I’ve been hiding in my bubble for the last few weeks and I did not think I would ever write again. I had been embracing my new normal as bravely as possible. Then the grief monster, or should I say ‘friend’, paid me a visit and left me debilitated. I was devastated by the realisation that I will live with this hole in my soul for the rest of my life. The grief ‘friend’ paralysed me so I couldn’t even run and avoid; I was back to crawling. I was incredibly frustrated that Bobby’s loss is a part of our story. We have always said it won’t define us; but the incredible sadness of losing him can overwhelm when the grief ‘friend’ visits. And Bobby’s loss won’t define us, he will make us better people.
Who knows what invited this wave to wash over me as they say. It was a mixture of events, hormones, anticipation and just plain awful grief. Perhaps it was the anticipation of Des going away to see Ireland beat the All Blacks; a much needed break for him, but difficult when my stabilisers were taken away. I tried to organise my birthday lunch with some of my closest friends; I found it stressful as these things are still difficult. The hardest part of the last few weeks was cheering my great friend Nicola on as she so kindly ran the marathon for Bobby and for Féileacáin. There was the difficult anticipation, another new ‘friend’ of mine. It was surreal, emotional and a devastating reality slap about what has happened to us. As other’s I knew running came passed us, I was very emotional. So many of them had their own stories; emotions were high. Nicola arrived in the park and the legs nearly went from under me. This had to be happening to someone else I am sure we both thought; are we really here because our son died? We were both not quite able to get the words out. Lily proudly wrote Bobby’s name on all the t-shirts, cheered the runners on, walked 12 kilometres and had a fantastic day chasing Nicola around the course.
Then landed another friend of mine; I am trying not to use the word ‘monster’ anymore – the emotional hangover. It typically comes from a tough event and it lasts for days. I did not feel like getting off the couch or out of bed. And I did; there is no choice when your living child needs you. And the joy and giggles she brings; she is our little fortune cookie.
Christmas is looming; even Lily questions why all the god damn decorations are up so early. I want it to pass so fast that we feel no pain but Lily deserves such a special one, so we are leaving the country and cruising on a Disney ship with no coverage; escapism at it its best. 2017 is looming, as is at some point my return to work. Some would say I have anticipatory anxiety about all of the above.
As each month goes by, I face the fourth day of the month. Another month on since we met and lost our beautiful son. And this time it was my birthday. Two great friends came over and we had a few glasses of wine; and they were needed. Good giggles, great conversation; it felt good. People tell me I still have my sparkle but you don’t feel it in the early months of loss. The reality of losing your child is that you lose a part of yourself and the future is hazy.
I made a commitment to share how I am surviving as the each month’s anniversary passes. The reality is I learnt many of these the hard way. The good news for newly bereaved parents is that we have survived, we haven’t killed each other and Lily is in a great place.
Anger is tiring; find your voice and take up boxing
They say a good balance of anger in grief is good; but it’s tiring. It comes and it goes and just when you think it’s gone, it knocks on your door with matchsticks for your eyes. I have talked to other bereaved mothers who get the ‘fighting in my head’ concept. You become angry about an interaction or a conversation and the argument with the person starts in your head. You end up feeling pretty crazy and quite lonely. What I have learnt is that the majority of people have the best intentions; but child loss is harrowing and people struggle as they do with loss in general. Social interactions, particularly the bad ones, can leave you paralysed and lost for words with that fight or flight feeling. I’m still trying to find my voice, it’s a work in progress and it’s really hard. But accepting that people have good intentions and starting at this point does help. It makes the anger less intense and you can let go a little quicker. Sometimes we have to be brave and look at other people’s perspectives; it usually helps our own reality. I’ve recently started boxing a little during my training sessions and it’s a great release. Just don’t box anyone else! If you are supporting someone close who has lost a child or someone close, it may be helpful to read and research. Raising your level of awareness is a lovely present you can give the person in your life. I remember a dear friend telling me she had read a book about a mother who lost her child; just so she could understand me better. She’s a pretty special friend.
Events and invitations are tough, I have learnt not to commit too early
When you are having a brief break from the grief ‘friend’, you think you are cruising. You think that all is relatively ok in your world, even with that hole in your soul. The reality is the hits and waves will keep on rolling. I learnt to wait until closer to the day itself to give a final answer to invitations. Sadly, the real world is full of unknowns, set-backs, reminders, babies and good intentions and people who don’t know what to say. If you commit too early, your anticipation anxiety ‘friend’ will pay you a visit and you may run for the hills anyway. So have some self-compassion and wait. If you are supporting someone through a big loss, try to understand that social gatherings are hugely overwhelming for them.
Exercise is essential
I strongly believe this has been a big factor in my survival; walking, running (trying) and going to the gym have reconnected my brain to my body. The endorphins from exercise give you hope and positivity particularly during the grief ‘friend’ visits. Make a commitment that is realistic and stick to it. I no longer trip over my own legs in the gym and I can follow instruction; who knew!
I am in your corner
I have a friend who recently said this to me on an incredibly difficult day. The impact of these words is breath-taking. If you are supporting someone through a difficult loss, tell them you are in their corner. It’s simply magical to hear these words.
Love and support should be in tablet form
Surround yourself with those who love and support you; it makes the pain somewhat bearable and pulls you out of the pit. When you are at the five month stage, people may well have ceased regular contact with you. Grief is lonely and at this stage the anger may return leaving you feeling isolated. It’s worth telling people close to you that you still need them. I have some real superstars in my life who pretty much check in with me every day; they know who they are. I still make few plans, I don’t issue invites and I don’t make many calls. It’s hard to ring someone when you still haven’t it in your heart to say ‘I’m great’. I still rely on people to make that contact with me.
It is ok to say no
Someone told me recently that it is braver to say no to something too difficult than shoe horning yourself out the door vulnerable and in a heap. This wise lady told me mothers like me need to say no and go back into our safe places when needed. Other parents in our situation need to know that it is ok to say no.
Hope is the beacon that guides us to tomorrow. As bad as today is, there is always hope tomorrow will be a little bit shinier. For me sometimes it’s a day I enjoyed eating out with Des or close friends. Sometimes it’s a day I enjoyed cooking a curry after a lovely walk; even though I might leave out a vital ingredient. Chillies really are needed for a good curry.
Sometimes it’s a day when I remember how much I still love shopping; in fact I just helped a dear friend take a chunk out of her credit card today. Sometimes it’s a few days with Lily on my own; days which I anticipated differently. Yet they were very special where we both treasured our co-sleeping and all the things we did and said ‘Don’t tell Daddy’.
There really is no fighting grief; the only way to grieve is to grieve.