‘small’ things. We prayed that we’d find a way to encourage more volunteers to help at church, we prayed we’d find another supplier of food that we share at our group, we prayed that the sun would shine so that we could take the children to the park…

Simple, small details and insignificant when you compare them to the death of a loved one. But are they?

I reflected on how these small things make up the bigger picture… that if we got one more volunteer then that group can run and many people will benefit… that if we found another local food supplier we can feed them and it will encourage friendship and conversation… that if the sun shines we can get outside and enjoy some fresh air, meet up with friends and find some joy…

All these seemingly tiny details impact another slightly bigger detail.

It’s not been easy, but I’m learning about listening to God, who is guiding me constantly though my day – and asking him to help me take care of the small things in my life so that he is part of my whole life.

 

 

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The friends you need through loss

When a friend is grieving, it’s hard to know what to do, how to act, what to say. There’s a lot of criticism for those friends who haven’t ‘been through it’ themselves. These are often the same people who say unhelpful things such as ‘they had a good life’, ‘at least… [insert anything]’, ‘God only takes the best’….

As a bereaved person, you suddenly realise that there are people out there who have been fortunate to live a long time without having to deal with a significant bereavement themselves. Suddenly, those people seem alien to those of us in the ‘grief club’.

However, the non-grieving friend is one of the most important people in the early stages of grief. How can that be when they don’t understand what we are going through?

Well, it’s exactly for this reason that they are so important to us.

When Abi first died, people who had adapted to their own loss offered me support, and as a now bereaved-adjusting mum, I too find myself drawn to support friends who are experiencing loss. Yet there’s something important I’ve noticed about the distinction between those of us who have been there and those of us who haven’t.

When sitting with a friend in their rawness of grief, they are able to open up about the experience, the emotions and pain of loss. But I often hear, ‘it’s not as bad as your experience (losing a child)’. The sense that they can open up and ‘complain’ about their grief is stifled by my own loss. That I had a rawer deal. That they shouldn’t grumble. And that’s simply not true.

By our nature, we compare ourselves to others – our relationships, pregnancies, children’s milestones, jobs, homes, lives… we live by comparison. Grief is no different.

There’s a period following the death of a loved one where the bereaved are in limbo – this is the period that holds the shock, despair, trauma and strain of the loss before the person is ready to join the ‘grief club’.

I am mindful of supporting friends at different stages of their grief.

The initial stage is fuelled by anxiety, anger and fear. No one will understand what the person is going through.

This is where the non-grieving friend can offer the best support.

Rather than stepping back, they should step forward.

Offer to sit and listen, for hours, every day until that story has been told. The bereaved will have a chance to ‘own their grief story’ – to talk about it as though they are the only person to ever have lost someone they loved, to emphasise all the trauma and stress that has impacted them as a result of this loss, to cry and say how much they miss them without fear of affecting the listener’s own grief story. This is their time, and it’s vital to helping them transition into the grief club.

Once in the grief club, they are welcomed by people who’ve been there, who have had loved ones die of the same thing, who are setting examples of how they channel their grief and how they live on without them.

There is a very good place for the people in this club, but initially, as a way to honour the departed and to process what has happened, the grieving need their story to be unique. We all experience loss but every loss is unique and deeply personal.

The death of my daughter, the loss of my pregnancies cannot and should not be compared to the impact of the death of someone in old age or someone who has died from illness. My loss is hard, of course it is, but so is yours.

My advice to the newly bereaved is to seek out friends, experienced or not, who are good listeners, who don’t mind sitting on your sofa for hours passing you tissues, nursing a cold cup of tea (cold tea means they’re listening not bustling around trying to be helpful which would only fog your brain further). Seek out those friends who won’t burden you with their own losses and problems, who say few words, who will smile and lift your spirits a little. It’s your turn to be listened to. And never, ever, apologise for feeling the way you do.

Staying married when you’re mourning

I realise not everyone who reads this is married, or even in a relationship, and we all have unique experiences, but I wanted to give my perspective of marriage after loss, which some may relate to or take comfort from.

One of the first things we heard after Abi had died – quite unbelievably really – is that ‘most marriages fall apart when a child dies’. It’s true, we heard this and read this as we were handed leaflets about getting ‘help’.

