From cradle to grave

Today, I took my 9-year-old son to his football match. It’s normally Dad who does the football matches, but it had been almost a year since I’d seen my son play due to having the new baby and he asked if I’d go and watch him. He’s been appreciating some one-to-one time with me of late, which of course I love too.

While he was warming up, I automatically joined the other waiting parents by scrolling on my phone, but as I’m trying to be more active I realized I could use this as an opportunity to go for a walk, get my own blood circulating a bit. I wasn’t in an area I knew very well so I just walked out down the road and after about ten minutes I came across a small church.

I thought it would be good to have a little look around. There was a small graveyard just in front of the church, hidden by tall hedges. The graves looked old and weather-beaten, and I’m sure it had long since closed to new burials.

I first noticed five cross-shaped gravestones, lying flat in a line on the ground. On them were the details of men – figures in the community as their job titles were also engraved under their names, each from the 1800s, early 1900s.

The book of Ecclesiastes came to mind. (I’ve been reading over it this month.) In it, Solomon – the king – writes about accomplishments and the work we do, the things we put our effort into, the dreams we chase, and reflects how all of it is pointless once we’re dead. Not in the immediate years following our death, but the hundreds of years that see us but a distant memory, if that.

There can be great meaning to what we do, if through doing it we help others, but equally we spend a great deal of time doing or worrying about things that have no meaning.

Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

I thought of these men in the ground. Long gone. They probably were highly regarded in their day around the area, but who remembers them, or what they did today?

I then saw a small, quite beautiful, cherub angel gravestone. It was to mark the grave of a baby. I couldn’t tell how old the baby was as the dates had worn away. A little baby without its mother, a mother without her child. I thought of the mother having to put her newborn child into the ground here, the tears that must have been shed, nearly 100 years ago. Yet so many more have been born since – life has moved on at an extraordinary rate but this baby was here once, briefly. This baby’s short life mattered.

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I saw other graves. Some in fairly good condition, others nothing more than a nub of stone sticking out of the ground. No matter what condition the stone, what the status was of the person buried there, or what age or situation they died, they were united by sharing this space. They had once breathed and created memories, but they all ended up as dust and mud, under a gravestone, forgotten or barely remembered.

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I was struck by this stone of a weeping angel.

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It was of two sisters, buried together. One had passed away at age 19, the other had died later age 35. I thought of the parents having to cope with two of their children dying, having perhaps adjusted to the loss of one daughter, only to lose another. Or perhaps they had died too? Who knows the story behind this family’s plot. Who even cares?

There was a striking stone marking the grave of a toddler. Clearly the child of someone of some wealth or importance at the time to afford such a memorial.

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Of course, 100 years ago infant mortality was high so child burials would have been common, but the diversity of the graves in this one tiny patch of churchyard just seemed so poignant to me. Those who lived long, buried next to those who never grew up.

Each one would have been mourned, by wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends and relatives… who now themselves may have departed. How did they live out their lives – happy, depressed, lonely, content…? How did grief shape their futures?

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon sees that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, the wise know more and die, just like fools who don’t know anything and die too. Life is for living he concludes, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, we can chase any number of dreams but without God there isn’t much point to life at all.

As I headed back to watch my son’s football match, I considered today, this next hour, my ‘work’ was to be there for him. To see him smile at having Mum watching from the sidelines. This memory would stay between us two. And when I’m dead and gone, and he’s dead and gone, this moment will be forever gone too.

But, today, it mattered.

 

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Guest post: Born sleeping – 10 years of missing Amy

I’m sharing this post on behalf of a lovely friend, Louise, who lost her first child, Amy, 10 years ago. Louise has offered me much emotional support since my own loss and I have been inspired by her strength. Please read and appreciate the years of love and loss in these words and images.

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Thursday, 17th March 2016, marks the 10th anniversary of the death and birth of our daughter, Amy. She was stillborn at 39 weeks, following a textbook pregnancy, and with no logical explanation.

