Losing a child is not like anything else. It is different to losing a parent, or grandparent, a sibling or a spouse. There really is no other loss it can be compared to.
As humans we need a reference point to be able to make sense or attempt to understand things. If you had never tried a nectarine and someone said, ‘it’s like a peach but smooth not fuzzy on the outside’, it would give you an idea of what it looks like, the texture and the taste. The peach would be your point of reference, that is assuming you knew what a peach was.
Often people try to make fit a point of reference in a desperate, but well-meaning, attempt to say something helpful or comforting. I believe they truly want to offer words of encouragement. Sometimes people should just not say anything at all.
Too often well intended words come out badly and end up being hurtful. It’s no one’s fault, there is just nothing else like this. Despite valid attempts, there is also nothing anyone can do to make it better. If you feel you must say something, ‘I am here’ or ‘I love you’ will suffice. A ‘thinking of you’ message or just a hug can mean more than any attempted words of comfort.
Most of us have heard there is no timeframe with grief. Contrary to what we have also heard, the first year is NOT necessarily the hardest.
When you lose a child, you are forced into a place of needing to find your own way. The way that works for you in the moment, no one else. You are told you are never alone and may have a lot of friends and family around. In a sense you are never alone in that thousands of other parents have experienced the loss of their child too. They are closer to understanding how you feel, and they have an accurate point of reference.
But let me tell you this. When the sun goes down and you lie there in the dark, in the quiet, listening to the silence, thinking of your child, you are VERY alone.
This time can be terrifying, confusing and some of the most heart-breaking moments you will experience. Very often no one else knows and it is impossible to describe this feeling. It is overwhelming, suffocating, devastating and can induce irregular breathing, panic and total disbelief. There is an intense feeling of powerlessness and despair. Your partner may be lying beside you, or friends and family in other rooms, but trust me when I say, you feel very alone.
We all handle loss differently. Mums and dads, men and women, boys and girls. The early weeks and months you are at your most vulnerable. The conditions are perfect for turning to antidepressants, substances, and distractions to avoid what is excruciatingly painful. I chose a balance of distractions and avoidance.
My advice today? Sit with yourself. Even if it’s for short periods of time and do it sober. Just let out what needs to come it out. Don’t master the art of avoiding the pain. Nature is almost gentle and there is a feeling of numbness that naturally arrives at the moment you lose your child. Then it is at its most potent and tapers off over the next few weeks and months.
In my experience, numb moments will come back from time to time over the next few years and they will be much welcomed. It’s almost like natures’ own substance to help you cope.
As the ‘real’ moments increase, it can feel like your chest is closing up and at times I wondered if I was having a heart attack. And sometimes in those moments, I didn’t even care if I was.
When we don’t sit with ourselves and surrender to the discomfort, (any discomfort) it stores up and arises again and again with even more strength than ever before. A power builds with each avoidance and the diversions required become more intense. It never goes away until we face the demons head on.
NO, it’s not fair! YES, they should be here! But when all is said and done, even if you knew the ‘why’ or the ‘how’, it wouldn’t make the pain any less.
The fact is you miss them more than you have ever missed anything or anyone and that doesn’t fade as time passes.
Nothing about this situation is ever going to be okay.
And no one can tell you otherwise, but it is what it is.
So, I asked myself, ‘what am I going to do to make Ben’s life count?
What am I going to do to make his life matter?
How will I honour Ben as I live my life?
I realised you get to decide what type of relationship you will have with them now and you get to master that if you choose to.
Being an ass doesn’t bring them back nor does being a martyr. But making their life meaningful does bring purpose to your life and you are still here!
I kept busy my first 12 months. I got out of bed and I forced myself to do something productive every single day. Some days that was just making a cup of coffee and wiping down the bench from spilt water and rinsing the cup afterwards.
The truth is you don’t actually know what to do. I was living in a thick suffocating fog and needed to feel like I had some control. I wanted to feel ‘normal’ again. I wanted my old life back. I didn’t recognise myself and I wanted the old me back.
Some days I only made it from the bed to the shower to the couch. I made sure though, that I could count these days on one hand. I constantly pictured Ben looking at me smiling. ‘Keep going mum, I’m okay.’ Seeing his face in my mind sometimes made me feel worse. I sat outside and stared into space. I watched the trees, the grass, the birds and absorbed nothing. But in the moments when I did feel ‘with it’ I made it count.
I needed to figure out what I wanted. While other people’s lives had moved on, it felt like mine had stopped. It was like I was suspended in time and the rest of the world continued spinning around me. Most of the day I couldn’t think. I didn’t want to think.
My memory was shot, and I walked around in a daze. The feeling was surreal, and I wouldn’t take a pill, alcoholic drink or substance. I was quietly terrified of what might happen if I did. Would it become more real? What if I completely lost the plot? No, I needed feel like I had some sort of control.
I began to read. I wanted to understand where Ben was and if there was any way I could communicate with him. I chose to create my own path rejecting all support from groups, counsellors, friends, and family. This was something I felt I had to do on my own and yet I felt like Ben was with me always, so maybe I wasn’t on my own? maybe we were doing it together?
And then, just over 12 months from his passing, my façade crumbled, and I completely unravelled. The cardboard cut-out world I had created as part of my avoidance strategy fell apart. Once again, I couldn’t think, and I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea who I was, what I was doing or where I was going. Fight or flight kicked in big time and I couldn’t fight any more…
Until next week, I will leave you with 8 things that parents who have lost a child, including me, want you to know.
8 things that parents who have lost a child, including me, want you to know.
i. Please do not clean, air, organise, move or touch my child’s room or things without asking me first.
ii. Please do not close any of my child’s accounts, their bank account, social media, phone, ANY account without asking me first.
iii. Please do not speak quietly about me or behind my back. I am not deaf I have lost my child.
iv. Please do not expect me to make the simple decisions I used to make. I don’t care about them anymore. I need to focus on just trying to get through the next 5 minutes.
v. Please do not ask me ‘How are you?’
vi. Please do not try and imagine how I feel or find a point of reference. You can never know, and I hope you never will.
vii. Please do not expect of me what I have always given, done, said or how I have acted. I am not who I was. I don’t know who I am any more.
viii. Please allow me to just be. I need to cry randomly, in public or private, day or night. It might even embarrass you as it may be ugly crying. I cannot breathe and I am trying to survive every parent’s worst nightmare.
Dalya xx 💙