So, as well as coming to terms with the huge shock of losing Abi, we then faced the ‘likelihood’ that our once happy life would be forever shattered by her death and no matter how hard we fought it we’d be so broken that we couldn’t stay together. Our lives literally torn apart.

It was, to say the least, a very bleak time.

Yet here we are, four years after Abi’s death having just marked our 18th wedding anniversary.

It’s undeniable that the huge stress of death – and the death of a child – has an impact on a relationship. One day we could be so close we were almost the same person, the next we seemed to be poles apart as we rode out different waves of grief.

Because the loss of a child changes you, it’s inevitable that it changes your relationships too, and the relationship with your spouse or partner is often one of the closest you have apart from the one with your child.

The love we felt for each other hasn’t changed, if anything it’s stronger and we don’t argue about ‘silly’ things anymore (well, not as much). We are quicker to forgive. We move on to finding joy again as quickly as we can.

But that’s not to say we haven’t had a tough time of it. Our marriage is strong, despite the stress, but it’s changed. Your child’s death changes not who you are but your outlook; the things that are important to you shift and grow. You can so easily live on two different parallels though:

One of you is grieving ‘too much’. The other is not grieving ‘enough’.
One of you may want more children. The other doesn’t want another child (and risk more heartache).
One of you may want to move house. The other may need to stay put.
One of you may find it hard to work again. The other may seek solace in being busy.
One of you may want to talk about your child every day. The other may not want to be reminded.
One of you may find faith. The other may lose it.
One of you may fall out with family. The other may be the one who keeps family close.
One of you may take offence at misguided comments. The other may be forgiving of others.
One of you may want to campaign for injustice or charity. The other may want a quiet life.
One of you may crave intimacy and reassurance. The other may find it hard to express love.
One of you may openly develop depression and anxiety. The other may hide their true feelings.
One of you may laugh. The other may cry.

From these examples it’s easy to see how a couple can so easily find a void in their relationship as they try to find a place for their grief.  These don’t all apply to us but elements of each do, and I’ve heard from others who have found the same.

The strain is immense yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end.

The hardest thing for me in the first couple of years was not that I’d fallen out of love or that any of the things above were too much to bear. It was that my own grief was so consuming that I wanted to leave to find the space to ‘be with it’. I had, I suppose, several ‘fight or flight’ moments and the grief was constantly telling me to run!

I could be overwhelmed by the smallest things – sorting a pile of washing – and just want to run away from it all, because I didn’t want to sort washing for us all who were alive, I wanted to sit in a quiet room and grieve for my daughter. I wanted to cry and wail, curl into a ball, not pretend I was okay and go through the motions of life.

I wanted to start afresh. Where I wouldn’t have to look into my husband’s eyes and know that he is hurting too, where I wouldn’t see Abi’s birth, life and death in his face every day, where I could give myself new things to look at that would ‘mask’ the painful memories. At times, this feeling was suffocating but I pushed through it.

I knew that, for me, leaving was not a healthy option. I ultimately loved my husband, and we had other children, but my grief was constantly whispering in my ear that I would be better off letting it run my life. I could leave if I wanted but I knew I’d be left alone allowing the grief to eat away at me, it would always be the reason why, it would redefine my whole life. And it was that which stopped me, in those deeply depressed moments, silently crying over the washing basket as I wrestled with myself.

My marriage has survived so far and we are together because we want to be, we love each other, we desire each other, we treasure our family. The grief has found a place and we seem to have adjusted, but I always have a nagging doubt in my mind as I hear of ‘delayed reactions’ where one of the parents has a crisis later on in life.

As you know, we have added two more children to our home, both so quickly after losing Abi, we barely had time to breathe! Yes, it’s been the most wonderful blessing but we have also had to find a place for our marriage amidst the sleepless nights, weary bodies and minds and fractured nerves! Having another baby doesn’t ‘solve’ any problems if you’ve lost other children, if anything it creates new ones, but it’s still such an amazing part of our life and I know that God has turned our pain into a blessing.

