01 Feb Sleep and therapy…
Stepping into 2021 – our third year without Ben.
‘I’m a mother who has folded into her grief. I’m growing a new life around my loss – not in spite of the grief, but because of it. Grief is my teacher. There is wisdom in the grieving process. And that’s because what gives grief its power is my profound, unconditional love for my child. ‘
January is always a difficult month. The build up to Christmas and new year requires an enormous amount of emotional energy. The inevitable aftermath often triggers anxiety, isolation and depression. Every new year takes us further away from our child and there’s always the horrible fear and dread that we might start to forget!!
Anyone who has lost a child will know about the ‘aftermath’…
The time after… when life suddenly and abruptly stopped and restarted.
Those days/weeks/months/years when breathing hurts and the nightmare slowly becomes reality.
A lifelong process of trying to put the broken pieces of our hearts back together.
The forever challenge of learning to tip toe around the huge void created by our darling child’s absence.
Since Ben died two years ago I think I’ve been existing in a weird ‘in-between’ kind of cosmos – like I’m here but not here! A bit like the ‘Upside Down’ in the TV series Stranger Things (which we watched because it was one of Ben’s favourites!!)
‘The Upside Down is an alternate dimension existing in parallel to the human world.’https://strangerthings.fandom.com
Bizarrely though, after twenty seven months of sleep deprivation I can now hardly keep my eyes open. Surviving on about four hours of sleep every night for such a long time must have finally taken its toll! Last night a micro switch kicked in and I fell asleep on the sofa sometime before 9. At 10.30 I gave in and went to bed and slept through till 7.45 this morning. That’s almost a staggering eleven hours!!!
Yet weirdly – more sleep is giving me less energy! I’m finding it harder to think clearly and the charged adrenaline that allowed me function without sleep seems to have evaporated and left me feeling listless and flat. Like a burst balloon!!
Maybe the battle between my heart and mind has given up – maybe my foggy brain has finally accepted that Ben is dead or maybe I’m just plain and simply worn out.
But somewhere in amongst all the pain and confusion, there are tiny little glimmers of hope. Laughing and smiling is easier and I cry less (though don’t be deceived by the face as the inside is always sad). I think I must be simply learning how to live with a broken heart because I’m genuinely finding joy and thankfulness in…
⁃ our awesome incredible family
⁃ the beautiful people who have stayed in my life; friends who somehow really know how to do empathy!
⁃ the priceless miracle of grandchildren
⁃ the blessing of new friends who are sadly walking this same broken path
⁃ an amazing job that gives purpose to days
⁃ the unconditional non-judgemental love of a God who is holding me through this awful pain!
Ann Voskamp in her book ‘The Broken Way’ describes it perfectly…
‘as long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here, in the messy, piercing ache of now!’
I’ve no idea where heaven is or how far away Ben is but I sense his almost tangible presence. The sound of his voice and beautiful infectious laugh are firmly planted in my ears. I talk to him and hear his responses. Instead of tearing me apart it seems to be bringing him closer. It’s like I’ve been gifted a reprieve – as though I’m finding new ways to love him.
I know he’s as much part of our family as he ever was; each one of us willingly reaches out (in our own individual way) across an invisible chasm of sadness to grasp hold of anything that keeps him alive. We will never let him go. That’s what love does!
‘Your absence is like the sky, spread over everything’
– C S Lewis
But despite these beautiful glimmers of positivity (that really do help make life bearable) I have to reiterate – “it’s impossible to ‘positive’ your way out of grief!!” People probably think I’m stuck as I get so many suggestions to help fix me! But grieving is a forever process and we each have to find our own way! The more we love the more we grieve. That’s just how it is!!
I was recently part of a church group who were discussing the (difficult to understand) Bible verse: ‘All things work together for good to those who love God…’ Romans 8:28.
To try and explain they used an extract from a Christian magazine which said – ‘Nothing is as difficult as it looks. Everything is more rewarding than it appears, and if anything good can happen to anybody, it’ll happen to me.’
I was furious that someone had the audacity to write something so generalised. Words that completely undermine the brokenness in our world – the hundreds and thousands of people fighting to survive some of the most unspeakable tragedies. I can only write from my perspective but…
⁃ ‘Nothing is as difficult as it looks’!!?? – any parent who has had to bury their precious child will tell you that it’s a million times more difficult than it looks!
