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Trust

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Love cannot live where there is no Trust.

Edith Hamilton

When I lost my daughter Faye, I lost my trust. I was a mum who could not save nor protect her child from death. I was the mum who listened to the diagnosis of dehydration, knowing it was wrong and didn’t question it. I was the mum who, just 5 days after her becoming unwell with pneumococcal meningitis, agreed to switch of her life support, only to then, when it was too late, question whether I had done the right thing. I lost my trust in the medical profession and I lost all trust in myself.

When my child died an, ‘out of order death,’ that is, before her parents and grandparents, I lost all trust in life. Life became something to be dreaded and feared. I no longer had any faith in the future. My world had been turned upside down, inside out and was left completely back to front. So, how could I trust that we’d be okay? How could I trust myself to keep my remaining family safe?

I couldn’t even trust myself to carry on breathing. Frozen in utter despair, I didn’t want to survive and yet, I kept on breathing. Even though, my heart was completely broken; shattered into a thousand pieces and technically should have stopped … it didn’t – my heart kept beating and I kept breathing. My own body let me down. It failed to do the one thing I wanted it to. It too, was untrustworthy.

I don’t know about you, but looking back, when I was younger, I felt invincible. I used to think that that my teen years were about pushing boundaries and growth; that my twenties were about burning the candle at both ends to bring about change and that, it would all be okay because, my thirties would be about consolidation, stability and emotional development. But I lost Faye in my thirties. My thirties were catastrophic and I became arrested by grief; I had lost grandparents but, I’d never experienced anything like this. I was terrified to feel my emotions, let alone process them. So, I didn’t. I couldn’t trust my either my emotions or my response to them and so I swept them under the carpet. I was a grown woman yet had lost all sense of what felt appropriate.

Innocently, before Faye died, I used to think that love conquered everything; that good triumphs over evil. Afterwards, scarred and traumatised, I felt that I had been the victim of the most heinous, brutal crime – that I had been violently robbed, mugged, left for dead, never to recover – but, that no court in the land would hear my story, let alone find and charge the perpetrator. I lost all trust in justice. I even felt that I must have deserved such brutality, as, how else could I explain how something so awful could happen? Perhaps, I was the perpetrator – responsible for my child’s death – guilty as charged! You must have heard, ‘Bad things happen to bad people.’ Was that me?

Confused and bewildered, I didn’t know where to turn or who I could trust. As a family, we were all grieving and it felt impossible to reach out to those I would normally rely on. How could I cause them more pain? I felt abandoned – not least by the very person who I loved the most. My daughter was gone. She’d left me.

In the midst of all this terror, well meaning people would say:

“Trust that everything happens for a reason.”

“Trust in the process.”

“Trust that God would not have sent you more than you can handle.”

I understood why. I knew such platitudes come from a place of kindness and wanting to fix me; to make me feel better. But, let’s be honest. In a grief averse, buttoned-up society, it also comes from a place of huge discomfort at having to see such deep pain and suffering. It’s like saying, please keep the faith because it would make me feel better! So, on the surface, I would mutter some form of acknowledgement. However, on the inside, I wanted to explode: fully explode. I was raging … spitting feathers … ranting, “REALLY? REALLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOU, WOULD YOU TRUST THE PLAN and WHAT KIND OF GOD DOES THIS TO A PERSON? along with THERE’S A REASON? THAT SOUNDS LIKE MY CHILD DESERVED TO DIE!

As far as I was concerned, it was all too cruel to contemplate and so, I buried it – somewhere deep inside of me, completely unaware that all the rage was still bubbling within like acid on metal, corroding my soul, turning it to rust. Until that is, after some sixteen years, a therapist treating my weary, aching body with acupuncture said, “Faye chose you.”

I unleashed everything. As I opened up, I calmly and assertively explained that, to tell someone bereft that they had been chosen to experience such pain, let alone that my daughter chose me, knowing that she would leave me, was despicably cruel. There, I had said it! I had spoken my truth. Once it was said, it couldn’t be unsaid. Those words were now out ‘there.’ It was they had their own energy because, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I questioned. I analysed. I listened. How had those words served me? How had my anger served me?

I softened. I recognised that my grief was indescribable, particularly in the early years. I couldn’t find the words so was I right to expect so much of others. I also became curious about what the alternative might be. For years, I had loathed the idea that Faye had died for a reason, but what’s the alternative? To think that she had died for no reason at all? To think she had died in vain. If I’m honest, to me, that also felt cruel – her life mattered.

I continued to look at alternatives and I realised that because I had suffered Faye’s loss, she wouldn’t have to suffer mine. Also, if I was such a bad person, surely, I wouldn’t have been gifted with the most beautiful, special little girl. Maybe bad things happen to good people? And here’s the big alternative … would I have wanted Faye to be my daughter, knowing that our time together would be so short-lived? I absolutely would! Am I going to bother about the whys and wherefores when I see her again? No. I’m going to be too busy kissing, hugging and loving her to care! So why bother now?

Today, sixteen years on, I’m learning to trust again. It’s been a slow process and I’m not saying that I wasn’t right to feel the way I did. There is no right or wrong in grief and all feelings are valid. But, there’s been a shift in mindset. I finally see myself as a good person and I trust myself. I have beaten cancer (not that I would want you to go through that) and my faith in the medical profession has been somewhat restored. Learning to trust again has meant I have let go of fear – I know that whatever life throws at me, I can handle it – Nothing will ever be worse than losing my child. With trust, I feel safe and the more I feel safe, the more I can experience joy. Learning to trust again has meant I have let go of anger, which happily, has left more room for love; more love for Faye; more love for me and more love for those around me. Faye didn’t abandon me because the love remained. The love has stayed in my still beating heart. I’m at peace that my heart is still beating. What will be, will be.

Does any of this resonate with you? Has my outpouring helped you in anyway? Or, do you disagree? All feelings matter and I’d love to hear from you.

Carolyn x

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Rituals for Mourning our Loss

“When words are inadequate, lean on ceremony.”

Wolfelt, A. 2020.

I recently saw a documentary about HRH Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother who was left bereft when her beloved husband, King George VI died. She was asked whether ‘it’ gets better and her response was that she didn’t know that it did, it’s just that we get better at handling ‘it.’ As difficult as mourning the loss of our loved ones is, most accept is that the way to ‘handle it’ is to live your life alongside the cherished memories of them, so that their memory becomes woven into the fabric of your days.  From day one, the need to actively keep Faye alive somehow felt very primal. She may have been torn from me, like an amputation, but I was still her mother and I still needed to parent and protect her, so if all I had left was her memory, I was going to make damn sure I protected it. As far as I was concerned she absolutely had to live on in the hearts, minds and on the tip of tongues of others. So, before her funeral, just days after her death, I wrote a poem about all her wonderful characteristics beginning each line with Remember her … face, her smile, her hair … and it ended ‘Please never forget Faye.’ It was handed out, along with pink chocolate hearts, to all those who attended her wake as I really wanted every single person there to have her memory etched on to their hearts. That’s a big ask and I don’t know whether it worked or whether that poem is now in the bin, the chocolate eaten and whether most give Faye a second thought. Sixteen years on, that primal urge has softened and it doesn’t seem to matter as much whether her world remembers her – all I care about is that she knows her family still loves and misses her.