There’s no denying that while we try to be fair, we treat our younger two differently to how we treated our first three when they were younger. There’s more love, fewer rules! We don’t love them more than the others, just differently. Our parenting style has shifted, we still have the same principles of parenting, it’s just we perhaps give them more of our time and are more patient and forgiving. We don’t fret about the hours of sleep lost, and now treasure the little ones running into our bed in the middle of the night for a cuddle. We’re of course also experienced now we are older and know what we’re doing. My husband is an amazing father, he always has been but he takes an even more active role in parenting now and helping around the house. It’s things like this that help keep a marriage together when you’re juggling so much.

The statistic that most marriages break up after a loss hasn’t actually been proven, yet it still remains something people believe. Of course, some marriages do fall apart but the death is likely to be one of a number of factors that decide the relationship is over.

Like any difficult time, in a marriage it’s important to ride out the waves together, even if that means you’re not on the same wave, as you’ll both be together when the waters have stilled again. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even today, and I don’t know how life will affect us, but I think I know now that we will always try to stay together, and I feel blessed we have made it this far!

 

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My 9-year-old son came home from school with his ‘life quote’, which sums it up very well. He explained that no matter if your car gets dented or broken on the journey (if someone dies), you can still rebuild your car so that you can carry on.

 

 

Sick with grief

No one ever told me that my grief would make me feel so ill.

As they broke the news to us that Abi was going to die, I thought of only her, then our family… and everything about how we’d live without her.

I was prepared – and expected – to feel depressed, but the physical symptoms that gradually took hold were more of a shock.

I shared this link about how grief affects us physically on my Facebook page, and wasn’t too surprised to find many of you have felt similar symptoms – some debilitating, some mild, but all as a result of the grief. These symptoms, however, are mostly during the early weeks and months after the loss. I didn’t really notice anything until about a year after and they got worse…

I developed a weird thing with my heart – in that I have noticeable ectopic beats and a type of tachycardia that causes palpitations. (Part of me thinks I am so aware of my body now that I’m conscious of my heartbeats, I probably wouldn’t have  noticed this a few years ago.) It’s not bad enough to have me on medication, but it is bad enough to make me anxious to the point where I’ve been scared to go out or be alone. It has greatly improved now I’ve lost some weight, am more active and eating better, and I think was made worse by the pregnancies, but while I’m now able to function again, I’m nervous (make that terrified) about exercising. I’m scared that raising my heart rate will trigger palpations, and then a heart attack. It’s so bad that I almost have a panic attack just thinking about it. There are countless stories of people dropping dead when running or exercising, usually fit and healthy people, and this only adds to my worries and my excuses not to do anything. 

But I’m so tired of being scared. I’m so tired of saying to the children ‘be careful’, or of saying to myself ‘you’d better not’. Of living in fear. I ran half marathons and 10ks with relative ease before Abi died, I got such a buzz from being fit! But every one of my symptoms – however real they were (as they were genuine medical things, not ‘imagined’) – have been brought on by grief. 

It’s commonly believed in the medical profession that 90% of illness is caused by stress, and grief is just a form of stress. I didn’t take myself to the doctor at the slightest thing before Abi died. I didn’t worry about exercise or food. I didn’t worry that putting butter on my toast would kill me, or that if I ran I might keel over…  I miss that me, the me that worried about obvious stuff but didn’t let it stop me.
But I still have a bit of that old me left. The me that refuses to quit. The devil is telling me to stay down, God is telling me to get back up!

In January, I wrote this post about easing myself back into exercise, by going for gentle walks and getting outdoors more. Doing this, when I can and when my mind allows me, has been beneficial.

So I have taken the next step and started looking into exercise, raising my heart rate. I signed up for a local netball group but I was too scared to put pressure on myself, so I went out for a run. At least on a run if I wanted to stop and go home I could. After months of procrastination, talking myself out of it, crying, fear, anxiety, another bar of chocolate, I put my trainers on and went.

It felt good. I ran for 15 minutes and didn’t collapse or struggle. I went at a gentle pace but was surprised how good it felt to be back out and having that mental space while my body felt energized. It’s a far cry from the hours of running I was capable of before Abi died, but I have a new agenda now. To build up my confidence to enjoy exercise for what it is, not what it might do to me. We’re all going to die, so I may as well live!

I don’t know if I’ll do another run. I might, I don’t want to put this out there and feel I have to now commit to it, but it’s a start.

It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.

Should I take antidepressants for my grief?

