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.

Advertisements

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…

caring-grief-300x271

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

 

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?

Continue reading “Have you prepared for the winter of life?”

A letter to you on your sixteenth birthday 

Abi

I pause before even writing a word as the thought of you turning 16 in heaven breaks my heart all over again.

I’m sorry sweetheart. I know you are safe, I feel that, but I feel so lost without you near me. You’re the one who is safe, I’m the one running scared.

My mind and body are a bit stressed out. All the love you should have had, all the time, the energy I should have spent on you is bundled up inside me because it’s had nowhere to go.

I wanted you to meet your new baby brother and sister. Your baby brother is so much like you I wonder if God just gave us the same soul. The baby, too, is happiness itself. It’s as though we’ve been given these extra joyful souls to help us live with the sadness of you being gone. And we feel it every day. We laugh, we have fun, but underneath it all we are missing you.

Your sister misses you, deep down, she just hasn’t worked out how to express it. I can imagine that the pain is so great that it’s far too complicated to face. There have been so many times when she’s needed you, for company, advice, support. Growing up is hard and I know you would have been a great big sister to her. Sharing your clothes and makeup, teaching her hairstyles, sticking up for her at school…

Your brother talks of you often and I know he thinks about you more. It’s too painful sometimes for him. The realisation of what grief means, how that makes his eyes instantly water and puts a lump in his throat. He loves you still and believes Jesus is looking after you.

Me and Dad are doing OK. At times it feels we’ve clung on to our family by our fingernails, but as long as there’s something to cling to it is worth it. We are complete worrywarts now, but that’s understandable given you left us so suddenly.

Your friends are all grown up now too, all seeing their 16th birthday this coming year. It hurts a little to see them getting on and growing up without you but I know you are never far from their thoughts.

We just all miss you so much. I can still hear you. I try to imagine what you would say or do. Would you be a second degree black belt by now? Would you know what career you wanted? What experiences would you have had?

What I do know is that you would have planned your 16th birthday the moment you turned 15! I expect it would be a slap up meal or a party of some kind. there’d be a big cake, lots of friends, music and laughter.

But it’s not to be.

On your birthday, we will probably carry on like every other day. There’s no need to buy in food or balloons and decorations. There’s no need to do anything other than visit the place where we laid your ashes. There aren’t many days where I wouldn’t quite happily join you, yet I somehow strive on. This life can be so very hard but there is so much to live for, I’m not entirely sure what yet but I feel it must go on.

So keep your light shining through us, and through everyone who knew you. We love you so much darling.

Happy birthday.

Mum

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

2012-11-24 17.31.12

I should be organising your 16th birthday party

I’m at a loss. How do you ‘celebrate’ your child’s birthday when they are dead?

I should be chasing around here and there, buying balloons, presents, sorting things out, baking an amazing cake.

Instead I sit here and can only do these things in my head, while my stomach churns with longing and my eyes sting with tears.

You, my darling girl, will be 16 tomorrow. It’s such a special age to be, a milestone, yet one we cannot do anything about.

I want to throw a party anyway, invite everyone she ever knew, pull out all the stops regardless of the fact she’s not able to go herself. I know she’d want a party.

But this isn’t a celebration. It’s an awkward, messy, unhappy time. I wish I could be one of those mums who puts on a brave face and arranges a get-together to celebrate … but I can’t. The thought of Abi not here chokes me up just thinking about it.

Abi

 

I’m not allowed to cry tomorrow; the children are nervous, wondering if it’ll be a gloomy day. It won’t, but it means my heart will beat even slower than normal as I keep my emotions locked away.

I just have to get through it. I’m sorry darling. We haven’t forgotten you, we just don’t know what to do. To do something feels like losing you all over again, to do nothing feels just as bad.

Release a balloon, light a bloody candle, make a wish upon a star… it means nothing. She is in me and I’m in her always, but I know she is safe and happy where she is. I can see her at sixteen, she has grown up in heaven. I know there will be many more birthdays and milestones without her to endure.

