Category: Bereavement

“Do not judge the bereaved mother. She comes in many forms. She is breathing, but she is dying. She may look young, but inside she has become ancient. She smiles, but her heart sobs. She walks, she talks, she cooks, she cleans, she works, she IS but she IS NOT, all at once.

She is here, but part of her is elsewhere for eternity.”

~Author Unknown

 

Jumbled thoughts scramble to make coherent sense at 2am. No fewer than three subjects of blog posts emerging at the edges of my consciousness begin to form.

Five days on and my girl is still fighting off her middle ear infection and tonsillitis. I’m so spent after keeping vigil while she endures her fitful feverish sleep next to me and getting only grabs of twenty minutes’ shut-eye at a time myself all night, every night, that I go to talk now and it sounds like jibberish.

I think I’ll save talking for another day. But it is time to write.

This article has been on my mind since I read it yesterday. It’s all so familiar that to read it once more, to highlight and quote from, would feel like reliving it again. I don’t need to do that to myself, not today. Instead, I urge any of you reading this to bookmark it and go through it carefully. It’s as brilliantly written a piece on a mother’s grief as any I have ever read – or written (back in the day, I used to write and write and write on the subject myself and, ironically, still didn’t feel heard despite the acknowledgement of supportive comments).

I am staring down the barrel of my tenth year on this Earth without my baby daughter. She would be celebrating her double-figures birthday this coming January. I’d have a moody female on my hands by now! She would have endured untold numbers of heart operations too, even to this stage of her life. We were told she’d never be able to be active, there would have been restrictions on her that by now we would have surely adapted to.

Looking through that piece, and the many comments in response to it, so much is familiar. But I have to ask myself, this far on, who really cares? I hate to tell any of you who are newer to the experience… but you get to a point where you feel a little trapped. You’ve had no choice but to walk on by now. So if you are here, still breathing, moving through your daily existence, and the years pile on… well, surely, you’ve reached your maximum limit of goodwill from friends and family.

Those who have stuck in there with me have changed, as much as I have, in these intervening years. People who had no children or young families ten years ago all, without exception, have offspring now of various ages and stages. Back then, my daughter’s short life and death were sprung on them just as shockingly as it was on me. Some got out of the task of supporting me early on, others remained and carried me through in varying degrees (as best they could). Others were on the periphery, throwing me lifelines every so often up until just a few years ago. But as their lives have changed (as has mine) and their commitments have grown and widened, the contact has waned. Who knows what will befall those families? I pray I never have to support any of them in the same manner they had the call to action I inadvertently gave them in 2004.

The lengthening of my grief began quickly at the hands of someone I thought would be a stalwart supporter. And it shocked me as much as it did rile me, in my burgeoning Anger Stage of grief. See, I was abandoned less than two years after my daughter died by a close relative who had always been the first to call me if she needed my support, including being there through her two newborn phases even while I was grappling with infertility and miscarriage, putting her needs first. That embittered reaction to my own grief response remains in place today, hurts of the other party allegedly greater than that which I was going through (and still carry today). But so be it. For that person’s pain to be so insurmountably great and heavy a burden that I had to be abandoned, it’s little wonder she couldn’t stick around to “cope with me”.

At first it seemed insurmountably hard to also grieve this loss to my life, so soon after trying to find my new normal. But the saddest part about this estrangement to me is the removal of the opportunity to learn and grow together. It simply was not this person’s destiny to walk alongside me, I accept that now. But it has taken years to reach this point.

In the remaining eight years, I’ve had minimal and varied levels of support from my ever-changing circle. It’s no accident that I have now a completely new set of friends. Firm friends, meaningful connections, easy relationships that are not costly on my energy. I can only assume, as these are friends by choice, that the same goes for them towards me.