Dear grieving mum,

I’m sorry you’ve found my blog by searching with the keywords ‘antidepressants’ ‘grief’ ‘death of my child’…

I’m truly sorry.

Behind each of my posts, I see parents read my blog searching for the answer to this question because they are looking for some respite from the strain of coping with grief while having to get on with life. Their last hope is that a pill will get them through it.

Back in 2015, I wrote this post about starting antidepressants, something I had tried so hard to avoid. I didn’t see how any pill could help my grief, but I knew the anxiety was consuming me and I needed help.

While I have certainly experienced the benefit of taking medication for anxiety and depression, I’m in two minds about the use of antidepressants for grief (and trauma). They haven’t changed what has happened, or made me feel ‘better’ about it, they haven’t stopped the flashbacks, they didn’t replace talking about it with a trained professional, but they did help me get through the days, they did mute the constant anxious chatter in my mind enough for me to think about other things for a change.

Having had two more children since Abi died, I have dramatically mixed emotions – my heart is torn in two constantly, as I wouldn’t have had my two little ones if Abi was still alive. It’s hard to know that they wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be experiencing love and joy all over again if she hadn’t died, but then her death has ‘given’ something wonderful to help us live on without her…

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I’ve continued on antidepressants on and off since first taking them. I was on them most of my last pregnancy and came off for a few months around the birth. I went back on them again about a month after I had my baby (so if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and worried about taking antidepressants – don’t, my baby is perfectly healthy and very bonny, my own fears about this were unnecessary).

Nine months after giving birth, I am weaning myself off very slowly, my hormones feel more balanced so I feel it worth a try. I now see them as something to help me more with the emotional demands of pregnancy and coping with a newborn rather than my grief. So maybe you’re reading this from a similar perspective, having had a rainbow baby or considering trying again. I think it’s sensible to consider the impact on your physical – and therefore mental – health when you have so much to process and your mind and body will be flooded with hormones.

While the tablets were helpful at giving my mind a break, there is something ‘depressing’ and negative about being on antidepressants! Just knowing I’m on them reminds me that I am grieving, that I can’t cope, that I need help… but being on them has helped get me through some very bleak times and enabled me to get dinner on the table and now work again.

If you can combine pills with some talking therapy (with someone who understands post-natal depression and trauma, not just a chatty counsellor) then it will be much more beneficial. I see the pills as a way to help me open up. While I’ve not done it myself, I have heard that EMDR therapy is good (and supported, in theory, by the NHS).  This is usually performed by a private psychotherapist.

It’s natural to carry a lot of unresolved grief emotion around with you as you distract yourself with new babies, new jobs, new lives… I’ve been there, when I had my son a few weeks after Abi’s first anniversary, I knew the pregnancy was a distraction from the grief, but I needn’t have worried, it came back to get me! I saw a good maternal psychotherapist (privately, as all the GP could offer was a telephone number with a 12-month waiting list), but it was worth the expense.

The therapy gave me the safe space to say out loud all those things I needed to say, to someone who wouldn’t judge me or try to ‘make it better’, who wanted to hear me say the unspeakable. Things like wishing Abi was here rather than my new son, talking about the layers of guilt I felt for loving him and not know what to do with my love for her, for battling with resentment and anger – things no mother ever should have to think about saying. Still, they needed to be said.

Pills won’t ‘cure’ your grief, but they will help you get through therapy to get to a point where you feel more like yourself more of the time than not.

Does this resonate at all? I hope you have an understanding GP. I think if you are asking the question ‘Should I take antidepressants?’ then you already know the answer. Anxiety and depression cannot be shrugged off in a walk around the block or a night out with friends – this is deep and hourly. For your sake and for your family’s, put yourself first and they will only see the benefit, and you will be able to live – and grieve – again.

As you feel a bit better in yourself you will be able to feel more like looking after your physical self too. If you’re not already – take some good vitamins and minerals, keep active, force yourself to try something new. I find that since my loss I’m sensitive to minor deficiencies which only make my anxiety and worries worse, so I take my vits every day, look at ways to get some time to myself and try to keep fit without being obsessive – all things that help develop mental strength.

