Grief changes us!

March 2019 – 20 weeks without Ben!

“This is the big scary truth about trauma: there is no such thing as ‘getting over it’. The five stages of grief model marks universal stages in learning to accept loss, but the reality is in fact much bigger: a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no ‘back to the old me’.

You are different now, full stop.

This is not a wholly negative thing. Healing from trauma can also mean finding new strength and joy. The goal of healing is not a papering-over of changes in an effort to preserve or present things as normal. It is to acknowledge and wear your new life – warts, wisdom and all – with courage”

– Catherine Woodiwiss.

I read this quote not long after Ben died and realised with absolute horror that it was describing me!! 

At the time I was so numb that it was impossible to think beyond surviving the next day never mind contemplating the future. I quite honestly didn’t want to keep living. Joy seemed like a swear word – a betrayal of grief.

I felt like I was being sucked into a vast empty chasm of the darkest sadness I had ever known. The possibility of finding strength and courage seemed ludicrous when I couldn’t see past an insurmountable wall of horror and screaming pain – a mountain of terrifying ‘whys’.

My beautiful boy is dead – that word is vile; unbelievable. It’s terrifying and impossible to associate death with such a beautiful man child who was brimming with life and love just a few months before.

Every now and again I’d have the odd moment of positivity when I’d think I must be strong enough to buck the trend because Ben wouldn’t want me to change! But I soon realised it simply isn’t possible.

I’m too weak. Too broken. Too empty. My fight for any kind of recovery completely diminished.

Grief does that!

I now know that it’s impossible to reclaim normality. There honestly is no going back to being the person you were.

Death steals more than just your child – it steals your innocence, your security and your strength. It rips your insides out then puts them back together differently!

It steals the future you expected and leaves you angry, isolated and disillusioned.

Death has also left my faith in tatters as I struggle to understand how God could have allowed this to happen. I feel like a dirty wet rag – useless and purposeless as I agonise over how I can possibly fit back into a world that now feels so alien and unfamiliar.

Sudden unexplained death is frightening and confusing. There will always be the fear that if it happened once – it can happen again.

The only way forward is to try and reconnect the shattered fragments of our broken lives and reluctantly walk into a future that feels unreal and scary.

We promised ourselves to do everything possible to keep Ben’s memory alive and to try and live like he did.

But we know living will always be filled with so many unanswered questions and an inconclusive autopsy report.

That’s just how it is.

‘There are some events in our lives that permanently change us, for which there is no going back to the way things were.

– Grief to Glorious Unfolding

I look back at the old me and remember that I thought I was strong!!

It’s hard to believe that I was once confident, calm, determined, resilient, and pragmatic. I loved entertaining and meeting up with friends. I was passionate about injustice and tried to live with integrity, kindness and love. 

It’s like I’m remembering someone else – a person that vaguely resembles me. 

I’m shocked by how much grief has actually changed me.

I still care about people and still try to live with integrity, kindness and love.

But…

now I’m agitated, irrational and sometimes angry. I have a short fuse and can explode with very little provocation (thankfully I usually do it in private). I’m easily irritated and don’t have the same energy or confidence to invest in people and relationships. Things I once did with ease are now a challenge!

I sit and stare into space a lot – here but not here!

I’m often disengaged in conversations and find social gatherings difficult – choosing to avoid many. I forget what I’m saying mid sentence. 

I get tired and fall asleep at odd times; always waking up agitated. I lie awake for hours at night, reliving the horrendous details of the day he left us – over and over and over again. It’s like torture.  

There’s more…

I struggle to make decisions. I go to the supermarket but can’t think of what I need. I forget important things. I’m disoriented. I can’t decide what to wear and everything I put on looks awful. I feel old, haggard and worn out.

In work, I sometimes stare at the computer screen seeing nothing – unable to think what to do next. I get distracted during meetings as my mind wanders – continually going back to the details of that terrible day.

