To have and have not…

October 2021

I borrowed the heading from the title of an old 1944 Humphrey Bogart film. ‘To have and have not’… that’s just how it is. What appears to be a contradiction is actually reality for those of us trying to live with and without a precious child.)

Autumn sunshine, warm days and cold nights, spectacular sunsets, conkers, orange leaves, dark evenings and mornings! I don’t need a calendar to tell me this is when it happened.

Photo by https://www.drewmcdonald.photography/

October seems to echo with sounds of sadness – we lost our darling boy suddenly on 7th October 2018. He was 25.

My body clocked it before I even allowed myself to register the date. A strange agitated feeling of unrest had wrapped itself around me… heavy and dark.

A huge knot in my stomach testament to the fact that the worst day of my life was imminent and I was about to relieve the shock, horror and angst all over again.

I honestly thought that after three years it might be getting easier – but it isn’t. The ferocity took me by surprise; fragile raw emotions surfaced, leaving me feeling battered and bruised.

I wanted to fast forward over the next few weeks; to pretend they never happened. But even if I could – my boy would still be gone.

I wanted to run but there was nowhere to go – and anyway the pain would just follow me. A desperate hollow wretchedness pressed on my chest. It’s debilitating. At times I think I can hardly breathe.

I feel helpless because life has spiralled out of control. If only I could turn the clocks back.

My instinct is to just curl up in a ball and hibernate in the hope that I’ll wake up and find it was all just a terrifying nightmare.

But that’s not going to happen because like it or not – it is real. Losing a child is brutal – unthinkable; unimaginable; indescribable. It will never make sense and I’ll never understand. No parent ever expects to have to keep on living in a world without their darling child. We know they’re gone yet we do everything in our power to keep them close – to keep them with us.

Ben’s date 2021 – The Mesdow

And to add to the agony I get the feeling that some probably think I should be over this by now. I guess unless it’s happened to you, you can’t possibly know that broken hearts simply don’t fix! That the death of a child is a forever pain that’s relived every single day.

(I can only write as a mother who has lost a child – but I know that others have lost brothers sisters partners parents friends – and each death is as personal and individual as our fingerprint. Grief hurts.)

I must be (subconsciously) starting to accept that Ben’s life and death are now part of the same story. I can’t separate one from the other. Both have left their indelible mark on our lives – the joy, the love, the heartache, and the agony.

Dr Joanne Cacciatore in her book Bearing the Unbearable, writes…

“Those we love deeply who have died are part of our identity: they are part of our biography. We feel that love, and grief, in the marrow of our bones “

I hate that we have to remember a death day as well as a birth day, and it’s definitely not one we want to celebrate. I won’t call it an anniversary because that seems to represent something joyous – something good. A death day is definitely not good – so I simply refer to it as Ben’s date!

It’s not fair. It shouldn’t happen. It was never meant to be like this. So we have no choice but to reluctantly live on without our boy, trapped in this weird dysfunctional cocoon called grief.

Three years of limping through living. Alive but not in the way I used to be. Not as the person I want to be. Always just about teetering on the brink of survival!

The build up, the actual day and the aftermath have left me deflated – broken, tired and empty. I’m fearful that the grieving is getting worse not better – more difficult to manage. It seems to be sapping my confidence; eating away at my ability to function. And I know as soon as I get through this date I’ll have to start psyching myself up for the next – Christmas, New Year, birthdays, Mother’s Day…

At times the world appears to be closing in around me but I force myself to keep going. To tell myself that if others have survived, I will too!

For anyone just starting out on this awful journey I’m so so sorry – it really is a relentless battle full of ups and downs (more downs than ups). Gigantic waves will pound again and again – often tipping you over the edge; without any warning. They’re relentless and indiscriminate. It hurts- deep inside our souls. It feels like we will never laugh (really laugh) or be happy (really happy) again. And we dread the thought of having to live like this for the rest of our lives!

So often I think ‘I can’t do it any more’ – then somehow I do. I can only assume God picks me up and carries me for a bit, then gently sets me back on my feet – infusing me with strength when it feels like I have nothing left to give.

So for the third year running we got through Ben’s date… by making his day all about HIM.

For Ben

Joined by a myriad of wonderful family and friends we walked/ran/cycled a half marathon past all his special places. We talked about him; we remembered. We laughed, we cried, we reflected. We did all the things he loved to do. If I could have asked him what he would like to do I know he would have suggested going back to the pub for beers and pizza!! So that’s exactly what we did! The day was as perfect as it could have been and actually felt like he was there!

To have and have not!!

I hope he felt the love. I hope he knows that he left his beautiful mark on our world. I hope he can see that his light is still burning brightly – that he will always have a special place in our hearts! That he’s most definitely not forgotten.

I hope he knows that we will always be a family of six. That’s he’s as much part of us now as he ever was! That we try to live his beautiful life for him – to honour him. That he is still so outrageously loved!

We can never completely lose our boy. He’s still with us. He always will be. Much as I hate the fact that he’s forever 25 I’m also thankful for every minute we were blessed to have him.

To have and have not!

A dear friend gave me a card on Ben’s date with these poignant words that I think sums it up perfectly…

‘The people we lose still live through us.

Everything we do, say, are… is shaped by what we have absorbed from them.

Picture a moment when you laughed together.

Think of one thing you were taught by them.

Remember a discussion you once had.

These memories are the legacy of loss.

That we absorb these moments and can replay them, means the ones we lose are never far from us. None of us can stay. The shortness of life is cruel. But the strength of human connection – love – is what means we endure in the hearts of others after we are gone.’

‘To have and have not…’