Your grief is so new, so complex, so personal. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to get on with things… It’s about finding a place for all that while giving your children (and your identity as mummy to all your children) the space to ‘be’. Read my blog and see how my mood and grief has changed over the years – sometimes I am bleak and vulnerable, other times I feel more positive and hopeful…  being on meds has certainly helped me get to today without going crazy.

I hope this has been of some help.

Take care.

Kelly x

 

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 I’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.

 

Mindful steps to better health

It’s still January… having consumed our body weights in rich/sugary/fatty foods in December, we now have the guilt trip for said festive indulgence as fitness gurus and media know-it-alls show off their fit-ness or sell us the latest diet that will make us ‘beach ready’ by summer.

We know the rules around this, it’s okay to put on half a stone at Christmas because we’ll burn it off in the new year. But there’s actually a far more important side to this whole ‘health’ circus… mental health. 

We’re usually too busy to stop and consider that the manufacturers of the food and fitness gear know as well as us that those DVDs and smoothie makers will be gathering dust in a few weeks.

Many of us feel like we are skating on the edge of sanity, holding down busy jobs, bringing up children, keeping the house going and the bills paid, dealing with some really traumatic stuff, let alone making sure we’re blimin’ ‘beach ready’.

Most of us are dealing with so much stress that food (or drink) has become a comforter. When I’m stressed I find myself reaching for the biscuit barrel. In the evenings, I sit down in front of the TV after a tiring day and often snack a bit more (I don’t drink so food is my ‘treat’).

Many people started the month alcohol-free or ‘on a diet’. After the Christmas binge, this is fine for the first two weeks but then it soon gets dull. Most of us give up when we restrict ourselves (or feel we are being restricted), which then ends in more binges and guilt.

Nine months ago, I was about to have my fifth baby and I had no energy to care for myself. Pregnancy, grief and hormones resulted in an addiction to food.

I didn’t have the willpower to consider what I was putting into my body. I could barely put a meal together and shopping was a challenge. I opted for quick and easy options. Fast food and takeaways added to the mix.

I felt hungry from the baby (and children) sapping my energy… So I ate.
I felt peckish because I was bored stiff sitting around unable to move far… So I ate.
I felt I needed something to fill the void in my stomach when I felt low and confused about life… So I ate.

Seeing the superfit on TV only played on my inadequacies further.

Are you having twins?! Nope just a massive cream bun!
Are you having twins?! Nope just a massive cheesecake!

There was the time I ate an entire cheesecake (not an isolated incident!)… a full-size one with the red warning nutritional label shouting at me to stop. There was not one thing good about it, yet down it went. I felt terrible. I vowed that the next day I’d avoid any sugar or processed foods… but if course I didn’t. In any case, I was so confused by the conflicting health advice I didn’t know where to start!

I was a perfect candidate for a January ‘lose weight in a week with a superfood, superburn diet plan’. However…

…the last three months I’ve been intentionally looking after myself, mentally and physically. I’ve taken a daily multivitamin and probiotic, cut right back on processed sugar, fat and wheat. I eat more vegetables and mostly cook from scratch. I’ve established a better bedtime routine. I’ve started reading books again. I already feel much better for it.

Looking after yourself starts in your head; train your brain to love yourself for being alive rather than punish yourself for eating foods that you enjoyed. What we eat and how we exercise are directly controlled by our mental health. Get mentally well and you’ll eat better and want to move more. I’m all for improving our health (with the dramatic increase in diabetes we need to do something), but it’s about taking small steps to make big changes: moving more, getting outside, eating well, reading a book, doing absolutely nothing once in a while…

Now that I have the food side of things pretty much under control, I plan to get back into exercise. But I’m not going to join a gym, get a personal trainer, or run a marathon… (not yet anyway), I’m going to go for a walk, and that walk will become another and another, and then I may want to walk a bit further or possibly jog. Either way, it will be a slow but positive progression to find a pace and an activity that suits me and my life at the moment.

My 90-year-old grandma is old but she is mentally alert and still has a job! Her secret isn’t kale, or smoothies, tracking her heart rate, or busting a gut in circuit training… it’s real food, sensible portions, daily physical activity, friends and family, reading and crosswords.

If you’re feeling like you’ve failed before you’ve started, keep going at your own pace and remember, even if you’re tiptoeing you’re still going in the right direction.