What I’ve realised is that each time I honour Faye’s memory, I feel like I’m bridging the gap between us and spirit, between heaven and earth so that boundaries between life and death are softened and Faye feels less far away… not gone completely as long as I keep her memory alive and shared.

Rituals can help with keeping their memory alive, although, I don’t necessarily mean rituals in the sense of religious or solemn ceremonies, but more the personal tributes, gestures, words or everyday symbolic actions that can be practised to show that the life of your loved one mattered -and still matters. After the funeral, cremation and burial had taken place, most people’s lives seemed to go back to normal,where as I was living in some kind of parallel universe where time seemed suspended. Rituals were more like routines designed to keep me from the grip of chaos. Getting up, making the bed, getting dressed and brushing my teeth might not seem as though I was cherishing her memory, but it absolutely was as I felt I had to keep going, to awkwardly put one foot in front of the other; to point forward one step at a time, so she wouldn’t be upset by having to watch me fall apart. Having experienced the horror of Faye’s loss, which could not have been predicted, and having to face the unknown territory of living a life without her, the robotic, mundane ritual of routine created a simple existence that felt safe, predictable and structured. It was ground hog day – but that’s what I needed.

rituals absolutely serve a purpose. They hold your hand and guide you as you learn to cope with your loss. They provide structure, meaning and order in wearisome, deranged times.

Faye’s developmental delays meant that she was late to walk and could still be a bit unsteady on her feet, particularly with uneven pavements and so I inevitably picked her up and carried her, more than mums might typically carry a three year old child, and when I lost her, my arms literally ached with the need and longing to hold her again. So, as a gift for the first Christmas we were without our daughter, my husband had a brown mock leather shoulder tote bag made with a sepia all-over-photoprint of her smiling face on it. I adore this bag and I carried it everywhere for years, feeling that wherever we went, Faye came too – to the shops, to a restaurant, to visit friends and family, on holiday; the bag was even allowed in the theatre when I had my C-section to give birth to my youngest child and it literally felt that she was looking over us. I have a photo of me on the operating table, Rob holding Ruby next to my face and you can make out Faye’s face behind us! In fact, there are a few family photos whereby the bag has been positioned so Faye could be sneaked into the shot without anyone else knowing what I was up to. Faye’s tote bag rarely comes out with me now, but to this day, it hangs over the balustrade at the end of the stairs and is the first thing we see as we walk into the house, unless of course the teenagers have flung their coats over it! But to touch it as I make my way upstairs, often saying something to her as I pass, gives me great comfort and its little, everyday actions like this that keeps my daughter with me and my relationship with her alive. Little actions like thinking of her when one of my daughters order calamari in a restaurant, which they always do as a little nod to their big sister, remembering they have been told that, although she was a fussy eater, of all things, she loved a bit of battered squid! It’s the little things like noticing that a pink rose in the garden has suddenly come into bloom and having a little smile because that was the rose bush that her Godmother had paid to be personalised by having it named Faye. Every year, it flowers against the backdrop of leafy green bushes and it really is a beautiful, and lasting tribute. Little actions like taking Faye’s passport with us when we travel abroad to symbolise her coming along too! Which just goes to show that rituals are often the small gestures that might seem strange to others, but make perfect sense to you because they touch your heart and fit your needs and feelings at that time. It’s what we do to cope.

Of course, there are also the rituals that we practice to help us get through the difficulty of birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries. Every Christmas Eve I have bought Faye a Christmas helium balloon, ready to take to the grave on Christmas day. It seems so feeble and a bit mean to just buy her a balloon – but Santa doesn’t seem to deliver to heaven so there aren’t a lot of options. However, there was one year, when it was particularly manic and I didn’t get to the cemetery, instead, the balloon stayed in the dining room and I couldn’t help feel guilty. Until that was, we sat down for our meal and I watched that balloon bob and dance about the room as if Faye was holding onto it as she weaved her way around the table to be amongst us. It turned out to be far more comforting to have the balloon in our home than at a grave and so that is now our traditional way to honour her on Christmas Day.

Rituals work when they evolve with you and it’s good to introduce new ones if, as and when they feel appropriate, as filling the continuing void with new traditions can give respite from the emptiness that will still be there, to some degree, years later.

Often people think that they need to plan how they are going to mark the firsts – the first birthdays, mothers’ day, Christmas, anniversary but often it’s the second and the third or the eighth or the twelfth that can trip you up and this is when rituals and tributes become a coping strategy for the years that follow, when the shock has worn off and the permanence on their loss sets in … and you realise they’re not coming back. To cope with this, I have found that it can feel cathartic to carry out acts of kindness in honour of our children and so, for the last few years, I have chosen to mark Faye’s birthday with a charitable donation. I am putting the money I should have spent on my daughter to good use and it feels satisfying to do so. It helps me get through a sad time knowing that I am doing something beneficial in her name. Currently, I’m pondering how I might honour her 21st birthday and given I have a small handful of her ashes, kept in a Winnie the Pooh trinket box in my bedroom, I might have jewellery made containing these ashes, but only if it feels right to do so. Because, not every ritual has and, some have even felt like a mistake. Like the time when I’d seen the Disney film Tangled, whereby the missing princess’s parents released Chinese lanterns to commemorate the day their daughter was taken and I thought it would be good to do that on Faye’s birthday. Well, we nearly set fire to the next door neighbour’s garage and so didn’t do that again! Another time, I had invited the whole extended family to gather at our home for her ‘sweet’ sixteenth birthday and had mentioned to my sister-in-law that I was thinking of getting some fireworks to light up the sky. Anyway, she said she had a firework left over from bonfire night, the month before, that was just one item but had 16 explosions. It sounded perfect so that was what we did. We gathered at one end of the garden as the firework was lit at the other. Only, it fell on its side and 16 fireworks shot right at us! Fortunately, no-one was hurt apart from a slight red mark on my mum’s foot. My God we were lucky. Can you imagine? The horror of this already sad day would have been made so much worse. Needless to say, I’m totally scared of fireworks now and the only flame I will light from now on, in Faye’s memory is a candle. Lighting a candle, producing a small flicker of light can after all, still have the power to chase away the darkness of loss and for now, that’s enough.

The immense impact of my loss claws at me, it always will, but with the benefit of rituals and the protection they offer, grief does not tear me apart.

