Balancing the kindness of strangers…

[Taken from notes written around July 2013]

After Abi died, we kept people informed via Facebook, which was a great help to us as it saved having to contact lots of people at an impossibly difficult time and also prevented any misunderstanding about what had happened to her – many people who knew Abi were incredibly worried… Very soon, someone had set up a dedicated Facebook page in Abi’s memory, which rapidly spread and had around 700 likes.

During the first week back home, I spent the nights in my younger daughter’s bed as she found it difficult to settle. It was hard to sleep so I read Facebook and browsed the web on my phone. I searched online for similar stories to mine but there wasn’t much that I could find. Friends and family sent me regular messages of love and support, and I was also contacted by many women I’d never met before. These were mothers who sympathised with our bereavement or had experienced the loss of their own children, at various ages from newborns to adults. They reached out to me and offered a friendly shoulder with someone who understands this kind of loss. I was surprised and moved by their actions; they didn’t have to make contact and offer their support in this way but they chose to try and help. Out of respect, I responded to all the messages and most of them left it at that, they just wanted to let me know I wasn’t alone – which was immensly comforting.

However, a few continued to talk to me and offer advice and support, relaying their own sad stories by way of example. I soon became involved in regular dialogue with these few, my phone flashing constantly, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t possible for me to focus on responding to them appropriately at that particular time, much as I valued their experience. Their offer of support was enough of a comfort, but it seemed that they needed to talk about their own ongoing grief and desired that common bond with someone.

I suppose, as I had put our story out there, online and in the press, I had sent out a signal which said that I was open to this when, in fact, I wasn’t (though I didn’t realise it). I needed the company of familiar faces, people who knew me… I couldn’t cope with building new friendships with strangers who only knew me (virtually) for my loss. We’d met so many new people in the short time since Abi fell ill – doctors, therapists, nurses, teachers, journalists… who were suddenly deeply involved in our lives. And, due to the press reports, which I chose to control as I didn’t want Abi’s story to be distorted, everyone around us knew about what had happened.

But these poor mothers’ grief was simply too intense for me to cope with. I was on the cusp of my own shock yet trying to offer support to them too, and about a subject I knew little about. I was so saddened by their losses, but I became confused and felt unable to carry the load along with everything else going on. I found myself trying to compare my situation to theirs. Selfishly, I didn’t want to think of myself like that, knowing that I, too, would now have a lifetime to deal with my loss. Would I have to spend every day lighting a candle for my daughter? Would I now be amassing various ornaments and tributes to her? (Yes, as it turns out, but at that time I didn’t want to believe that.) Would my family fall apart under the strain? Would my other children be traumatised?

I’m trying hard not to sound as though I’m complaining about people’s concern or regretting the fact that we shared our story so publicly, particularly given my recent post about ‘Glossing over grief‘. I’m not complaining, at least not about the gestures. This is more an observation of the intensity of other people’s grief and my personally imposed obligation to please everyone. Remember, this is simply how it was for me in my shock and grief in those very early days.

Hearing another person’s experience is, in most cases, welcomed and I received some sound advice about what to expect and practical things to consider. I met some new people as a result of Abi’s death who I now consider to be good friends. They had their own experiences of bereavement but, like me, it didn’t define them, it was part of their life story and enabled us to share a common bond without the pressure to talk about it all the time. These were people who I met more naturally, in person, and who spoke to me as Kelly, not just as a grieving parent. The friends who’d known me for a long time continued to treat me as they have always had; yes, they shared my grief, but they allowed me to be myself too.

I feel this post is not well conceived and only adds to the confusion about what is an appropriate way to approach a grieving person. But this was how it was for me, and reveals a lot about just how complex grief is!

I can totally understand the urge to reach out to someone who has been bereaved, particularly if you feel there is a link between your own experience, and it is proven to be immensely beneficial to know you’re not alone (hence bereavement support groups). I feel it myself with others who are going through it. The desire to help, support and comfort is so strong. Immediately after Abi died, the support was both overwhelming and comforting, yet I couldn’t help but feel bombarded at times by advice and tips, hearing things like ‘time is a healer’ all too soon, being told deeply personal stories, all reminding me just how life-changing this whole thing would be. I didn’t want my life changed so drastically, I didn’t want to believe my daughter was never coming home. I simply couldn’t give anything back at that time, to those who seemed to expect it.

Today, it’s different as my mind is clearer, but not then, not straight away. And once I realised that I didn’t have to respond in depth to all the messages but could just listen and say a polite thank you, I felt back in control and I was able to focus on those around me.

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2 thoughts on “Balancing the kindness of strangers…

  1. Just testing my comment will show, as I have written long responses to your post before only to be lost because I haven’t logged in properly.
    Your writing is so poignant and true, like you I searched the net for some sort of respite through the night during those dark early days, weeks and months.
    I’m so proud of you my little sister, who I should be protecting. How can anyone protect you from what has happened?
    There is no such advice out there but somehow you explain how it is so clearly.
    I want to write more but will just see if my response shows.
    Love you xxx

    1. Thank you, that’s truly lovely. Your unconditional love and support has been one of the main things that has helped me through this terrible time. Love you very much xxx

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