How do I cope with life after Hugo?
It is a question I am often asked, and a question to which there is not a simple or easy answer.
Please do not think me dismissive or rude if I cannot provide an answer either quickly, or at all.
Please do not think me evasive if my answer is halting.
If I hesitate, falter, searching for the right words to articulate how I am feeling please do not wrap up the conversation, walk away. Please do not make it about you.
Please be patient. Words that express how I am feeling can be hard to find.
We are not used to providing an honest answer to those questions of common courtesy.
We are not always “Fine, thank you.”
Sometimes I am better than fine; I am doing really well.
Sometimes I might want to say (after a deep exhale). “Surviving,” because that is the best I can do after trauma, living with grief – and even that is an achievement.
Because how do I cope?
How do I cope when I live the life that should not be mine (or anyone’s for that matter).
Well, I just do.
I have little choice but to find a way to cope.
To get up in the morning, to live.
To find a way to survive, to thrive, to explore the opportunities the world has to offer.
Yes there are days when it feels like I cannot cope. When I want everything to go away and to go back to the way it should be.
I am sure you have days like that, too. Those days will have different cause, reasons, origins.
But their impact is the same.
How does anyone cope? With whatever your troubles are?
Because we all have troubles. There is no better or worse with life experiences, no competition (although there is the paradox where surely no one can think of anything worse than the death of a child).
That paradox aside, there is no competition because whatever our troubles, we are all human. We all have feelings, we all need to be loved, to love. To give and receive comfort. To feel like our feelings are valid. To feel listened to. To feel that we matter.
I don’t mind being asked how I cope, or similar questions.
It is better than an uncomfortable response, or a look of terror in someone’s eyes. The sort of reaction that stops the conversation in its tracks, or one where I feel like I have to offer comfort and reassurance to the other party until we can find a way to make excuses and move on.
Put your own fleeting, momentary discomfort to one side to find out how I have been feeling that day, that week, or in general since Hugo died.
To find out how I cope.
I will answer those questions as best as I can.
I will appreciate your interest, your care, your empathy, your compassion.
Please don’t make assumptions, or let your impatience and/or discomfort get the better of you.
Please don’t make me feel that the ways that I have found to cope are wrong, or to make me feel guilty.
You don’t have to understand my coping strategies, or agree with them. But be grateful I have those strategies, because those strategies mean I am still here.
I am happy to explain those strategies, what they mean to me, how they help me. But please don’t make me feel like I have to justify them.
They help. At the moment that is what matters.
It is how I cope.
If you walk away, or terminate our conversation you will miss finding out about a very special little boy, Hugo.
You will not hear about the life he lived, a life full of love.
You will miss seeing my face light up with fierce pride as I talk about my little boy. You will miss hearing about how life can be devastating, but full of beauty too.
You will miss hearing about all the things I have learnt – about myself, other people, the world in general, all the experiences I have had.
You will miss experiencing all the skills I have to offer. Those skills developed because of everything I have been through, not in spite of those experiences. Those skills complement, build on the foundation of skills I had in the Before.
Find out what I can do, rather than make assumptions about or focus on what I cannot.
Because are we not all the sum of our life experiences? Anything that happens to us in life makes us who we are. None of us can know with certainty what might happen tomorrow.
Isn’t it better that we try to understand the dark times, rather than pretend they do not happen?
Open dialogue creates and nurtures connection, promotes understanding, uncovers talents, and enables us to flourish even (especially!) when facing adversity.
It helps us cope. Cope with life in general, and life after.