And sometimes, all I need is to be quiet and alone. The triggers and the reminders that she’s gone happen randomly all the time but, every October, it’s as if the volume starts to get turned up, one notch at a time until I get to the end of November when I’m totally overwhelmed. I used to think that I had Seasonal Affective Disorder but I think it’s more that this time of the year has become my grief anniversary, an annual moment when I am heavily triggered and reminded that she is gone. We lost Faye in July and as we moved into our new home, just ten days earlier, children were playing in the cul-de-sac and bizarrely, on that Summer’s day, I had said that Halloween was going to be great that year, as Faye had all these children to go trick or treating with. Sure enough, children did come trick or treating that year but by then, Faye had gone.  That painful reminder has stayed with me and I now routinely associate Halloween with it. Then, throughout November, I’m increasingly aware that December looms in front of me when my birthday, her birthday and Christmas will be spent without her and I struggle to cope. Many bereaved mums will tell you that the build up to an important date is often worse than the actual date, with the days leading up to it feeling like impending doom when it becomes increasingly hard to function, to breathe, to cope. So my ritual for November is to withdraw as best I can, to nurture myself, to cry, to lose the plot, to comfort eat, to feel overwhelmed by household chores, to lie on the sofa and binge watch mindless TV. In short, I do whatever it takes for me to prepare my body for the onslaught of emotions it is about to face. July represents my own personal earthquake but October to December is when I feel the tremors and aftershocks. I handle it though. I always do.

I can’t help but picture a powerful metaphor for life where nothing is ever truly broken – the Japanese art of Kintsugi: The centuries-old art of repairing broken pottery with Gold. Yes, we’re broken, but rituals that work, can be like seams of gold, emphasizing our scars, fractures, breaks and cracks for all to see in a beautiful way. We’ll never be the same as we used to be, but how lovely would it be if we can glue ourselves back together with something precious; if we can continue our life story … with glimmers of gold.

How do you cherish the memory of your loved ones? I’d love to hear about your rituals and glimmers of gold.

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A Soundtrack for The Grief ‘Journey.’

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Yesterday morning, I woke with the first line of, ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ by The Beatles playing in my head and it’s been playing on repeat ever since. This seems to happen to me on a regular basis, as if my life is being played out on a big screen and the tunes I hear are all part of the thumping soundtrack. I can vividly remember looking at Faye on our first night at home together, after her birth, and hearing, ‘On the day that you were born, the angels got together and decided to create a dream come true,’ by the Carpenters and of course, as our first born she was a dream come true – although, not quite in the way we had imagined. You see, six months later, Faye was diagnosed with a rare syndrome which meant that she had developmental delays and learning difficulties. I know now, that her difficulties taught us to appreciate the small things in life; to be grateful for what we had and to not take life for granted. This is the message behind the poem, Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley, which suggests (by using the metaphor of a trip to Italy, as a typical birth and child-raising experience, being unexpectedly replaced by a trip to Holland, as the experience of raising a child with additional needs) that even though life didn’t turn out the way we planned, there is still beauty to be found. The soundtrack at that time was playing Barry White, My First, My Last My Everything, with Faye being ‘some kind of wonderful,’ but all consuming none the less, and just a little off-putting when it came to having more children. In all honesty, there were times when I really struggled with her diagnosis and I grieved for the loss of the ‘perfect child.’

The long and winding road

That leads to your door

Will never disappear

I’ve seen that road before

The Beatles

I wonder if this is why I now have the Beatles joining the soundtrack. After all, in some ways, like the song says, I have been on this road before – I followed a diverted traffic sign and got lost. I lost the future that I was hoping for; I lost my identity – given I went from career woman to carer; I lost my temper as I listened to well meaning people tell me that I was strong and that I had been chosen, because people are sent the children they can cope with and I lost my way, as I grappled with a whole heap of negative thoughts – I was being punished, I was a bad person, I had done something wrong in my pregnancy, it was my fault, I was angry and I feared I couldn’t cope. Sound familiar? A bit like grief, right? There were some really dark times and it took me a while to notice the windmills and tulips and all that Holland had to offer, but in time I did, and I’m happy to say that I got to appreciate the beauty of it all. How cruel then, that at a time of acceptance and joy, and at a time when we had a future we were looking forward to, she would be so tragically taken from us.

I didn’t just hit a pot hole. I fell through it.

Has lefted full of tears

Crying for the day

Why leave me standing here

Let me know the way

The Beatles

At three and a half years old, Faye somehow developed pneumococcal meningitis and died five days later. The night before we switched off her life support, I’d been sat by her bed and could not get Andrea Boccelli to stop singing, Time to say Goodbye. It played over and over again it until, we did… We said goodbye to our daughter. How do I live, by LeAnne Rimes was played at her funeral, which was something of a contradiction as, at that time, I didn’t want to live. I tried to make sense of something that was utterly insensible and crazily, in my dumbfounded head, I began to think that her passing was some kind of elaborate, divine plan. I became convinced that I was about to be diagnosed with an incurable illness, but knowing that I would never leave my child, the angels had come up with the idea to take Faye first. Bonkers! But it seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I reasoned that she had simply gone on ahead, leaving me to pack! I thought, any day now … she’ll come for me.

So for the first year, I existed on standby. I’d stand by her grave, with Diana Ross, and say the words, ‘If you need me, call me, no matter where you are, no matter how far.’ By the time of Faye’s passing, I had a seven month old baby daughter to look after, with another one on the way and a husband who loved me, so you’d think they would be more than enough to keep me going. But sadly, it didn’t feel it. It really pains me to say that. Such was my despair! I desperately wanted to leave. I wanted my journey to end. I wanted Faye to come and get me.

Many times I’ve been alone

And many times I’ve cried

Anyway you’ll never know

The many ways I’ve tried

The Beatles

Whilst I waited for Faye, I managed to keep breathing, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to wake, eat, sleep, repeat and I suppose that was how I learnt to bide my time, going round and round a roundabout unsure of which exit I should take. My gorgeous daughters were (and still are) a wonderful distraction and I was able to survive for another half day, another week, another month and so on. But, they didn’t fill the hole in my heart that had been left by Faye. So, I set about trying to fill the void, stuffing it with a degree in psychology and then I started a PhD, which got me to the point when I’d been without Faye for longer than I’d been with her. That was so painful, but I’d done it by keeping busy, busy busy – filling my time / Stuffing the hole. Then, I hit a wall and crashed! I was dazed for a short while: I gave up on the PhD and I again set about trying to fill the hole with more qualifications and work – following my girls into their school as a teaching assistant. You see, I was (still am) hyper vigilant when it came to my girls, so this job allowed me to keep an eye on them whilst they were in school and be at home with them when they weren’t. Result! There were definitely some good times, however, I didn’t feel fulfilled and my life seemed to drag on without much purpose. That’s when I started to drink and to look to wine to fill the now gaping hole. Once again, there were some good times and with wine’s help, the not so good times were (seemingly) made better and the bad times? Well, they were numbed. Not good.