No matter how many children I have, she is always my first, my Abi. The one who started all the love.

Dear Lord, It is only because you created such a wonderful child that our hearts hurt so much in grief. I pray that you keep especially close to us tomorrow. Ease the pain in our hearts by your comfort and give us strength to face the day. Thank you for your countless blessings on us, and for keeping our girl safe. Amen.

20121124_180136

 

 

Reinstating our children’s bedtime routine

The last time my hubby and I sat in front of the telly in the lounge with our children all in bed upstairs was around 4th February 2013, over three years ago.

We always had a fairly reasonable bedtime routine for our three children. Upstairs around 8pm, get ready and then a story. As Abi and her sister shared a room, they often listened to the same story. Being just 22 months apart made bedtime easy.

However, it was bedtime when Abi fell ill and suddenly passed into a coma due to a ‘catastrophic’ brain hemorrhage. At the time, I was reading a book to her sister while her dad was looking after her in our bedroom. Our son was already in bed and, though awake, was drifting off. It wasn’t that unusual for someone to be ill so there wasn’t much concern over Abi’s condition. This of course changed dramatically when she became disorientated and quickly lost consciousness. My hubby called me and I knew it was bad, though not as bad as it turned out.

So, we went from a sleepy, unwinding bedtime to full-on panic, screaming, crying in a matter of minutes. Paramedics. Mum in tears. CPR. Lights on bright. Shock and trauma. If I dare to close my eyes I can still see and feel it all now so clearly.

When we came back from the hospital a few days later, without Abi, we naturally wanted to reassure our son and daughter. Our daughter struggled at night in any case so I slept in her bed with her for about a week. Then we began to gradually fall into a new routine of all going upstairs together at bedtime and us reading to them and settling them before going across the landing into our bedroom and watching tv until we went to sleep. We’ve been doing that ever since, even with the arrival of two more children. Our bedtime routine is now at least two hours long, with play time and endless stories, and we rarely get into bed to start watching tv until 11pm. Then we watch a show and fall asleep around midnight before waking up in the morning and starting all over again. We’re knackered!

It’s not all about the kids

We’ve always known it’s not healthy, but then, what is? We never thought it would be forever, but then it’s become the norm. A few months ago, I met a mum in the park and her parting words to me have stayed with me ever since: ‘It’s not all about the kids’. This is so simple and truthful, because while we’re busy giving our all to the children, physically and emotionally, because we never know the hour, we have very little left for us.

Yesterday, our children’s counsellor asked us – ‘When will you be ready to sit downstairs again?’ We looked at each other. We’ve never discussed it. We just get through the days.

But, she pointed out, drawing out bedtime and staying upstairs is only adding to our anxiety. We, as parents, are reinforcing the fear that something will happen to one of them, and they, as children, are getting the message that we are there because there is something to fear. So they aren’t learning how to cope, how to soothe themselves, how to get by without us.

But there is something to fear! We saw it all up close and in detail. That crazy moment when the bright light of our lively, super-fit daughter was snuffed out, like that. No warning. No buildup. It’s inevitable that, in the aftermath, we are living on the edge… we all need reassurance!

Yet, with two new children, the subject of routine is coming up. As every parent knows, routine is key. It doesn’t have to be military but a simple and consistent routine makes for a much happier family. Children like confident parents, they like structured discipline, it keeps them safe. But despite knowing all this, I feel it’s a hopeless cause. I can’t take my own advice!

As my hubby and I had both discussed this with our children’s counsellor we saw this as a hurdle we needed to get over together. This is crucial as so often I am the one at the therapy meetings while my hubby is at work, and while I relay the things discussed it doesn’t make an impact if he hears it second hand.

Establishing a new normal

Last night we worked out a new plan; nothing too far off what we’ve been doing but much tighter in terms of timings. In grief, it becomes very hard to give a damn what the time is, so this demands a lot of emotional effort.