The thing that strikes me is that over the course of a decade, everyone changes. My family makeup has changed, through deaths, births, estrangements, divorce and marriage. Where some members of my family have stepped away, other relatives have stepped forward and it has been one of the best and timely surprises (suffice to say, I LOVE and adore cousins – one of the unsung and overlooked connections and, to me, possibly more important than the sibling connection which can be so fraught with pain, belittlement and competition). And yet, I’ve still managed to enshroud myself with guilt that I am the one who’s caused all the problems because of the metamorphosis I underwent, beginning ten years ago. I have become this new person since the days before, so much so that they had to stop relying on me for a time. Because I changed the game plan, see. The person I was died in 2004 along with Ellanor.

In many ways, to this day, and because I feel I can never reclaim the dignity and sense of self I lost along with her, nor can I repay the listening-ears (for effective or not, they were still doing their best to hear me, a walking, talking, seemingly bottomless well of expression), I cannot overcome the feeling that I abandoned them. That in me, they lost a peppy, witty sister who was not prone to bouts of crippling depression, who could always say and do the right thing, who would take the knocks and the jibes with good humour and laugh them off.

Because I changed, because I don’t put myself second any more (for survival at first and then out of newfound respect for my core, original self – the one who emerged from those ashes), because I have worked so hard to constantly monitor and be responsible for what I do and say which is much easier said than done… I find myself on the outer of my family. I have no old history with my relatively new friends.

But am I worse off? I ask myself, in my state of being so tired that I am unable to mask my historical wounds. And the answer is an emphatic and, finally, truthful:

No.

 

Please hang in there with those who are journeying with you as best they can. Let them be there. You don’t have to accept what they say, you don’t have to be pragmatic and say they’re being abysmally ineffective with their words or deeds. But these things will happen, despite how well you try to protect yourself from them. So in the end, it’s not so much what to say/what not to say to a bereaved parent that is going to matter to you. It will depend on whether you can forgive yourself – your vital, natural, original self – for your actions and responses towards those who have hurt you deeply on your walk.

For the longest time, in the back of my head replayed the old tape, “You’re losing your babies because you’re not WORTHY enough. You’re not GOOD enough. You’re not COMPETENT enough. And you certainly aren’t LIKEABLE enough.”

Pretty horrible and destroying, huh?

What if I told you the voice was my mother’s?

It had already, to that point, taken quite some time with various therapists and techniques and well-earned DINK* dollars to get me to a point where I felt I could pass the day as a bona fide adult with anything to contribute to the world. To wash off the seemingly endless layers of external conditioning that had brought me to the point of needing – not wanting – to deconstruct my upbringing.

Imagine how interesting the game got when I then began to lose children. Harder still, when I have been faced with not one or two, but four family estrangements. Not to mention those that have gone in generations before me.

It’s taken everything I have in me to remain on an even keel with “knowing thyself”, not giving in to the darkness. Not allowing that voice (for by now it was not outside of myself but internalised and sounded like me and what I was saying to myself) to rise up and be brought into the light. To be given love. Because it was as simple as that, as it turns out. Infusing everything I did with love and understanding.

That is what ultimately uncoiled my wound-up, wounded Self.

Hey, I can still get all muddled up, still get it all wrong. It is far too easy for me – given my nature, my experiences, heck even my position in the family (3rd of 4 kids and doesn’t everybody, including me, like to have a dig at that needy middle-child and, even now in adulthood, roll their eyes and sigh at memories of siblings in times past; I hear it more often than I ought) – to fall on the sword. To blame myself and only myself for my part in these estrangements. Never instigated by me but long-suffered, all the same.

I go through the months and sometimes years of thrashing it out with that person in my head. “What the…” “What about all those times when…” “And I said NOTHING!!! So how come you get to come in and just….”

Throw it all away.

Throw. It all. Away. It is far too hard, I have decided, to live in angst about these lost loves from my life. I have lived and regenerated myself several times in this one lifetime. I must build and grow as I go.

Tomorrow, Lolly and I are meeting with an elderly friend. My walking buddy, who dutifully meets me at 6:30 every morning with his dog, and we have chatted and merged mornings for that brief thirty minutes for well over two years now. He is taking us on a tour of the theatre where he is a director. When I told Lolly, her eyes almost popped out of her starry-eyed head. It’s all I can do to convince her to leave her tap shoes at home. Because there won’t be an opportunity to get up and tap out a number on stage. Dear oh dear.