By the time of Faye’s 15th anniversary, I had been stuck, in what felt like a very long traffic jam, on a road to nowhere, for years and was drinking a bottle of wine most nights. I was bored, anxious, depressed, full of self loathing and shame with zero self esteem. Although, to look at me, you would never have known as I was reasonably well functioning. Little did others know that, unable to find a rubbish dump on this long and arduous journey, my car was laden with so much emotional baggage, it filled the boot and took over the back seat – thank goodness for tinted windows! At night, ‘One, two, three, one, two, three, drink,’ by Sia played, and whilst I didn’t swing from the chandelier, I did, like her song describes, live as if tomorrow didn’t exist. I didn’t think I would care if tomorrow existed or not. God, it was bleak! I realise now, that the problem with the, ‘stuffing method,’ is that it simply stretches the hole. Nothing is going to fill it. It took getting sober and a cancer diagnosis to make me realise that.

But still they lead me back

To the long winding road

You left me standing here

A long-long time ago

The Beatles

I realised that I had to find a new way of steering. I had to find a way of living a full and happy life. When I had to tell my husband and teenage daughters that I had breast cancer, I knew that I couldn’t leave them, and once I got the all clear, I knew that life was for living. I wanted to live and not just exist. I wanted to love life again and I wanted to love me again. Self care is so important – Faye is still with us, but her soul doesn’t need her mummy in the way that my surviving girls need their mum. I need to take very good care of myself so that I can be here for them. I used to think that my life lacked purpose but in fact, my life is full of meaning and purpose because I’m a mum, a wife, I’m trying my best and, ‘I’m a survivor’ (in the words of destiny’s child) who is learning to cherish life in a way that honours Faye. Faye wouldn’t want me to live a life in monochrome – she’d want it to be full of colour! She’d want me to continue to make memories. So, sixteen years on, I’d think she’d be proud that I’m starting to tell our story and that I’m looking after myself better. I’m finally happy to be alive – I like who I’m becoming and I’m excited about the future. I might just do that PhD after all!

Don’t keep me waiting here

Lead me to your door

The Beatles

For Faye and I, our time will come when, ‘we’ll meet again.’ Until then, I’m convinced that she is happily running with the angels, with no concept of time and so, when she glances over her shoulder, I’ll be right behind her, following her through the open door. In the meantime, I’ll carry on this grief journey – along the long and winding road with an address not recognised by sat nav. There will still be some pot holes, hidden by puddles to take me unaware. There will still be detours, diversions, road blocks, breakdowns and roundabouts. Sometimes, I will get stuck behind a wide load and sometimes I will be that wide load that others try to avoid. There will still be some idiots on the road and some drivers will appear to have a much better, faster, more reliable car. But that’s not to say, that we just leave our car in the garage, as that’s not what it’s designed for.

This isn’t the life that we wanted, that’s for sure. But, let’s carry on with our journey knowing that there is road side assistance if we need it. There are service stations to take a rest and refuel. There are lots of good tunes on the radio. We could even buy a road map to make sure we find the best coastal roads. Let’s put on the headlamps and the windscreen wipers so we can see the surrounding nature and beautiful landscapes. We could purposefully go to Holland and smell the tulips. Let’s look out for the road signs, sent from heaven, to help us on our way. It’s not easy, especially if you’re a learner driver. But I promise you, there is still joy to be had and with hope in our hearts, we’ll get there.

Like all journeys, it takes time. Time puts distance between you and your loved one and that can be really hard – time isn’t always the great healer that people say it is. But, how you choose to spend your time can be. We can look at the wreckage of our cars, be glad that we survived and try to craft some meaning and purpose. If you’re on the road with me, please feel free to give me a wave. Maybe you could suggest a song or two.

With love x

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Soul Searching

July 2004

A day or so had passed, since Faye had died and I couldn’t sleep. I got up in the middle of the night, grabbed my car keys and went for a drive. I instinctively drove to her preschool and once there, outside the locked gates, I turned off the engine and sobbed. She wasn’t there.

Faye had become poorly on the way to school and seemingly, for that reason, preschool, in the middle of the night, was where I decided to start my search.

Where was she? Where had she gone? She obviously wasn’t at school but where was she? My deep desire to find her, to see her again and to hold her in my arms had lead me to this place – the start of my constant soul searching.

It began with looking for her. My arms felt like stretched pieces of elastic, dangling aimlessly beside me with nothing to hold on to. I was desperate to find her, to fill the physical void and emptiness I was experiencing. Deep down, I suppose I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold her again, but my head, my heart, my arms, my whole self was finding it difficult to accept. So, after a time, when I couldn’t find her no matter how hard I looked, I began searching for answers. Why? Why? Why?

In my quest for answers, I asked to see the deacon of my local church. I hadn’t met him before as I wasn’t a church-goer, but the moment he sat down, before his first sip of the tea I had made, before I had even said a word – let alone asked him anything, he stated that he didn’t have the answers!

What?

You’re a man of God. Aren’t you supposed to know these things? I silently tutted.

Once again, I felt I was back at the school’s locked gates and that my search was futile. But what he did say, has stuck with me ever since. He described the time, immediately before we are born, as a time of light and joy, when angels dance around us, and then, at the precise moment of our birth, we are plunged into darkness. He went on to describe our deaths as being the time when we are welcomed back into the light. I listened to his beliefs without really knowing what to think, but I was comforted to picture Faye in a beautiful place, surrounded by angels, love and light. I shared my image of ‘heaven’ and eternal life with him.

Being a student of both Latin and theology, he explained that the word ‘eternity’ loosely means ‘no time,’ so in other words, when I meet Faye again, in eternal life, it will be as if no time has passed – as if we had never been parted from each other. Those, have been the kindest words spoken to me throughout my 16 years of mourning. You see, I had been searching for Faye because I missed her, but, I was also worried that Faye needed her mummy and was missing me too. The deacon’s kind words took away all that anguish, and all these years later, I am still comforted by them.

Although, as for me, I still miss her and as the years have passed, I have been painfully, all too aware of the time I spend in the ‘darkness’ without my daughter. I still constantly question why it happened; why she had to be taken from me and all the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve ruminations have kept me a prisoner – forever chained to my grief.

Then recently, in an attempt to cure a physical ailment, I saw an acupuncturist. Wishing to treat me holistically (with recent studies suggesting that pain could be a physical manifestation of trauma), she asked about any upsetting life events. I listed them and inevitably, cried as I told her about Faye. She attentively acknowledged my sorrow and surprisingly, said that I had already proved myself. She went on to say that the greatest purpose in life is to serve and here I was, still standing; still raising my other daughters and still being of service to my family. Wow! That was powerful, as just a couple of days previously, I had been complaining that I was a servant to my family, doing nothing but chores, with a life that lacked any meaning! I guess, feeling more confident, she went on to share her belief that Faye had agreed her death before her birth and that I had been chosen as her mother because I was strong enough to bear it!

