I am your angel

When darkness must fall

And sleep will disobey,

I’ll lie awake

And hear you say…

 

‘I am your angel

Right here with you,

Holding you tight

The whole night through.

I’m by your side

Wherever you go,

Holding your hand

I’ll never let go.

I’ll be right there

Tucked in your heart,

Safe and happy

We’ll never part.

I’ll never leave

I’ll be right here,

Throughout your life

I’ll always be near.

You’re never alone

For I’m always here,

To wipe away

That guilt-filled tear.

I am your angel

Right here with you,

Each step you take

I’ll take it too.’

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Living with my grief

Living with grief is hell. Absolute utter hell. It comes in waves; it hits you like a tidal wave when you least expect it. It doesn’t give a moment’s thought as to when it strikes. It doesn’t wait until I’m tucked up in bed, alone and hidden from view. The wave hits when I’m walking down the street, when I’m sitting in a cafe, when I’m playing with Tomi and Cai. And what I’ve learnt is that I can’t hide it. I am a mother who has lost a child. That is what it is. That is what it will always be.

I had clinical depression and anxiety before this tragic event in my life. I was slowly getting better. But the loss of my son has been so horrific that I will never now get better. It makes me bubble inside when people tell me, ‘Oh give it time, it’ll get easier, you’ll get better.’ No. No it won’t. Easier perhaps in that I learn to perfect my acting, but that’s about it.

As with my last blog post on my grief, I am writing this today as it has been a particularly tough week again. An assessment by my psychiatrist has given me a new label. My clinical depression has deteriorated and now includes elements of psychosis and delusional guilt; my anxiety has become severe. They are frightening labels to carry. But they are words, diagnoses. But they are diagnoses that people don’t understand; that people are scared of because they can’t see them. That’s the trouble with mental illness. That’s why I’m writing about it. It’s real and it’s terrifying.

The new diagnoses has meant my medication has been increased. Again, I know that people (even those close to me) worry that the medication is not allowing me to grieve fully. What I try to make them understand is that without the medication, I wouldn’t be here. But that’s too incomprehensible. Of course I’d be here. I have two sons who need me, a husband. I have my book to look forward to. I have a future. Believe me, I would not be here. I know it. 100%.

So that is why I take the medication, so that I can try to live. Because I have to. It’s either this, or taking the easy option; the option which haunts me, tempts me on a daily basis. But I am fighting it, day after day, night after night. I will not let the easy option win.

Next week, it will be 5 months since I lost my son. 5 months. How can that be possible because I’m still there, stuck on March the 25th, confused, hurting, lonely, trapped. And I now have a new weight to carry. Guilt. Guilt that is eating away at me. Why did I let my little boy go that day? Why did I not keep him safe? Why wasn’t I the one holding him when he was so badly hurt and needed his Mam?

These are the questions that feed on me, like vultures. They make me want to tear my hair out. They make my legs buckle. They make me physically sick. I let my boy down so badly and I will never forgive myself. People can shout at me that it wasn’t my fault and that I could never have known. It won’t make a difference. Nothing that anyone says will change it. It’s the guilt that I have to carry for the rest of my life. And it is so heavy that breathing for me has become a challenge. Getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. Being is a challenge. Grief is a challenge.

I get angry. Why me? Why my little boy? What have I done that was so terrible that my little boy had to be taken from me? Why have I been robbed of the one thing that every mother does – to hold their child when they are hurt; to whisper soothing words to make the pain go away? I never got to do that. I never got to say, ‘Sh… Mam’s here, it’s ok,’ whilst I stroked his face. This tears me to pieces. It’s like someone ripping my heart out and jumping up and down on it.

This is my life. I’m being brutally honest because writing it as it is helps me a little. There is no softening it. It is how it is. It’s a vast ocean that I’ll swim in for the rest of my life. And this is why I grasp onto anything that will keep me afloat. My family. My close friends. My writing. Some days I’m drowning and am clinging onto these life rafts with the mere tips of my fingers. Some days I have a tight hold on them. Perhaps one day I’ll feel like I’m on a boat, safely sailing through my grief. Perhaps.

The next fortnight is going to be so incredibly difficult. We have the inquest to face – the cold, harsh, blunt reality of that fateful day. And so I must battle to cling on to my lifelines. That’s what I’m focusing on. That glimmer on the horizon. My debut book publishing. An achievement that I must try to be proud of. An achievement that my family is proud of. An achievement that Ned was proud of. And I owe that to my Ned. He wouldn’t want his Mam to give up. He’d say, ‘Come on Mam, write another one now.’