My hubby took our 2-year-old up first at 7.45pm to put him to bed, with just one story. He shares his room with our 9-year-old son so has been used to going up with him. At 8.15pm, he took our 9-year-old up to bed and read him a couple of chapters from a book. He was at first insisting on the usual game of bedroom football, but my hubby was brilliantly firm and calm.

Our toddler protested at the lights out so soon after his story and began to wail. We allowed our 9-year-old to read to himself with his small bed light. And then my hubby said good night, confidently, and left the room.

I was settling the baby in our bedroom and saw him standing on the landing not really knowing what to do. Years of sitting with them in the darkness until he heard them sleep was hard to undo like that. But he went downstairs and made a cup of tea. The boys kept quiet and stayed in bed.

At 8.45pm, it was our 14-year-old daughter’s turn. We like to read to her still and bedtime is a key time of day when she can talk about her day or her troubles – time that is essential at that age. But rather than doing this at 10.30pm when I was tired and irritable, I told her I was going to read to her at 9pm and then leave her to go downstairs at 9.30pm. And this was exactly what I did. I read, we had a quick chat, and I left. She did ask what if she needed me, and I simply said, we are downstairs. She got up to use the loo but didn’t come downstairs once. A good start!

So, at 9.45pm I was sat on our sofa, with my hubby, watching a programme we’d been following (from our bedroom telly). And boy, was it weird! I felt like a child doing something I shouldn’t!

I was uncomfortable, on edge and waiting for someone upstairs to call or need us. With four children up there it was inevitable that one of them would need something at some point. But no, it didn’t happen. I worried about the baby on her own, as she has never been out of my sight at night time. But apart from waking for a quick feed at 10pm, she was happy to settle down.

Then I worried that they were all being too quiet, I know too well that it’s when they are quiet you need to worry. I can tell when my children are genuinely ill when they go quiet.

Then, feeling fed up that I couldn’t relax, I went through a phase of thinking ‘Why are we bothering doing this? We can sit up there with them, it’s not doing any harm. We can start this tomorrow…’ the grieving mother in me fighting with everything to keep still and force myself to focus on the telly as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I was out of my comfort zone, and I realized that my comfort zone isn’t being chilled in front of the telly, it’s being on edge, tired and frustrated upstairs waiting for our children to call out.

Maybe we can do this?

It took a while, but we both gradually relaxed a bit more, we even cuddled up! We went to bed at 11pm, a bit too quickly as though we had been itching to get up there all along and back to our ‘safe space’.

Before we went up, I began to think that I could get the last load of washing out of the tumble dryer now instead of in the morning. And I realized I could get my daughter’s packed lunch ready for the morning, rather than rushing like we usually do. And this made me realise that with hopefully better rested children and more time for us, we could go to bed feeling less like we are ‘fire fighting’ and more like we’re winning at this parenting lark. Each one of us should benefit from a more structured bedtime and mornings – where we are all tired – will be a bit less stressful.

I am already exhausted thinking about doing it all over again tonight. It’s emotionally draining, feeling like we’re pretending to be assertive and like we aren’t afraid. But we have to consider the long-term impact on all of us by carrying on with our hypervigilance.

I may be a mother of five children, I may have children of all ages and stages, but I am still learning about parenting… and grieving… and living. I think it’s called ‘winging it’. I treated myself to a fab Selfish Mother sweatshirt with this slogan to remind me that I don’t need to do it all. (Incidentally, they donate a big part of the proceeds to charity.)

I hope that in years to come, our children are able to understand what we went through to give them a stable home, and stability is one of the greatest gifts you can give to anyone.

do-not-stop

Some happy news..

It’s with joy and relief that I can announce that our baby girl was born on Monday. Her birth wasn’t entirely as planned or expected but she arrived safe and well and we are all smitten with her.

We have named her Naomi Grace.

image

Choosing her name was fairly easy on reflection although during my pregnancy it seemed a huge responsibility, and perhaps because Abi isn’t here we wanted to think more deeply about what this baby should be called.

We like quite traditional names but ones that are not that common, also we like names that are easy to spell and that won’t cause a lifetime of explanation about spelling or pronunciation.