What? I hated that. People used to say that to me when Faye was diagnosed with learning difficulties … that I had been chosen because I was strong enough to help her. back then, I never questioned it because I used to think that they meant well.

But this time, I was aghast. Inside, I screamed in rage but on the surface, I managed to compose myself enough to say, that I thought it was a cruel concept; that no-one would think me strong if they could see my suffering and, how cruel was it to think that I had been chosen to bear such pain. Or was it?

Over the last week, there has been a lot of soul searching and on reflection, those words have given me some comfort. You might not concur, but here’s where I’m at: I have gleamed that, if Faye’s passing was all agreed, in some kind of pre-birth plan, then I am not responsible for her death. For sixteen years I have felt guilty that I couldn’t save her; that perhaps there was more I could have done to protect her; that maybe I had made a mistake when I switched off the life support machine. But these spoken words, uneasy as they were to hear, made me feel that I could finally stop all the blaming and shaming and accept that I, like every body else, am only human; that some things are out of our control; that we do not have super powers to see into the future; that all we can do, is act upon the information we have, at that moment in time.

Perhaps, after sixteen years, it is time for me to stop thinking that life is cruel and to stop wallowing in the, Why me? Perhaps it is time to ask, Why not me? Perhaps, I can start to see Faye’s passing as a challenge to help me discover a more meaningful and purposeful life – a life full of lessons and learning and a life where the darkness, helps me truly appreciate the light.

My final food for thought, comes from psychologist Edith Eger, in her book, The Choice. She says that time is not the healer, it is what we do in that time, that heals. So, I am going to spend my remaining time on earth wisely. I am going to keep soul searching in order to keep learning and growing. Hopefully, I can help others along the way and hopefully, I’ll make a little girl in heaven very proud.

And I shall continue to look for her… because now, I often find her – a small white feather, a song on the radio, a doorbell that rings when no-one is there, the TV that turns itself on – all little messages, intuitively received from my girl, to let me know she’s not gone anywhere: she’s still with me … and that she isn’t missing me at all!

What kind words have encouraged your soul?

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Who Am I and How Did I Get Here?

This is me

If you want a happy ending, learn to open up, because no one can finish a story with a closed book.

— Nishan Panwar.

My name is Carolyn and you are very welcome here.

My daughter Faye, passed away on the 25th July 2004 – when she was just three and a half years old. She died from Pneumococcal Meningitis, after being poorly for just five days. Her death was sudden and tragic and I have grieved for her ever since … currently, it’s been 16 years of struggling to come to terms with loss.

In order to deal with my loss, I think it’s about time, I acknowledge what I have been through; face the fear and anger, the shame and the guilt and to organise and reorganise how I think and feel about it. I want to consider and share just how much I have learnt and how I am, on the whole, still standing and just about in one piece.

I am still learning – and I desperately hope to learn to be kinder to myself. Moreover, I hope that in helping me, I can help you.

Please, let’s take each other by the hand and go on this journey together. With Faye’s love and guidance, I’m sure we’ll be okay.

The Heavy Burden of Grief

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What Can’t be Cured Must be Endured

Diana Rigg – Mother Love (1989)

Today, 3rd February 2021, marks one year since getting the all clear from cancer. I’d been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in November; had a double mastectomy in January and on this day, one year ago, I gripped my husband’s hand as we sat in a small, sterile room waiting for my consultant to open his notes and tell us whether my nodes were clear or not. I tried to read both his and the nurse’s face for a sign – was it good news? Happily, it was. My lovely nodes were clear; the cancer had not spread and my drastic operation meant that the cancer, that had once been there, was now well and truly gone; cut out of me.

The relief was immense.

So was the guilt.

You see, since losing Faye in 2004, I hadn’t wanted to be here. At first, I’d pray that I wouldn’t wake up – that I’d die in my sleep. When that didn’t happen and my heart, shattered into a thousand pieces, defied all logic and kept on beating, I thought that it would only be a matter of time, before I was diagnosed with an incurable disease. I ‘reasoned’ that Faye had gone first to pave the way for me, knowing that I’d find it easier to die and leave loved ones behind if she was already there waiting for me. But, year after year trudged by; time dragged on and … I stayed here.

I kind of got used to it and made some progress, in that, I started to exist in my life rather than just survive it. But, I never fully appreciated it. It was like being on hold on the phone – number 768,591,234 in the queue waiting until it was my turn – my time to go. I was in limbo, in no-mans-land, betwixt between our world and wherever she was. It felt as though I was not always completely present as a part of me, even just a tiny bit of me, was always with Faye. A part of my heart, my identity and my very being belonged to her and that was just the way it was. Even if there was joy, there was always a tinge of sadness.

I remember going to my first counselling session, a year after her passing, and dictating my terms and conditions to the therapist – that I didn’t want her to fix me and I didn’t want to be cured from my grief – because that would diminish the love I felt for Faye. I didn’t want to ever, ‘get over her,’ in the way that society seemed to want me to. I was her mummy. I’d love her forever and I didn’t want to be made better. My grief was never going to be neatly packaged, in a box, with a, ‘use by date’ stamped on the front. It was impossible – so, she needn’t bother!

That is how I existed.

On the 15th anniversary of Faye’s death I mourned her in my usual alcohol-fuelled state. I cried puddles that became lakes and I drowned myself in wine. After, I looked at the bleary eyed woman with pain etched into the crevices of her face, with a heavy sadness pulling her skin and mouth down, down, down and, I didn’t recognise her. I wondered if Faye would want this for me, or, whether she’d want me to live life and properly feel joy -wholeheartedly – 100%. So, I set about making different choices. I gave up alcohol and I chose to live. Four months later, I was diagnosed.

I pleaded and begged to stay. I had gorgeous, sensitive, teenage girls who needed me and I really, really wanted to stay – for them AND for me. But, I felt so guilty, like I was betraying a promise to my darling Faye. It felt gut-wrenching but, I knew that I’d do anything to stay. I was going to fight for this life.

After a lot of reflection, I’ve realised that Faye doesn’t need me to go to her because she’s already here with me. That betwixt feeling that I’ve had, is her way of telling me that she’s around. Plus, I believe that in heaven, our loved ones don’t endure the passing of time like we do, so when I do eventually go to her, as far as she’s concerned, it will be in the blink of an eye – as if we were never parted. So, I’d better start making the most of whatever time I have left. Being given the all clear, was the wakeup call I needed.