But the point is, I count this person as some sort of surrogate. Not father, not relative of any sort. But a conduit who, like so many of our friends since Ellanor who we have made, strengthens my resolve. That it wasn’t all me. That goodness is to be found in the world. That not everybody is going to hurt you.

It’s a very difficult thing, not to succumb to being gun-shy over relationships, when those you’ve had for decades seemingly find it easier to run away and not face their own darkness.

If you are in the middle of the mess of estrangement, all I can say to you is, remember that until you can meet in the middle with true equality and all the heat is taken out of what has passed between you, live your life. Remember you don’t know all you think you know about their side. And when you reckon you’re spot on, think again… and remember, again, that you don’t! Of course, the same applies to them as well: they don’t know your side/your version/your perfectly justified justifications… and that may well be what is contributing to what is chewing you up from the inside out…

Stop. Let them go. Let it all go and turn your thinking about them into thoughts towards them/your situation. Surround those thoughts with love and send them off into the air, wrapped in that bubble. If you don’t, you will constantly have them on your shoulder. And that can debilitate you to the point of physical illness.

Of course, if that manifests, it can also serve as a wonderful teacher.

Estrangement from family can be freeing. Try and see the benefits of being cut loose. Eventually, the good might just outweigh the bad. In my experience, it’s happened because there has been an inequality or an imbalance in the exchange of energy between you anyway. Possibly for quite some time, perhaps since the very beginning. So use this time to really see yourself.

Blessings, many blessing to be had from this estrangement business. Ultimately.

 

Okay, big Note To Self (shared out loud) over.

 

 

* Dual Income, No Kids

Over the past eight years, I’ve shared a number of songs here that have meant so much to me. Music on the whole has always shaped so much of my life, like so many of us (if you know me well or have read here for a while, you know this too).

After Ellanor died, so many brilliant songs suddenly sounded completely different. They became vital. Beacons of proof that I was still able to be moved, that all of me was not shattered, utterly lost and forgotten. Somewhere in there, I was still the teenager who laughed her way through high school with a bestie who loved to recite movie lines as much as I did; the child who had kept an imaginary horse in her yard and snuck sugar cubes out to it; the girl who spent countless hours upon hours dancing, dancing, dancing to music.

In the beginning, the very thought of getting myself to move was impossible. It felt WRONG. Laughter, though it had peppered my every day before, was bitter medicine, if not “the best”. Slowly, my body needed to dance. The flow of life force couldn’t be stopped, it seemed. It wouldn’t allow me to stay down for long.

So I began to dance. It was painful and hard. It was all part of my new normal, a very difficult “first time since Ellanor…” to overcome.

Beloved music. Promise, hope, upliftment. But now, the lyrics took on greater purpose. Love songs felt as though they were trying to explain the inexplicable: Our physical separation, as mother and daughter, although the bond would forever remain. They became messages from me to her and I seemed to be able to find meaning in every one. Today I want to share one of the ones I would sing, smiling through tears as I moved my body and danced through the house. Such a strange mix of unbearable yearning and uplifting euphoria. So much, in fact, that my grief would be suspended for the duration of the song.

And yet… I was crying so hard.

Every feeling – good or hard  or even indifferent – was just so intense around that time. It was as though I had never properly felt every emotion available to me until that point in my life.

Did you feel that? Are you still stepping through that part?

This is one of those songs. It is a great song. Computer speakers do it absolutely no justice, of course. This thing needs bass to be properly consumed! Mind you, if you’re not a Daft Punk fan, it might never reach you no matter how sorely I try and convince you (or how awesome your speakers are). But oh. How I danced and danced and danced to this around my empty house in 2004. And now, not even a bittersweet angst remains when I hear it. It’s just the sweetest upbeat song (to me) that makes me want to move. That’s good music if it can hunker down with you in the deep troughs and then catapult you over the peaks of your journey so you can soar high.

