My failures as a grieving mum

I’ve failed.

Life seems fractured.

Daily events feel insurmountable.

Relationships are strained and unstable.

Work is challenging.

Motivation to care, about much, is gone.

I’m sharing this deeply personal post because I know for sure that I’m not alone. That out there are other mothers, in mourning, trying to hold it all together, being strong every second, achieving amazing things just by getting through a day but feeling like a failure throughout it all. I want to reassure those readers that they are not failures, but that the feeling of failure is normal living with what we do.

Failure is a cruel term. How can I possibly have failed at anything?

I am loved.

I am safe.

I am provided for.

I’ve read all the posts, seen all the ‘grief charts’, know the lingo of the phases and stages… but I’ve yet to see the word ‘failure’ mentioned.

As an independent and determined woman, I worked hard to carve out a career and a stable family home. Then death came knocking at my door and decided to pull the rug from under me.

The feeling of failure is huge, but in order to shrink it I’ve tried to consider exactly where and why I feel I’ve failed.

I’ve failed as a wife – I’m so emotionally broken that I struggle to tolerate. To be patient. To be understanding. To be supportive. To be selfless. To be together. Feeling guilty for the way I’m handling it. Feeling guilty for what has happened to us.

I’ve failed as a mother – At times, I feel overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, of giving my all to my children to make sure that their days are the best they can be, yet feeling over-sensitive to their anger and behaviour (even though I understand they are just kids). My thick skin is thinning. I’m wanting to protect them from harm, but also give them the freedom to be themselves. Never feeling like I’m giving them enough.

I’ve failed as a family member – Every single bereaved mother I’ve spoken to has some issue with family since their loss. Either parents or siblings who don’t understand or support in the way they need. Grief breaks up homes and families! My refusal to ‘get over’ it, just to keep the peace with certain – once key – figures in my life means I’m failing my family. I’m misunderstood. Isolated. I’ve become the ‘perpetrator’ by not handling things well, with dignity.

I’ve failed as a friend – I have some amazing friends, but I struggle to dedicate time for friendships and laughs and being sociable. I cannot give much to friends, only take. I am avoided because friends know their problems are ‘nothing like mine’, who themselves feel guilty for complaining about the ‘mundane’. Or I remind them of how fragile life is.

I’ve failed as a Christian – I know God is bigger than this, and that He’s with me, but the guilt at not feeling worshipful or thankful, for feeling anxious and fearful, makes me feel like I’m failing Him. I can hide from friends and family, but I cannot hide from Him. He knows I’m angry and afraid but that I need Him more than ever. This isn’t a huge concern – God and I have a good thing going generally – but it adds to the overall feeling of not being good enough in anything.

I’ve failed Abi’s memory – I’m unable to face tending my child’s grave. I turn away from memorials or public reminders. I should be doing her memory justice by being more expressive, more positive, more hopeful, more thankful. What kind of mother am I?! I know she wouldn’t want me to lose my mind over this. That she’d want me to do good things in her name. So I’m failing even the memory of her by allowing grief to eat away at me.

I’ve failed as a person – I’ve changed from a generally patient, considerate and good-natured woman who enjoyed life into this bitter and angry anxiety-ridden freak who is obsessing about death and negative thoughts. I’m feeling a failure because this isn’t something I feel I can win. I have beaten postnatal depression in the past without it impacting on my life. I have ridden through the bad times with always new-found strength. But not this. I’m failing myself every minute because the repercussions of grief chip away at my stability constantly. I don’t know myself anymore.

And worst of all, I’ve failed Abi – the fact I was not able to save my first-born child from dying. The child who was the key stone in our relationship as a ‘family’ – the child who secured our love. Who shone our love from her very being. Who is the reason we have more children. I couldn’t save that child from her death. I’ve failed her in the worst way possible a mother can.

Grief has taken the person I was – the woman who had everything she ever wanted – a loving husband, three healthy children, a safe house in a safe environment, a successful business, good health and happiness – and ripped her to shreds, leaving behind the dark side of me. The side I don’t want to know. The side I barely knew before this.

Now, I’m hard.

I’m angry to my core.

My heart aches all the time.

My throat is tight.

I’m resentful.

Negative.

Terrified.

On edge.

I’m suffocated by the people and situation around me – everyone moving on, getting on, making plans. I skip along at times, joining in, pretending that if I just act it out long enough it will finally stick. But then I suffer a fallout.

Grief is a perpetual battle.

I imagine my early death. I feel certain this will kill me – my feelings will eat at me inside, literally breaking my heart or causing something bad to grow in me. And people will be unsurprised and would say of me, ‘Oh she never really ‘recovered’ after Abi died’.

Because that would be true.

But how on earth can I recover from my child’s death? Am I honestly expected to? Because I’m not and I won’t. So what, then, does the future hold for me?

I know the rules of grief better than most. I know that ‘time’ will help me to adjust.

You know, I feel I have adjusted to the fact that Abi has gone. These overwhelming feelings are not about her death as such, they are about having to live my life in mourning.