We seriously considered another A name, so rounding and completing our family with another A. For a few months, I had a strong yearning just to say an A name again! But I found the names we liked were similar to Abigail’s, either in the number of syllables or the sounding. We could do it, but I wondered if we’d later regret it.

My hubby came in from work one day and had a few names on a list. There were 3 or 4 ones I liked and one in particular that we all liked. Naomi.

We chewed them over (and over and over) for a few months but always came back to this name. It didn’t sit entirely comfortably when saying all the children’s names together, but I reasoned that she will be a person in her own right, not a part of a rhyme or always talked about as a set of children.

I also wanted a name with meaning. Not necessarily biblical, although Abigail is a biblical name meaning father’s joy and my sons have variations of the biblical names Joesph and Jacob. We considered flowers or something natural to represent the blessing of this double rainbow baby, there is so much choice! But Naomi had such a serene and pleasent feeling to it, it felt right. It is also the name of a strong and admired female from the bible.

Naomi means pleasentness. Grace, which we chose much later, means God’s favour.

image

I’d not read the book of Ruth until we thought of the name. I was interested to find out more about this woman and when I did I felt the name was even more relevant.

So who was Naomi?
The book of Ruth is very short but it’s a beautiful book of the Bible that I encourage you to read. Naomi was a widow and in fact not too much is written about her, but what is gives a huge impression of God and his awesome forgiving love and how he turns pain and misfortune into the greatest blessing.

In short, thanks to Ruth’s (Naomi’s daughter in law) love of Naomi, they looked after each other and through Naomi’s distant family connections and wise and loving counsel, Ruth, having been widowed and childless, married a wonderful man called Boaz and had a son.

It could be a perhaps unremarkable story but for the fact the son of this marriage would go on to be a distant relation of Jesus himself.

Ruth was a poor widow, she was also a Moabite, someone not recognised by the Israelites; again God surprises us by not doing things the way we expect (or want). Using people from ‘humanly’ low backgrounds, sinners, the poor, a woman, perhaps not seen as of value to anyone… and creating something wonderful out of their story.

Jesus was expected to come as a strong king, not a weak vulnerable baby,  which is why his own people eventually killed him. He wasn’t the warrior saviour that they expected.

What I like most about Naomi and Ruth’s story is that the ultimate blessing (the birth of the Messiah) isn’t seen by them as they lived out their lives. They had no idea how their family line would continue, like all of us. Yet they trusted God nonetheless and were thankful for all they had.

Life was far from easy yet even in their bleakest times they stayed true to (perhaps clung to) their faith. Despite her inner strength and kind heart Naomi still expressed despair, grief and unhappiness following the loss of her husband and children, and the desperate situation she found herself in. I like that she is so relatable and real.

My children may not do what I expect all the time, but I trust that God has their lives in His hands and that our stories are just tiny, beautifully created links in His chain.

I also liked in this story, when Ruth’s son was born, the people celebrated that Naomi had a son too. Ruth’s blessing had blessed her life again, a double rainbow of hope, as she sees her beloved daughter-in-law settle into a loving marriage and is able to see new hope and God’s grace. Just like my rainbows have brought joy to not just me and my husband but our family and friends too.

But then isn’t that what God wants? I believe without doubt he has eased my anxious heart through this pregnancy. He has helped me through my two losses with hope upon hope. A double rainbow.

And that’s by any means a romantic Christian dream that everything will be OK. That God’s will be done and all that. This is a much more realistic kind of spiritual acceptance. I feel that, no matter what, it will be OK.

With my grief, I have had to find a way, through my faith, to accept the ugly side of life. I may well face pain with my husband or children in the future. Life doesn’t feel secure in that sense. So I’ve tried to find a way that I can live with this and still walk with Christ.

Naming our child Naomi Grace, I am reminded of God’s immense love and
grace, and I hope she will be too. No matter what happens, we are loved and I will try not to doubt that. Even though I know the life journey ahead will not be a smooth road, having that deep trust in God will be essential to my journey on this side of heaven.

