Throughout our lives we will encounter so many different and new relationships, some we keep and some we say goodbye to, not always by choice.
At the very beginning of your life your parents decide who you see and socialise with. When you begin primary and secondary school it’s down to you who’s in your social circle. Parents may not agree with all your friendship choices but really it’s out of their control, especially once you’re a teenager. As you get older and in some cases wiser, you get to know yourself better, the types of people that fill up your cup, and the types that drain you, and you make decisions if they’re the types of people you want to spend your time with.
The same is true after your child dies. As a parent you’re thrown down this unthinkable path, not by choice (good god not by choice, no parent wants to walk down this path) and you talk about and make decisions which you never thought you’d have to make, all whist trying to figure out how you’ll survive without them. A lot of the survival is down to the people that you surround yourself with.
There is an overwhelming amount of text messages, Instagram dm’s and voicenotes when your child dies, more than when your child is born! We received far more cards after losing William. Parents from the boys school, family and friends, neighbours in our road that I’d never met all want to show you support and send their condolences.
In the first few weeks/months, you’re in shock, numb to the core, in utter denial and absolutely heartbroken, trying to come to terms with what has happened. (5 months on and I still feel all these things) but I have started to live my life, I hate it but I do, one day at a time. And just like me 'moving forward’ this is what the people around you do too. Life carries on, most people have families, jobs, appointments, social commitments and they can’t stand still in this grief bubble with you forevermore. So gradually the text messages reduce, and that’s the right thing! I couldn’t cope with 100 plus messages a day asking how I am? (FYI- I can’t cope with this question, how do I explain how I am?..... but that’s for another blog post). As your phone becomes quieter you then have time to think about the different people in your life and how they can support you.
Different friends for different days.
Depending on my mood I’ll speak to different people. If I’m having a really horrendous day (Will died 5 months ago, so that’s most days), but let’s say if I’m extremely fragile and sensitive, I’m probably not going to want to listen to a mum friend with a toddler telling me that they’re child is being a pain in the butt and can’t get 5 minutes peace. Although ... I’m surprised by myself here, I don’t often feel that I can’t talk to, or listen to my friends when they talk about their little ones. Very early on I realised (and this is for me, not every bereaved mother) that other toddlers don’t remind me of Will. Their skin is different, their frame, their hair, their voice…. they’re just not William and it doesn’t trigger me as much as I thought it might.
You have the friends that are there for the distraction and laughter (yes grieving mothers still laugh) and don't mention Will if I need a break from my thoughts. Some days I do want to hear about my friend’s new fridge and the issues she's having, where she can't fit all the eggs in like she could with her old fridge! I will ask my best friends to walk and talk and distract me, so they do, and we use the F word a lot! We laugh and chat about day to day life…. That’s another rubbish part for a bereaved mother, life goes on. You don’t want it to, but it does!
There‘s your safe person, or people. They’re the ones that you can be your dark, grieving self around, the ones that will just sit and swear with you and talk about how none of this is fair and how can this be happening? They’re the ones where I text Why? How? I can’t get my head around this? And they’re built to handle this. It’s full on and requires a special person to get you, to get your grief and to know that they don’t have to have the answers, but they will keep the conversation flowing and know that as a grieving mother I just need to get it off my chest. This is every day at the moment! One friend gets messages all the time, but she has said to me that it makes her feel better to know I am talking and sharing everyday.
This is tough, they’re grieving heavily too, for you and for your child. I have a pretty big extended family, who all live close to me. They’ve been there and listened and will continue to…. And they’ve also allowed me to invite myself and all my family round for lunch and gin, and to talk, and laugh and be distracted for a few hours. It usually ends with some tears as Will should be there with us, but it’s a comfort being able to surround myself with family members that love and care about us so much. A bonus is they enjoy booze and carbs as much as me!
Then there are the negative people, these are the ones that I have quickly learned not to spend too much time with. My physical, mental and emotional well being is constantly taking a hammering from the trauma that I am living through, so why would I want to be around someone who is bitter, angry, and a bit of a Debbie downer? Throughout the last few months I hope family and friends can understand that my grief consumes me, but also see that I want to have the banter and the sarcastic comments, I’m still me, granted a fragile and different me, but I am still here! I’ll still moan about my kids not getting dressed in the morning, arguing with each other, and not eating the dinner I put in front of them. Because William has died it doesn’t make Max and Lewis perfect kids that I don’t want to whinge about. (I love you boys if you’re reading this!)
Consider your own qualities and strengths
The biggest help for me is that I know in myself that I am a positive, proactive, and happy person, and I’ve said to friends and family, this is what will hopefully help me through my toughest days. William was these things too, every photo or video of him shows him beaming with joy. He’d never let me sit down for a moment as he was always climbing and investigating. So I don’t sit for long, I’ve gone back to yoga, seeing friends for a cuppa, getting out in the garden or going for walks, it helps to clear the thunderstorm in my head for a little while. Also seeing people is a distraction, it passes the time. I’m not living my life where I’m happy at the moment, but I am surrounding myself with wonderful people that (selfishly) make me feel better about myself. And after your child has died, you’re entitled to be selfish!
Grief is personal and unique
Try not to compare your grief to your partners or other families who have lost a child. We’re all individuals, and we all process information in our own way. We all have good days and bad days. My husband and I grieve differently and we’re learning to respect each other’s boundaries when it comes to William. We know that we’re not going to be at rock bottom at the same time on the same day, and it’s important for us to offer each other space, comfort and support when we might need it.
I’ve had mothers who have lost their child 1, 2, 5 years ago get in touch with me, and they tell me, not now, not for a few months, maybe not even years, but one day you will experience happiness, the real happiness. I cling on to that hope that one day I’ll smile again, not just on the outside, but on the inside too.
So I would say, think about the people you spend time with. Losing a child is with you for the rest of your life. I’m close to 40 now and could be alive for another 40 years, I want to do William proud and live my life and find the joy again one day.
Thanks for reading,
The Good Grief Trust
Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood
Shattered- Surviving the loss of a child - Gary Roe.
Ask me his name – Elle Wright
Grieving Dads- To the brink and back - Kelly Farley and David Dicola
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