Having to change things because of grief.

Not speaking to certain people because of grief.

Not being able to make a single decision without grief coming into it.

Not being able to walk down the street without grief following me.

Not being able to look into my husband’s and children’s eyes without seeing our grief.

Every. Single. Day.

I can understand why Queen Victoria always wore the black mourning clothes after Prince Albert died. Perhaps I should too? To show people that no, I’m not ‘over it’, That even though I may smile and laugh and look okay, I’m perpetually in mourning.

The first year of my grief was somewhat ‘romantic’ – I tuned right in to being there for Abi, of being thankful for the friends and sympathies, the memorials and remembrances, of trying with everything to stay ‘me’. I needed that. The second year turned me right on my head and kicked me in the face. I knew it would be tough, I just didn’t realise how so.

Adding a new baby to the mix, as blessed as I am to have him, adds a huge strain to an already strained home. New babies do that. Yes, the more you have the less stressful it can be, but post-natal anxiety is a natural problem that even ‘normal’ parents face. To slap that onto grieving parents can be doubly hard.

I admire anyone living with childloss who risks their heart again. A rainbow baby is a wonderful thing but the guilt that comes with it – the guilt of wishing you had your old life back – is pushed under the carpet. But it’s the guilt that eats at you inside. It’s the guilt that will send you crazy.

Half my problem is that I’m an emotional perfectionist by nature and find it hard not to have life just so. I’m very hard on myself.

I know life isn’t perfect by any means, I’ve experienced plenty in my lifetime to know there’s no such thing. But when grief overwhelms you it’s very hard to see any wood for the trees. Life isn’t just imperfect, it’s a huge tangled mess! The logic I once had has taken a hike!

I need to find a way to make this stop.

I refuse to succumb to the breakdown that grief wants me to have, because if I crawl under that rock I’m not coming back out again.

People can tell me I’m far from a failure. I’m a good wife and mother. That my feelings are natural. I know I’m cared for, and I appreciate it. But it’s me who has to tell myself these things.

I need to cut myself some slack. To stop blaming myself for how hard it is. To ease off the guilt. To treat myself kindly. To get the help I know I need.

After I wrote this, I read this amazing message that popped into my inbox – You aren’t crazy, you are grieving. A sign if ever there was one!

‘Your way back will happen slowly…

Not crazy. But bold.

Not scared. But cautious.

Not you. But still you.’

I suppose my stubborn strength is what will pull me through. Very likely leaving scars along the way but it’s a road I must travel, in order to reach the place where I’m not so scared. Where I’m not overwhelmed. Where I feel at least a little peace.

So I will continue to breathe in and out. I will continue to take each day as it comes. I will continue to get along with life. And I hope that with the right help I can look back on this in years to come and be thankful I’m not in this miserable place anymore.

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38 thoughts on “My failures as a grieving mum

  1. You know, I wish we could meet up, drink lots of wine, talk about Abi and Hugo and about the shit hand life has dealt us both. I recognise myself in aspects of what you say – how grief permeates every single thing.

    I try to remember what my psychologist said, which is that feelings and emotions are what they are. I won’t tell you not to feel like a failure because you’re not and rationally you’ll know that – but that doesn’t make the feeling go away.

    And even saying the feelings are what they are doesn’t help sometimes either. It’s really really tough living without your child.

    I think the quote at the end of the post is spot on – some days all we need to do is survive. When I’m asked how I am, I’ve taken to responding “Still breathing” – the assumed response is “ok thanks” but I refuse to pretend I am even if I have a smile on my face.

    Much love xxx

    • Leigh, this is such a lovely comment. You’re right that ‘rationally’ I know I’m not a failure but in the day to day that rationality gets lost. I’ve just posted Kate Bush’s Breathe song on my Facebook page, it’s been singing in my head all weekend! Just keep breathing.
      Much love to you too xxx

  2. What a moving post. I am sorry that this has happened to you. Especially as Abi was so young. It reminded me that the pain of a parent who loses their child is awful, no matter how old the child. My Uncle (85) lost his 59 year old son, a work colleague lost her 43 year old son. Both are devastated. It is not the natural order of things. I hope that you continue to Get Up, Survive, Go Back to Bed and that your way back happens sooner rather than later.

  3. I wish I could take away the ache. You have not failed Abi, your family or you. Your a mother who is greiving not failing.

  4. I came across your blog after Jennie share it on Twitter. My heart aches for you. My son had major spinal surgery at Frenchay, so I know the hospital well and I could see all the places you were talking about.

    Please don’t think you’re a failure, you’re muddling through the most horrific experience, the only way you know how.