Having happily carried her for nine months, to then endure labour and birth knowing there would be no positive outcome is certainly the hardest thing I have ever experienced and I truly hope never to surpass it. I know, my husband, Jason feels similarly about having to helplessly watch it happen.

It took me a long time to begin to face my grief, but even in my darkest days I started to write about it. This poem took me years to complete (and I am still editing it as I re-read it!) but I thought, a decade on, I might dare to share it.

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Losing Amy

“It’s not there, sweetie”.
Those words I’ll never forget.
The words of a consultant,
Searching for a heartbeat,
So strong for nine whole months,
That now had ceased to be.

Disbelief so whole,
And pain so numbing.
We held onto each other, as our world collapsed.
To leave that room was to accept it.
I couldn’t move.
I kept repeating, “NO!”

I had felt so joyful,
As I nurtured our first child within.
I had taken great care,
And yet our daughter, Amy,
Our little ‘Bean’,
Was born sleeping.

Although so cold,
Her skin was soft,
As it should have been.
We caressed her face, her perfect hands,
And took our birth day photographs
Of our precious girl.

I felt broken.
So sad and lost.
I gave birth to her
And yet I didn’t feel like a mother.
I treasured the memory of her kicks.
Poor Daddy had nothing to remember.

Three years passed and, despite two beautiful sons,
I was feeling desperate.
I had confined Amy’s photographs to a box
my grief alongside them.
But now the lid was about to blow.
I was losing control.

I reached out for help
And someone grabbed my hand.
Rachel. A bereavement counsellor.
A rock to cling to in the whirlpool of grief.
She helped me find my way out of the dark
And I am so thankful.

Ten years on and my grief persists.
Sometimes it washes over me like a wave.
Occasionally, it still bends me double with its force.
But I don’t attempt to control it now.
I accept it has a place in my life
And our darling Amy, a place in my heart.

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We sadly know we are not alone in our experience and were thankful for the support given by SANDS (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity). Their work provides an essential resource to grieving parents, so if you would like to donate in Amy’s or any other baby’s memory they would welcome any support. Please click this link https://www.uk-sands.org/donate Thank you. x

A picture of health

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This is a picture of Abi and me on holiday in about 2011. I love the health and happiness radiating from BOTH of us in this picture. Of course, there was never any sign that Abi would have a brain haemorrhage two years later but what struck me when I saw this was not Abi particularly, but me. This is how I remember Abi, but it’s not what I think of when I see me.

While I was never overweight, I had worked hard to get myself fit after having three children. I was caring about myself for the first time and it shows. I felt confident, happy in my own skin, mentally calm…

Since Abi died, I feel like a bleak shadow of that former me. My skin appears greyer, my eyes tired, my fingernails are chewed and sore, my body unfit and neglected…

I stopped exercising as it brought on palpations when my anxiety took over. I didn’t see the point in loving myself anymore. I failed my daughter, why should I care about myself?

I am now tied into a pattern of compulsive eating, because food is my only comfort. I’ve gained weight (obviously being pregnant twice in 3 years has something to do with that!). I’m not one to worry about my weight but I know my pattern of behaviour is not healthy, physically or mentally. It’s almost self-destructive. It’s a common trait of the bereaved.

I posted on my faith blog, By His Light, yesterday about how I mourn so much harder when life is tough. When there is illness, overwork, stress and anxiety. When parenting challenges me to my core and being fair or consistent goes out of the window. I feel more tearful as the pressures mount and miss Abi terribly.

I withdraw at times like this… because I need the solace. I want to build a wall around myself where I can just hide under a duvet and wallow… for a while, until it passes. I don’t want others to see this vulnerable me, I want them to see only the me I know… and like.

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Of course, I can’t do that. I have three children to look after, a home and business to run. A husband who needs his wife to keep it together. A baby growing inside me who needs to be nurtured.

So I turn to food as my pick-me-up, several times a day. It helps for the briefest moment so I’m back again in an hour or so. I feel excited by food. Yet I’m starting to feel the discomfort of the weight (not least the baby pressing on my lungs)… I suppose it represents, physically, the emotional weight of grief.