Happy of happy joys, this week I’ve introduced Lolly – very belatedly – to Daft Punk. It’s not hard to see why she, too, is now a fan of the song. As if the song wasn’t cute on its own, check out the cool film clip!

 

What’s your best happy song? Tell me in the comments!

 

“Digital Love” – Daft Punk (from the 2001 album “Discovery”)

Last night I had a dream about you
In this dream I’m dancing right beside you
And it looked like everyone was having fun
the kind of feeling I’ve waited so long
Don’t stop come a little closer
As we jam the rythm gets stronger
There’s nothing wrong with just a little little fun
We were dancing all night long
The time is right to put my arms around you
You’re feeling right
You wrap your arms around too
But suddenly I feel the shining sun
Before I knew it this dream was all gone
Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I wish this dream comes true

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
We’ll make this dream come true

Why don’t you play the game ?
Why don’t you play the game ?

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever; you just have to live.” ~Natalie Babbitt

 

 

It seems the ways in which I can have the wind knocked out of me when Ellanor’s name is mentioned never completely go away.

“Are you pregnant?” Lolly asked me last night with a bright and hopeful expression. It came from nowhere, delivered upon me as soon as I entered the bathroom. She was in the bath. I was preparing her pyjamas so they would be warm when she got out.

“No,” I said, matter-of-fact – the best way, I’ve found, to respond to her regular honest inquiry. “There will be no more babies for Mummy.”

“How many babies have you tried to have?”

“Fourteen,” I replied.

“Including me and Ella?”

“Yup.”

She raised her eyebrows, looked at me silently for a moment and then returned to playing her game. A Pollypocket was attempting to jump through a plastic ring on the back of Rusty the mechanical fish. Death-defying and delicious fun. I watched her for a moment, immersing myself in her free-form fantasy before picking up my shattered mother heart and retreating with the dustpan and brush to the kitchen where I requested a hug from Steve. I told him what had happened.

“You know Ellanor was conceived ten years ago this week, don’t you?” I asked as I broke the embrace and busied myself with tidying the kitchen table.

“Ten,” he said, the wind visibly knocked out of his sails. “My God. That’s unbelievable.”

We pottered in silence for the next several minutes. I had finally let the impact of it settle in. I knew this year was coming. I could see it in the distance about five years ago and gave thanks that I had time. The buffer of time to get through first, second and third anniversaries (not just birth and death anniversaries but that of passing milestones like when Ellanor would have started school, what grade she would have been in when Lolly started school, and so it seemed to go on and on). We’re well through those.

But this. Double figures. Ten years. And to think, when I fell pregnant with her Steve and I had already been together ten years. It feels almost like two lifetimes; certainly two different ones.

I have been through myriad emotions this past fortnight. Coming to the exhausting yet liberating realisation that blood ties/family are not a given, cannot actually be relied on any more than any other relationships you choose and, in fact, sometimes by their very nature, probably should be relied on even less so than others in your life (blood may well be thicker than water, but I for one prefer to use the saying this way: Blood is thicker than water… and water is a hell of a lot stronger too!). I choose not to reduce or dilute the spiritual ties I have with friends and loved ones by considering it lesser – mere water – as if blood is superior when, quite simply, it is not.

Then, pondering my inner world as my 38th birthday approaches and reminiscing how long it has been since the pall cast over my life, the experience of the death of my firstborn child seeping into every cell of my being and every aspect of my existence. Forever. That will never change. Have I changed? Immeasurably. Would I take anything back? Not one skerrick, not even part of it… not even any of the strained relationships and estrangements.

When my stepmother died earlier this year, I wrote a line in a post that came from somewhere just beyond my conscious awareness.

I feel I am back in true service after quite a long lull. It’s not that I didn’t already have great purpose before, but this is a renewal of life-giving energy for me that had become depleted by simply “living the daily grind”.This is the beautiful thing about death. It enlivens the living.