This weekend I watched ‘Mother Love’ on catch up TV and I listened as Diana Rigg’s character uttered the words, ‘What can’t be cured must be endured.’ It made me realise that, for so many years, I had endured the passing of time and my life because I was trapped in my grief. The image of the back-pack weighed down with heavy rocks came to me and I knew that that was how I carried my grief. But, in the past year, I have been replacing the rocks with feathers – angel feathers – and the heavy load is now easier to manage. I still don’t want to be cured or healed, but I am healing and it feels good. It’s a softer and kinder way to remember Faye.

And today, as I went for my morning walk, I picked up the most beautiful white feather and put it in my pocket. She’s here … and feathers are so much lighter than rocks.

Do you recognise that betwixt feeling? Are you able to live your life fully?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sending love.

Why Faye? Why Us? Why Me?

Every day, we could choose to pay attention to what we’d lost or what we still had.

Edith Eger

I have read that Joe Biden has the above cartoon on his desk, as a constant reminder for him not to be crushed by his grief – to keep going – to find a purpose. I remembered this as I sat watching him, on the cusp of becoming the next President of the USA, say goodbye to Delaware, tears streaming down his cheeks as he spoke of his son, Beau and a future lost – a future that should have been.

I felt his pain. Losing a child is the worse thing in the world; it’s unimaginable, unless, you experience it.

But I also felt inspired. What better way to honour his son!

The unanswered, Why? question has burnt a hole in my heart for years. But, rather than wasting my energy on trying to rationalise something that can’t be explained, I’m now inspired to concentrate my energy on finding my purpose – in a way that best honours my daughter Faye. And I’m okay that some days, my purpose will just be to make the bed – at least I’ll have got up! We can’t all be world leaders, but I can try to do my best, each and every day, to make her proud.

How do you deal with the Why? Have you found solace in having a purpose? How do you keep going?

Grief, Depression or Disorder?

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“One of the most important things is to feel like someone else has actually been through this and has lived to tell about it. It’s incredibly empowering to realise that not only are you not an alien, you will survive”.

Anne Pinkerton (SELF published August 2, 2019).

We’re told that grief is a chaotic yet natural response to a loss that can take many different and difficult forms. Putting a search into google, asking how many types of grief there are, reveals a whole host of grief responses with some stating five, others 8, some say 10 or even 16 or more! Have you ever read a list of possible side effects when taking a new medication and feel that you have every symptom? Well that’s how I feel about the types of grief as I can find something, in just about all of them, that I can relate to at one time or other.  

Sixteen years ago though, I didn’t know about the various different types of grief; perhaps they didn’t all exist back then. If I had known back then, that no matter what I was feeling, there were others who had felt it, or were feeling it or could feel it in the future, I could have been reassured; I would have felt that my grief responses were to be ‘expected.’ I wish I had known what to anticipate and possibly expect back then, instead, I felt that I was going mad. Many will say that you can never fully prepare for how grief will take you, but in some ways, with ongoing research, awareness and dialogue, I think you can … a bit. If you know what you might possibly feel, then it’s not going to come as such a shock. Recently, The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders volume 5 (DSM-5), published in 2013, by the American Psychiatric Association, decided to include empirical findings about grief. It states that, “An expectable or culturally approved response to a common stressor or loss, such as the death of a loved one, is not a mental disorder”. That’s good isn’t it? Like I said, grief is a natural response and I don’t think that I would have wanted to be labelled as having a mental disorder to boot – that terminology is just awful.

But let’s not lose sight that sometimes, if grief isn’t processed in a healthy way, it has the potential to escalate and grow into something that can be life depleting and far worse than expected. So, having all these grief responses labelled as types means that those left bereft can ask themselves whether what they’re feeling is to be expected or whether, particularly if you associate more with the unresolved, chronic and complicated grief types, your responses are becoming more dark and less manageable. It means that you can give yourself permission to ask for help. The DSM-5 has recognised that for some, grief can precipitate a Major Depressive Disorder (I’m going to stick with Episode (MDE) such is the devastation it has the potential to cause. Prior to the DSM-5 somebody couldn’t be diagnosed with MDE if they had recently been bereaved, which seems a bit daft when you consider that you could get the diagnosis, care and treatment if you had lost your job, or were desperately missing your child because they had say, gone to University, but not if they had died! Grief was merely labelled under “other conditions” that might need clinical attention along with, for instance, occupational stress and educational difficulties. So finally, in my opinion, The DSM-5 has validated the enormity, the potential gravity, the magnitude, the utter depth of pain and the absolute seriousness of the stress it can cause. Although, not everyone agrees.

Some really don’t want grief to be seen as a disorder or even an illness and I understand that because it’s something that, in all honesty, we don’t necessarily want to be cured from, rather, we just want to be able to live with it in a softer, gentler healthier way. Plus, in seeing grief as a precursor to major depression, the worry was that the grieving would be given antidepressants willy-nilly and might therefore have the normal, all be it painfully difficult, adjustment process distorted, delayed or denied. There is though, agreement amongst scholars that a common, normal and expected grief response can resemble a mild depression, so in response, the DSM-5 lists the distinguishing features between grief (and mild depression) and the manifestation of a Major Depressive Episode so that clinicians are better advised and can help those suffering receive appropriate treatment and or medication.  

I suppose only time will tell whether the inclusion of grief as a potential precipitator of MDE will prove useful. So far, there hasn’t been a reported rise in prescribed medication. But, we need to ask ourselves whether or not that is because people are suffering in isolation, scared of the stigma of being labelled with a mental disorder when, through no fault of their own, they have lost a loved one and are finding it overwhelmingly difficult to find their way through the yawning void of loss. If I’m honest, over the last sixteen years, I probably should have got more treatment than I have for my depressive episodes, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to appear weak and broken and I was scared of feeling ‘disordered’. However, if someone told me back then, that I had suffered a traumatic loss and could potentially experience prolonged, complicated suffering, then I may have been more inclined to ask for help. I would have been kinder on myself instead of seeing myself as flawed. It’s a bit like the fact that we call people who are addicted to alcohol ‘alcoholics’ seeing them as having a flawed response to alcohol rather than seeing the harm alcohol can do because it’s an addictive substance. The fact is, that grief can have a detrimental impact on life, cognition, emotion, health occupation and social functioning and we ought to stop downplaying it and pretending otherwise.

So, whilst I would not have necessarily wanted to be labelled as having a mental disorder, for me, having grief taken seriously enough for it to warrant inclusion in a diagnostic manual used by doctors is a positive step, as it means that instead of feeling weak and flawed, sufferers can be reassured that help is available. Perhaps there is remedy to be found in a diagnosis. Maybe consider that, for soldiers who have suffered mental ill health as a consequence of war, there is now a diagnostic condition – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which doctors, and importantly society at large, recognise. Of course, it doesn’t mean that every soldier will come back from a combat zone with PTSD but it does mean that if they do, there is treatment, ongoing research, interest, help and understanding and society now looks at these individuals with compassion, warmth, sympathy and an appreciation of the atrocity they have been through. Similarly, it doesn’t mean that because we have suffered a traumatic loss we are going to suffer, mild depression, major depression, separation anxiety or PTSD – but it’s okay if we do. There’s help and understanding and you don’t have to suffer in silence. Information is powerful and at least now, dear reader, you have an awareness of the challenges you might face and what to watch out for. Sixteen years ago I didn’t.