Welcome to the world little one!

image

The hardest thing to admit…

After you’ve lost a child, you somehow find ways to live on. You don’t actively seek ways to help your situation, the adjustment sort of happens by itself.

When people say to you ‘I don’t know how you cope’, you look at them blankly, and most likely simply say ‘I just do’. But it makes you realise you have been coping! Inside you’re thinking how exactly have I coped? Am I a bad mother for coping the way I have? Will I ever feel on top of this?

There are things in my life that have changed for the ‘better’ in the three years since Abi died. We had our first rainbow baby a year after her death. A huge new adjustment on top of the trauma of early grief, no matter how joyful a blessing his arrival was.

There is no doubt at all that he is a blessing and has not only helped us to see hope and feel joy again but has also helped family and friends. This little boy has a clean slate, no trauma or pain or sorrow, no worries or fears, just simple happiness and wonder at what life is. I wish I could bottle that!

We’ve also changed our home in a big way to what it was. We finally have the kitchen of our dreams after years of waiting and dreaming. We have added another bedroom giving us some much-needed space. We’ve had all the manky old carpets replaced and had new double glazing fitted, as well as having most rooms professionally redecorated. Big, expensive jobs that needed a remortgage to achieve but have enabled us to start to love our home again without leaving or eliminating the memory of Abi.

I’m in the final few days of pregnancy as we wait for another baby girl to arrive. We’ve adjusted to our new son and now we know we’ll need to adjust again, through tiredness and worry and fear, through joy and happiness and hope.

I am naturally anxious for a safe delivery and keen to meet her after all these months of getting to know her as she has been growing inside me. I long to see her tiny fingers and toes. To smell her head. To hold her close for a feed. To feel that rush of love whenever I cuddle my child.

But…

…this wasn’t the life I wanted.

Admitting that is hard, very hard, because I know how fortunate I am. But when someone is going through a major trial, saying ‘there are others worse off than you’ often doesn’t help at all.

I know there are other people living in terrible situations and I am thankful for what I have been blessed with. If I died tomorrow, I would be very happy with what I have achieved in my life.

But still… this wasn’t the life I wanted.

I look at my amazing kitchen, the one that replaced cupboards hanging off the walls, rotting wood and a grotty floor. It’s now clean, bright and functional. I like it, knowing it’s new and just as we want it makes my life easier, but the joy of it has never been felt.

Because now, of course, material things don’t matter. It has helped lift my spirits, as having a nice kitchen that looks clean when I’ve cleaned it helps me when I feel depressed. Having a home that I know we have invested in and that has space to spread out helps me not feel so hemmed in. I feel comfortable in rather than irritated by my surroundings. But I’d still switch it all back in a heartbeat to have her back, to be back to complaining about my old kitchen or lack of storage.

It’s similar with our new child and this pregnancy. I can feel at times a sense of sorrow. Sorrow that I’m living on. Sorrow that I’m taking such joy in my new children knowing what I’ve lost. Sorrow that my other children have had to adjust to this too, but live with their own anxieties about illness and death that we have to try and help them with.

I feel love and happiness for my rainbows, how can I not?! The love I feel for them is so deep it hurts. In many ways they have saved us from despair. Yet I can’t ever feel the simple joy of a new parent at the arrival of a baby, because it’s always tinged with pain.

I know people who have lost a child and wanted another, it’s natural to want to feel that rush of love again, but to think that it would somehow replace the grief, or make it less painful, is misguided.

To have another baby or babies after a loss brings up unique emotions. Despite wanting the baby more than anything, you realise that this child is here because another is not. That the grief you felt for your lost child is what helped create this new one. That part of them is in this new baby, when your core is screaming out for your dead child.

It’s an admittedly negative way to reflect on the birth of a child, but it’s essential to acknowledge. Grief and blessing when blended together bring emotions that no one can warn you about. Life is always a complex mix of looking simultaneously forwards with hope and backwards with regret.

