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.
To lose a child is of course not uncommon but it’s a more unusual loss, and apparently one of the hardest to bear. Having raised Abi for 12 years, it is impossible to let go of that maternal need to fulfil my role as her mother. She was a person in her own right, so I don’t get the maternal ‘relief’ I miss from her by caring for my other children, who each have their own needs and ways – this is about my role as Abi’s mum. I feel distress at her suffering and death when I couldn’t help her, but also I crave that love and dependency from her that I can no longer have; it’s not just that I’ve lost her, it’s that she’s lost me, which is very hard to accept.
I suppose blogging and sharing memories of Abi is my substitute for mothering her. I light candles, put up pictures, talk about her in conversation, cry, visit her memorial, recount the loss. It’s a living grief. I need to continue to keep her close in my life and in other’s lives.
I saw a magazine the other day with a photo of John Lennon on the cover, some old pictures never before seen were being published for the first time. John Lennon is of course an iconic figure renowned for his contribution to music. Most people will have heard of him, yet this one man is still of interest and has his photo on the cover of magazines… he’s still being written and talked about 34 years after his death. I realised that my need to share and keep Abi’s memory alive isn’t me not being able to ‘move on’ or ‘let go’ or ‘accept my loss’… it’s perfectly normal and, ultimately, necessary.
But yet I have to keep going… to grieve, remember and remind others, but also to live, to laugh and to carry on. Too much either way would send me headlong into a crisis. To carry such intense grief all the time without being able to get on with even mundane tasks would destroy me and my relationships with others. Yet to bury my feelings, put a perpetual brave face on, will likely make me explode in emotion and stress. Finding a balance between these two extremes is hard, not least because, to a grieving mother, they don’t feel like ‘extremes’ at all.
Grief might not be black and white, but I believe we’re faring okay. We have coasted through the first full year and are, on the surface, establishing our new kind of normal. Crucially, my relationship my with husband remains strong, and we are offering as much security for our children as we can. We are more worried and protective about them and ourselves, but we try to keep that from them. We haven’t turned to negative emotional crutches, like drink, to block out the pain. We have periods of okayness, bouts of depression or low mood, distraction from our children and work, tears together or alone. No two days are the same.
Sometimes I’ll find myself complaining about simple things like the amount of washing, the wet weather, what to eat, rubbish telly… etc and then I get a shock when I’m almost immediately reminded that life is so special and I’m lucky to even be doing any of these things. It’s hard not to move on from that ‘living on the edge’ feeling, but I don’t really want to – it makes me appreciate life so much more than I ever did before.
I also feel different about death in general. Even before this happened I could cry over the mere thought of something (imagined) happening to any of my children – try it and I bet you’ll be the same. Now, I’m worried for them still but in a more realistic way. I think because I know it is out of my control it stops me from worrying about the ‘what ifs’ as much and more about ‘well if it does then I’ll have to deal with it again’.
Now that I’ve had an up-close experience of death, I feel more equipped to deal with it in the future. But yet, the thought of another such terrible blow to my family is equally unbearable and I fear I would not ‘survive’ it again. I’m not sure if this effectively describes how conflicting grief is … in one way I’m living with ‘the worst has already happened’ but at the same time I can be thinking and feeling the panic of ‘but what if this happened again!’
It truly is impossible to work this one out; I think I’ll stop trying. We’re tired. Worn out. Weary of being on this ride. But there’s no escape or respite.
There is a burden to knowing we will always have to carry this, individually and as a family. I wonder in a few years if we will feel better; it’s likely we’ll have moved on in some way in our lives as our children grow up, yet there’s no doubt that everything will be marred by this sadness that is just there. The exciting things are never truly exciting. The laughter feels superficial and can quickly turn from uncontrollable joy to tears. The pain is always ready to surface at any moment when an unexpected memory comes flooding back or on a special day.
Over the first year, we’ve had to work through many key dates that have been hard, but in the future I know there will be numerous random and unexpected memories – a song playing on the radio, driving somewhere you last went with them or you know they’d love, seeing somewhere old… visiting somewhere new without them. Everything past, present and future will be a memory of Abi. Yet to know that I can still laugh (even if it doesn’t quite reach my eyes), resume a routine (of sorts), or plan an event reassures me that while Abi is always there, I just might be on the right path to survivial.