Dear Broken-Hearted Mama,
I see you, numb.
Yet so full of pain. Pain that you cannot even begin to describe.
You may feel like the pain is unbearable, that the pain is going to crush you, that the pain is too much.
You may feel like your life has ended. That you do not want life to carry on.
I understand. I have been there.
My son Hugo died at the age of just 35 days. He had been born when I was 24 weeks’ pregnant, my first and so far only child.
Each one of those 35 days is so precious, but not enough.
No amount of time can ever be enough.
While your life has not ended; you continue to exist, your life as you knew it has ended. The end of innocence. The harsh realisation that bad things happen in life – and not just to other people.
Bad things happen to you, too. No one is immune.
We evolve during the course of our lives, of course. But grief changes you: suddenly, abruptly, shockingly.
Your relationships may change: some for the better, others for the worst. You are likely to discover that the old adage about seeing the best and worst of people during times of crisis is true.
Some people – even those previously closest to you – may not know how to deal with your changed relationship. The changed you. Most will want to do all they can to help you but because they do not know what to do for the best may blunder, put their foot in it, utter endless platitudes, and when tempers get frayed make you feel as though you are at fault.
The knowledge that the blunders are well-intentioned is unlikely to make you feel any better. It may feel like constant salt in the wound.
So much of your pain cannot be expressed in words. What you may want most of all is someone to sit with you as you cry or stare into space. Someone to understand that you don’t know how to express your emotions. That sometimes, the power behind those emotions scares you. That you think the pain will never ever end.
But many people are uncomfortable with silence. People may want to talk at you, want to tell you about their own experiences of bereavement. Or they may want to tell you what they think you should do. They want to make you ‘better’, not realising life will never, ever be better. You may well sit their patiently waiting for them to shut up – but it is fine to ask them to stop talking, too.
People may not mention your child’s name, worried it may upset you but failing to appreciate that not mentioning them upsets you more – and after all, the worst has already happened.
People may not want to talk about your child with you, filling you with frustration. They were your beautiful, perfect child who you grew and love with every cell of your being, now and forever more. You want to talk about them, how proud you are of them, irrespective of the time you spent with them. This reticence from other people may lead to resentment.
It may lead to a feeling of isolation. A feeling that it may, as a consequence, be better to avoid certain people, certain places, certain situations not because you want to, but because you need to protect yourself from further hurt.
The knowledge that you are now ‘different’.
That is enough negativity for now. As I said, you will see the worst in people – and the best, too. The kindness of people can know no bounds. Compassion, empathy, the compulsion to reach out and help – the help you need, not what they think you need.
Those who will sit with you as you cry, as the cascade of tears fall, holding your hand and passing endless amounts of tissues.
And those people can often come from places you least expect; relationships can take on a new depth, friendships and acquaintances can be strengthened, new friendships forged often with strangers with whom you may now share a common experience.
Those who share the common experience, those who ‘get it’ are invaluable. It often does not matter if you have never met them, it does not matter if their child died in circumstances that are completely different – they understand. You may find you have a certain shorthand with them, and not having to explain is liberating.
You may feel the value of liberation: grief is exhausting. It seeps in to your pores, into your bones. The simplest of tasks can seem challenging; your memory unreliable, turning even the smallest thing that makes your life a tiny bit easier into a precious gem.
You may feel like you will never be happy again, never smile again. Indeed you may feel like you do not want to be happy again, nor smile again – or that you deserve to.
The feeling of guilt can feel all-encompassing. The knowledge that rationally, you know you have no reason to feel guilty – that you did everything you could, and would have done more, if only, what if – is irrelevant.
I still feel like I failed my child. I did not keep him safe. Even though I know, rationally, if he had not been born when he was we both would have died.
And the anger – oh, the anger. So raw, so visceral. Anger at the world in general, at the hand life has dealt you, at the world being so bloody unfair. Anger at those who embellish and become melodramatic over trivial everyday annoyances (no, spilling your coffee is not the worst thing ever.)
Anger at those who seem not to appreciate their children, take them for granted. But in the same breath, thinking you are glad that other people are blissfully unaware of such heartbreak.
More than a year on after Hugo died, I have learned to feel happy again. It is a different sort of happiness than before. A happiness borne out of different priorities and perspectives.
But that does not mean that I am better, or that my life is better. No, not by a long shot. I still get bad, low, devastating days as a result of a trigger, or of nothing at all. Those days can make me feel like I am back to the beginning, back to the darkest days, all my progress out of the window.
I have to remind myself I am not back at the beginning, that it is the fault of the path of grief. Grief does not progress in a straight, orderly line. It is a mass of intertwined squiggles that make no sense, with no end.
And that is part of the reality. Grief has no end. There is no better, only different.
You may discover within you a strength you wish had lain forever dormant. That strength comes from intense love, intense pain, and it can take on the world.
I am not going to tell you what to do, how to grieve. I cannot do those things, because while we may share a similar experience in common our individual journeys are so very personal.
But I would like to share with you a few points that have worked for me, take them or leave them as you will:
- One day at a time.
- Don’t expect too much of yourself.
- Whatever is right for you, whenever is right for you.
- Find people you can trust to confide in, or just to listen.
- Be open and honest with your partner about your feelings, no matter how much it may cause extra tears – you need to be honest so you can support each other.
- Find a way to express your grief – whether that is drawing, writing (on a blog or in a private journal), talking to someone, raising money for a charity.
- Try to be gentle to yourself, and take time for self-care. Grief is exhausting, meaning you need to find ways to recharge your batteries.
- Take time for your grief – ignoring it does not make it go away (as I discovered to my cost).
- Being selfish when you need to be is acceptable – often life after loss is about personal survival.
- There will be days when just getting out of bed is an achievement – and there will be days where you feel you can take on the world.
- Bad days can come from nowhere.
- You are not a bad person. You deserve love and happiness, even if it may take time to return, take a different form and be fleeting.
- There is no ‘normal’, no better. Just different.
You will get there, Mama.
You can survive.
We are all here for you.
Hugo’s Mummy, Leigh xxx