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If you enjoyed this post, why not see what else I’m talking about:

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You don’t have to ‘get over’ your grief just because it’s Christmas

It’s no surprise that Christmas is a difficult time for the grieving. For us, the period begins with Abi’s birthday at the end of November, we then have the four weeks until Christmas and then New Year, followed not long afterwards by the anniversary of the time we lost her. Next February will be four years…

In the first two years, the stress was more to do with getting through the Christmas period without her…  the first birthday, the first Christmas without one of your children there is unbearable, there’s simply no other way to describe it.

But as our lives are gradually adapting to living with our loss, I have found that Christmas has changed. We are able to still ‘do it’ for our other children, and having them has helped us – my husband and I – retain some sense of seasonal spirit. But the whole period now brings back memories of Christmas past.

The thing with Christmas is that everything is repeated a million times – the same films on telly all month, the same songs on the radio and in the shops, the same routines and traditions of crackers and stockings and favourite foods.

But with all this repetition comes the frequent reminders of the last time we heard those songs with Abi, the last time we watched the films with her there with us, the foods she loved, the stocking that now stays empty. We have films on our Virgin Tivo Box saved from that last Christmas of 2012 that our other children love to watch. Every moment of every day is a reminder of that last Christmas, and not knowing what was going to happen just six weeks later. Then the anxiety resurfaces about what might lie in store for us… I can’t bear to think about it.

The hardest part has always been hiding our grief from our other children, and even each other. We have been open about our grief and our loss, but we don’t want to be seen crying on Christmas Day. We don’t want to cause upset and spoil things. We have to retreat to the bathroom or swallow it down. It hurts, and it drains us. There’s a huge element of putting a brave face on. 

We still keep Christmas intimate – it’s our family time and we tread through it carefully. We learned quickly that it wasn’t possible to pretend it’s all okay and not get stressed so we now keep things low key. I hear from many people who are struggling with the pressure to ‘get over it’, just for Christmas. But I know from experience that it actally makes you feel better if you stop pretending. Yes, crying and grieving and being upset isn’t nice. It’s not comfortable to do around others but it is what it is. Hiding it will only make it hurt more. 

For those of you who are struggling with ‘feeling the joy’ that others expect, read this fantastic blog post: Stop forcing yourself to be happy. The most common search on my blog is ‘how to cope with Christmas after my child’s death’, and my Christmas posts are the most-read at the moment. So, I hope this post reaches you, the mother or father who is awake in the early hours, your chest aching from crying, and your head throbbing with worry…

‘Your job is not to make everyone else feel good about themselves, especially if you’re currently mired in grief or reeling from tragedy or terrorized by the worst adversity you’ve ever experienced.

Rather, your job is much, much more important. Your job is to grieve. Remember, grieving isn’t this sort of passive act where you just wallow away. Grieving is active and intentional. Grieving requires that you show up and live while you wade through the shit you’re going through. It’s the process of standing up, day after day after day, especially when you don’t want to. If you find yourself in good spirits along the way, great. But that is not and should not ever be the goal.

There is nothing–and I mean nothing–wrong with you if you don’t feel happy or positive or singy-songy this time of year. You’re not inadequate for grieving. In fact, if anything you’d be less than human if you didn’t grieve your losses.’

I hope you find some comfort and peace in these words, and I’m sorry, truly, that you are going through this. x

 

Guest post: Thoughts of loss and hope at Christmas

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.

Continue reading “Guest post: Thoughts of loss and hope at Christmas”

Forgiveness Series: 4. Forgiving yourself

One of the hardest aspects of grief – as a grieving parent – is forgiving yourself.

Children die every day. And, for every child that has left this world, is a parent left wondering what they did wrong, how they could have prevented it, why they weren’t in their child’s place.

Abi’s death could not have been predicted nor prevented, yet still I wondered what I could have done to save her. If I’d have noticed sooner and taken her to hospital… had she had some injury in her past that may have caused her hemorrhage… or perhaps things I did or didn’t do in the pregnancy and birth affected her. Then there was the guilt of every single time I lost my temper with her, or punished her, or said no to her.

Even, as in my case, where there is very little scope for ‘blame’ or ‘regret’, guilt still found a place in my loss.

Continue reading “Forgiveness Series: 4. Forgiving yourself”