After bereavement, the DSM-5 recommends a period of ‘watchful waiting’ before any diagnosis is made, but I had no idea about what to watch for and what symptoms to expect and in all honesty, just talking about grief in terms of a natural reaction to loss didn’t prepare me for the deleterious effect on my life, health and wellbeing. Prior to losing Faye, the only experience I had of death was the loss of my grandparents and that in no way, shape or form could have prepared me for the enormity of what I was about to face. So, I had no idea what to expect, let alone what was culturally accepted as normal responses to loss. My parents had suffered the death of a still born child, a girl they were going to call Louisa, but they never really spoke about it. Society was even more buttoned up then than it is now. I was given leaflets that spoke about the acute phase of grief and those around me who had lost parents and grandparents spoke about the first year as being the most difficult. So, it came as a huge shock that the second and fifth and fifteenth years floored me more than the first. The first year was a blur – a life lived on autopilot, in shock and disbelief. What followed was the stark, painful reality of loss, but I felt I couldn’t say anything because I’d only been told about the first year! It was all very confusing and I ruminated constantly about whether I was normal or not. In fact, the manual concludes that further research is needed and it has raised the question about whether a Prolonged Grief Disorder needs to be included in the next edition, with diagnostic criteria, according to Colin Murray Parkes (June 2020) including as a result of the death, at least 3 of the following symptoms being experienced to a clinically significant degree, nearly every day, for at least the last month:

1. Identity disruption (e.g., feeling as though part of oneself has died)

2. Marked sense of disbelief about the death

3. Avoidance of reminders that the person is dead

4. Intense emotional pain (e.g., anger, bitterness, sorrow) related to the death

5. Difficulty moving on with life (e.g., problems engaging with friends, pursuing interests, planning for the future)

6. Emotional numbness

7. Feeling that life is meaningless

8. Intense loneliness (i.e., feeling alone or detached from others)

9. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

10. The duration of the bereavement reaction clearly exceeds expected social, cultural or religious norms for the individual’s culture and context.

11. The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder

But, just how long is too long? And when is it prolonged? Most parents will tell you that they expect to grieve for a lifetime, but does that mean we have a prolonged grief disorder? Now that I am aware of the diagnostic criteria, I can reflect and come to the realisation that I felt the vast majority of the listed symptoms, however, I did not, even in the early, more acute days, persistently feel their constant pervasiveness all day, every day. Even though it was like I had been shrouded in a dark veil, there were tiny pin pricks of light, moments of pleasure or happiness and glimmers of hope. I definitely had mild depression but I don’t think I would have met the criteria for major depression or a prolonged grief disorder.

Regardless, I didn’t get help and I would hate anyone else to feel as I did, and I would certainly hate anyone to fall through the cracks because their symptoms weren’t recognised. Everyone deserves help and if grief feels utterly overwhelming, that’s reason enough to reach out. I get help now and whilst writing this post, I am receiving person-centred counselling because, I still at times, sixteen years later, feel the most draining, life-sucking pain.

Unfortunately, there is no time limit to grief. Yes, there is a time line where you move towards some form of acceptance whereby your raw pain feels less excruciating but there isn’t necessarily an expiry date.  The pain associated with grief is an expression of the love we felt for those no longer physically with us and if we loved them whole heartedly, as I did with Faye, then the pain and heart break is potentially going to stick around for years and years – there may never be an earthly end to it – I’d have loved her for a thousand years, so I’ll feel her loss for a thousand years too. But here’s where it can go wrong if we don’t discuss it. Sadly, I felt that because I had bouts of depression and still mourned Faye’s loss more than ten years after her death, I was defected. But I’m not. Yes, there are times when I feel more broken than others and yes there are times when I feel life is very bleak and really, really hard and there have been countless times when I have questioned whether life is meant to feel this way – monochrome instead of glorious technicolour. The worry is that bereaved parents can still feel reacted years and years after the loss but they are scared of saying anything because society expects them to have moved on. If society was more accepting, perhaps parents wouldn’t feel the need to connect in secret to online groups believing that no one else understands.

I’m sorry that this post paints a gloomy picture but that’s the truth of it. I feel there needs to be a frank, honest and open discussion so people know have an idea of what they might expect. Information is power and now you have a little more information, it’s up to you what you do with it. Watchful Waiting? Ask for help? Open up to someone? I’m guilty of keeping up a pretence and I don’t want to do that anymore. Too much positivity can deny what’s really going on and it can be toxic.

But it feels right that I should balance this by saying that I felt all of this and I’m still here having gone from merely surviving to a sort of thriving and if I can do it, so can you. A lot of grief work has to happen to work through some difficult feelings in order to reconstruct a life that still holds our loved ones dear, but it’s doable.

I have learnt to accommodate my grief. It will always be an integrated part of me and my life but it no longer takes over. It’s changed shape and whilst I can’t necessarily describe the shape, I can tell you that there are a lot less rough, sharp edges. Grief is more of a back seat driver and the painful feelings no longer take centre stage in the way they used to. Instead, grief has broadened my heart so that it can find room for the positive, precious memories of my daughter and not just the heartbreak. I have moved forward in life and have found ways to take her with me.

So, when parents say they’ll never get over the loss of their child, that’s the truth. We don’t ‘recover’ from grief although we can recover from the intense pain. Not recovering from grief doesn’t mean that you will only experience a life full of doom and despair. There are lots of us that are, right now who have not recovered from grief, but we have recovered from the profound distress of it. There are lots of us who are experiencing purposeful lives while also experiencing ongoing grief. And there are lots of us that need help a long the way. Lets not be afraid to ask for it. The opposite of depression is expression. So let’s keep an open mind and keep talking.

Sending love.

Why Me? I’m Feeling Singled Out and Angry.

“Forget what hurt you in the past, but never forget what it taught you. However, if it taught you to hold onto grudges, seek revenge, not forgive or show compassion, to categorize people as good or bad, to distrust and be guarded with your feelings then you didn’t learn a thing. ” – Shannon L. Adler.

“Do you know how many children have died from Coronavirus?” he asked, with a clenched jaw and slight tilt of the head. It was a rhetorical question as, not waiting for a reply, he answered, “Four – Just four! And in the meantime, our son is missing out on his birthday!”