I realised that I’ve been thinking thoughts like this recently. I suppose a typical mother’s guilt response to the excitement I feel at having another child after thinking my chances of having any more children were over before Abi died. I also recognise it as typical pre-birth jitters, the fear of the change and of the whole aspect of ‘coping’.

It is my grief’s way of taking the edge off my joy as I marvel at my blessings. Life is not about simple joys any more, there will always be an underlying emotion, a fear, a hankering for what once was…

Yet I am grateful for life.
I am grateful for the people in my life.
I am grateful for Abi.
I try not to live with regret.
I try to move forward each day.
I try to use what I have learned.

I am realising it is possible to cope. That joy through grief is still joy, and that in fact the grief I feel is actually a way of keeping Abi close to me as my life and needs change.

This post may seem somewhat sombre, self-pitying, defeatist but it’s those kind of thoughts I don’t want to keep to myself. It’s those kinds of thoughts that are taboo, that isolate the grieving from others. I have to release them in order to cope.

No. I didn’t want this, but it’s what I have and I will allow the sad feelings to accompany me along with the good. I will remember that my life’s perspective is changed for the better because of what I have been through, even though my perspective on mortality has changed for the worse.

My children have enriched my life, I only hope that I can return that gift by enriching theirs.

image

Grief, selfishness and ‘me time’

One thing I’ve noticed about grief is how selfish it makes one. Rightly so, of course, as grief is a personal pain that has to be endured by the individual – there’s nothing ‘giving’ about it. We cling to the memories, we absorb ourselves in the pain of our loss, we channel our energy into coping with how we are feeling – often to the detriment of others.

In many ways, for which I’m thankful, Abi’s death helped me to be less selfish as a person. I had pursued my career running my business, giving all my spare time to it (in truth, it was my escape from the strain and monotony of family life). I considered myself an independent soul within my marriage. I did what I wanted. I deserved the things I wanted. I was dissatisfied if things didn’t go my way. I worried that what I had wasn’t enough.

My priorities shifted completely when Abi died. I saw what was important, that living now was more important than waiting for the right time. That I needed to treasure what I had, not hanker after what I didn’t have. Despite the pain of Abi’s death, I am forever grateful she gave me that insight, because I realised that my life’s perspective had become totally skewed.

But, confusingly, while grief has helped me to appreciate them more and the material stuff less, it has also pushed me away from them, as I try to cope with loss and protect myself from more pain. And this is more obvious to me (and them) when my energy tank is near depletion. Selfish mum is still there, it’s just that she’s selfish in a different way now.

When I found out I was pregnant again in August 2015, my toddler was 18 months old. I wasn’t prepared for the news at all. I was in a vulnerable place emotionally and had just started to get stronger after a period of psychotherapy and finally starting on medication for my anxiety. I felt better for the first time in a long time. The foggy anxious-filled weeks and months after having my fourth child were fading and I felt more like me again. Yet here I was, given a gift I wasn’t expecting. A gift I knew was going to sap my emotions and energy even further and most likely throw me right back to square one.

I asked God what was going on. If this was wise given my situation. If this was really what He wanted for me. I had just started to ‘get back out there’, to feel like I was controlling my ship again. My life wouldn’t be about serving Him, but about serving little people with big demands!

I found I craved even more personal time alone – to think, to do the things that interested me (working, blogging, creating, zoning out), to do things my way. Now, my ‘me time’ isn’t about sitting down for five minutes with a book and a cuppa, my me time is more about having some emotional space from the constant worry and grief – being with my children and dealing with their own complex emotions is draining and me time allows me to shut off from that.

It takes a lot more than a cup of coffee for me to zone out these days
It takes a lot more than a cup of coffee for me to zone out these days

Blogging is a big ‘me time’ factor that my family don’t understand. I need to write this stuff down to save my sanity some days! And as much as I love them, I found I wasn’t good at mothering them because I craved peace, time to grieve, time with my thoughts – I wanted to be mothered myself! The problem starts when that craving begins to overtake everything else.

