It’s like I am sitting on a very steep hill. I’m looking back down and only now can I see things a little clearer. I realise the enormity of the trauma and how I suffered concussion like symptoms since we received Bobby’s diagnosis and his subsequent death. For months I have used an envelope to write down where I needed to be every day. I honestly could never tell what day it was, what day it was tomorrow nor what I was doing the next day or what I did the previous day. The envelope was my anchor. I remember that overwhelmed feeling I would get when someone would ask me if I was free tomorrow if I didn’t have the envelope. I had to squint to understand people when they spoke to me. My brain was disconnected from my body. The early days were full of fear; fear of the grief and avoidance at times. I am empathic person and I do my best to try to understand another person’s hardship or loss; but I have never felt such heartache. You cannot fix grief; the best quote I read said the only way to get over grief is to grieve.
In the blurred moments of those months, I really thought I was present. But I really wasn’t, I was just trying to survive. I was physically weighed down and almost trying to find my way through a fog. I know for sure that my daughter Lily quite literally kept me sane. Those months were about shuffling from one day to the next; getting Lily up, dressed and fed and out of the house if possible.
Who know all firsts would be so incredibly hard; seeing people for the first time since Bobby died, going to stay in my friend’s house and there are many more firsts still to come. Noise; well that is another story for both Des and I. We can only deal with noise now. Decision making; well that was simply impossible in those first three months.
Suddenly I can do the hoovering, put on a wash and unpack the dishwasher without having to think. Until recently, I felt a constant state of confusion and exhaustion when doing anything. I could not get my brain to process which job to do first; the poor cat often starved and I would forget to go to the shop. I’m suddenly talking faster and I am doing things with more speed.
The joy in life is still somewhat gone; though I found myself enjoying a recent outing with my daughter and my nephews and a drink in the local pub with two special friends. I even got on a plane last week, cried my way there, but there were more moments of enjoyment.
Those gripping, paralysing painful moments still come when you quite honestly believe you will never feel ok again and you would literally give anything for this feeling to go. And it goes. And you get a break again; a grief break they call it.
I remember the intense feeling of not knowing who I was anymore and who I would be. I still don’t know what the future holds. All I can say is to trust that going through this grieving process is essential and there will be new revelations all the time. I’m learning about the new version of me as initially we are too traumatised to process what that is. That’s the corner I feel I am turning now after 3 months, I am beginning to understand the revelations and I preparing to be amazed amongst the heartache by the upcoming revelations.
Now that my concussion has left me and my brain connects with my body, I can look back and see what helped me move from one day to the next and I hope a grieving parent some-day will find this helpful. And essentially it is about physical and emotional wellness.
People grieve differently: If your husband is like mine, he won’t talk a lot about his grief. He may busy himself suddenly in the garden, take up a new hobby and that is ok. I find it hard at times that I really do not know what goes on inside his head; but I know he is devastated and is finding his way, his own way. Give your other half space, allow them to grieve their way and try not to push them to talk when they really just don’t want to.
Sleep: I cannot emphasise how important this was for me. I slept a lot; I went to bed early and I will be honest in saying that I took an antihistamine every night to help me sleep. In the early days, I slept during the day when my daughter had some hours with her incredibly supportive childminder. Grief is exhausting; my brain was and is to some extent still like a washing machine that never stops. I think about Bobby all the time. I dream about losing babies a lot. Sleep is just essential to support the grief process
Exercise: Walking is a life saviour; I never walk on my own, I always walk with good friends and in particular one lifelong friend who really helped me figure things out when I was dazed. And we laughed about things that were going on in her life and we continue to walk together. I was lucky to be able to work with a personal trainer who took care of me; she knew my journey and she helped me slowly build some strength and coordination. When I started with her, I would trip over my legs and I could not follow instruction. I was a disaster! But little by little I am getting my strength back. Exercise has helped my brain reconnect with my body and to process some of the trauma.
Writing: Writing about our journey with Bobby powerfully releases endorphins. It reminds me of the lessons I learned and continue to learn from his journey and his loss. I typically write following a trigger, which I call a footprint, a Bobby footprint. It might be meeting someone I would only know through his journey; it might be a ‘aha’ moment having had a chat with family or friends.
Limit alcohol: My husband and I have stayed well clear of alcohol due to the depressing effects it can have. And god knows we didn’t need any more depressing effects! Having said that, we both had a few glasses along the way with friends and it was needed.
Healthy eating: Eating well gives you the energy to fuel the grief. I find cooking and eating good food was both calming and it gave me focus. I don’t know what I ate in the first month but in recent weeks I have been more focused on this and it is really helping.
