On Monday, the 2nd of March, it would be Ned’s 9th birthday. I find it difficult to comprehend. Four years without him seems impossible.
As I’ve said many times during the last four years, writing blog posts about my journey with grief has helped me to try to make some sense of the swirling storm of thoughts in my head. So to honour Ned’s 9th birthday, I thought I’d write a blog about what has helped me, and continues to help me following Ned’s death. And on the flip side, what hasn’t helped/doesn’t help.
I still find a reluctancy to talk about grief and that it’s preferred to avoid the subject, or steer conversation away from it. I feel strongly about opening up to grief, sharing experiences, connecting, because grief is a very frightening place to try to navigate alone.
Once grief strikes, it becomes a part of you, it never goes away. It’s a lifelong journey. Some of my ‘tips’ refer specifically to the early days of my grief, others to the continuous journey, the right now. I hope they help, in some small way, those who find themselves needing to support a grieving person. Supporting a grieving person is tough and at times you’ll get it wrong, but that’s ok because it means you’re trying.
My ‘tips’ are numbered but they are not in any order of importance – they are of equal importance to me. And as grief is something so very individual, these are my ‘tips’, they’re the things that have affected my grief.
9 ‘Top’ Tips:
#1 (Early days) Having close friends and family in the house. I couldn’t bear silence. I needed there to be noise in the background. I needed there to be life. I couldn’t really face the visitors who came to offer their condolences, but whilst I lay on Ned’s bed, I needed there to be noise in the background.
#2 (Early days) Helping with Tomi and Cai, my two other sons. I could barely function, so those friends who took Tomi to their houses, or came over to play with them, were a godsend. Distraction was so important in those first weeks, especially for 8-year-old Tomi. They needed normality and I couldn’t give them that.
#3 (Early days) Bringing food. It really was appreciated. I didn’t know what day of the week it was, let alone be able to think about cooking a meal.
#4 (Early days) Helping with housework. Washing clothes. Loading the dishwasher. Small things that are huge in those first weeks.
#5 (Early days) Getting professional support for me. A friend managed, despite it being Easter weekend, to get in contact with my GP, who then came to the house. I can still remember the relief I felt seeing her walk into the house the day after Ned died. Here was someone I trusted, someone I knew would try to help me.
#6 Talking about Ned. Sharing memories and stories with me. Bringing me letters/pictures from his friends – they mean so very much to me. Telling me that Ned will always be in your hearts and never forgotten.
#7 Friends who text just to let me know they’re thinking of us. Friends who have no expectations, but simply keep in touch.
#8 Close friends who listen without judgement, who show understanding and empathy, who have shown me over and over how much they care. Even when they haven’t known what to say or do, when they’ve had to face me in my darkest moments, they have never turned their backs on me. They have been with me every step of the way.
#9 Finding the right therapist. I feel so very lucky to have landed on my therapist’s doorstep. She has kept me here, kept me battling, kept me moving forward.
9 ‘Not’ Tips:
#1 Staying away – I understand that coming here isn’t easy (especially in those early weeks/months), but staying away hurts. I have people who were a part of my life, who knew Ned, who have just disappeared. No contact at all. It has hurt deeply. And to be bluntly honest, I can’t take any more hurt.
#2 Avoiding me/crossing to the other side of the road. You don’t have to stop and chat. If you don’t know what to say, it’s fine. A smile and a hello is enough.
#3 Relying on me to turn to you for help. Most of the time, I can’t. Some days, everything is too much. Saying, ‘Call if you need me,’ is too much to ask of me. Or, ‘I’m here if you need me.’ When I’m completely overwhelmed by grief, I don’t know where anyone is. A ‘I’ll text you next week’ or similar is so different. And keep sending these little reminders. Don’t give up on me.
#4 Changing the subject when I talk about Ned. I want to talk about Ned, of course I do. He’s my little boy. If I cry, that’s ok. I’m hurting so much, but it’s the grief that’s hurting me, not you.
#5 Making flippant statements – telling me that I should be better by now, that I have to get on with life, that lots of people have lost children, that I have to suck up the pain, that I have to move on, that I’m not trying hard enough, that I’m not the only one who has lost someone, that I’m being over-emotional, that I’m attention-seeking, that I’m lucky I have two other children. I have had all these statements said to me, and many more, and believe me, all they do is knock me back down. I’m trying. It may not look like it to you, but the daily battle takes everything I have.
#6 (This one is very personal to me, but may be something others have experienced) Making comments on my appearance, specifically my weight. I couldn’t eat for weeks after Ned died, I was having perhaps half a slice of toast a day, if that. And yet I had some people say, ‘You’ve lost weight. You look better for it.’ I’m now on very high dosages of medication, my eating is all over the place, that initial weight loss has been re-gained, and a lot more too. I know this, I don’t need to be told.
#7 Not being held. I have spent so much time curled up with no one holding me, to give me that sense of being grounded, of not being alone. At times, when I’m falling apart, crying uncontrollably, I just want to be held.
#8 Stopping conversations when I’m near. It’s ok. Life goes on around me. Your lives go on. It’s not a secret. I’m ok hearing about things you’ve been up to. I’m ok hearing you laugh. It helps me feel normal in a world that doesn’t make much sense.
#9 Not really listening – my voice is small, don’t overpower me. I’m overwhelmed as it is. If I say ‘no, not right now’ I’m not trying to cause offence, I’m simply unable to do what you’re asking of me. Please acknowledge that and try to understand. I may feel differently in a week/month/six months. Keep checking in.
That’s it. I hope someone reading this post will gain something from doing so because supporting a grieving person may be one of the most important things you do in your life.