Have you prepared for the winter of life?

This morning, I read this brilliant blog post by Cheltenham Maman about how anxiety over our children’s health and wellbeing can affect us. The post provides some sound advice for helping to manage parental anxiety so it’s certainly worth a read if you’re struggling with this. I also wrote this post last week about how I feel so consumed by the hypervigilant state that being a bereaved mother has put me in.

In Cheltenham Maman’s post, she wrote something that struck me.

Liken it to other things in life that are certain; winter will come each year but we don’t let it dampen how much we enjoy the summer.

We can be anxious – and therefore depressed about our anxiety – every day of our lives, worrying about something bad happening but, just like we ‘dread’ the cold, dark winter months, we also look forward to the summer and make the most of the warmer days when they do happen.

This is powerful stuff!

Yes, just like life and death, we need to make the most of the better days, the healthy days, the young days, the carefree days. It is inevitable that winter will come, death is something no one can escape from, so try not to waste precious time worrying about the cold while you’re bathing in sunlight.

spring-quotes-and-proverbs

Yet there’s a caveat to this beautiful metaphor.

Because we know that winter is coming, we make plans about how we will cope with it. We get the boiler serviced, we insulate our homes, we buy in supplies that protect against the frost, we buy a new warm coat, we eat warming, hearty foods…

We prepare for winter and so winter, while still cold and dark, is more bearable and we can see hope in the spring and summer just around the corner.

So why not prepare for death? Prepare for the worst?

Well, that’s rather morbid and something no one likes to think about. How do you prepare for something happening to your child, or a grandparent suddenly dying, or your own health failing?

The whole concept is too much to think about, but to help you, I want to reduce the anxiety to just people in your home (or immediate family if children have grown up).

Financial preparation
If one of you dies, what happens to the money? Will you be able to work if your spouse or child died? Is there provision to cover you and any funeral expenses? Who looks after the children? A will is an obvious starting point. Don’t put it off. Get it done!

If a child dies, the funeral fees are usually minimal, but it’s not a given, although you can claim help from the government. Much of our daughter’s funeral fees were waived by the funeral company at their discretion, but we still needed to find money for flowers, clothes, a wake, a headstone to name a few items that ran into thousands.

Simply, when your child dies you will want the best for them that you can afford. This goes for any of us. Funerals are not cheap. They are also a time when emotions are running high and stress is through the roof so it’s not a good time to be scrabbling around trying to find money to pay for a coffin.

You see those adverts on daytime telly with octogenarians selling funeral plans. It seems so far away, yet it could be something you have to face tomorrow. I’m sorry, but it’s true. We don’t all get to live to 80.

Think, too, about your career, if you have one. What leave does your employer provide? Both my husband and I took a month off work when our daughter died. In hindsight, it wasn’t nearly long enough, but we felt we needed to get back into our routines for our children’s sake, and our own sanity. I am self-employed so technically I could resume work whenever I wanted, but I still had bills to pay and so I had to work. I didn’t get paid leave. My husband’s work were very accommodating and gave him paid leave which included time off for all the counselling sessions we went to with Winston’s Wish.

You also need to think long-term. Many bereaved parents find it very hard to work at all after the death of their child. Life changes and how you think about your work changes with it. In an ideal world, have some savings to give yourself a buffer if you need to take time off.

While you can’t ever know when death will come knocking, just think seriously and realistically about what you would do financially if it did.

Spiritual preparation
Do you believe in God? Do you believe we go to heaven when we die? Do you believe that there is nothing after death? Do you have no idea and it hurts your brain to even think about it?

Religion has never been so unpopular, yet still millions of people believe in God or some kind of spirituality.

My faith as a Christian has undoubtedly helped me cope with my grief. And it will again and again (because I will lose someone I love again, as we all will). My faith was actually increased by my daughter’s death. However, before she died I was kind of lost and not really thinking about God and stuff, so after, I did a lot of ‘soul searching’ and attended church groups and courses to look deeply at my beliefs. I almost wanted to pick holes in it, but, for me, Christianity is the most truthful thing there is.

But what do you think? It’s all very well being ‘undecided’ but you don’t want to be suddenly thrown into a spiritual debate with yourself or others when you are coping with the impact of loss. From the point of death you are offered a priest to say the last rites – will that matter to you? When you’re standing numb by the bedside of your child, and are confused about ‘all that’, it can be totally overwhelming.

Perhaps use Christmas as an opportunity to go to church, find out what it’s about, see if it’s for you. Or, if you’re an atheist, perhaps consider ways you would want the death to be handled. You may find you are guided down the spiritual path and you don’t want to be.

Whatever you believe, if you are as confident as you can be in what you believe before something bad happens, you will find it less stressful and other people will be better able to support you.

Physical preparation
When you are thrown into a grief state your own physical health is put to the bottom of the pile. In fact, you’d be quite happy for your own body to die so that you can be where your loved one is. But, I want to warn you, neglecting yourself is not a solution.

In the early days of grief you won’t want to eat or do anything for yourself, even showering becomes too much. This is all normal. However, if this goes on for too long, your own health will suffer.

Before Abi died, I was the fittest I had ever been in my life. I ran half marathons, I worked out 3 or 4 times a week, I had energy and felt healthy. I finally felt happy in my own skin! After Abi died I couldn’t eat initially, then I found I could eat and I ate too much. If you ever have a problem with comfort eating it will come into its own here!

I believed I would soon die anyway, so what was the point? What was the point in slogging my guts out running a race? Four years later I’ve had two babies so have put my body under new pressure, I have an unexplained heart problem and I’m on anti-anxiety medication. I don’t exercise. I have eaten whatever I wanted. I have battered my body with as much sugar and fat and bad food as I could manage. I gained a lot of weight and saw symptoms I’d never felt before, which only added to my anxiety and depression. What is the point of eating healthily? Abi was the epitome of health yet she still died.

Well, there’s every need.

You need to be healthy to cope with the emotional stress that grief will put on you. Living with symptoms of illness is truly horrible for you and those around you, and it is depressing. It is inevitable that you will live on long after your loss (as much as you may not believe it), so it’s best to do this feeling as physically well as you can – don’t add diabetes, heart disease and chronic illness to your stresses too.

I am only now addressing my health because my body is forcing me too. I have children who need me. I cannot afford for them to see me give up and die slowly. Yes, the cause of my problems is most likely what I’ve been eating, but I put it all down to grief as the primary factor. I was not like this before Abi died at all.

If you have things that are bothering you, your weight, your lack of activity, your stress levels, do something about it today. Do your research and find out ways to heal your body and feel better. It will help you massively when grief or a stressful situation takes over.

 

I hope this has helped. I don’t wish to be ‘doom and gloom’ but we really must stop believing that it’s the doctors who are gods (yes, they are bloody amazing but they are human too), that we will all get to live to 100 years old and that our bodies will never go wrong….

Prepare yourself for the winter so that you can enjoy today.

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