But God has given me another child. A fifth child. Me? Lord, don’t you know, I’m really not that maternal. I really don’t have that many hours in the day. I’m really not that good at this selfless parenting thing like other mothers. Yeah, I can do the baby days with my eyes closed, but once characters develop and cuddles aren’t enough and the challenging starts I find my head in the biscuit barrel wondering why I’m finding this so hard!

My children need and want to be nurtured. It’s not their fault they were born and need me. It shouldn’t be that I resent them at times for that and then feel terrible, knowing all that I’ve lost! A perpetual cycle of mum-guilt.

This post isn’t meant to be a self-pitying rant, it’s recognition of how intricately life’s web is spun and how making sense of the details helps me to understand the bigger picture. I was brought up in an insecure environment which made me self-reliant and only trusting of myself. I know I’m a deeply thoughtful and caring person, but I have an inherent fear that switches my ‘flight or fight’ button on at any given moment.

With this new baby, I consider that God doesn’t want to give me the easier (for me) route of one-off giving such as helping a charity or someone in distant need, He knows I’d still have my selfish steak, that I’d still be wary of opening up to those I love most. He made me strong. He knows bringing up children with love, trust, selflessness and encouragement is what I need to build on, to show His love daily, and by doing so I will not only allow the better side of me to come through, I’d also be living my life as He intended, for Him.

That’s not to say ‘me time’ isn’t important. I know that in order to give to them I need to feel as though I’m giving to myself a little. We all need time to ourselves. It’s about recognising that I shouldn’t get consumed by the need for me time so much that it affects my ability to give all the other times. That life’s pace is slower than the one in my mind. One day I will have all the ‘me time’ in the world and will miss the sound of my name being called for the umpteenth time. I’ll miss being needed!

For now, I will remember that the joy is right under my nose! I’ll remember that I’m only human. I’ll remember that I am enough. I look back on this post and see all the ‘I’s and ‘Me’s I’ve written and how self-centred life has become. Yet I have been gifted with the most valuable treasures and I need to look after them. They depend on my love and love is the most important gift of all.

This post was inspired by the wonderful Melissa over at Your Mom Has a Blog who wrote this thought-provoking post about ‘The Me Time Myth‘.

 

 

 

Take me home – a pop song prayer

When trying to rebuild a life that’s been broken – it can feel like you’re grappling in the darkness, utterly alone, tired, afraid. Even the simplest routines go out of sync, the pace of life seems five steps faster than what we can manage. We’re barely breathing.

Fear, grief, faith, hope all mingle into a mess that leaves us feeling lost, numb. How can we go on…? And where do we go on too…?

Whenever I hear this song I can never hold back the tears. It strikes at the heart of the prayers of the weary me, the me that just can’t do it all anymore, the me that’s fed up with the burden I carry, the me that wants answers, that needs reassurance, to feel safe. I suppose, the vulnerable child within.

Songs can bring so much comfort to the grieving, and while I’m in a fairly clear place right now, sometimes I need to pray songs like this – to get me through, and that’s okay because it helps. I’m sharing this for those readers who need to feel a bit of release, who need to allow the tears to fall, to possibly help them move to a clearer mind.

If you need to hear this, watch Take me home, by Jess Glyne

maxresdefault

Wrapped up, so consumed by all this hurt
If you ask me, don’t know where to start
Anger, love, confusion
Roads that go nowhere
I know that somewhere better
‘Cause you always take me there

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?

Could you take care of a broken soul?
Will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?

Hold the gun to my head, count 1, 2, 3
If it helps me walk away then it’s what I need
Every minute gets easier
The more you talk to me
You rationalize my darkest thoughts
Yeah, you set them free

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?

Could you take care of a broken soul?
Oh, will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?

[3x]
You say space will make it better
And time will make it heal
I won’t be lost forever
And soon I wouldn’t feel
Like I’m haunted, oh, falling

Would you take the wheel
If I lose control?
If I’m lying here
Will you take me home?

Could you take care of a broken soul?
Oh, will you hold me now?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home, home?
Oh, will you take me home?
Oh, will you take me home?