So I’m saying, ‘Ok, Ned. I will. I’ll do it for you.’

 

 

A month to go …

In exactly one month’s time, my debut children’s book, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will be on the shelves in bookshops. How surreal! My dream a reality. Scary and thrilling at the same time. Exciting and deeply sad because of the loss of my little boy earlier this year.

All my blog posts over the past four months have centred on that tragic loss. My grief has been all-consuming and the pain that I’ve been in every day has been unbearable. I worried about how I would be able to look forward to my book being published. But my book has turned into a lifeline – something that has given me focus and direction. No, the pain of the loss of my little Ned hasn’t lessened, but it means that I’ve had something to grab onto as grief leaves you feeling like you’re adrift at sea, alone and frightened.

I started writing five years ago, after Ned contracted meningitis at six weeks old. Once he recovered I realised how precious life was. How it can be snatched away in the blink of an eye. As I was off work on maternity leave, I decided to sit down and write a short story. I thought to myself, ‘Right enough of this one day I’ll write a book nonsense. I’m going to sit down and actually give it a go.’

My first short story was called ‘Waiting for Light’ (it’s posted on this blog) and I was thrilled that after writing it, I entered it into a competition with Writers’ Forum magazine, and it was placed second. That was the boost I needed. I wrote several short stories over the following months and won or was placed in many. But deep down I knew that I wanted to write for children. And I wanted to write a book.

I returned to work and fell into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety – yet writing was that one thing that I could hold onto. I started writing ‘Grace-Ella’ in the early hours before I had to go to work. A year later I had finished. I had written a book. A children’s book. And despite the depression having taken a real hold of me, I felt a little something – pride I suppose.

After pondering over what to do with my book and reading countless articles on publishing and researching agents and publishers, quite by chance I came across Firefly Press. A Wales based publisher that wanted to publish books for children aged 7-9 that were based in Wales. My story fit the criteria so I sent it off, convinced that it would be rejected and would stop me from pursuing this ridiculous dream. I mean, I had read that it was virtually impossible to get published without an agent, and even more impossible to get an agent without being published.

Three months later came an email for a full manuscript request. Fast forward another month and I was sitting with the publisher and editor of Firefly Press drinking coffee and discussing the real possibility of my book being published. I don’t think I have to say that I floated home that day.

Editing was done and my story was put forward for a book grant with the Welsh Books Council. Then came the waiting … and waiting … and waiting. During this time I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and started taking antidepressants. It was such a relief to know that it wasn’t just me being stupid and weak – I had an actual illness that needed treating.

Then came the email that my book had been given the grant and an offer of publication from Firefly Press. Well, I squealed and leapt about and did the conga around the house with Tomi and Ned. I had done it. Despite the depression and anxiety, I had worked hard and achieved my dream.

That was last year. I knew that I had to give up teaching as it was the primary cause of my illness, so made the decision at the end of last year, when I had to go off on sick leave to have a hysterectomy, to give up teaching. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. I had three little boys to raise, bills to pay, a fairly crippling mortgage. But I was also severely depressed and had to get better.

As soon as I posted my resignation letter something lifted off my shoulders. I could breathe a little easier. Everything seemed that little bit brighter. I was able to give my full attention to my boys and my writing. I was able to take them to school and pick them up every day. Whilst they were at school I wrote. I could take them to swimming, football … the countless clubs that they attended. I had time for reading and homework in the evenings without having to rush them to bed so that I could get on with marking and preparation for school. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy. Really happy. I had my writing and I had my boys.

Then it was all snatched away from me on the 25th of March. My little Ned, only 5 years old, set off with his grandmother to an Easter Egg Hunt and I never saw him alive again. My world was shattered.

I’ve blogged in detail about my journey through grief so I’m not going to go into it here. I know that I’ll never be the same person as I was before. I’ll never again experience true happiness. I’ll never again wake up without that heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ll never again have a day when I don’t cry.

But, because of Ned, my dream of being an author has come true. I have a book that will be out there for children to read. Ned loved reading. He was reading well above his age, devouring three or four books a night. He was so excited about Mam being an author. And so every day, I get out of bed because I have two other little boys who need their Mam. And I know, deep in my heart, that Ned would want me to continue to pursue my dream. He wasn’t a giver-up. He would try till he got things right. So I won’t disappoint him. I’ll make him proud by writing down the stories that drift into my head.

‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will publish in a month’s time – September 15th. And I know that wherever Ned is, he’ll be shouting ‘Go Mam, you’re awesome.’

 

grace-ella-lowres final coverO

Broken Souls

The pain cuts too deep

A vulture feeding on flesh

‘Till there’s nothing left

And bones crumple

To the ground.

Gone.

 

Soaring, flying free

No pain for all eternity

Searching soul-filled skies

Until we meet

And our hearts beat.

Whole.

 

The pain cuts too deep

For broken souls

As they search the sky

For the answer to why

A bitter hurt so deep.

Destroyed.

 

I Am Gone

How can you not see

that there is no me

I am not here

I’m empty

and do not feel

your embrace

or your touching hand

on my tear-stained face

as day turns to night

and I fall weightless

into the dark abyss

free from wakefulness

as my eyes drift closed

and I am gone

and my heart beats happy

as I find my son.

No Tomorrow

I didn’t know that there’d be no time

to say I love you a million more times;

to stroke your hair and touch your face,

to wrap you up tight in a warm embrace.

 

I didn’t know that there’d never again be

a time to snuggle up with a bedtime story;

or sing your songs as we lay on your bed,

or tuck you up tight and kiss your sweet head.

 

I didn’t know as I waved you goodbye

that I’d never have you again by my side;

I didn’t know that you’d be taken from me,

so suddenly, so cruelly and so tragically.

 

I didn’t know that this is how it would be,

my little boy lost for eternity;

no years ahead to live and enjoy,

a life snatched away from my precious boy.

 

I didn’t know that there’d be no tomorrow

just endless days of pain and sorrow;

but for all the tears that I will cry,

I’ll never once whisper a final goodbye.

 

 

 

 

Learning to live with grief

In my previous blog posts about my grief following the sudden loss of my son four months ago, I’ve written about how it changed over the first three months. I’ve written openly about my desperate attempt to find a moment’s relief from the crippling pain that fills me all day every day. My last blog post ended with finding a ‘glimmer’ – the tiniest fluttering in the back of my mind that I can be strong enough to survive this for my three boys and that I can somehow live some form of life.

This is what it has been for the past month. Trying, with every last ounce of strength that I have, to live. And it has been hard; exhaustingly so. I started my bereavement counselling at this point and I am so fortunate to have a strong, understanding counsellor. I also have the continuing support from my GP and I am still on a cocktail of strong medication. Some will say the medication simply masks my feelings and is delaying the inevitable. That may be, but I honestly could not get out of bed and face each and every day without it. I couldn’t. One day I might be able to, or maybe I never will. My opinion is, if the medication is doing something to help me get through each day for my boys, then it’s doing its job.

The corner that I have turned means that I have come to accept that the heavy weight that sits in my stomach from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, is now a part of me, just like my beating heart. It’s there, it’s never going to go away, so I have no choice but to learn to live with it. The same goes for the tears I cry – night after night. They’ll never stop, but I have to accept that they’ll come, every night when I sit next to my Ned. And not just then – they come during the day when a memory hits me so hard my legs give beneath me. But they’re a part of me, just as breathing is.

None of this means that the overwhelming urge for a moment’s relief has gone. Most days I have to curl myself into a ball and fight against the urge to cut my skin or to swallow a handful of tablets. It’s a daily battle and it’s hard – bloody horrendous. But I battle it because I know that the moment’s relief on offer is nothing more than that. A moment. And the feelings of guilt and no self-worth that followed these incidents just intensified the pain of grief. I had to realise that myself before I could stop. The professionals told me, but I didn’t listen. You have to realise it for yourself.

Having self-worth has been key, this past month. If I don’t believe that I have a right to live and try to have happy moments, then I’ve lost the battle. I give up. I die. This is something I talk a lot about during my counselling sessions. One thing we’ve set up is that I have one day a week, without the boys, away from home, with my friend. This one day has kept me afloat over the last few weeks. We spend the days chatting, drinking coffee, browsing shops, walking – just being. I have a handful of close friends who have been with me every step of the way and I know, from the bottom of my heart, I wouldn’t be here writing this without them. I will never be able to find the words to thank them for their support and kindness.