Continue reading “A picture of health”

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.

Continue reading “My failures as a grieving mum”

Cornerstone – suffering, loss and… hope?

The words in the title might not seem correct together. How does hope fit in the same sentence as suffering and loss? But when struggling with the emotions that grief throws at me, I always try to remember hope.

Hope in life.

Hope in death.

Hope for us all.

Continue reading “Cornerstone – suffering, loss and… hope?”

Words of comfort – January 2015

This is the first in what will be a monthly round up of some of the best blog posts I’ve read this month about grief.

Living with grief, you can forget that there are a lot of people out there who have yet to experience it first-hand, and when a child dies that you know of it can create confusion and worry in your own child. I was so struck by Suburban Mum’s post How do you explain death to your child? that I wrote this post about my favourite children’s books about dying. @suburb4nmum

The lovely Emma, over at Three is the Magic Number, blogs about her grief after losing her sister to cancer aged just 28. Her post, It’s Complicated perfectly summarised the complexity of how a grieving person is feeling – how the awkwardness and strain of dealing with people is a daily problem. Another beautiful blog.

This Huffpost blog post You Aren’t Here Now: How Grief and Mindfulness Don’t Mix, by Megan Divine, really struck a chord with me as I’ve been battling with relaxation and mindfulness. It’s simply not something a grieving person can do easily, if at all. Mindfulness seems to be the answer to all our problems, but for many of us this isn’t a solution at all. Megan’s posts on her blog on Refuge in Grief are worth reading whether you are grieving or not. @refugeingrief

The lovely Leigh at Headspace Perspective blogs regularly about her grief after her baby son, Hugo, died last year. Her blog itself is definitely worth following as she covers areas such as premature birth, HELLP syndrome, life after losing a baby and the complexities of grief. I could share any of her posts, but this post is something I’ve drafted a post about myself and it’s such an important message about grief: Empathy vs Sympathy: Why the difference matters. @leighkendall

I have been in a mental muddle for a few months now, but this post by Scribbles and Crumbs about how her faith in God helped her through some of her darkest days was a brave and honest piece of writing. After Lexi’s baby Charlie died last year, she has written some amazing posts. I have been truly inspired by her faith and never fail to take comfort from reading this blog. @lexibehrndt

On a similar theme, I shared this post by These Widow’s Shoes, called Counselling for Copers. It really resonated with me and reassured me that taking control of my mental health is just as important as looking after my family’s. Parents are definitely life’s copers, we struggle on and put everyone first but ourselves. Talking to someone who doesn’t know you, won’t talk over you to make you (or them) feel better or tell you what to do is vital. @widowsshoes

I hope this round up has been of interest to you. See you again in Feb!

#WordsofComfort

As the sun sets on New Year’s Eve, I see hope for tomorrow

As per my post earlier this month, most people will understand that this time of year is very difficult for me and trying to cope with Christmas festivities without Abi is something I (and my family) have again had to bear and get through.

New Year’s Eve is equally painful. I don’t even want to wish others a happy New Year as it feels so hard to say when I feel such grief that Abi isn’t here with us. I want to turn off all the social media updates. But I do wish us all not just a happy new year but a joyful one. One where we can all, despite our various problems and sorrows, see some joy in our lives this year.
Continue reading “As the sun sets on New Year’s Eve, I see hope for tomorrow”

Coping with Christmas after the death of your child

I’m aware I’ve not written since Abi’s birthday, and there’s a reason.

Like last year, I’ve found myself lost in a blur of grief and unable to write at all. It’s almost like there is so much to say that it’s impossible to write clearly. Sometimes I find that life is back in focus and I’m getting on with things, but then I’m reminded – constantly, what with the coming of Christmas and my duty as mum to make sure my other children feel able to ‘get excited’ – that my darling Abi is dead. That she’ll never open another present. That her Christmases are memories to me now.

Continue reading “Coping with Christmas after the death of your child”