24 Sep Two years – and still waiting…
It’s almost two years since 7th October 2018 – the day that Ben suddenly left us – and I’m still trying to get used to heaving around this crippling and hideous burden of loss. I can honestly say it doesn’t get any easier! I miss my beautiful funny adventurous boy as much as ever. There are days when missing him hurts so much that I simply don’t want to live.
I don’t think grieving parents ever get used to the emptiness and indescribable anguish caused by the death of a child. The ‘getting over it’ option is unrealistic and impossible though I’m told (by those ahead of me) that it does get more manageable with time – not because we miss our children any less but because I think we must just learn how to integrate living and grieving.
‘When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky’⁃ Mirabai Starr in ‘Caravan of no Despair’
It’s hard to believe that this time two years ago we were blissfully unaware that this was the final countdown to our last month of normality.
The changing season, the falling leaves, the autumn sunshine, the shorter evenings and the awesome sunsets take me right back to the moment our perfect world imploded! I feel like I’m frozen in time as I relive the shock and horror. My brain still struggles to believe that our vibrant handsome boy can really be dead – he was so full of life and had so much more to give. To bury a child is quite simply beyond human understanding.
Two years ago Paul and I were enjoying an exciting and long awaited dream holiday – visiting a dear friend in Tanzania and Zanzibar! Never in our wildest imaginings could we have anticipated that six days after we arrived home our darling youngest son would suddenly die.
– That without any warning, his beautiful healthy heart would just stop beating.
⁃ That in an instant our family would be torn apart and left bruised, battered and broken.
⁃ That the world we thought was safe and reasonably predictable would be devastated and we would spend the rest of our lives picking through the carnage.
We lost so much that day and rebuilding is quite frankly exhausting. It’s a lonely path and difficult for even the most loyal and forgiving friends to walk with us. We’re as confused as they are by the unpredictability of this strange new life.
I don’t have any words to describe the sorrow and sadness that still feels like an open wound – one that refuses to heal. Electric shocks jolt my stomach every time reality breaks through the numbness and denial. I think about Ben just about every minute of every day. I long to hear his voice so much that it physically hurts. The pain is brutal and relentless; emotions erratic, disjointed and uncontrollable!
I’ve read that grief strips you and it’s true!. I feel disrobed by loss – like I have nothing of value left to contribute to living.
I hate that I’m so changed.
I’m troubled by things I thought I understood.
I crave a confidence that was once easy and uncomplicated.
I resent the fact that I’ve had to subconsciously adjust my gait to accommodate a pain that feels as though I’m always walking with a stone in my shoe; a pain you can’t ignore because it follows you everywhere.
That’s what grief does!
I was sitting on a beach in Pembrokeshire recently, reading. Paul (my husband), Steve (our eldest son), Kate (his wife) and their three children – Noah, Sylvie and Gwen were playing in the waves. Frank (their cute little Jackapoo) was lying next to me making annoying little throat woofs and dog cries.
Frank couldn’t settle. He was agitated because his family had gone into the sea and he couldn’t join them. He can’t bear to be separated. He lay alert – watching – not taking his eyes off them. The second he saw one of them walking out of the water he was off like lightening!! He wasn’t at peace until they were all back together. The joy in his little doggie face was so beautiful it made me cry! All he wanted was for his family to be complete.
I feel just like Frank – only my happy ending can’t happen and the challenge of trying to accept that cruel reality is painstakingly onerous. I live in a permanent state of agitation because losing a child defies normality. The longing for life to resume to where it left off may be irrational but it’s real – all I want is my beautiful family to be complete again.
I slip into a daydream and picture Ben walking up the beach towards me. I see myself racing towards him; throwing my arms around him! I feel his big strong arms holding me tight (he gave the best hugs). It’s a private moment so I hide behind my book and let the tears flow freely!
I wish I was able to be as vocal and uninhibited as Frank but I’m learning to keep my cries silent and hide my pain behind a mask for fear of making others feel uncomfortable.
That’s exhausting too!
Walking this thin fine line of emotions is draining and disorientating because I know any one could potentially tip me over the edge. I ricochet between the deepest darkest sadness and the greatest love; despondency and joy; loss and thankfulness; agitation and peace; brokenness and hope; laughter and tears.
This is my reluctant path – I certainly didn’t choose it and it would seem there are no shortcuts.
The first year was indescribably bleak – memories disjointed. I vaguely remember walking out of the hospital in a trance with my broken family clutching a *big white memory box; tearing myself away from my precious darling boy. There can’t be anything worse than kissing and saying goodbye to your lifeless child knowing you will never see or speak to them again – it’s unspeakably horrific!
(*Memory box, bereavement support and counselling kindly provided by Welsh charity – www.2wishuponastar.org)
I felt like I was walking around in a daze for weeks! There was love and laughter but for the most part it was simply devastating and wretched. Even breathing hurt. I wanted to die. Everything was confusing, my mind in turmoil – our safe world shattered. Nothing made sense and I bombarded God with a million questions and ‘whys’.
People often made suggestions to help but there is no fixing! I just wanted everyone to acknowledge how impossibly terrible it was. There is no moving on from such a brutal unnatural loss. It doesn’t work like that! The hole in your parent heart just bleeds and bleeds and bleeds. Friends suggested I should lean into God’s loving arms and let him take my pain.
It still hurt…
I was involuntarily buoyed along by the challenge of surviving so many firsts – each one broke my heart a little more. Trying to keep living without one of my children is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do! I think I must have been carried by loved ones and a weird concoction of charged adrenaline merged with emotional, physical and mental exhaustion.