Acupuncture: Amidst our grief we forget that we have gone through a pregnancy and birth and our hormones play havoc. I have found acupuncture amazing for regularising these nasty hormones and it has been a massive help in the first few months of this journey.
Go slow: I’m a doer and an achiever by nature yet, I was incapable of anything but slow plodding. I had to stop myself from jogging on because I knew I would fall over. I didn’t have lots of plans, we didn’t take on entertaining of visitors; we just kept things very simple. We forget that impact of giving birth on top of the impact of losing your baby. Our bodies need time and care to recover. I’m doing a slow jog now sometimes but plodding is still needed.
Understanding triggers: Initially, I was oblivious. I had a blindfold on me and I was walking through a swamp waiting to hit by grief and sink. Still feeling like ‘me’, I would go and do things only to be crippled at the impact of it; like my first night away from husband. I felt incredibly panicked and a sense of doom being away from my little family; they say this is the impact of experiencing such trauma. I’m finding the thoughts of family gatherings really difficult; so for now I am not able. My stomach tells me I’m literally not able and the reminder of Bobby’s loss will be too much.
Hallmark days: We’ve avoided Father’s day and we have booked a trip away for Christmas. For now it’s just too hard and who knows how long this will last.
Remember the things you enjoy and do them: I used to love spending time walking along the coast and I love a nice brunch; only recently during a very low day we did just that. We went out to the beach, wrote Bobby’s name in the sand and the water was very calming; I felt my spirits lifting. I used to love cooking before my life got very busy with work and Lily. Recently I have been cooking again and its bringing some enjoyment to my day and it gives great focus. By doing things that you once loved, it will give you a small lift. Doing things I once really enjoyed gives me a hopeful view of the future; that some form of joy will return.
Spend time with people who will try and understand: I will be honest and say I was pretty selective about who I saw in the last few months. Grief is not something you can fix; so I tried and still try to stay away from fixers. Being told what to do and how to manage really doesn’t help even though people I know have the best intentions. I have been incredibly lucky on the whole to have people around me who ask me how I am and give me the space to talk about Bobby and how we are coping. Space is such an important word here. The reality is that we don’t want to dominate an entire conversation about our heart break; Bobby usually weaves in and out of the conversation with people who try and understand. The best thing someone can do for a grieving parent is ask them what they need and how they are. Find people who are comfortable around your pain and who will let you talk. Some people cannot cope with the intense emotions and may just avoid the conversation; and no matter what you do to not let this hurt, it will in the earlier days.
Be prepared to be amazed at what this life event teaches you: Pretty much everything that happens to me now is because of Bobby. Life has changed permanently and there are wonderful moments of love and support amongst the devastation that will give you goose bumps. I recently went to collect something from a man who specialises in framing; a complete stranger perhaps in his late 50s. He asked me did I lose my baby and proceeded to hug me so tightly for what seemed a pretty long time. And I asked him had he lost a child; and he had, I just knew. He gave me some very warm and practical advice. He gave me hope; that this raw pain would ease over time. I now prepared to be amazed at what my son has taught me and the footprints he leaves for me every day
Try to find your voice: This is hard; it is very hard. I found my voice through writing and thankfully I don’t find it hard to express how I am feeling when I see people. But it is essential. If people say the wrong thing; and they will, you need to try and find your voice. I realise now looking back down that hill that people really sometimes don’t know what to say. Some say nothing and some try to find the at least’s. Then there are the amazing people who just don’t say anything and let you talk. In the early months I have learnt there is no room for anger; there is no energy for it and your thoughts then become consumed with hurt. I tried so hard to be honest when I felt hurt or when the words that were put in front of me did not sit well. I did it as calmly as possible and appreciated that in most cases people just do not know what to say. It has helped enormously. I encourage people supporting bereaved parents to raise their awareness about what to do and what not to do. Give bereaved parents space to talk about their child and ask them what support works for them and be prepared to feel uncomfortable. Emotions around the loss of a child are uncomfortable; it shouldn’t happen and it is horrific. Swim in the discomfort.
If you are reading this and just lost your baby, I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. You WILL survive the first three months and you will learn to cope. Some days I feel frustrated that this is now our story. During the first three months I found a sense of desperation about this very fact. I am moving towards acceptance of this story and the fact I’m the mother who lost her baby and my husband is the father who lost his son. I am incredibly lucky to have a good sense of self awareness and skills as a life coach to process what is happening to me. I owe it to my son to share my learning’s about how to cope and I hope that by continuing to write that I can help other people; after all its one of Bobby’s footprints and it is part of the new version of me.