This past week has been incredibly hard, with the start of the summer holidays. I have felt Ned’s absence so acutely, it literally takes my breath away. It was almost like I pretended he was at school before, but with the other two at home, I can’t pretend. This has brought with it a new pain, a new part to my grief. The realisation that Ned isn’t here. He never will be. But how do I begin to accept that? How do I begin to accept that I will never hold my little boy again? Never see his beautiful face or hold his little hand? Never hear his infectious laugh? Never feel his warm body cuddled up against me? The answer is that I never will. It’s too big. It’s too incomprehensible. That’s what I accept now. I accept that I’ll never accept Ned’s death because if I did, then my heart would stop beating and I would no longer be. And I can’t allow that to happen because my other two boys need me, and Ned needs me to keep his memory alive.

So this is the new me – the me who lives with my grief. Writing has helped me from the very start. I have written this today because the overwhelming sadness was clinging to me and I was pacing the house trying to breathe through it. Sitting myself down and writing this blog focused my mind, slowed my breathing and stopped my tears. I am in the middle of decorating our office space to be my ‘work’ space, as my job now is being an author. My youngest will be attending nursery school four mornings a week as of September – these will be my work hours. This is when I will get back into writing.

My debut book ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ will publish on the 15th of September with Firefly Press. The first book in a series – a series that I will write in my new office space. A series that will be written because slowly I am beginning to believe and accept that I should and need to be alive, and that I have the right to have happy moments. A series that will be written because Ned would have wanted it to be written. He was the one who inspired me to begin writing and he inspires me to continue to do so.

My eldest son, Tomi, found out that my book was available to pre-order on Amazon and said, ‘Mam, you’re on Amazon. That’s a bit cool.’ I’ll take that with a big smile on my face and I will follow my dream of being a children’s author to make my three sons proud.

Grieving for my little boy (Part 3)

Grief never goes away but it constantly changes – without warning. I had never experienced true grief until three months ago when my little boy died. Losing a child is the worst possible grief to experience. It’s all consuming. The pain I feel is unbearable. Some days it’s hard to stay upright. The pain is both physical and mental. It’s endless.

I started craving some form of release from this crippling pain, even if just for a few minutes, because it’s there, from the second I wake up to the second I pass out at night due to medication.

The first time I managed to feel a little release was unexpected, unplanned. I was sat next to my little boy’s grave crying and saying ‘sorry’ over and over again. As I held onto the grass I picked up a sharp-edged stone. Before I even knew what I was doing, I was scratching Ned’s name into my leg. I felt nothing. I paused. The anxiety wasn’t there. I actually felt nothing – for the first time in weeks I was numb. So I carried on. The scratching got deeper. Blood started to trickle. Still nothing and it was bliss.

Once Ned’s name was clear on my leg, smiling, I hid the stone under the little plaque of his name. It was our secret. Just Ned and me. As I walked home, the pain and anxiety hit me once again, but I clung onto that tiny glimmer that I had found a way to relieve the pain just for a few minutes.

So that’s what I did, as I sat next to Ned every night. I scratched away – always Ned’s name. My wrist, my ankles, my knees. But then it stopped. It stopped numbing my pain. It was making me angry. Angry that I was sitting there making a mess of myself. It was never going to bring Ned back. And that realisation stopped it from working. It no longer numbed my raw pain, it was adding to it. I had to stop. But I desperately needed something else, anything that would stop the awfulness for a few seconds.

Sadly, I found a new form of release in taking tablets. The first time it was just a handful more than I should. The second time, a few more. I ended up in A&E having overdosed six times in the space of three weeks. My intention was never to end my life. I have two other sons who I love with all my being and would never do anything to harm them in any form. But I was taking enough to knock me out because then I didn’t feel.

The last episode was only last week, but I’ve turned a corner since then which is why I am able to write about this. I lay awake all night and thought, ‘No, I have to stop this. I have to try and live some form of life, for my two boys and for Ned. I have to keep his memory alive.’ I cried and cried, but I felt something; something other than crippling pain. It’s a tiny glimmer, this something. It’s right at the back of my head and some days I can’t find it. But there have been days in the last week when I have.

One of these days was last Friday when the cover for my debut book was released. A book with my name on it. My dream come true. A book that I will dedicate to my beautiful little Ned. Yes, it’s bittersweet because he’s not here to share in it, but it’s for him and his name will be in the book, just like he wanted.

The support I received on Twitter following the release of the cover was overwhelming and I thank every single person who sent me messages. They really do keep me going. Because after all, ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ is the first in a series, so I have more books to write. And on those days when I can find that tiny glimmer in my head, I truly believe that I will be able to live and write and be me. Not the old me. A new me. A new me who has words to put on the page. A new me who has two little boys physically in my life, and a very special little boy who lives in my heart.