We were stood in the porch, with our gift and cards already gratefully received. We had been asked, by 5 out of the 7 people already celebrating indoors, if we were coming inside and, given we are in a, ‘high risk’ area of the UK, we had on each occasion, politely declined, whilst gently acknowledging how frustrating it was. You see, the current guidelines advise us not to mix with members of another household, either indoors or in gardens, and we are not meant to mix anywhere in groups of more than 6.

So, here in the doorway, there was a clear difference of opinion. I tentatively offered an explanation – it wasn’t my intention to ruin a birthday, it was just our understanding that our children, now back at school, could have the virus asymptomatically and could unknowingly, pass it on; and that the 70+ year olds, two of which were standing in the hallway, might potentially be the ones that suffer. I didn’t get to mention that sadly I knew, from my 16 years of grieving, that if that happened, I would be tortured by guilt. I didn’t get that far because this was when the above statistic was cited. Now, aware that we were clearly reading the same book, all be it on completely different pages, I didn’t explain any further. I couldn’t.

I felt physically wounded. Right there and then, without expecting it, I was triggered. I suffered a flashback and was painfully reminded of the devastating torture of losing my daughter. My heart shattered all over again and a tiny fragment of it went out to the poor mums and dads, brothers and sisters of those four children, who must now be in the most agonising pain. To me, the death of those four children, was four children too many. The parents of those four children have now joined the club that none of us wanted to join.

Ripped apart by the injustice of it all, I was transported back to 2004 when, to the best of my knowledge, Faye had been the only child in our country, to have died from pneumococcal meningitis, aged 3 years old. According to the Office of National Statistics, and research published to highlight the need for a preventative vaccine (that was prepped and ready to be rolled out … again the injustice!), most deaths occurred in the under ones, some were under two years of age, most were boys and most deaths happened in the winter months – not on July 25th – in the height of summer! I felt singled out. Is this how the families, who have lost loved ones at this time feel?

Over the next few days, this anger festered inside of me. I knew that I ought to, ‘let it go,’ but I didn’t know how. Year after drawn out year, I’ve mourned the loss of my daughter, without ever really knowing how to deal with the emotional rollercoaster I seemed powerless to get off. Here I was, trying to do the right thing and see a child on their birthday, and yet, out of nowhere, I was spiralling down, gripped by temper; gripped by terror.

As soon as Faye died, I became terrified that I would lose another child and ever since, I have been consumed by the need to protect my daughters and control their every moment. It is true that mums often wear many hats – nurse, teacher, cleaner, provider, caretaker and so on. Add, if you will, the khaki hat of a soldier to mine! Most days, it’s as if I’m in combats, rifle in arms, ready to do battle, to protect my family against an invisible force that has already invaded once and won’t, if I can help it, do it again! I’ve been on high alert for 16 years, but now, with Covid-19 poised to attack, my anxiety has unwittingly been promoted to the ranks of S.A.S! I’ve read every news article, I’ve bought every vitamin and supplement, I’ve cleaned obsessively and I’ve pleaded and pleaded with the universe to spare my family from any more suffering.

I certainly didn’t need rage adding to all this anxiety. My body was already struggling to cope with the consistently high cortisol levels, so it surely couldn’t cope with bubbling anger and resentment too. Fortunately, I happened upon a podcast episode whereby Karla McLaren, M.Ed, talked about emotions, including anger, in positive terms. Karla stressed that our emotions aren’t the problem, rather, they are tools which enable us to deal with the problem. So according to her, my fear and panic, about losing others in my family, is what equips me to navigate potentially threatening situations. They are the tools that help me to instinctively choose the best response, so that we will all, wherever possible, survive. Hence, for me, the cleaning, vitamins, keeping our distance etc. In a nutshell, in the midst of a pandemic, it has helped me to devise ways of keeping my family safe – and if that doesn’t work for others – if they don’t understand – So what? I’ve done what my body and instinct has told me to do – in the best way I know how. Granted, it might need a bit of tweaking and I have to accept that I can’t control everything. But, I’ve done all I can. Panic has served its purpose. Stand down Soldier. The universe will take it from here!

As the podcast continued, I also learnt that anger helps us to set boundaries to protect our sense of Self. So, I questioned, ‘What are my core values and what did I feel I had to protect?’ After a great deal of thought, I realised that I was angry because I care – I care deeply for others and I have empathy, particularly for those who have lost a loved one – and that, had been challenged.

I always try to be kind to others. Granted, sometimes it’s hard and I’m certainly no angel. If I’m honest, I would swap my new found empathy for those who mourn in a heartbeat, if it would bring Faye back. That’s just me being human, I guess? But, here’s the thing. I had spent years, believing that I had lost Faye because I was being punished for being a bad person – bad things happen to bad people. Right?

Wrong. I’ve got to stop thinking that way. If you, dear reader, also think that way – It’s just not true. In the midst of this cruel virus, I have cared about my family, friends and neighbours and I have regularly offered little acts of kindness to those I felt needed it. It felt good to be kind. Kindness heals.

So, with kindness in mind, I sat still, closed my eyes and breathed deeply. On the in-breath, I brought my hands to my heart, and imagined clutching Faye to my chest. I held on to her and the love I feel for her. On the out-breath, I outstretched my right arm and sent the love out. On the next in-breath, I returned my right hand to my heart and again breathed the love in. On the next outbreath, I outstretched my left arm and extended my love to anyone who might need it. And so on. I repeated this several times; each time hugging Faye close to my heart, before sending my love out – to the families of those four children; to my extended family, to any victim of the virus. I reflected on the fact that the pain of losing someone so dear is unimaginable, and that other people, who haven’t endured it, cannot begin to appreciate what it feels like. It’s not their fault and I absolutely would not wish this pain on anyone.

And in that instant, I had let the scene on the doorstep go. It was no longer going to play on repeat. I wasn’t going to choose that soundtrack for my day. Instead, I wanted to reinforce who I was and what I stood for. I wanted to be compassionate and to show kindness. So … I made chicken soup … both for a friend, who is having a hard time and for my hairdresser, recently diagnosed with cancer. A small gesture to show I cared. Out of rage, came compassion for others – and, here’s the turning point: Out of anger came self-care! I had listened to what my emotions were telling me and I had helped myself to feel better – I felt more content and definitely calmer. I had looked after my core values and the rage, the fear, the panic, the resentment – it had all gone.

Sadly, I know from personal experience that burying our grief, pain, rage and utter sadness, does not help in the long run. It just causes more pain. Therefore, from here on in, I am going to try to become more attuned to my emotions and instead of asking, Why me? I shall endeavour to ask, What is this emotion telling me? What else am I feeling? How can I work with it? What can I learn from it? But, like I always say … it’s work in progress. There will inevitably be times, when it is easier said than done. It is though, a positive move in the right direction and one I thought I’d share.

With Love

#grievingmom

#grievingmother

#lossofachild