The first significant loss I remember, was when I was 17 years old. One of the boys in my circle of friends had a blood disorder called Thalassemia.
I knew Manuel for about 2 years and during that time he never spoke about his illness. In fact, I knew very little about it except that he had it and sometimes had to get blood transfusions. He appeared mostly, to be like any of us, just a kid hanging out and living his life.
The life expectancy of someone with this disease is about 30 years and Manuel lived to 19yo.
Manuel was from a Greek background. The church where the funeral was held was overflowing with people that day, and hundreds spilled out onto the main street. The heaviness and sadness of a life lost so young also overflowed.
The 5 of us left behind, stood quietly together feeling numb, as silent tears rolled down our cheeks. From outside the church doors, we watched the devastation unfolding, the wailing, sobbing and the heartache that was more intense than anything we had experienced before, and it seemed endless.
Some 30+ years later I still remember Manuel. I have rarely had the opportunity to speak his name though, so today I am.
Since then, I have lost both grandparents and my mother, I have miscarried more than once and of course the most shattering loss of all, losing my son Ben.
Each of these experiences was very different and each impacted me in a different way.
As time goes by, we change and so do our perspectives and how we relate to past and present events.
Today when I think about Manuel, I also think about his parents. His death means something so different to me compared to where I was at 17.
Grief changes us
What we first need to understand about grief, is one of the pillars I speak about – CHANGE.
We don’t respond or relate to some things the way we did previously. Phrases such as ‘time heals all wounds’ which once may have made sense, (in a context other than death), today is an insult.
The list of what NOT to do is a very long one, compared to what we CAN do to support someone grieving.
THIS OR THAT?
In the early days, after losing Ben, the most simple decisions became complicated and felt painfully difficult. And to make matters worse, for the most part, I didn’t care anyway.
In my mind nothing really mattered. Unless my decision was going to somehow contribute to bringing Ben back, I wasn’t interested. This was one of the first big changes I noticed.
I guess I thought I previously had all the answers and any decisions were made easily and on the fly.
I AM HERE…vs…YOU ARE NOT ALONE
- I am so sorry for your loss
- I can’t imagine how what you are going through
- I have no idea what you are going through but I am here
- I am so glad I am getting to know Ben through you
- I think about Ben every time I …
- You are never far from my thoughts, no need to reply, I’ll touch base again soon
- It’s really great to see you!
I have said to many other parents who have experienced losing a child, ‘remember you are not alone’. What I have also been known to follow this up with is, ‘…even when you are’.
There were so many nights when the world had gone to bed, my house was deafeningly silent, and I stared up at a sky filled with a million stars.
‘Ben, where are you? Are you out there?’
On these nights I felt like I was truly alone.
There were those that walked beside me by day, but more so at night or when I was by myself, it was just me, my thoughts and a shattered heart I had no clue how to put back together.
I was the only person in the world who would ever really know what it was like for a mother to lose Ben.
And so, I really was alone.
I WAS REMEMBERING THE TIME WHEN…
One of the greatest joys I get is hearing from people who share their memories, stories and messages. Technology is fast and you can transmit messages and pictures in an instant. It’s easy to overthink it (I’ve done that), and try and come up with the ideal message.
‘This just popped up in my memories and I thought of Ben. Thinking of you. Lots of 💙 ‘
is a PERFECT message!
Every time you say their name out loud, or share a memory, no matter how much time has passed, you make their life count! And you bring their essence to life again.
I can’t create new memories with Ben, so for me and other bereaved parents, these are the ONLY ones we have… and ever will have. THAT’s why they are so precious and why, despite being painful, we want to relive them!
💙 That’s why we love to hear other people’s memories and stories.
💙 That’s why we love it when their name is spoken out loud.
💙 That’s why we light up inside and also feel a stab of pain when you share.
💙 That’s why we might cry or seem sad when you share.
But despite our tears, PLEASE DON’T STOP SHARING! We need this!
I’m thinking of you, just checking in to say hi … VS … How are you? Let me know when you’re ready to catch up
Each day is different when you are in the grief fog. Sometimes you can see a few feet ahead of you, other times nothing. Receiving check-ins reminds you people are there waiting on the sideline, and still caring, for when you do eventually emerge.
Checking in on someone, 1yr 5yr 10 years, forever actually, without judgement or obligation for them to engage or respond, speaks volumes.
Acknowledging that the bereaved will always feel the loss of their person, can demonstrate that you aren’t someone that just showed up in the beginning … but that you are there for the long haul!
Every loss is unique, and each feels like we are going through unchartered territory, a scary and foreign place. And we are. With every loss, people change, life changes, thoughts change, feelings and emotions change, and attitudes and perspectives change.
Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Nothing compares. It becomes an ongoing excercise of figuring out how we incorporate the gaping hole in our life from moment to moment. All this, while navigating challenges and obstacles, that are non-negotiable ‘extras’ and come with the package.
As a bereaved person and mum to Ben, I can tell you these ‘extras’ are VERY real and come at a huge price.
It’s about how we navigate, adapt and support that change and still manage to live a life of purpose and fulfillment that counts.
And so, on some level continuing Ben’s legacy of loving and giving, I do get to keep a part of him alive.
#whatwouldbenwant #youvegotthis #foreverbenshaw
See you next week … 😊
Dalya xx 💙