I regularly posted the raw details of my grief journey on Facebook. Beautiful empathetic responses and comments nurtured and injected me with little shots of strength. I don’t know if those wonderful people knew how much they were helping.
Acts of unexpected kindness were the silver linings that gently infused joy into my pain.
Somehow I survived.
Paul and I clung to each other and held on to HOPE – though I’m not sure what we were actually hoping for! Our Faith kept us going but faith is not an antidote for pain. I don’t believe ‘everything happens for a reason!’ Or that ‘this was all part of God plan’! I just think bad things happen. We felt abandoned by God yet believe his invisible arms must have carried us through our darkest days. We were (and still are) lost, broken and confused.
The thing we longed for most was/is completely out of reach. But hope is an act of the will and it points to light – we need light to counteract darkness.
to the window,
to the part of the room
where The Light
for that is where
you’ll be reminded
again and again
no matter what happens,
cannot hold you
– Morgan Harper Nichols
The climax of year one was the coming together of a huge crowd of friends and family who joined us to take part in the 2019 Cardiff Half Marathon.
It was so moving seeing a gigantic swathe of yellow, retracing Ben’s last steps. Such an incredible outpouring of love for him and for us! The event was overwhelmingly powerful but the come-down brutal. It felt like I’d connected with him then lost him all over again.
As I tentatively entered another year without my boy, emptiness and desolation descended and sapped my zest for living. I felt and still feel flat and listless; often lacking the will to live.
I’ve heard some say the second year is harder than the first – it was!
Probably because I felt less numb.
Friends that I thought would be there for me tailed off and new ones stepped into the gap. But loneliness and isolation is crippling. I started to feel judged (probably my paranoia) by people who didn’t really know what to say. How could they? – there are no words!
My beautiful boy is dead…
I sense a cultural expectation to ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’ even though the grief experts tell us we need to allow ourselves time to grieve for as long as necessary; in whatever way works for us. There is no rule book for grief and we all do it differently!
And so I’m still treading water – just about keeping my head up but feeling as confused, broken and useless as ever.
Sleep remains elusive and brings little respite. Nights are long as time seems to slow down in the darkness – thoughts become even more irrational and frightening. What little sleep I get is chaotic. I wake most mornings with my heart pounding and start the day agitated and anxious.
I find myself melting away from people – avoiding families who are complete. Not because I resent their completeness but because it hurts too much. Yet they’re my friends and I need them! Another paradox! Pushing people away is not my intent but I get why people would want to avoid me. I can’t be easy company and don’t feel I have anything of value to say.
Lockdown hasn’t helped and the longer I’ve been locked away the more my confidence is failing. Working from home in isolation (turning Ben’s bedroom into my office – sitting on his chair and working at his desk) has been the perfect place to incubate – to let sorrow morph me more and more into someone I don’t want to be.
But grief is love and the love I feel for my darling boy seems to be getting stronger – maybe because of all the energy I invest in nurturing it.
His presence is more tangible than ever – I sense that he’s all around me like a protective shield or a guardian angel or a beautiful light and know he’ll always be part of me. Not even death can take that away.
Incredibly I’ve just had this beautiful message from a dear faithful friend who had no idea what I’d just written.
She said “I’ve just had a vision of Ben helping you through your pain. He was almost wearing you!”
She wrote these incredibly emotive words…
And she carried
The cloak of him
On her broken shoulders.
He lent her his eyes
To reach the invisible
And made her see beauty
Where she felt none.
He helped her climb
Daily pains with
His infectious laugh,
And embraced her
When she stopped
Feeling the world.’– Gwen Jourdren
Just wow!!! If ever I needed confirmation!!
So with his arms wrapped firmly around me I throw myself into the job that I love and savour every precious moment with our incredibly awesome living family. I latch on to long suffering friends who have stayed and still seem to love me despite my weirdness.
I have no grand expectations for year three apart from wanting to use my pain to reach out to help others. I have to try and bring meaning back into life – that’s how I will survive! I’m trusting God to bring some good out of this vileness!
The tiniest green shoots, following the harshest pruning I have ever known are just starting to appear. I WILL keep putting one foot tentatively in front of the other; taking one day at a time.
Slow deep breaths……
My strategy is to keep reading and writing my way through grief as I try to rediscover peace, understanding and meaning. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to work out how to let joy and grief sit comfortably together – I know it’s possible because it’s been done before!
Choosing to have joy is not naively thinking everything will be easy.
It is courageously believing that there is still hope even when things get hard.
⁃ Morgan Harper Nichols
But most importantly…
despite this hideous and cruel heartache, I consider myself to be the luckiest person in the world. I’m blessed to have been mum for twenty five and a half years to the most incredible human being who touched and inspired so many. I often think he may even have been an angel!! I know I’ll be reunited with him again one day – it’s just all this waiting around that’s the problem!
But I honestly wouldn’t trade the pain for the privilege!
Even if I knew the outcome I would willingly live it all over again. I can’t be angry with a God who gifted me with such an amazing child. The joy he brought far outweighs the sadness. I loved every minute.
My darling Ben left a beautiful light that still burns brightly in the hearts of those who will always love him. He made our already lovely family even more lovely! His gorgeous smile and zest for life inspires us to try and live like he did. We will simply keep on doing the things he loved in his honour (I hear him say ‘cheers mum!’)
This is how we will keep him alive 💛