⁃ And it is definitely NOT more rewarding than it appears – the death of a child (and other ‘out of order’ tragedy) is completely and utterly soul destroying.
⁃ Death is bad not good and although it’s inevitable there are some deaths that are simply out of order. They’re wrong because they happen too soon and change us forever.
When you lose a child (of any age) you spend the rest of your life trying to accept something that every atom of your being wants to reject! Any small measure of meaning and purpose isn’t a ‘reward’ – it simply gives us a reason to keep going.
Many use their grief to reach out and help others because broken hearts break for (and with) broken hearts! Yet no gain can ever compensate for the loss!! I would give anything to have Ben back!
I’ve been thinking about time – that it’s something we experience only in our world. That it doesn’t exist where Ben is. That he doesn’t miss us because he knows we’ll all be together again soon. That for him, heaven is just another exciting adventure!
How I long to be where he is – to live in a world without time; a world without sadness. No more trying to survive the daily brutal agony of missing him and dreading a future without him. No more waking up in the morning and wishing I wasn’t here. No more fighting against the permanent separation of death.
A broken heart is a very real condition – it causes physical as well as emotional pain.
So I’m holding fast to what I wrote in my last blog about ‘choice’ because it’s all I can do. I’m determined to keep searching for anything that brings healing (healing being a continuous process not a ‘fait accompli’).
One of the choices I made last month was to ask for help – to invite some trusted people in to chisel away at the protective defences of my hardened broken heart and help make sense of what I’m feeling. I must confess I’ve been very scared that they will uncover some weird personality defect or write me off as a depressive ‘stuck in my grief’ crazy person!!! But it’s a risk I have to take…
So on 18th January 2021 I started a 6 – 8 week course – ‘Trauma Focused Grief Therapy’.
In preparation I had to complete a very long self-analytical assessment organised through work. It involved trawling through a lifetime of very personal experiences, culminating with Ben’s sudden death and the impact it’s had on absolutely everything.
I was then referred for a (virtual) face to face assessment with the most incredible Psychologist – Dr Noreen Tehrani (https://noreentehrani.com/).
‘This is grief’
I need to be inconsolable to feel the depth of my pain
I want to be unhinged – at least for a while
I cannot be helped by people who are too certain
Give me a hearing without solutions
Give me space without paths
Give me time without limits
Give me understanding without reason– Dr Noreen Tehrani
If you’ve ever considered therapeutic support I would totally recommend it!! If you’re seriously thinking about it but confused about the difference between counselling and psychotherapy – this is my non-professional definition:
Counselling is an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about what’s troubling you in a safe nurturing environment.
Psychotherapy examines your psychological history and discusses techniques that may help when you’re experiencing trauma symptoms.
Although confidential I’ve decided to share this extract from my assessment report because it may describe how you’re feeling too. The relief of talking to someone who ‘gets it’ is priceless. After just one meeting I’m already feeling less agitated and starting to make some sense of my grief brain.
‘Ruth is feeling pre-occupied by the death of her son, it comes to her and prevents her from thinking and responding as she might have done in the past. She has lost a sense of certainty and is more fearful of the unknown and recognises life to be more unpredictable. Instead of being in the centre of her world she feels she is an observer and much less resilient as a result. Work gives some sense of purpose and is a distraction.’
Noreen explained that sudden, unexpected, out of order death (in particular the death of a child) is the most difficult type of death to come to terms with. Just hearing her acknowledge that was like having a huge weight lifted!!
I literally breathed a sigh of relief! So be encouraged – what we’re feeling is normal!!! I honestly could have hugged her. The incredible yet simple power of acknowledgment! The healing that comes from simply talking to someone who really understands!!
‘I’m not crazy – I’m just a normal person trying to live an abnormal life!!’
I’m not sure who I’ll be when I come out the other end but I’ll keep you posted! I’m incredibly grateful to have this wonderful opportunity.
The other thing that therapy has confirmed is that writing is healing! It’s actually one of the strategies they suggest. So without really knowing it – I’ve been helping myself. I can’t imagine how much worse I’d be if I hadn’t!!!
“What do we do in the dark night? We do nothing. We wait. We remember that we are not God. We hold on. We ask for help. We do less. We resign from things, we rest more, we ask somebody else to pray because we can’t. We let go of our need to hurry through it. You can’t run in the dark.”– John Ortberg, “Soul Keeping,”