“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.