Once it was out and on the screen, I appreciated it more and more. I always knew this. But sometimes, we need the reminder don’t we? So I’m giving it to myself again.

Ellanor and all the experiences she brought with her are like a blanket over my life. A warm, familiar, nurturing coverlet that allows me to feel safe from the inside out. Through her, I have learned to begin my walk again – renewed and shining my own truth. Letting this be the light that guides me on my way.

I’ve been pondering all things “blogging” and the social media black hole. I’ve been wondering if there is any purpose left to serve in this blog of mine. I’ve been chatting to fellow writers and considering my future direction; has it served every conceivable purpose I had in mind when I began it eight years ago? Did I even have a direction eight years ago? (I did not, I’ll tell you that right now).

And then a week like this comes along. All at once, I get the bigger picture again. All the insecurities that surface late at night when I wonder if I’ve shared too much over the years, bled my heart too much for all the readers who’ve come and gone, admitted my faults (as one half of an infertile couple, now with a thriving child and beyond my own child-bearing years), tried to keep up with the Joneses who have gone through similar loss experiences to me but who don’t bear all – and I’ve questioned myself so many times about what it is that drives me to continue to share, when others continue not to share – and I have aimed to balance the divulging of my darkest points with the flipside joy and hope of not just living, but immersing oneself in the life one finds themself in.

Ultimately, weighing it all up I see the deeply important gift for readers that rely on knowing there is someone who carries a lantern on a walk that is deeply impacting and never truly over.

Especially on weeks such as this. When that torch-bearer who willingly bares all meekly requests of the sometimes cold and always boundless Internets: “Hold me?”

 

Do you see even the most seemingly insignificant things in your day as spiritually significant? I never did. Before “because”.

 

Before “Because if I take the chance to go out today instead of stay by her side, it could be the day she first opens her eyes”

Before “Because I will never see her face again, I must do this”

Before “Because if I stay in bed, I might just never get up today/again”

Before “Because this next pregnancy could be The One, it’s got to be worth the heartache and physical pain of each miscarriage to try”

Before “Because now I see past the belly and appreciate that All life is precious”

Before “Because if I don’t, I will miss out on every precious moment of her and she may just be the only one who stays here”

Before “Because I must find the balance between my desperate fears and letting her live her life”

Before “Because she will be fine just as she is, I can’t control her”

 

…there was less of me. Not more. I may have been happier. Life certainly felt uncomplicated, more carefree and far less cruel. The world was warmer. But I was also oblivious. Asleep. I was by no stretch of the imagination as well-rounded or complete. Did not fully consider mercy. Or worth. Or wealth. I was not as compassionate and far more judgemental. Perceived perfection has a lot to answer for.

“Anyone who wants to appear to be perfect is struggling with something, and usually something pretty major,” a good friend once told me, years ago. Well, I wouldn’t know about that. That sort of outward striving for perfection (whether it be image, body size, hair-do, home, car…) has eluded me, always. I’m happy to remain blissfully unaffected. And this far in to my journey, it’s like an entirely different language for me now.

I am full today. A life made richer through the longest enduring struggles I never would have wished upon myself. But if it’s true – and we all sign up to our lives (and the challenges and choices we make in that lifetime) in a contract before we become mortal – then I would say, by and large, I am satisfied with the choices I have made. Am making. And the contract I signed up for is by no means finished (I hope, anyway!), which is good news because I have a way to go yet before many of my attitudes and beliefs are reprogrammed. Still… it’s a start, as they say.

Free-will and choice.
Do you let moments pass you by without recognising their significance? As mundane as they at first appear? By choosing to seeing each moment in a day as spiritually significant (note this is nothing to do with religion, but spirituality… the spirit that is within everyone), we can actually spin the driest, most apparently insignificant “straw” into gold.

True story.

 

I remember taking this photo, us holding hands and me in tears at feeling the reality of her warm little hand in mine. This was… Before "Because she has survived. I don't need to document any more. She's here."

 


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