    Sending you all the love in the world xxx

  5. I also have some very difficult times but know they can be survived. Remember that sun behind the clouds? It is my birthday tomorrow which is never easy, it was Father’s Day recently and I felt like my heart had broken all over again, I have been cycling on our recently sunny days sometimes with tears in my eyes because I know that my Ruby would have loved it too. There will always be times that are particularly hard (many will be unexpected) but I always force myself to say “tomorrow is another day. The wind will blow those clouds away” and I know I will move gently away from that depression back to my “normal” grief.
    I try to be pragmati about things that work for me- I expect the unexpected, I cry, I jog, I like the occasional gin and tonic, I strongly believe in healthy irreverence, I try not to waste time on things I have no control over, I over-complement people, I try not to think in all-or-nothing terms or in black and white, I help random strangers with no thanks or recognition, etc.
    Mostly, these things work. Sometimes nothing works, my brain is foggy and I feel consumed by the weight of grief and disabled by vulnerability. But, even then, I try to repeat that mantra even if it makes no sense on those dark days- “tomorrow is another day. The wind will turn away those clouds”.
    Our children would not want us to grieve too deeply or for too long. I hope we can both afford them this assumed wish in their cherished memory, keep depression at bay and think of them with a smile on our faces and nothing but love in our hearts.
    You are not alone. No-one is, not really. I will be thinking of you, myself and other grieving parents and quietly praising our courage in continuing.
    With great respects,

    Ben

    • Ben this is such an uplifting comment – if that’s possible in grief! In many ways I wish I could be more like you in the way you consciously try to do positive things in your life. Everything after grief become ‘conscious’ doesn’t it?! Half the battle is facing up to your true feelings – which I have finally done here – because it eats at you if you don’t. People should feel they can do this without judgement. I’m so surprised at how badly we, as a society, handle death. Thank you again x

  6. I understand so much of this. The rational me knows I’m not a failure, but then again nothing seems rational since Aidan died a year and two days ago.

  7. I have been told by close family and friends that I was a wonderful mother. I happily devoted my life to my children. But one has died and it should not have happened. So it is impossible to NOT feel like a failure. And as you well know, that loss begets a world of pain and suffering that has no limits and touches everything else. Everything you write makes complete sense to me. I don’t think it will ever be possible for me to not feel some level of guilt and failure. However, I try not to let those feelings control my days, despite the fact that they are always present. Good things can still happen in our lives.

    • I totally understand this. Every parent feels some guilt for their child, possibly failure if their child doesn’t grow up to make the most of his or her lift… but when that child dies these emotions consume everything because we can’t make it better. Good things have and do still happen to me and us and I’m trying to focus on those. x

  8. There’s so much there that means so much. I can’t explain just how much of a failure I feel at times, my confidence for everything is shattered – I’ll have re-typed this comment 5 times before I post it. I feel I failed Elspeth and my partner and our children, her friends and all the other relatives.
    It’s also impossible to get across to other people, but how can you ever ‘move on’ when every day when you wake, you immediately think of your kids, and your first thought is of the one who isn’t here.
    It’s a great and brave post because it says all the stuff I try and hide xx

    • Oh Jenny I’m so sorry. I have thought of you recently. I feel we are mourning the loss of our family – yes the ones who are still here are pretty much the same as always but it’s all wrong, like a virtual world. People want us to be ‘grateful’ all the time, as a mum, but we never will be when one of us has gone. Much love to you xxx

  9. Wow how true I’m a grieving mother of 2 years past. My daughters death has changed me as a person for the worst it crave her more each day and completely feel I let her down how could I not save her I am her mummy and that’s my job.

    • I’m so sorry, Carla. My therapist told me that even for a ‘normal’ grief (a parent for example) it can take up to five years to begin to feel like you’ve adjusted. To lose a child is beyond what anyone can comprehend. We need to keep reminding ourselves that we are living with the hardest loss and to try to be patient with our feelings. Gentle hugs to you xxx

  10. You are never a failure going through grief. The failure is if you let it beat you and decide to never get up each day, never interact with your other children, never keep the love of your family and friends close by. That is when you fail. You have strength beyond what anyone else will ever have (unless they go through the same thing). That is powerful. Take each day at a time, each step, each breathe and each moment. There will come a time when all of a sudden something will lift and you will feel light and calm. Thats when you will have come through it.

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  12. I just wanted you to know I’m holding these words which are so heavy for you right now. You are loved. I’ve nothing I can say that will bring comfort, but I’m grieving your loss with you xxx

  13. It is always amazing and comforting that when I come on here the’re blogs of exactly how I am feeling! Some days I just want what I had back and I don’t give a darn about how “grateful” for the other things I should be. Sometimes I’m mad at people just for seemingly enjoying a day out with their family and on those occasions I feel like a failure and a pretty rotten human being! I know in my heart I don’t wish them harm, I’m just jealous that I will never be that carefree again. It has only been 1 yr since I lost my aunt, 6 months for my gma and 6 weeks for my brother. There is only my mom, my husband and myself left and I have to believe we’ll get through all this and be happy again but, there are many days that I am, like many of you, just getting by. It get’s tiring appearing strong enough so people don’t worry about you. We are not failure’s, just people with heart scar’s that will mend but, never go away. I pray we all can find that peace for ourselves and someday our loss will not be the first thing we think about every morning when we wake up but, rather how much we are looking forward to participating in our daily lives, xoxoxo, susan

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