I can’t eat or I eat too much. I drink too much coffee and wine. I find it hard to sit still unless I’m writing or reading.  

My driving is awful – probably because I do a lot of crying and shouting in the privacy of my car. 

I’ve simply lost my spark and life feels empty. The prospect of living like this forever, fills me with terror. 

The weird thing is – this may not always be obvious. 

I can smile and wear my mask quite convincingly. I probably appear quite normal even though my insides are in turmoil and my thoughts are messy, morbid and confused. I see everything through a different lens! My whole world has changed.

Incredibly though, even in the midst of all these chaotic emotions I actually do manage to find little moments of happiness. 

Our adorable grandchildren make me smile as I watch them spontaneously clink their drinks together saying ‘cheers to Ben!’ It melts my heart. Their innocence is enviable but those darling little people already know about tragedy and loss. The beautiful thing is they never forget him and speak his name so easily!

‘Cheers to Ben!’

Sadly death has changed us all!

Simple acts of kindness – a hug – a beautiful sunset – a shooting star – a rainbow – all remind us of how beautiful life is though every joyful moment is tainted by sorrow because pain is always there.

I’m overwhelmed by love for each of my children – but seeing their suffering breaks my heart a bit more. Losing a sibling is very similar to losing a child – part of them is missing! Their tight knit unit is incomplete and irreparable.

The pain permanently etched into my lovely husband’s face is soul destroying. I often see him just sitting with tears running down his face; remembering and reliving.

But our grief unites us and our brokenness has become the glue that will make us stronger – as we do everything possible to stay connected to Ben

My beautiful daughter was describing how she no longer feels untouchable or immune from the harshness of life. She fears that just because one horrendous thing has happened it doesn’t exempt us from others. The combined emotions of love, loss and fear have become a reality which now cast a shadow over her perception of the future.

I’m filled with awe and respect for those who have survived some of the most unspeakable traumas, people who are managing or have managed, against all the odds, to live fulfilled and productive lives. They inspire me to want to try and follow their example.

I will keep searching for a strength that must be there somewhere. I want to make my beautiful boy proud. He loved life and I want to live like he did. Right now it’s a challenge to simply get through a day.

“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it’s going on when you don’t have strength.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte

So… the only option is to keep moving forward very very slowly – not expecting too much. I’m told grieving is healing and there are no shortcuts. The pain never goes away and I know the scars will never heal. But I guess I will gradually learn how to let joy, pain, love and grief squish together inside my shattered broken heart.

“When the pain, and the cries, and the suffering have reached a limit, that is when you come out a strong person.”

– author unknown

I want to finish with a beautiful example of strength and courage.

Noah aged 8…

Our eldest grandson Noah was eight when Ben died.

He’s a deep thinker and not overly confident. Ben was his hero and he loved him so much. He was traumatised by his sudden death.

All our grandchildren were spectators at the half marathon that Ben was taking part in when he died. Despite being very fit and healthy Ben went into cardiac arrest as he crossed the finish line. The post mortem report called it SADS (Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome). In short, they don’t really know why he died.

Noah’s school teacher set his class an assignment to prepare and deliver a five minute PowerPoint presentation. She had noticed that Noah wasn’t coping well since Ben died so kindly suggested he did his presentation about his uncle Ben.

Surprisingly he agreed. He spent hours in preparation, selecting all his favourite photos. Each slide depicted something he admired about Ben, ending with one that was particularly special to him. He then calmly stood in front of the class and described each one in detail. He concluded with an open time for questions.

Noah’s special favourite photo

His classmates were morbidly intrigued!!

Some of their questions were:

How did he die – how did it happen?

What time did he die?

How old was he when he died?

Were you sad?

Our incredibly brave little grandson answered every question with poise and clarity (we have the video). He spoke proudly about his beloved uncle. It hasn’t ‘fixed’ him but it definitely helped.

Such a wonderful cathartic moment of healing and an amazing display of strength and courage!

If Noah can do it…