Running on empty …

Have you ever felt like a car that seems to be running on the bare minimum of fuel? That you’re functioning – but only just? That your wings can’t carry your weight (quote above). That you’re treading water and going through the motions of living or maybe even just wishing your life away until you can go to be with your precious child?

If so, you’re not alone – that’s exactly where I am!

It’s twenty one months since Ben died and living with grief doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. I feel so broken that I’m struggling to write – even though writing has always been my therapy. My brain is tired and unable to articulate the right words to describe the empty void in my life. I’m forcing myself to try because I know it helps.

Since Ben left us writing has been the one thing that has kept me sane – it has helped me understand and make a little sense of the crazy emotions that are part of this new life. But I’m struggling to accept that despite the odd pocket of healing, there is actually no getting over the death of child.

I feel like I’ve got nothing left to give. Words are repetitive and days are starting to merge into one long tunnel of grief. I don’t want to keep writing the same sad things over and over again!

Ironically just when I thought I had entered a reasonably manageable phase, a gigantic wave has struck and completely knocked me off my feet.

No trigger or particular reason – just a vicious lightening bolt of realisation that this pain and emptiness is never going away. It’s not going to get better and I’m so weak I feel like I can’t do it any more. I’m physically, emotionally and mentally drained and worn out.

I feel such a deep sadness when I see my friend’s children doing all the things Ben should be doing. I’m happy for them but my heart breaks all over again.

I can’t bear the thought of having to put on a fake happy smiley mask and face the world – day after day after day!

Ben has gone and I miss him more and more as time ruthlessly marches on. I feel angry and agitated that the life I loved so much has just slipped through my fingers and changed beyond recognition.

‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about grief, it’s that it always surprises me.

Disappearing one moment. Returning with a vengeance another.

Sometimes it surfaces in tears, other times in anger and apologies. I don’t understand it.

Some days I even get mad at it.

I didn’t ask for it, but I did ask to love and be loved. And if this is the penalty and the gift, I’ll do my time in the valley of grief.’

⁃ Jill Lynn Buteyn

I’ve read so many books about grief and listened to enough advice to know that what I’m feeling is probably quite normal – but knowing doesn’t help. I’m still struggling to accept this life I didn’t expect and don’t want. I’m consumed with a desperate longing to be able to turn the clock back and revisit happy carefree times when everything was simple and normal – and I knew what it felt like to be truly happy.

I’m conscious that my inability to talk about the gnawing ache and longing for Ben is isolating me from the very people I need most. The more isolated I am, the worse I feel and the harder it is to try and pull myself out of this horrible murky swamp of self pity and despair. I quite honestly don’t even like myself!!

I can manage to seem fairly convincingly happy for a couple of hours if friends call over (and we socially distance in the garden with a glass of wine). I feel a little better for being in their company but as soon as they’ve gone darkness falls again. I’m tired of faking normality!

My husband Paul and I have just arrived home from a beautiful mini break in Devon visiting my son and his wife. It was the first long-anticipated road trip in our camper van since lockdown started. A precious little bubble of happiness. An oasis of peace. It felt good.

But since arriving home, instead of feeling thankful, all I can feel is the crushing weight of sadness. I’ve hit a low (that is probably bordering on depression) and it’s obliterating any feelings of joy and hope.

I have so much to be thankful for. I tenderly watch my precious family with such love and pride yet all I feel is fear. They’re such beautiful people and I’m full of admiration for their ability to get on with life when they’re broken too. But I’m so scared of what might be lurking round the corner. I know that if ‘out of order’ death can happen once – it can happen again! I’m tired of making before and after comparisons!

I feel like I’m stuck in a storm that is pummelling me from all directions with a force that I can’t control. All I can do is try and hide because I can’t fight back. I’m trapped in a dark place that is hurting beyond words. I miss my boy so much and a future without him fills me with fear and dread.

I’m tired of battling to stay positive and hopeful. I’m completely worn out trying to function when it feels like I’ve got nothing left to give. I feel guilty for being like this but all I want is to be normal again.

I’ve cried so many tears over the last few days that it’s left me completely weak. Life has become a juxtaposition of jumbled and complicated emotions that don’t sit comfortably with each other – despair, thankfulness, emptiness, joy, pain, sadness, happiness; each one compounded by the overarching complexity of guilt and disappointment.

Other people are living with tragedies even more terrible than mine and seem to be coping better! What am I doing wrong? I’m desperately trying to work out how I can get back on track? I’m crying out to God to help me but he feels far away. I desperately need to feel his peace and acceptance.

“Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties. “

⁃ C. S. Lewis

I know time doesn’t heal grief and I’m not going to move on or get fixed but I have to be able to do more than just exist. I’ve pulled myself out of this swamp before – I must be able to do it again.

I’m trying the thankfulness approach:

I’m incredibly thankful that I had Ben for twenty five wonderful years but the reality is it doesn’t make his loss any easier.

I’m so thankful for my beautiful husband, family and friends but that doesn’t take away the ache in my heart for Ben.

I cradle our new adorable little grandson but live in fear that something will happen to him.

I hug my beautiful children but wonder if I should hold them a little longer in case it’s the last time.

I’m trying so hard to make every moment count but I’m spoiling them by trying too hard.

I’m sharing all this because I know if you’re a grieving mum you will understand – you won’t judge me or think I’m crazy!!

We all do whatever it takes to survive and to keep our darling child close.

We have Jewellry made out of their fingerprints, we carry a lock of their hair in a necklace, we treasure photos and pictures. We relive memories and try to turn the clocks back. We hold on to random signs that are significant to us but meaningless to others. We touch things that their fingers touched. We keep their shoes under the stairs and their toothbrush in the bathroom. Only a grieving parent can understand all this.

We’re often misunderstood and judged. Friends think we’re stuck in our grief and maybe we are. People want to fix us or expect us to move on – we can’t!! Our grief will last forever because we know it’s not possible to simply get over the death of our child. When they died part of us died too.

I’ve just finished painting our front door yellow because it reminds me of Ben. (I cried the whole time I was doing it!) It’s the colour of sunflowers and sunsets and the daffodils growing on his grave in the meadow where he shouldn’t be. It’s all so weird and wrong. I constantly wonder how life has turned out like this?

But yellow is also a colour that makes me smile. It’s bright and cheerful and full of fun – just like Ben. It keeps him close and reminds me of his beautiful love that even death can’t steal.

‘Well, they say people come

The say people go

This particular diamond was extra special

And though you might be gone, and the world may not know

Still I see you, celestial…’

⁃ Coldplay ‘Everglow’

I will get through this storm because I’ve done it before. We all have. We somehow find strength we didn’t know we had. We ride out the waves until they pass and life becomes a little more manageable – but we know they’ll be back.

It’s never going to be easy. That’s just how it is when we’re forced to rebuild our lives around a shattered broken heart. We hold on to the tiniest glimmers of hope that enable us to recharge and keep going!!

Someone posted this little sketch on Facebook the other day and the words jumped out at me:

‘I have pitched my tent in the land of hope!’

⁃ Acts 2:22

That’s all I can do while I wait for this storm to pass. I’ll keep looking towards the light because I know that’s where hope is!

PS – Incredibly just as I was finishing writing this horribly depressing blog a text popped up on my phone from a dear friend with this beautiful message and sketch, saying:

“Darling Ruth, read this this morning and thought of you. Keep holding on. Love you ❤️

Charlie Mackesy

I’m sending this message to you all – my beautiful broken grieving friends. Hold on to hope! We will survive.