It won’t be easy, I know that. There will be cripplingly bad days when that glimmer doesn’t exist (yesterday was one). But there will be ok days, never good any more, but ok. And when you’ve lived for three months in a dark pain-filled hole, ok is good.

Grieving for my little boy – (Part 2)

My first blog piece on my journey through grief spoke of the first two weeks following the death of my 5 year old little boy. It has now been 12 weeks since that horrific day that changed my life. My grief still clings to me like a suffocating black cloud.

The first few weeks of life without Ned are nothing but a blur. Other than the day of my little boy’s funeral, I can barely remember those weeks. I was having daily support from the Mental Health Crisis Team and it’s one Saturday that sticks in my mind, when I can actually remember a nurse being there. On this particular Saturday, the doctor had come with her and as I sat on my sofa listening to her telling me about the new medication that they were putting me on and about how she was going to be there to help me, I can remember thinking, maybe, just maybe, this person can help me. I knew that the medication would be numbing and would realistically be delaying the inevitable, but at that moment in time, I knew I couldn’t survive without it.

Even on a cocktail of strong medication, I’m still trapped in a living hell. I wake up every morning with a heavy sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It never goes. Because of this, I struggle to eat. Food sticks in my throat and I have to force it down. It can take 30 minutes to eat one piece of toast.

My anxiety has worsened to the point where I’m having at least one attack every day. I feel it coming – a pain in my chest, my heart starts to race, I start to hyperventilate. I can’t stay still so I pace round the house usually clawing at my hair wanting to tear myself out of my body. Sometimes it can pass. Sometimes with extra medication it will pass. Sometimes it leaves me in a crumpled heap in Ned’s bedroom breathing into a paper bag. That’s what I carry in my handbag these days – not a make-up bag, but a paper bag.

I visit Ned’s grave daily. I can’t stomach seeing any dead or wilting flowers there. I have nothing left to give my little boy other than tending to his grave with as much love and care as I can. And that’s where I cry. Endless tears. Day after day. I have a shattered heart. I feel the pain of it as I sit next to my little lost boy.

Then I go home, wipe away the traces of tears and act as normal as possible for my two other sons. I was told very early on that I would become a great actress. And I have. Oscar deserving so. I sit and do homework, I read with them, I bath them, I feed them, I smile, I laugh at my eldest’s stories, I laugh at my toddler’s antics. Some days I manage the school run. Yet inside, I’m nothing but a gaping big hole of darkness. Empty.

I have become terrified of leaving the house. I can’t bear the thought of being too far away from Ned (his grave is a 5 minute walk from my house). I have become terrified of people. I see my closest friends and family members, but the thought of going into town or into a shop brings on a panic attack. Home is safe. Nothing bad will happen if I sit at home and just breathe and wait for Tomi to come home from school. The days are long, endlessly so. I focus on getting through each hour. But each hour feels like a mountain to climb. On the hour, I can release my breath and say to myself, ‘That’s it, you’ve done it. Now, the next one.’ And on it goes.

I will the hours away so that it’s nighttime. I put the boys to bed. I take my meds. I crawl under my duvet and let the tears come again. I started writing poetry as I lay awake in the long night. I have never written poetry (other than at school) but I let my feelings pour out of me as raw as they were onto the page and they ended up as poems … of sorts. I’m not a poet, but they certainly seem more like poems than prose so I’ll call them poems. I started to post them on this blog, maybe to help those who know me and who read my blog understand my living hell a little better.

Writing them certainly helped for a while. It eased the nighttime anxiety. It felt like some form of release … for a while. Then the words stopped. I’d vomited my pain onto the page and had nothing left.

But it’s still there – the crippling pain, the aching anxiety, the dark cloud smothering me. Daily I have to concentrate on remembering to breathe. The cloud has darkened and I found a new form of release – the next stage of my journey through grief.

 

 

Here I Wait

As night creeps in and takes away day

I search for a way

To learn to live

And try to forgive.

Life moves at a racing rate,

But here I wait.

 

Morning comes with birdsong

And days so long.

When did the garden bloom?

And dappled sunlight fill each room?

The clock’s hands rotate,

But here I wait.

 

The anger numbs, the pain grips tight.

Tears fall throughout the night.

Waiting for tomorrow,

Days of grief and saddened sorrow.

A change of date,

But here I wait.

 

A year will pass and all I see

Are six birthday candles burning endlessly.

My little boy lost who can’t be found.

My tears seep deep into the ground

As I sit and it gets late,

But here I wait.